The creek under your street

By Michala Zien, Mayadhin Al Abri, Allie Rykken, Pat Thompson and Ranae Hanson


Two views of Mississippi River’s East Bank in Minneapolis.
Left: 1860 photo. Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society. Right: 2021 view. Photo by Michala Zien.

Editor’s note: Transition Town-ASAP celebrates the May publication of “Watershed: Attending to Body and Earth in Distress” by Ranae Hanson. The book title refers both to literal watersheds—the interactions of land, water and ecosystems—and to our current defining moment for climate change and human health. Order it from Winding Trail Books.

Much of our area of St. Paul lies over the original 300-acre wetland of Bridal Veil Watershed. Bridal Veil Falls, once a tourist attraction, is now a trickle coming out of a pipe at East River Road by the Franklin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.

Over the decades, the watershed was pushed underground, drained and divided, but we still participate in it. Rain that runs down your street goes to it, water that soaks into your garden helps clean it and wild creatures in your yard drink of it.

You can explore your closest waters at a May 15 Water Companion workshop hosted by Transition Town and Winding Trail Books. The free, family-friendly, virtual session runs from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The program will include a virtual tour of neighborhood water features and a discussion on the whys and hows of protecting watersheds.

To register, visit Water Companion Workshop on Facebook or go to http://TransitionASAP.org.

The waters around us: Four reflections

Four neighbors begin the workshop conversation here.

Is this normal? Pat: In rural New York, where I grew up, a rusty culvert under the road held a trickle of smelly water that flowed from the hill and became a creek at the low end of our backyard. Our septic tank and drain field seeped into it. Artesian wells fed a pond beyond the creek. We pumped our drinking water out of that ground. By the time I was an adult, we could no longer drink the water or use it for cooking. It tasted funny when I used it to brush my teeth.

Home part of nature? Michala: Growing up in a Dakota County suburb, I never thought of home as part of nature. I spent weeks at camp, vacationed up north and took road trips to national parks. These experiences helped me appreciate the outdoors but gave me an overly optimistic view of nature. Is there nature in an area with 10 times more concrete than water?

My home county has six watersheds. I lived close to a small lake perfect for stargazing and a larger one that attracts kayakers. Even where I now live, the Mississippi River has green trails and a shoreline perfect for skipping rocks as the sun sets.

Water for all our relatives. Maya: When rain fell in Oman, my sisters and I would scream, “It’s raining!” We’d run in the rain until our clothes were wet. And my mom would say, “It’s time to pray.”

Population growth and consumption have pumped too much groundwater out of the water table, so sea water has intruded. Salt makes groundwater unfit for humans or agriculture.

Wadis—riverbeds that periodically become dry—are our most sustainable option to store water and prevent flooding. But because of climate change, some wadis have permanently dried and hurricanes are too powerful for the wadis to protect us. When hurricane Gonu hit in 2007, water filled my uncle’s house to 12 inches.

My family visited Wadi Al-­Abyad for barbecues and swimming. After each picnic, my dad would say, “Anadhafa mina al-iman”—Tidiness is required of God’s followers. My parents insisted that we gather other peoples’ soda cups, plastic plates and food trash as well as our own. If I protested, my dad would say, “Think what would happen if the trash goes into Wadi. We couldn’t swim any more. What would other animals drink?”

Giving back. Allie: Walking alongside water calms me. I drink it, canoe across it, water my garden with it. But only lately have I considered what I could do for water.

The St. Paul Library’s 2020 Read Brave books on water protectors inspired me. I became aware of my watershed. Last fall a Sunday School curriculum gave my children and me reminders about water choices.

I suddenly understood rain gardens and why people sweep sidewalks. My daughter and I chose a storm drain through the Adopt-a-Drain program. Every Friday we clean it of leaves and sediment.

What is your watershed role?

Whatever your skills, your watershed can benefit from them. Some roles you could fill:

• storm drain adopter

• Kasota Ponds caretaker

• a walker who picks up trash

• companion and provider for non-human watershed residents

• run-off buster

• leaky faucet fixer

• political activist for water

• artist for Bridal Veil Watershed

Explore these ideas further at the May 15 workshop.

Michala Zien, Mayadhin Al Abri, Allie Rykken, Pat Thompson and Ranae Hanson are members of Transition Town-ASAP’s Watershed team.

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