Nonprofit offering info sessions for Master Water Stewards program

Master Water Stewards learn about ways to reduce stormwater runoff, such as by planting rain gardens. Photo courtesy Freshwater Society
Master Water Stewards learn about ways to reduce stormwater runoff, such as by planting rain gardens. Photo courtesy Freshwater Society

The nonprofit Freshwater Society is hosting information sessions for its Master Water Stewards program over the next month.

The St. Paul-based organization and its partners will host six sessions between July 26 and Sept. 4, including one July 31 at Unmapped Brewing in Excelsior. The nonprofit also has sessions scheduled for Aug. 7 at Smith Coffee & Café in Eden Prairie and another that day at REI in Bloomington.

The sessions come as the society prepares to hold the Master Water Stewards program for a seventh time since starting it in 2013. Participants take a series of online and in-person courses over the course of a year, before completing a capstone project to earn their certification.

Program leaders and participants say the stewards learn about everything from the basic science of water runoff to best practices for engaging their communities. They also meet like-minded people who share a passion for environmental topics.

“It kind of builds into a community and really kind of fulfilled a niche in my life,” said Joe Knaeble, a Lowry Hill East resident who completed the program.

The Freshwater Society started the program as a three-year pilot, working with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to develop a core course and recruit participants. The organization expanded the program in 2016 to include watershed districts and management organizations across the Twin Cities, including the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization based in Northeast Minneapolis.

Over 250 people have completed the program since 2013, according to Deirdre Coleman, program coordinator for the Freshwater Society. She said that the organization typically enrolls about 80 people in the program each year.

The program is open to any adults who live within the boundaries of the Freshwater Society’s partner watershed districts and management organizations, including the Minnehaha Creek and Mississippi watershed organizations. The organization requires participants to attend an info session in order to participate.

Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams and close to 2.5 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds have poor water quality because of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, the agency says.

Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water cause algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle, according to the agency. Significant increases in algae harm water quality, food resources and habitats and decrease the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive, the agency says.

Nutrient pollution in water bodies can come from agriculture, stormwater, wastewater and home products, according to the agency.

The Freshwater Society primarily focuses on stormwater runoff and groundwater sustainability, Coleman said. She noted that participants in the Master Water Stewards program learn about methods to lessen the impact of stormwater runoff, such as installing rain gardens or pervious pavers.

Classes for the program start in October and run into April, at which point participants implement their capstone projects. The Freshwater Society created a curriculum for the classes along with subject-matter experts in the water field.

Participants study much of the curriculum and textbook material online, Coleman said, and use the in-person sessions to put their learning into practice. The Freshwater Society expects the stewards to involve the community in their capstone projects.

Darren Lochner, education and engagement coordinator for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, noted the program is similar to the Master Gardner and Minnesota Master Naturalist programs offered through the University of Minnesota. He said the water steward program helps raise awareness about water issues by giving participants the information they need to inform their communities.

Knaeble, the Lowry Hill East resident, created a small rain garden in his front yard for his capstone project. He subsequently spearheaded an effort to educate businesses on ways to reduce road salt use this past winter, working with several neighborhood associations to reach out to businesses.

Knaeble and several fellow water stewards have continued their efforts against road salt at the state Legislature, creating a group called StopOverSalting. The group advocated for a bill that would grant commercial-salt applicators limited liability upon completion of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Smart Salting Certification program.

Visit masterwaterstewards.org to learn more about the Master Water Stewards program.

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