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Minnesota’s vanishing shorelines – and what we can do about it

STORY BY Barbara Heitkamp

Last week, I had the pleasure of crashing a boat ride for local municipal officials. Staff from the Chisago Lakes Lake Improvement District (LID) and the Chisago Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) put together a morning cruise of North Center Lake (with many thanks to members of the Center Lakes Association for providing pontoons and drivers!) to showcase the LID’s water monitoring efforts and completed SWCD projects that have helped reduce pollution inputs to the Chisago Chain of Lakes.

It’s a compelling story. Collaboration between the two entities and local community residents has lead to over 200 completed projects since 2011, keeping over 600 lbs of phosphorus (a nutrient that can cause algal blooms) and 400 tons of suspended solids (think sediment) from entering the lakes. SWCD personnel has partnered with area farmers to stabilize gullies and implement responsible tillage practices that minimize erosion and runoff from their fields. More developed areas has seen the creation of raingardens to help manage stormwater runoff, along with encouraging residents to participate in the care of local storm drains (you can adopt your own storm drain at

The most noticeable projects for the boat tour participants were the scattered pops of color along the shoreline where several residents have worked with the SWCD and LID to install native plant shoreline buffers. These buffers provide multiple benefits to both the homeowner and the lake, with one of the largest benefits being that buffers help slow and infiltrate stormwater runoff that carries pollutants into the lakes – much more effectively than traditional turf grass. Plus, the long roots of the native plants hold the shoreline in place, preventing shore erosion while also providing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.

Barbara Heitkamp is a water resources educator for the East Metro Water Resource Education Program and the Lower St. Croix Watershed Partnership. A trained river nerd turned science communicator, Barbara enjoys the outdoors, kayaking, crafting, reading, and hanging with her family and close friends.


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