In Pursuit of a Balanced Urban Ecology

November 13, 2017


View of a bench along Minnehaha Creek at Cottageville ParkThis is the eighth in a series of columns on the history of the Minnehaha Creek watershed.

Throughout this past year we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD), the organization that manages the health of many of the lakes and streams in this area and where I serve as President of the Board of Managers. A year-long series of special events culminated on November 2nd which was declared by Governor Dayton as “Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Day” in the state of Minnesota!

In this column over the past year I have explored some of the most interesting and important stories from 50 years of protecting clean water. They include the closing of sewage treatment plants that discharged into Lake Minnetonka in the 1970’s and the partnership in the early 1990s that made the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes some of the healthiest urban lakes in the country. We have learned much from our successes, as well as from our challenges.

For a long time, our work consisted of a series of unrelated projects across the watershed. While those projects made targeted improvements in water quality, we have since learned that we can have an even greater impact by focusing our efforts in key areas for a longer period of time.

One of these key areas is Minnehaha Creek in Hopkins and St. Louis Park, where pollution from the landscape has made it the most degraded stretch of the 22-mile stream. Our efforts in this area began in 2009 with the restoration of Minnehaha Creek at Methodist Hospital. By taking the time to understand the hospital’s goals and finding where they intersect with our water quality goals, we achieved a project that had greater natural resource benefits than if we relied on our regulatory authority alone.

We brought that approach upstream to create the Minnehaha Creek Greenway. By partnering with the cities of St. Louis Park and Hopkins, we have returned curves to the stream, treated regional stormwater, increased green space, added a boardwalk and trails, and created a park in what was once a crime-ridden area. Additionally, our partnership with Japs-Olson Company has resulted in even more stormwater management and additional access to the Greenway’s trail system. It also aided a business expansion that paved the way for the creation of 150 jobs. By focusing our efforts and working with our partners, we have built a series of projects that provide natural resource, community and economic benefits.

This “Balanced Urban Ecology” approach is the foundation of our work moving forward into other sensitive areas of the watershed including the Six Mile-Halsted Bay Subwatershed and the Painter Creek Subwatershed. Just like we have done in the Minnehaha Creek Greenway, we are developing relationships and leveraging resources to improve the water quality in these systems which will lead to improvements downstream. 

The MCWD is committed to a future of working in partnership to make sure water improvement projects also enhance the livability of the communities where we operate. After all, the quality of our water is vital to our quality of life. Learn more about our history and future.