Master Water Stewards Kindle Creativity, Discovery and Action

Bette set up a rain barrel decorating activity at WaterFest that was popular with kids.

This fall our Watershed District started our fifth year of participating in the Master Water Stewards Program. The program kicked off on October 15 with an intro to the program for all participants across the metro area. For more program information and to access the online application go to this link:  

Bette Danielson, Master Water Steward has a passion for protecting Lake Phalen. She discussed local water quality issues with Pastor John Hierlinger from Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church during a youth service outing.

Master Water Stewards is a program across the 7 county metro area and beyond that certifies and supports community volunteers to develop and work on a variety of projects to reduce water pollution and educate community members about ways to protect our waterways and conserve water. The program is a partnership between Freshwater and participating cities, counties, watershed districts and non-profits. Master Water Stewards attend classes, do online lessons, complete a capstone project in their first year, then do 50 hours of volunteering in the subsequent year. Following that, Master Water Stewards volunteer 25 hours a year to keep up their certification. RWMWD currently has 17 active Master Water Stewards.



Bette studied a neighborhood map to determine her team’s route for distributing door hangers.


Here are some of the projects they have been active in implementing in our watershed this year.

Bette Danielson, an east St. Paul resident joined our Master Water Steward team last fall. She had a goal from the start to help her neighborhood become more familiar with where their street stormwater run-off enters Lake Phalen and the impact it has on the lake. She studied maps of the storm sewers and explored potential devices that could be installed to capture the trash that enters the lake at the large 1.

Bette offered information about setting up rain barrels at WaterFest on June 1.

Then, for her educational capstone she chose a different angle to educate the public. She set up an activity station at WaterFest that engaged participants in creating designs on rain barrels that were repurposed and donated for the event by the company, Nordic Ware where she is employed as a Safety and Environmental Affairs Manager. She shared information about how to install these barrels to capture and use rainwater instead of letting it run down sidewalks and into the nearest storm drain.

Bette Danielson (far right) and the Youth Stretch volunteers in the Adopt-A-Drain outreach in the Lake Phalen neighborhood.

In early summer Bette helped coordinate a storm drain adoption door hanger distribution in her neighborhood near Lake Phalen. Working with the Summer Stretch youth volunteers from several eastside churches, she teamed up with fourteen youth and their pastors to distribute about 300 Adopt-A-Drain door hangers to residents who live just east of the lake.





Linda Neilson joined the Master Water Stewards program in our first year in the program. She’s been a member of our Citizen Advisory Committee for many years and a Ramsey County Master Gardener. This winter I asked her if she would be open to helping work with Lionsgate Academy, a new school that opened up this past fall in Shoreview. The school was partnering with our watershed district on a stewardship project that would transform what was once a large impervious parking lot area into a large rain garden, a common play and gathering space planted with alternative turf and a surrounding native perennial garden.

Linda Neilson, Master Water Steward and Ramsey County Master Gardener played a pivotal role in the Lionsgate Academy raingarden project.

It was a big undertaking. We wanted to build a connection to the teachers and students at the school so they could participate in the spring planting of the large rain garden. It was the first time I had worked with students on the autism spectrum. Linda happily agreed to help me and she and I teamed up with several other Master Gardeners to orient the high school students to the process of growing native plants indoors under lights beginning in the deep freeze of winter. By the time spring arrived, we had spent many hours in the classroom, getting acquainted and building trust with these youth and their teachers. The students and teachers were looking forward to getting outside and getting their hands dirty!

Linda Neilson studied the plans to determine the areas to be marked off for different plants in the rain garden.

But there was more work to get ready for the day of planting. Linda’s attention to detail, her expertise with numbers and experience were assets I called upon as we prepared for the planting day. We met onsite at the school on a misty, cold morning in early May. Our mission was to divide the rain garden planting area into sections that could accommodate the over four hundred plants that would be planted by students.

I snapped some photos of Linda as she went about laying out stakes and marking off different planting areas. She was wearing her red garden gnome sweatshirt and I could barely see her face, but she had a commanding presence I could count on as we moved about the garden measuring and dividing up the planting areas in the berm, sides and basin. In short order we had the rain garden prepared and I felt confident that our mission that day was a success!


We completed the planting with the classes from Lionsgate Academy on two bright, sunny days in mid-May. In Linda’s famous trademark way, she rewarded the students’ hard work by bringing over a batch of her famous caramels she handcrafted when the project was finished.

The rain garden plants at Lionsgate Academy were thriving at the end of July.

Since they first joined the Master Water Stewards program four years ago, Anna Barker and Stephanie Wang have been busy creating projects and doing outreach in their community, but they also volunteer for a variety of “gigs” when the call for help goes out for school plantings, Adopt-A-Drain outreach and shoreline restoration projects and other initiatives. Here are several community engagement and education opportunities they organized this year.

Stephanie and Anna Barker and the spring Adopt-A-Rain Garden team at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Woodbury.

Stephanie researched the Adopt-A-Rain Garden program piloted by the city of Stillwater and Washington Conservation District in 2018. She was interested in developing a similar model for maintaining rain gardens installed at churches. After sitting down with staff from Washington Conservation District and RWMWD, she and Anna Barker decided to test-drive a variation on the Adopt-A- Rain Garden concept at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Woodbury where Anna is a member. Together they created and implemented a work plan which incorporated a rain garden supervisor training in late April that drew interested people from across the metro area. Then they organized a rain garden clean-up event at the church for early May and made plans for a rain garden clean-up in mid-August.

Anna’s connections to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Minnesota inspired her to develop a course tour in late June called Gardening for a Purpose that drew visitors to multiple project sites in Washington and Ramsey counties. On one of the tour days participants visited Presbyterian Church’s rain gardens and then drove to nearby Tamarack Nature Preserve where participants were treated to a tour led by Friends of the Fen that highlighted the history and hidden gems in this tucked away tamarack bog. On the second day the stops included Woodbury Elementary School’s large scale rain gardens and a residential site perched above Battle Creek in Woodbury where Anna and Stephanie had assisted a homeowner in installing a rain garden as their capstone project.



Anna Barker offers tips about tree care on the Olli Tour stop at Woodbury Elementary rain gardens.

As the planting season draws to a close this fall, another 2019 Master Water Stewards is preparing to complete his Master Water Steward capstone project. Logan Stapleton grew up on the east side of St. Paul and from the moment he entered the program he had his sights on finishing off a restoration project that began on Lake Phalen back in 2001. There is a small section of the east shoreline, known as the “Point” that was not restored. Together with a group of volunteers in mid-September he intends to replace the scrubby trees, non-native shrubs and reed canary grass with a mix of native wetland and upland prairie grasses and forbs. Logan has volunteered in a variety of settings from food justice to waste management. He is completing the Ramsey County Master Gardener program and is just beginning a graduate program at the University of Minnesota in computer science. When asked what he expects to gain from his participation in the Master Water Stewards program, Logan’s response was, “I’d love to learn enough about our urban water systems to be able to teach others about Lake Phalen and its role within our ecosystem.”


Discover ways to put your passions and talents to work in your community! You can join our Master Water Steward team this year, expand your knowledge about local issues and make a tangible impact.


Logan Stapleton’s restoration site at the “Point” on the eastern shore of Lake Phalen.