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Weber Stream Restoration Initiative: Projects

  1. Tree Planting Study/Riparian Restoration (2006)

    We know that planting trees along streams helps keep the water clean, but we don't know which trees are the best choices. Duluth's Amity Creek will be the site for a study to determine which species can withstand animal browsing, competition from other plants, and are most cost-effective. Volunteers will plant white spruce, white cedar, white pine and tamarack, which will be assigned animal–browsing restraints and weed control treatments. NRRI researchers will monitor the trees monthly to determine their success rates, along with the expense associated with each species and treatment.

    Tree Planting - click to enlarge Tree Planting - click to enlarge Tree Planting - click to enlarge Tree Planting - click to enlarge
  2. Undergraduate Research Projects:
    • Effects of excess suspended sediment and turbidity on stream life (2006)

      A UMD undergraduate researcher is investigating the challenges faced by the little critters—the insects, crayfish, snails, etc. - living in today's urban streams.  Specifically, how does the excess sediment in the streams (from development, roads, etc.) affect the breeding and living conditions of the bug community? These effects are being investigated by sampling invertebrates in areas with a lot of sediment and little sediment.

    • Effects of loss of shading on stream life (2006)

      Two UMD undergraduate researchers are investigating the effect of lack of stream channel shading on stream insects and algae. They are using artificial substrates (which standardize the samples collected) to compare areas with and without stream shading provided primarily by large trees. Find out more about the role of the overhead canopy in the Stream Anatomy section.

    • ATV effects on streams: Group project with Minnesotan's for Responsible Recreation (2005-present)

      It's easy to spot areas used heavily by All Terrain Vehicles. The popular ATV leaves deep ruts on the trails, erodes and compacts the soil. And when driven in and through streams, they can disrupt the sensitive aquatic ecology. The Weber Stream Restoration Initiative is helping folks who want to protect the Duluth watersheds by providing the hard science to quantify the damage done by some ATVs in sensitive areas. Minnesotans for Responsible Recreation (MRR) lead the charge to help the city enforce their rule of no ATVs within the city limits. NRRI scientists helped by designing solid methodology for students to conduct experiments on the effects of ATVs on the terrain.

      Click to view MRR's "Off-Road Vehicle Damage in Duluth" Slideshow“Folks in Duluth have realized for some time that ATV damage is expensive to repair. We just can't afford it, ” said Jeff Brown, MRR executive director. “NRRI is helping us develop damage scenarios and cost estimates for restoration. That's never been done before in Minnesota. People often think ATVs bring in money as a recreational sport, but they don't realize the true cost to repair the damaged environment that sometimes occurs.”

      NRRI scientists found that Amity Creek areas where ATVs were run up and down the stream channel had several problems. First, the ATVs were stirring up a lot of sediment and keeping plant growth down on gravel bars within the stream. This means that these areas are less stable during floods and high water events. The sediments, especially the excess sediment from bank erosion caused by ATVs, clogs up brook trout spawning areas and reduces living (habitat) space for stream bugs on which the fish feed. Finally, excess sediments carry nutrients that can lead to excessive algal growth on the stream bed in these areas.

      Please help educate ATV users that ATV use along streams and banks and especially within the stream itself harms the habitat for fish and other stream life, and contributes to the turbidity/sediment problem in the stream. This also costs us all money to deal with the problem and can even harm the fish communities in Lake Superior.

      MRR's initial work is summarized here and in a slideshow presented to the Mayor of Duluth in July 2006.

  3. Graduate student research projects

    Estimating stream sediment, mercury and nutrient loads (2004-present )

    Amity Creek storm - flow plot Amity Creek storm - turbidity plot
    Two days of rain at the end of May 2006 led to very high flow (left) and turbid (muddy) water (right), Click each plot to expand and animate the graphs. Click here to play with the interactive data viewer for the entire data set.

    This project focuses on identifying three problems north shore streams have due to development in their watersheds:

    • excess sediment
    • nutrients 
    • contaminants

    Excess sediment in streams results from storm runoff carrying dust, soil and other particles in from the watershed. Also, as the stream velocity increases from the higher runoff, sediments are churned up within the stream and from its banks. It buries trout spawning areas and reduces stream insect populations on which the trout feed. Nutrients, such as phosphorus increase algae growth, and heavy metals like mercury are ingested by fish, the bugs they eat and the birds and mammals that eat them.

    This study will determine if the continuous, in-stream data collected over the past four years in the Duluth urban streams can be used to estimate sediment, nutrient and mercury loads, and compare them to commonly used stream loading models. With this baseline data, scientists can measure changes in the problem areas over time and hopefully measure improvements in the watershed.  Amity has been intensively monitored for flow, with additional manual sampling for water quality variables by MPCA since 2002. In late 2005 we installed remote water quality sensors and automatically animate the data through the interactive dataviewer.

  4. Mainstem Amity Creek Photo walk of Amity Creek (2005 and 2006)

    On several dates in 2005 and 2006, NRRI, Sea Grant and City staff walked large sections of Amity Creek and photographed potential problem areas that appear likely to generate excessive suspended sediments and turbidity. Here are some results from these surveys.

  5. Survey of road crossings for Amity Creek (2005)

    Maps have been generated showing all the road-stream intersections in the watershed. These are sites where roadway water carrying sediment and other pollutants is often dumped directly into streams. There are enough of these that non-conventional techniques to disperse the runoff might yield significant improvement. Click here (coming soon) for the maps. It is important to generate similar maps for all of the north shore trout streams that are impaired or threatened.

