Located in northeastern Washington County, the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District (CMSCWD) includes some of the most beloved natural gems in the Twin Cities metro area. The watershed is comprised of 81 square miles of land with 31 lakes, three designated trout streams, hundreds of acres of wetlands, and more than 17 miles of St. Croix River shoreline. It is home to William O’Brien State Park; Big Marine, Square Lake and Pine Point Regional Parks; and the historic St. Croix Boom Site. Recently, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) awarded CMSCWD as the 2023 Watershed District of the Year, in recognition of the work it is doing to protect and restore water resources in the region.
“I’m proud that the watershed district was recognized for its work to improve water quality, and I’m especially proud of the extensive knowledge, outstanding leadership, and professionalism of our staff,” said Tori Dupre, a Board Manager with the CMSCWD. Paul Richert, who also serves on the CMSCWD Board of Managers, echoed Dupre’s sentiments. “Mike Isensee, our administrator, works hard to be responsive to the board and just as importantly to the residents within our watershed district. Tom Langer, our riparian permit specialist, is also very knowledgeable, a good communicator and an asset to our organization.”
Given the number of initiatives that CMSCWD is working on currently, you might be surprised to learn that Isensee and Langer are the watershed district’s only staff. As a special-purpose, local unit of government, the district has seven appointed board members and shares office space with the Washington County Public Works Department. It contracts with the Washington Conservation District (WCD) for support on programs including lake and stream water monitoring, education and outreach, and landowner support for raingardens, native plantings, conservation farming, and other cost share projects.
“In reality, it is the collaborative team of the CMSCWD staff, our Board of Managers, Citizen Advisory Committee members, and Washington Conservation District’s highly talented technical staff that won this award,” says Isensee.
In 2023, CMSCWD launched a comprehensive lakeshore protection and restoration program for the ten most popular lakes in the watershed district, developed stormwater treatment projects for Big Carnelian and Big Marine Lakes, and began planning for a future restoration project on Mill Stream in Marine on St. Croix. The lakeshore program, in particular, illustrates the importance of working collaboratively and building relationships with landowners.
Scenes around the Watershed District (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)
CMSCWD began by working with Angie Hong, education specialist at Washington Conservation District, to mail a survey and host focus group sessions with shoreline landowners early in the year. Later, during the summer, staff from CMSCWD and WCD conducted shoreline inspections and used the DNR’s “Score your Shore” tool to evaluate all lakeshores parcels on the district’s ten largest lakes. Working in close partnership with the DNR, Washington County, and city and township staff, the watershed district was able to ensure that development and redevelopment projects followed water quality rules and shoreline permit requirements. They also used numerous strategies to engage and communicate with landowners, including a special edition newsletter and open house for residents on Big Carnelian, a presentation for Big Marine Lake Association and lakeside meeting with landowners in the Bliss Addition on Big Marine Lake, multiple shoreline webinars, and free site visits and design assistance to help landowners stabilize eroding shorelines and restore natural shoreline conditions.
“The most exciting thing I see the watershed doing is leveraging outreach and education, including videos, news articles, and outreach sessions,” says Board Manager Ann Warner. “I believe the more educated and engaged property owners are, the better our water resources stewardship will be.”
Manager Mike White is excited that CMSCWD is putting in so much effort to accomplish its watershed management plan goals. “So many watershed groups have meetings and talk about things but never get around to doing anything,” he laments. “Our Board of Managers is completely behind Mike and Tom and think they are doing an outstanding job.”
The 2023 Watershed District of the Year award was presented to CMSCWD staff and board members at this year’s Minnesota Watersheds Annual Conference in Alexandria. To learn more about the CMSCWD, visit www.cmscwd.org.