Emergent Vegetation Plays an Important Role in Lake Health

Emergent aquatic plants such as cattails, bulrushes, and sedges grow within the shallow margins, or "littoral zone", of most lakes in Minnesota. These plants improve water clarity as their roots stabilize the lakebed and take in nutrients. Their stems and leaves provide habitat both above and below the water, and they protect shorelines against the forces of wave action. Emergent plants often grow alongside other aquatic vegetation, collectively creating diverse habitat essential to lake health. 

Any Destruction of Emergent Vegetation Requires a Permit in Minnesota - Lakeshore owners often wish to remove emergent vegetation to improve their water access. Given the important role emergent vegetation plays in lakes, any removal of aquatic emergent plants requires a permit from the Department of Natural Resources. The permit process connects landowners with professionals to ensure that the extent of vegetation removal (and methods used to achieve it) minimize impacts to the lake. Learn more about aquatic plant regulations HERE.

When Does Emergent Vegetation Become Problematic? - Non-native species such as narrow-leaf and hybrid cattails often grow in dense monocultures that can outcompete native species. Habitat quality and recreation can be quickly reduced as these species spread across large areas of shallow water, but management efforts to remove them are often challenging and costly. When occurring in small clusters, these plants can still provide water quality benefits along shorelines where native emergent plants are absent. In either circumstance, any removal of emergent plants - even if non-native -  requires a permit.


Expectations for Living on a Lake - Aquatic vegetation is a natural and important part of lake and wetland systems. The abundance and types of plants present are largely driven by water depth and clarity. Many lakes in the north metro are shallow (less than 15 ft. deep) or are technically open-water wetlands. When paired with good water quality allowing sunlight to reach the bottom, these lakes usually contain abundant vegetation throughout. The alternative is poor water quality from disturbances such as excessive nutrients, which can  reduce aquatic vegetation and the fish and wildlife that depend on it. Learn more about shallow lake vegetation from this StoryMap produced by the Rice Creek Watershed District: Aquatic Plants: Guardians of our Shallow Lakes.

For more information contact Breanna Keith, Water Resource Specialist, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Wetland Restoration Funding Available!

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Students Involved in Stream Biological Monitoring

Each season, local high school students venture to a nearby river or stream, grab a dip net and pair of waders, and search for invertebrates (a mix of aquatic insects, crustaceans, bugs, snails, worms, and other critters lacking a backbone) living amongst the submerged rocks and vegetation. They bring their catch back to their partners on shore, who use guides to identify the invertebrates or preserve them for identification at a later date in the lab. In 2023, ACD staff led 560 high school students across 20 classes and 5 schools in these "biomonitoring" efforts. Besides being a great way to get some fresh air, students learned valuable lessons in aquatic ecology. 

Individual aquatic invertebrates have different sensitivities to environmental disturbances such as contamination and habitat loss. Some, such as stonefly and mayfly nymphs, often have a strong negative reaction to disturbance, while others, such as leeches, midges, and aquatic worms, are usually more tolerant and able to persist through a variety of conditions. Understanding these tolerance thresholds across species is an efficient way to broadly assess the health of a waterbody. For example, a high quantity and/ or diversity of species including those considered "intolerant" (sensitive) is a likely indicator of healthy habitat and water quality, whereas the presence of only more "tolerant" species hints at poorer water quality and habitat. Biomonitoring data is often paired with other information, such as water quality or stream morphology data, to identify where aquatic impairments are present and management efforts should be pursued.

After the students have finished collecting and processing samples, ACD staff re-identifies them and summarizes the data in the annual Water Almanac. Through this, big-picture trends in invertebrate communities (and stream health, by extension) can be explored across time. For more information contact Breanna Keith, Water Resource Technician, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

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Hundreds of Project Opportunities Near the Rum & Mississippi Rivers

Stormwater runoff from human-modified landscapes is a source of excess water and pollutants that can significantly impact rivers, lakes, and wetlands on the receiving end. However, not all drainage areas are created equally; rural landscapes with abundant agriculture and artificial drainage features, or urban areas with infrastructure predating stormwater treatment regulations, are often the most impactful. Areas draining to a priority waterbody are targeted for Subwatershed and Stormwater Retrofit Analyses (SRAs and SWAs). In these analyses, we study how runoff is moving through the landscape, strategically place various Best Management Practices (BMP's), and estimate their anticipated water quality benefits and installation costs. These findings are then summarized into a report which can be referenced by ACD staff and local natural resource managers to pursue the most cost effective projects. 

Ongoing SRAs and SWAs. Altogether, ~800 (urban) acres draining to the Mississippi River and over 30,000 (primarily rural) acres draining to the Rum River have been analyzed for BMP opportunities.

ACD has completed several SRA/ SWA reports, but current efforts are focused on areas draining to the Rum and Mississippi rivers. Projects sited in these areas include rain gardens, subsurface treatment structures, enhanced street sweeping, wetland restorations, soil health practices (cover crops, no- till farming, etc.), and targeted agricultural practices (grassed waterways, riparian buffer enhancements, control basins, etc.). Altogether, approximately 150 urban BMPs and over 300 rural BMPs have been sited, and their associated SRA/ SWA reports will be released in the coming months.

For more information contact Breanna Keith, Water Resources Technician, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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Beavers Connecting Rivers to Floodplain Wetlands

During a recent site visit to explore wetland restoration opportunities, ACD staff came across a fantastic example of beavers' "engineering" skills in action! A series of three beaver dams, located near the outfall of a Rum River tributary, were effectively slowing and spreading the stream's flow into the surrounding floodplain wetlands. Healthy connections between streams and their floodplains provide numerous water quality and habitat benefits, and in this case those benefits also extend to the Rum River immediately downstream.

Many streams in modified landscapes take on excess water from artificial drainage features like ditches and storm pipes. Over time and especially during extreme precipitation events, these higher volumes of water often increase erosion within the stream, which can lead to the straightening and downward-cutting ("downcutting") of the stream channel and, as a result, the disconnection of the stream from its floodplain (see the figures below, produced by American Rivers). 

Connected Floodplain
Vertically Disconnected Floodplain

Floodplain reconnection efforts are an increasing priority amongst many conservation organizations, but they can be costly and complicated – particularly if development has occurred within the floodplain. However, in areas where streams have room to spill into their floodplains without causing damage, allowing and even promoting beaver activity can be a cost effective way to help restore riparian corridors. Learn more about the benefits of beavers in the articles below. 

- University of MN Study 

- King County, WA

- Riding Mountain National Park, Canada

For more information contact Breanna Keith, Water Resources Technician, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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