When Susan Goebel moved to Woodbury a few years ago, she began looking for opportunities to make friends and get involved in the community. In West Bend, Wis., where she had lived for years, she had been a town clerk and a town supervisor. She worked as a volunteer coordinator, taught classes at a nearby technical college, helped establish the first-ever land use plan and recycling program in West Bend, and was an organic gardener and an avid traveler. Now, as a retiree, she was looking for ways to stay engaged and help support local environmental efforts.

Like Goebel, Joan Nichols is a Woodbury resident with a background in education, years of volunteer experience, and an interest in local environmental issues. She is a Minnesota licensed teacher and has spent over a decade teaching adult education and English as a second language classes in Minnesota, in addition to traveling the world as an educator earlier in her career. She also enjoys gardening, and grows produce to donate to people in need through a partnership with Minneapolis-based nonprofit Urban Ventures.

Last year, Goebel and Nichols joined the inaugural cohort of Master Water Stewards in Washington County through a program developed by Freshwater in partnership with Washington Conservation District and the Minnesota Clean Water Fund. Five other county residents, including Nichols' husband Nathan Zerbe, signed up to become stewards as well.

Freshwater developed the Master Water Steward program in 2013, as a way to help support local governments around the state that are working to protect lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater resources.

The Master Water Steward program trains local residents to act as "super-volunteers," providing support for watershed projects and acting as a bridge between scientists, policy makers and the communities that they serve.

Through online and in-person courses, Master Water Stewards learn about watershed science, stormwater management, water policy, strategies for engaging friends and neighbors, and landscaping practices to reduce runoff pollution in urban and rural settings. They also complete a capstone project with help from their host organizations. Example projects include rain gardens, shoreline plantings, habitat management plans and neighborhood outreach efforts. After the coursework and capstone are complete, stewards are officially certified and continue to volunteer in their communities on a wide range of water-related projects and efforts.

For their capstone project, Goebel and Nichols worked together to design educational signs and create a planting plan for two new outdoor classrooms that will be built at Middleton Elementary and Lake Middle Schools in Woodbury. The outdoor classrooms are part of a Campus Greening project with South Washington Watershed District and South Washington County Schools that converted 15-acres of non-active use turf to prairie and native plantings, with 200 new trees. The transformed school campus will use less groundwater for irrigation, capture more rainwater on-site, create habitat for birds and pollinators, and provide unique learning opportunities for the students. In addition to their work on the outdoor classrooms, which will be installed this summer, Goebel and Nichols also helped students to plant trees at the schools last spring.

Since the Master Water Steward program began as a pilot effort in 2013, 277 people in the Twin Cities metro area have become certified as stewards and have contributed 2,542 hours of volunteer service. Though the program is popular, however, it has traditionally required a big time commitment from potential volunteers.

This fall, Freshwater will offer a new, streamlined "mini-training" that will allow interested people in Washington County to become Master Water Stewards more easily. Stewards will be able to do the majority of their learning online, at their own pace and schedule, and will attend just two in-person sessions: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Washington Conservation District offices in Oakdale. They will still learn the same important information and will still get technical support and funding from their host organizations to complete their capstone projects.

To learn more and apply for this fall's Master Water Steward mini-training, visit www.masterwaterstewards.org.