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MN Water District and High School Collaborate on Stormwater and Education

Forest Lake, MN, USA
Bolton & Menk

Government Champion

Forest Lake Area Schools

Cost

Initial:
422 Thousand USD

Project Status

Operational since 2019

At a Glance

A common goal was discovered between multiple organizations in the Forest Lake area to improve both stormwater reuse and stormwater education. The partnership that developed ultimately created a curriculum to teach students about monitoring and harvesting stormwater for irrigation purposes.

Problem Addressed

In 2016, a unique partnership was developed amongst the City of Forest Lake, Rice Creek Watershed District (RCWD), the Minnesota Department of Health, Forest Lake Area Schools (FLAS), Forest Lake High School environmental, biology, and agriculture faculty, and the student-led environmental club. FLAS began to improve facilities at the high school and had to meet RCWD’s stormwater management permit requirements. After some planning meetings, it became clear that all partners had a common environmental stewardship goal in mind. Their commitment to environmental protection, education, and sustainability brought unique perspectives to this influential project, completed in 2019, that received more than $500,000 in support from the Board of Water and Soil Resources Clean Water Fund. Several FLAS campuses across the City of Forest Lake were assessed for feasibility of stormwater capture and use for irrigation—the high school emerged as the best candidate.

Forest Lake Area Schools used/is using collaboration and innovation to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

The first phase of a long-term stormwater reuse and education program started at the Forest Lake High School site. This included constructing a new stormwater basin to filter and treat stormwater. Bolton & Menk was approached to design and implement the stormwater basin, which was ultimately converted to a wet pond to provide re-use system water storage. The pond receives runoff from a drainage area of 19.9 acres, including 14.3 acres of impervious surfaces. In order to irrigate approximately 12 acres of athletic fields, this pond was designed to provide a storage volume for supply into the existing irrigation system. An existing water supply remains connected to the irrigation system and supplements the irrigation supply during drier periods. During this phase, stormwater pond retrofits and construction of a new irrigation infrastructure reduces potable groundwater usage at the high school by more than 4 million gallons-per-year. This helps support the city’s initiative to reduce irrigation and other non-consumptive water uses.

An educational curriculum was also developed to integrate the reuse technology and water conservation concepts into biology, agriculture, and earth science courses. Through science and technology curriculum development, teachers and students will monitor water used compared to stormwater harvested for irrigation. Additional educational materials were developed to track water usage benefits for both student and public consumption. FLAS faculty were excited to think outside the box and develop lessons surrounding the importance of stormwater management on their campus.

The Forest Lake High School Stormwater Capture and Reuse for Irrigation Project aligned with other building and parking improvements, which led to substantial overall cost savings. The project consisted of modifying an existing stormwater facility and constructing a new stormwater pond where stormwater is pumped to irrigate the high school’s football, baseball/softball, and soccer fields. The collected stormwater will supplement the sites’ current groundwater irrigation well for more than 85 percent of the year, on average, resulting in more than 4 million gallons of groundwater saved each year. Water is pumped through a filter and an ultraviolet (UV) treatment system to ensure bacteria, and other potentially harmful pathogens are eliminated. FLAS’ Grounds and Maintenance group is dedicated to managing and maintaining the system, which includes operating the irrigation pumps and treatment system and pulling the pumps out of the pond in the winter. This project is one of many on campus studied by environmental sciences, biology, and agriculture classrooms at the high school. Other projects include a green house facility, pollinator garden, and other stormwater treatment basins.

Outcomes

  1. Reduced solids and phosphorus loading to Clear Lake supporting RCWD’s and the Clear Lake Association's initiatives to keep the lake off the city's impaired waters list
  2. Improved groundwater recharge supporting Washington County’s and the city’s groundwater management planning goal, found in the City of Forest Lake 2040 Comprehensive Plan
  3. A testing site to identify harmful bacteria that may be transmitted to humans via irrigation infrastructure to support the MN Department of Health’s irrigation treatment initiatives
  4. An outdoor classroom and real-world environmental laboratory for teachers and students to learn about innovative approaches to natural resource protection

Lessons Learned

  1. Educational opportunities are available and prevalent when all partners collaborate efficiently and have the same goal in mind.
  2. Stormwater management techniques can be taught at the high school level, encouraging sustainable living from an early age.

Something Unique

The partnership between the City of Forest Lake, Rice Creek Watershed District (RCWD), the Minnesota Department of Health, Forest Lake Area Schools (FLAS), Forest Lake High School environmental, biology, and agriculture faculty, and the student-led environmental club was a unique aspect of this project. This group pooled their specific expertise to ensure all stormwater management and educational opportunities went off without a hitch.

Who Should Consider?

Communities striving to increase stormwater irrigation education in their school systems while improving water quality and following state-specific irrigation guidelines.

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