There are a lot of tools for improving and protecting clean water.

There is infrastructure like treatment ponds, raingardens, dams and weirs. There are chemical and non-chemical treatments. There are actions of preserving open space, restoring wetlands, re-meandering streams and stabilizing shorelines. There are trees, plants, and wildlife that all affect the health of water bodies.

But behind all of those tools and tactics is a key ingredient - people.

It takes the committed effort of many people on many fronts to face the myriad challenges facing our lakes, streams and wetlands. It takes people to do the little things like pick up pet waste, bag their leaves and direct downspouts away from the road. It takes people to fund projects and offer partnership. It takes people to form groups and work together to move ideas forward and have their concerns heard.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of good outreach and engagement in protecting our water resources. Last month's Clean Water Summit at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum focused on exactly that. Participants learned about the importance of knowing the goals of the community you're working in, appealing to people's values to influence their behavior, and meeting the needs of public and private sector partners to accomplish clean water goals.

Each year, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District recognizes the accomplishments of the people and organizations who work toward clean water with its Watershed Heroes awards. This year's winners demonstrate the diverse ways people can make a difference.

Carver County and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board received the "Innovation in Government" award for taking bold action to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species. Previously unstaffed lakes now have inspectors on hand to help users make sure they aren't bringing damaging invasive species into or out of a water body.

The City of St. Louis Park received the "Outstanding Partner" award for its cooperation with the MCWD on a massive restoration of Minnehaha Creek through the city. The project returned the creek to a more natural shape, restored surrounding wetlands and provided access to 27 acres of green space. The city is now partnering with the District to build trails and a boardwalk through that area.

The students at El Colegio high school in Minneapolis received the "Youth Naturalist" award for their focus on water issues. Students created a video about a new project at the school that prevents rain that falls on the property from running off into nearby storm drains and polluting Minnehaha Creek.

Three individuals - Ken Gothberg, Elizabeth Weir and Lee Keeley-were honored for their longtime civic work for clean water. All three are closely involved with their local lake or stream group and other committees and task forces, fighting for sensible decisions regarding land use, public access and shoreland development.

There are of course many unsung heroes across the state, and even more untapped allies that just need to be engaged in the right way. People need clean water to live, and in today's populated world, it takes people to make sure that water is looked after now and into the future.

Jim Calkins is the president of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Board of Managers.

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