Special Feature: Marina Group Works to Keep the St. Croix Clean

Four of the first seven marinas certified under Minnesota’s new Clean Marina Program are on the St. Croix River.




5 minute read

Sunnyside Marina
Sunnyside Marina

It takes a lot of water to wash a boat.

Sunnyside Marina, on the St. Croix River between Stillwater and Bayport, uses about 40 gallons to wash one. For six weeks each fall, as the marina pulls boats out of the river for winter storage, they wash eight per day. It adds up quick.

All that water, full of paint, acid, and metals, could end up in the river. But Sunnyside recently became the first marina in Minnesota to install a water recycling system which captures, filters, and reuses it.

Sunnyside is also one of the leaders in the state’s Clean Marina Program, which kicked off last December as part of a national initiative to promote environmental protection at marinas.

“Marina users aren’t just one-time visitors to the river,” says Sunnyside member and former board member Bruce Rollie. “We’re invested in keeping it clean, and Sunnyside’s water recycling and other initiatives are simply about doing the right thing for the river.”

Marinas on the St. Croix are leaders in Minnesota’s Clean Marina effort. Four of the seven marinas certified in Minnesota so far are on the St. Croix. In 2011, Hudson’s St. Croix Marina was the first one certified on the river, as part of Wisconsin’s program.

Good outcomes for all

Sunnyside Marina manager Rick Chapman
Rick Chapman with Sunnyside’s wash water water recycling system.

“I just believe we have to be the best stewards of the environment we can be,” said Rick Chapman, Sunnyside’s general manager.

Beyond that feeling of duty, there is also the fact there would not be a Sunnyside without the clean and beautiful St. Croix. Keeping it that way is a priority for the marina’s business and for its member-owner boaters.

The program is good business sense in other ways, too. Voluntary and led by marina operators, many of the stewardship practices it promotes are required by the federal Clean Water Act, but are not currently enforced in the Midwest. The program lets marinas lead the way, improving the way they work before regulators force them to do it.

Dale Bergeron, Maritime Extension Educator at the University of Minnesota’s Sea Grant program, can’t stress enough how beneficial the Clean Marinas are. He points out that it is both good for the river, as well as saving money and time.

“It creates outstanding environmental outcomes,” he said, “and better service to their customers and the citizens of Minnesota.”

Modern marina management

The water recycling program at Sunnyside isn’t required for certification in the Clean Marina Program. (Handling wash water appropriately is, though.) The voluntary program has a list of 300 best management practices, some of which are required to be met and some of which are optional. To be certified, marinas must meet 100 percent of the required practices, and 65 percent of the optional.

Being a certified clean marina demands managers know their operation well. “The whole process of being a good steward of the water means first identifying what’s happening that would hurt the water,” Chapman said.

From septic systems to used oil, marinas can pollute in a number of ways. The Clean Marina Program’s 300 best management practices are meant to reduce those impacts. They include requirements like working on boat engines in areas where runoff is managed, regularly inspecting and maintaining septic tanks, and even scheduling construction activities to avoid migration, nesting and spawning of fish and wildlife.

Of particular interest to the St. Croix, where efforts are underway to reduce algae-causing nutrients in the river like phosphorus, the Clean Marina Program requires certified marinas to use fertilizers on their grounds with zero phosphorus. It also requires vegetated buffer strips between upland areas and the water, to naturally capture and filter runoff.

‘Pushing the envelope’

Minnesota Clean Marina Program flag
Look for this flag flying.

In Florida, the Clean Marina Program is run by the state Department of Natural Resources, with 32 employees and extensive regulations. The Minnesota program couldn’t be more different, except in the stewardship goals. It is entirely volunteer-run so far, managed by a board of directors comprised of marina operators.

“They are pushing the envelope,” said Bergeron, of Minnesota Sea Grant. “Here are peer organizations conferring and saying ‘how can go beyond simple compliance?’”

Bergeron said the program is already helping the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources “do a better job, and save a lot of resources.” He said with the marinas educating and certifying each other, state regulators know who is doing a good job (and who isn’t), saving a lot of running around, and a lot of paperwork.

The program can also help agencies in a big way with boater outreach because marinas have lots of interaction with their boaters (Sunnyside does annual trainings for its members each summer). Many of the Clean Marina Programs requirements involve educating boaters about issues like water quality, invasive species, and fishing. That education can be incorporated into the existing trainings, and provide access to a captive audience.

St. Croix leads the way

Certified Clean Marinas on the St. Croix River:

Afton Marina & Yacht Club (Afton)
Bayport Marina (Bayport)
St. Croix Marina (Hudson)
Sunnyside Marina (Stillwater)
Windmill Marina (Afton)

In the land of 10,000 lakes, marinas on the St. Croix River currently make up four of the seven certified Clean Marinas in the state. (The others are on Lake Minnetonka, Lake Superior and the Mississippi River.) Why the St. Croix is so well represented is probably due to a combination of reasons.

Sunnyside’s Chapman said it could be as simple as the member-owned associations business model, which is popular on the St. Croix. “Dockominiums” bring boaters who are engaged in the marina’s management, including environmental protection. They also tend to have more financial resources to invest in best management practices.

Bergeron, at Sea Grant, said the St. Croix is unique. “It’s a special body of water, it’s scenic and beautiful, and there is a huge constituency of people who use it, including a lot of boaters.”

Those boaters and their marinas have an important role to play in stewardship of the waters they enjoy, Bergeron went on to say. “Marinas can do great harm or great good,” he said. “They can provide a powerful link between recreation and stewardship.”

Less than a year old, Minnesota’s Clean Marina program is only getting started. They recently certified their seventh marina, and have pledges for two more.

The Clean Marina Program is designed so that any marina, big or small, can get certified. Boaters and marinas interested in Clean Marina certification can contact the program in their state here: Minnesota or Wisconsin.

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Special Feature: Marina Group Works to Keep the St. Croix Clean