Minnesota Cities Magazine

How a City Rallied Together for Clean Water

By April Ryan, PE

The City of St. Cloud is situated along the picturesque banks of the Mississippi River. More than a beautiful body of water, the river is the city’s sole source of drinking water. When murky, brown sediment plumes were spotted after heavy rainfalls, the city took notice—and action.

Developing a multifaceted approach
The source of the sediment was traced to a 367-acre sub-watershed in the northeastern area of the city. The area, which consists of highly impervious industrial land use, was developed before water quality treatment standards were commonplace.

Though the city has always made water quality a priority—gaining recent recognition for best tasting tap water by the Minnesota American Water Works Association—additional, specialized work was needed in this area to protect their source water.

The first step was to complete an assessment. The city worked with an engineering consultant to determine the primary sources of pollution and develop an action plan to address stormwater management.

The result of that assessment was a multifaceted plan that included in-theground stormwater treatment projects, such as a regional treatment system, raingardens, a GIS-based street sweeping program, sump catch basins and more. Together, the projects would treat over 21.6 million gallons of stormwater annually, and prevent more than 24,400 pounds of sediment and 34.2 pounds of phosphorous from entering the Mississippi River each year.

Educating the community and leading by example
Reducing pollutant loads takes the support and cooperation of the community. So the next critical step in St. Cloud involved working closely with residents and area businesses for buy-in and education.

“Every water project is a community project,” says Lisa Vollbrecht, ENV SP, assistant director of utilities with the City of St. Cloud. “Our success relied on educating and changing the mindset of our community partners.”

As a result, the comprehensive stormwater treatment plan also included a robust public education program and ordinance enforcement strategies. Lunch and learns, newsletters, and one-on-one meetings were used to spread the word and get everyone on board.

While a big part of changing the mindset was through education and communication, the project team knew that leading by example and implementing projects on city-owned properties first would improve community engagement. And it worked.

“When it comes to the environment and water quality, people want to do the right thing,” says Vollbrecht. “They were extremely receptive.”

The first project phase was completed a year after getting funding from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, in partnership with Benton County Soil and Water Conservation District. In all, 70 percent of the first phase was funded by grants.

What’s next?
Construction was completed in October 2016. However, the city doesn’t plan onSidebar with information about stormwater management; includes a large drop of blue water pausing long to reflect on their success. “We want to keep going,” Vollbrecht says. “We’ve focused on treatment in industrial areas, but there’s plenty more we can do.”

The city has already started work on the next round of projects in the northeast sub-watershed, and is in the beginning stages of implementing the same approach in other areas.

By committing to clean water and getting cooperation from the community, the City of St. Cloud is protecting not only its drinking water source, but also preventing pollution from entering the drinking water of numerous cities downstream.

The city’s work is a model for others across the state, says MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine.

“This project demonstrates the City of St. Cloud’s commitment to protecting water quality and the Mississippi River,” Stine says. “Projects like these are great examples of what was envisioned in Gov. Dayton’s call for water action.”

April Ryan, PE, is a senior water resources engineer at Short Elliot Hendrickson Inc. (SEH). SEH (www.sehinc.com) is a member of the LMC Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).

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