Building Smart and Sustainable Cities with Renewable Energy

September 18, 2023
By Behnaz Beladi, Director of Renewable Energy, WSB

WSB knows the importance of creating resilient and sustainable cities that prioritize the needs of its residents while preserving the environment. Smart cities that utilize technology to collect data and improve operations are crucial in advancing toward a more sustainable future. Renewable energy has emerged as a critical strategy in achieving this goal and is being implemented and managed in various ways across smart cities.

Here are several key benefits and challenges of implementing renewable energy in smart cities:

Reducing Emissions

An important benefit of using renewable energy in smart cities is that it helps reduce carbon emissions. By using distributed energy resources such as wind and solar power, smart cities work towards reducing their carbon footprint to zero. This helps the environment and makes the city a desirable place to live and work.

Economic Growth

One of the most significant benefits of renewable energy in smart cities is the potential for economic growth. Affordable and reliable renewable power can attract and retain companies, provide green jobs, and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation through renewable business incubators.

Quality of Life

Public health and safety can be improved through emission free cities. Renewable energy increases the quality of life for residents, particularly those in lower-income households. Inclusivity is promoted by providing access to renewable resources and grants to help cover the costs for low-income residents. Furthermore, residents can be paid to redistribute excess energy back into the grid, providing additional financial support to those needing it.


Despite these benefits, there are still challenges to implementing renewable energy in smart cities. To sufficiently leverage renewable sources, a great deal of new transmission infrastructure is required. Power transmission infrastructure was built with large fossil fuel plants and nuclear plants in mind. This raises issues for renewable energy sources not located near existing infrastructure. In fact, some areas with little or no infrastructure, such as off-shore wind farms, are some of the best hopes for sources of renewable energy. In some cities, it may be more difficult to build power plants due to geography, regulations and policies, or issues with constructability. However, through technology and innovation, WSB helps cities find ways to utilize existing infrastructure while being incredibly cost-effective in the long run. This includes incorporating smart EV chargers into commercial buildings and condominiums, helping with solar needs for residential or commercial buildings, and designing wind and solar power plants for cities and utilities.

How WSB Can Help

Renewable energy is an essential component of any smart city. By reducing carbon emissions, driving economic growth, and improving the quality of life for residents, renewable energy is helping to create cities of the future. As more communities adopt renewable energy practices, WSB is here to help design and build new infrastructure or incorporate renewable energy sources into existing infrastructure.

Behnaz manages the multi-disciplinary renewable energy team in project and program operations. She is an accomplished academic, with a PhD of Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University of Vienna, an associate of the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) and has served on the board of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, advocating for policy and regulatory initiative’s that strengthen the industry.

[email protected] | 612.468.8423

Behnaz Beladi

New Law Will Spur Community Solar Investments in Minnesota

By Andi Moffat, VP of Environmental and Eric Zweber, Sr Renewables Project Manager, WSB

Solar energy is on the rise, and it’s not just about cleaner power – it’s also about smarter land use. In Minnesota, a groundbreaking community solar law passed earlier this year is spurring action, allowing communities to turn underutilized land more easily, including brownfields and contaminated sites, into thriving community solar sites.

This innovative approach not only benefits the environment but also boosts local economies and creates job opportunities. With new legislation making it easier to establish solar gardens, the future looks brighter than ever.

Here is what this new law means and how communities across Minnesota can take advantage.

Legislation Paves the Way for Solar Garden Expansion

Recent legislation in Minnesota makes it easier to establish solar gardens. The 2023 law increases the allowed energy production on a site from one to five megawatts of power. On average, it takes about 35-40 acres of land to produce five megawatts of energy. The increase in allowed energy production makes solar more attractive for investors which will help spur overall solar growth. While the law applies to regions whose energy is covered by investor-owned utilities like Xcel Energy, distribution generation projects can be created in other utility service territories.

Moreover, the new law requires that the garden must benefit at least 25 subscribers. Of those subscribers, 55 percent must be public interest (i.e., local government, school districts, certain non-profit organizations, etc.), and 30 percent must serve subscribers with low to moderate incomes. Communities looking to identify subscribers that meet these requirements can work with organizations like Fresh Energy.

Finally, this law increases community solar opportunities across the state by removing county-specific restrictions for solar development. This change reduces barriers for communities and organizations who want to develop community solar sites. As a result of this law, solar initiatives are expected to flourish statewide, creating a ripple effect of positive environmental and economic impacts.

Transforming Underutilized Land & Providing Opportunities

Many large pieces of available property, including brownfields, often wait decades for redevelopment. Community solar offers an attractive interim use for these underutilized spaces. Putting community solar on these properties can accelerate the return on investment for landowners, while also providing an immediate positive impact to the community.

