It takes only 10% impervious cover in a watershed before water bodies start becoming impaired. In the St. Paul, MN, region, it’s at 42%. Mitigating that is both satisfying and challenging for Mark Doneux, administrator for the Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD), one of Minnesota’s 48 watershed districts. It was formed in 1998 by a group of St. Paul–area citizens wanting a more active management plan for Lake Como.
The district is unique among the state’s watershed districts in that its boundaries cover 41 built-out square miles, parts of five cities, a quarter-million residents, and five lakes, says Doneux. Water resources discharge to the Mississippi River Basin. “We have a lot of impairment,” he says. “A lot of streams have been buried in pipes years ago.”
What He Does Day to Day
Doneux oversees 14 staff members and an $8.8 million budget. CRWD builds, owns, operates, and maintains stormwater best management practices. The district owns its own storm sewer system, a 100-year-old, 6-mile-long storm tunnel draining four of the cities, making CRWD an MS4. Key programs include an extensive urban stormwater monitoring and research network; a regulatory program requiring permits for projects of more than 1 acre to address water quality, flood control practices, and erosion control; water resource improvement projects; education and outreach; technical assistance; and providing grants for water-quality improvement projects and programs.
Doneux works with project managers and staff to coordinate work with partners on large public projects to ensure proper integration of water-quality practices. He works with CRWD’s five-member board of managers on budgets, plans, and policies. He also works with the district’s citizen advisory committee. Doneux serves on the Washington County Board of Adjustment and Appeals, which takes up land-use and zoning issues. Doneux, a board member for the Jon Francis Foundation—named for a man found a year after he went missing in the Idaho mountains in 2006—also teaches wilderness safety to help people enjoy the outdoors safely.
What Led Him to This Line of Work
Doneux says he’s had a long-time love of the outdoors and Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. He grew up in Northfield, fishing along the Cannon River and playing in the marshes. A high school canoe trip through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with two friends “really galvanized my love of lakes and the outdoors, and it’s been a passion ever since,” he says. “Many of us live in cities. It’s so important that we get outdoors. A lot of research supports that.”
Doneux entered college to study mechanical engineering but later enrolled in land reclamation as a major at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville, where he earned a B.S. degree. “The switch really flipped that fall semester when I got into geology and soils and surveying,” he says. “I knew I wanted to work in the environmental field from then on.” Prior to his involvement with CRWD, Doneux served as a water resource specialist for several entities.
What He Likes Best About His Work
Doneux says he feels fortunate to work for CRWD: “Our board is very willing to try new approaches and take a leadership role in stormwater management. It’s an exciting time.” Seeing change on the landscape and being able to go out into the field and look at something that’s been completed “is just so gratifying, to say our organization made this happen and I had a hand in this,” says Doneux. “It’s rewarding to take a group out on a tour, show them our work, and see the expression on people’s faces when they appreciate what’s gone into it. Sometimes these projects are underground; they’re complicated and don’t always get to see the light of day. You still know there’s something under that street or ballfield that’s helping to keep water clean.”
His Biggest Challenge
Instilling patience is a challenge, notes Doneux. “In a time when everything is at our fingertips, a lot of our projects take years to implement. They take relationship building, planning, and coordination. Patience does so much for so many different challenges we face. We need to take a deep breath, respect other people’s positions, and realize it’s going to take time.”