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Trading pens for paddles: Stormwater management group explores vital watershed point

Tim Bayerl, engineer and Stormwater Management Committee chairman, was one of many individuals who shared their expertise on the tour. (Alexis Habberstad / Echo Press)1 / 4
Sarah Koep, a college intern at the firm Widseth Smith Nolting, ducks under the brush surrounding one of Lake Connie's off-branching streams. (Alexis Habberstad / Echo Press)2 / 4
The group of 10 on the tour included Widseth Smith Nolting engineers and Stormwater Management Committee members. (Alexis Habberstad / Echo Press)3 / 4
Laura Hagstrom, a water resources engineer at Widseth Smith Nolting and Stormwater Management Committee member, leads the group during the Tuesday, June 12, tour. (Alexis Habberstad / Echo Press)4 / 4

The Alexandria Stormwater Management Committee traded in its typical monthly meeting space this month for one with a little more fresh air — and a lot more paddling.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven and a handful of engineers from the firm Widseth Smith Nolting joined committee members June 19 and set out on canoes and kayaks to get an up-close and personal look at the southeast watershed point of Lake Connie.

"It's a great educational opportunity to see things you don't notice just driving around town," said committee member Gail Kulp.

The committee took a similar outing last August, that time on the west watershed point of Lake Winona. While the goal of last year's trip was to observe the development of the lake and test the clarity and quality of the water, this year's trek provided the committee an opportunity to see firsthand one of Alexandria's most major and well-kept bodies of water.

"It's such an important watershed, so I wanted the committee to see how the drainage and everything works together," said City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven.

Pete Sarberg, one of the engineers on the tour, explained that Lake Connie is also a major storage area for surrounding water and provides water quality for the storm runoff that passes through.

The lake, although largely tucked away from sight between Nokomis Street and South McKay Avenue on the city's east side, offers views of city landmarks such as Woodland Elementary, Pooch Playland dog park and one of Alexandria's water towers.

According to the committee, although the lake itself is quite small, its watershed system runs throughout Alexandria — starting near the Covenant Church, weaving through town, and draining near County Road 42.

Speaking of the lake, Sarberg said, "It's like a little oasis around a developed city."

Lake Connie is also a popular kayaking destination.

After the two-hour tour, all involved came out of the voyage with some new pieces of insight about the lake.

"This is relatively clear for this time of year. I'm surprised," said Sarberg. He explained that usually this time of year they would expect bodies of water such as Lake Connie to be more green in color, tinted by the phosphorus layer of runoff littered with grass clippings and lawn fertilizer.

The group also noted that the lake's water levels were higher than average, but that was to be expected with recent rainfalls.

"There's a lot of quick runoff that doesn't get absorbed by grass or soil here," explained Sarberg.

All were in agreement that the ride, with its scenery and kayak-worthy branching streams, was a beautiful one, and made their efforts in maintaining Alexandria's water quality worthwhile.

"It's a lake. It's not a swamp," committee member Tom Klemenhagan said to Schoonhoven. "It's a beautiful lake and it should be kept that way.