Beyond the financial incentives for landowners or subscribers, transforming spaces into solar gardens creates opportunities for local employment, fosters economic growth and contributes to the state’s clean energy and electrification goals.

How WSB Can Help

If you are a community or large commercial organization looking to utilize land and take advantage of this new opportunity, WSB is here to help. We are a full-service solar development firm and can provide site design, help identify land for community solar sites or make connections with contractors. Furthermore, we help your community examine and update local ordinances to align with the recent change in state statute.

Andi is a Vice President with more than two decades of experience leading people and projects that include planning, environmental, energy, highway, natural resources, construction and development. She oversees our Environmental services and approaches her work with passion and positivity.

[email protected]m | 763.287.7196

Eric has over 20 years experience with community planning, renewable energy and sustainability projects. He has worked cooperatively with a number renewable energies developers to develop both solar and wind resources and is a past board member of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industrial Association (MnSEIA). He has a passion for sustainable and resilient practices to address the needs of communities and larger public.

[email protected] | 612.581.0504

Transportation grants

New Transportation Grants: Tips on Getting Selected 

September 18, 2023
By Mary Gute, Sr Transportation Planner, WSB

Transportation grants are crucial to funding local city and county transportation-related projects. What can local governments do to stand out, score well and ensure they receive funding for their priority projects? Here is more information on the transportation grants and how to qualify. 

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Local Road Improvement Program

MnDOT’s 2023 Local Road Improvement Program solicitation is designated for projects that will be constructed between 2024-2026. A total of $103 million is available during this round of funding. The maximum dollar amount that can be awarded is $1.5 million per project. Applications are due December 8, 2023, and award announcements are expected March 29, 2024. There is no match required for these funds.

What projects qualify?

Each project must fit within one of three buckets that correlate to these MnDOT accounts: trunk highway corridor, routes of regional significance or rural road safety. 

  • Trunk highway corridor projects must be on county, local, or township roads that are impacted by MnDOT trunk highway improvements. 
  • Projects in the routes of regional significance bucket are for roads classified as A-minor collector roads or higher. LRIP funds can be used for road construction, reconstruction or reconditioning projects. This fund is also intended to fund projects that would have regional significance, could help reduce congestion or spur economic development along corridors. 
  • Roads not classified as an A-minor collector or higher can also qualify for these funds by meeting a portion of the below criteria:
    • Classified as a farm to market route
    • Providing capacity or congestion relief to a parallel truck highway system or county road
    • Included in an economic development plan
    • Included as part of a 10-ton route or network
    • Connect to a tourist destination
    • Connect to the regional transportation system, trunk highway or county road
How can your locality increase its chances of receiving this funding?

If your project fits into one of these three buckets, how can you ensure your project receives funding? 

MnDOT looks at eligibility, operations and safety, regional significance, support by relevant local governments including availability of other funding sources, lack of controversy, expected useful life of at least a decade and high impact. Projects will be weighted on a variety of factors including 25 percent for project readiness and 5 percent for complete streets consideration which focuses on safety and accessibility. 

Furthermore, projects that stand out have a large positive impact on the community and are ready to begin construction. That means ensuring all planning documents are up to date and demonstrate how the project will contribute to the local economy, region and/or residents. 

For communities with less than five thousand residents, it’s also important to secure a resolution of support from the local county before applying for the grant. 

Finally, early coordination with MnDOT district staff, including the District State Aid Engineer and the District State Aid Assistant can be helpful to vetting potential projects and establishing projects to submit through the LRIP and other competitive funding programs. 

Metropolitan Council Regional Solicitation Grants

The Metropolitan Council Regional Solicitation Grants distribute federal funding for a wide range of transportation improvements, including roadways and bicycle/pedestrian projects. While the start date this program has not yet been announced, this is the perfect time to plan ahead and prepare. It is also the time to ensure communities can secure the 20 percent required match. 

What can I do to prepare before this program opens up?

Communities can determine if their projects qualify for the Regional Solicitation program and how competitive their project will be well in advance of the program opening up. This includes determining the application type that needs to be submitted and if the project is in alignment with the programs prioritizing criteria, which includes role in the transportation system and economy, equity, infrastructure condition, safety, project readiness and community engagement. These cross-cutting areas of emphasis are great opportunities for communities to augment their sustainability and resiliency efforts.

How can you increase your chances of receiving this funding?

