Water habits for healthy habitats

The month of June affords Minnesotans the long awaited opportunity for water recreation. With the first day of summer around the corner, people will gather at our lakes and rivers across the city. Since so many people use water resources it’s important to think about how we can protect the quality of our water.

The last few decades the biggest source of water pollution hasn’t come from industry. Now, more than 60 percent of water pollution comes from individual households. Each of us can do small things in our homes and neighborhoods to keep our lakes and creeks clean and healthy. Fortunately, many of these are no-cost or low-cost and have the added benefit of making the places we live more attractive.

Did you know sewer and storm drain systems are different? Unlike the sewer system, everything on the ground eventually washes into storm drains, which flows untreated directly into lakes and rivers. An easy first step is maintaining a storm drain near your home or street (minneapolismn.gov/AdoptaDrain). Simply keep litter, grass clippings and fallen leaves away from your storm drain by sweeping up and disposing of them properly. Litter can cause blockages leading to increased flooding, decreased oxygen levels and injury or death to aquatic animals. Leaves and grass clippings contain high levels of nutrients that get released in the water. If the water becomes too nutrient-rich, algae grow and die quickly, depleting oxygen in the process. This results in an unhealthy habitat and one of the most unsightly views at a lake; dead fish floating at the surface.

Landscaping and lawn maintenance have a surprisingly significant impact on water quality. Water runoff from impervious surfaces collects pollutants. When hardscaping, use materials water can soak through and filter back into the ground. This reduces water pollution and eases pressure on storm systems. To cultivate the healthiest lawn, grass should be cut to a length of 2 ½ -3 inches and no more than 1/3rd of the length should be cut off at a time. Grass clippings actually contain the same amount of nutrients as a round of fertilizer! So, leave clippings on your lawn, sweep up any blown onto the street or sidewalk, and package excess clippings and other yard waste into appropriate bags to be picked up by the city or compost them yourself.

Excess fertilizer, automotive fluids and soaps that enter storm drains also pollute our waters. These materials contaminate water resources and create unhealthy and potentially harmful habitats. Fertilizer runoff from lawns can cause algae blooms. Make sure the right amount is applied or skip it altogether. Automotive fluids and other hazardous materials can be easily disposed at Hennepin County drop-off facilities. Utilize self-service car washes rather than your driveway to keep soaps out of the system.

During summer the primary reason for beach closure is high levels of E. coli in the water, a bacteria that can quickly make people sick, so contaminated water is a public health concern. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board monitors water quality weekly at swimming beaches (beach status hotline, 612-313-7713). Sources of E. coli in lake water include: organic debris, polluted storm water runoff, leaking diapers, as well as wild and domestic animal waste. Since rain events increase the amount of water entering storm drains these bacteria tend to spike after a storm. It is recommended to wait 24 hours after a storm before swimming at local beaches. When swimming at beaches make sure young children wear swim dippers. To keep our lakes and river clean, whether on a walk or in your own yard, throw pet waste into the trash.

Looking to take a closer look at water habitats? Join us on June 24 for our Pond Life public program. Try kayaking on the Mississippi through the Paddleshare program, which launches from North Mississippi Regional Park. Visit the Kroening Interpretive Center to learn about the plants and animals that live along the river, and see how many you can spot yourself.

June Free Public Programs (all ages): June 3 – Early Birding: Search for birds while on a naturalist-guided hike. 9-10:30 a.m. June18 – Summer Arts & Animals: Meet some animals and create summer themed art. 1-3 p.m. June 24 – Pond Life: Find out what’s living in the water and go on a frog calls hike. 7-8:30 p.m.

Visit our Nature Exploration Station at the playground throughout the week!

Summer Camp: Sign up for week long camps to have outdoor adventures all summer! Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Ages 6-12. Registration fee $75. Camp starts June 12!

For more info or to register for programs at North Mississippi visit minneapolisparks.org and like us on Facebook to stay in the loop about what’s happening in our park!

Written by Lynn Hu, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Naturalist at North Mississippi Regional Park