  6. Poplar River - April 2006 Poplar River TMDL “Impairment-related” activities in cooperation with the MPCA, Cook County, and the Poplar River Management Board (2005-present)

    The Poplar River has been on the Impaired List since 2004 for excess turbidity and has been intensively monitored for flow, with additional manual sampling for water quality variables by MPCA since 2002. We have now installed remote water quality sensors and automatically animate the data through the interactive data viewer. Click on the data plot to see how the stream behaved during snowmelt runoff in April 2006. The Poplar River turbidity impairment is now (2007) the subject of a "TMDL" study that will determine the major cause(s) of the excessive sediment load. Find out more about the Poplar.

  7. Regional Stormwater Protection Team (RSPT) (2003-present) Regional Stormwater Protection Team

    In a long-term effort to promote positive activities to protect the waters of the region, 16 government agencies, organizations and other groups combined in 2003 to form the Regional Stormwater Protection Team (RSPT). Their mission: to protect and enhance the region's shared water resources through stormwater pollution prevention by providing coordinated educational programs and technical assistance. The group is now 22 members strong, and growing! Click here to find out more.

  8. LakeSuperiorStreams.org (2003-present)

    Amity Creek details Everything you want, or need, to know about the watersheds and water quality of Lake Superior's north shore. At least, that is our goal. Find out about Northshore Communities, their trout streams, including real-time data for several - in particular Amity Creek. There are also summaries of watershed data, maps and interactive GIS tools, and other available background information as we find it.

  9. A Peek into the Future: Development scenarios and their effects (2006-present)

    What is the eventual impact of development on stream habitat and Lake Superior? This “smart-growth” planning project will use computers to model three development scenarios of growth potential for the Lester/Amity watershed, Lakewood Township and the city of Two Harbors. The models will show the area 50 years into the future with current zoning ordinances and the effect we can expect on water quality, as well as alternative development models that will protect the streams.

  10. Understanding what a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is all about (2006-present)

    Once rivers, like the Amity and Lester, are designated as “impaired” the federal Clean Water Act requires the state to develop a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) target for pollution in the water systems. With a maximum load goal set, the scientists then have a framework for alleviating the water quality problems and ultimately removing the impairment. For the Amity and Lester rivers, this means setting a TMDL target for suspended sediments. How much sediment can these rivers handle and still meet federal water quality standards?

    The Poplar River section is being used by the MPCA, Cook County Soil & Water Conservation District, and Minnesota Sea Grant (U. of Minnesota-Duluth) as a reference library and bulletin board for TMDL-related outreach activity.

  11. Best Management Practices

    Scientists look at established management protocols, or Best Management Practices (BMPs), that work to prevent or mitigate environmental pollution caused by human activities (construction, logging, agriculture). Unfortunately, the effectiveness of BMPs on stream restoration, particularly for the impact of stormwater in cold climates, is not well known. The success of the Weber Stream Restoration Initiative depends on:

    • improving monitoring techniques and determining their cost effectiveness
    • evaluating the success of BMPs and planning policies to prevent further pollution
    • maintaining community interest and stewardship in the watershed.
    • educating citizens, contractors, developers, planners, businesses and others about what  works well in the Northland
    • Visit the new (2006) Site Design Toolkit to find out more.
  12. Volunteer stream monitoring:  A collaborative effort (2006-present)

    Volunteer MonitorsNRRI and the City are assisting in a project developed by U. of Wisconsin-Superior Extension to integrate the methods used by the Wisconsin and Minnesota Volunteer Stream Monitoring programs. Sites within the Lester-Amity system will be encouraged in order to generate a continuing data set for turbidity as well as twice yearly surveys of stream “bug” communities that are identical to methods used by the St. Louis River RiverWatch program.

  13. Attention landowners in Duluth Township! Online help for your Stormwater Management Plan

    stormwater IMSWe live here because we love the North Shore, right? But the shallow bedrock, steep slopes, clay-rich soils and delicate wetlands mean we have to be very careful to protect the watershed we live in. Duluth Township is leading the way by requiring stormwater management plans before any new construction begins. To make this new zoning ordinance easier on homeowners, LakeSuperiorStreams.org will feature a user-friendly Internet Map Server “tool” that will allow landowners to easily generate working base maps of their property. Even better, this tool will receive extensive input from regular folks before, during and after its development to make sure they're easy to use. The goal is to allow easy access to basemaps of property that contain multiple layers of the best existing data, such as aerial photographs, topography and wetlands. With this information, landowners can develop a stormwater management plan required by Duluth Township and do their part in keeping Lake Superior and its watersheds clean. Find out about other ways to better plan and regulate stormwater runoff in the Toolkit Planning, Economic Aspects and Model Ordinance sections.

  14. Lakeside Stormwater Runoff Reduction Project
    UMD scientists, city utilities staff, and local environmental engineers have teamed up with homeowners in Lakeside to determine the best ways to reduce stormwater runoff from a Duluth residential neighborhood.
  15. Restoring impaired Superior tributaries: Stormwater BMP evaluation, education and outreach
    WSRI partners identified three restoration projects in the Duluth area. These projects, all on impaired streams were identified to have high likelihood for long-term success and potential for educational use and public visibility:
    1) Lower Amity-Graves Road Creek restoration;
    2) East Branch Upper Amity Creek bank stabilization;
    3) Miller Creek Sediment Trap- a natural-bottomed trap completed in 2004 below the Miller Hill Mall complex.