Funding for eligible projects is very competitive so making sure your project stands out is critical. To increase the chances of receiving Regional Solicitation funding, projects should align with the Council’s planning documents. Projects that improve accessibility for low income or traditionally disadvantaged communities will also score better, like projects that focus on environmental justice (EJ) communities. To find out more, visit the state’s EJ mapping tool and other resources at Environmental justice | Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (

Collaboration and partnership are also key to setting a project apart. All jurisdictions involved should be supportive of the project and working with partners now across levels of government will demonstrate project readiness. Moreover, being able to demonstrate stakeholder engagement like public meetings or resident input specific to the proposed project can also elevate your project to the top among applicants. 

It is notable that for the 2024 cycle, the Met Council has increased the weight placed on addressing fatalities on the transportation system, making this the highest valued criterion for many application categories.

How WSB Can Help

These grants provide amazing opportunities to help fund critical transportation projects. WSB’s experienced team knows how to make projects stand out and increase your chances of receiving funding. 

Contact us for guidance on everything from project competitiveness to assisting with transportation grant applications.

Mary has 20 years of progressively complex transportation planning and project management experience, gained from working on a variety of transportation projects for modes including roads/bridge, transit, and trails. Several these projects have included environmental documentation considerations – either pre-NEPA, or through NEPA and/or MEPA processes.

[email protected] | 612.741.7055

Updated Digital As-Built Requirements: What Energy Companies Need to Know & How They Can Benefit

August 14, 2023
By Nate Osterberg, Director of Strategic Growth and Garrett Deick, Professional Engineer, WSB

When the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) mandated new permitted utility installations meet Digital As-built Requirements (DAC), WSB adopted a workflow that allowed utilities to meet and exceed these new requirements. At the forefront of this change in Colorado, we helped utilities navigate the new law with cutting-edge technologies and mapping.

Now, many other states across the country are looking to implement similar laws, mandates and programs and there are things utilities should know. What are the rules, how can utility companies prepare and how do these new SUE requirements benefit energy companies and other entities in the long-term? 

What are the rules in Colorado?

Essentially, any entity installing utilities in a DOT right of way is required to use a digital as-built. All utility lines will need to be mapped digitally and submitted to CDOT, including plans and existing lines. Utility companies will be required to survey existing utility lines — commonly known as Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) — and submit them to the state using their chosen software. 

Another key factor is ensuring the utility lines are found to the highest accuracy quality levels using geophysical methods to locate and map them.

With more states adopting similar requirements, how can utilities prepare?

Utility companies need to plan SUE investigations for their new facility installations. In the recent Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA), the federal government is providing grants to utility companies to complete the digital as-built mapping needed starting in 2024. These funds can be used for damage prevention and supporting SUE investigations and installation.

Utilities also must ensure that they are prepared to not only gather the data, but store and use the data too. Preparing teams to use SUE data in the design and construction process has many benefits. 

What are the benefits of SUE investigations?

For every dollar spent on a SUE investigation, as much as $22 can be saved in the construction phase. SUE allows utility companies to avoid damage to gas, water, electric and sewer lines that are costly to repair. It also reduces construction down time, which is also costly. In short, SUE helps prevent unexpected changes and expenses during construction. 

Preventing damage also helps avoid environmental consequences. If a gas line is hit, gas leaks into the ground and atmosphere, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. These leaks carry serious public safety concerns. By using SUE investigations, damage can be avoided. 

In the future, electric companies will benefit greatly from SUE investigations as well. In the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, electric companies will have large grants available to move overhead lines underground. With digital maps of utility lines provided by SUE investigations, electric companies will be able to plan and design around existing underground utilities and make the process more efficient and cost effective. 

For many of the same reasons, telecom companies will benefit from SUE investigations. As 5G expands across the country, installation is happening underground to protect lines from natural disasters. With digital maps from SUE investigations, these lines will be easier to install efficiently and prevent damage from future construction.

Lastly, cities will benefit from better mapping data. Much of the nation’s water infrastructure was built more than a century ago and GIS and other modern technologies were not used to comprehensively map water lines. In the next couple decades, many water lines are due to be replaced. With SUE investigations happening now, cities can plan around the current infrastructure when replacing and maintaining their water lines.

How can WSB help?

WSB’s team provides the knowledge and skill to help utilities and governments prepare for and implement new SUE requirements. Utilizing the latest technologies and processes, we helped utilities not only meet, but exceed new state requirements in Colorado. WSB also provides utility companies with all data in GIS/CAD format allowing them to use their data for planning and construction.

WSB’s team can assist with everything from the pre-engineering phase through construction phase. We help with understanding new regulations, securing grant funding, and more for utilities and local governments. 

Nate Osterberg has over 12 years of experience in the utility industry and specializes in utility inspection for WSB’s Pipeline group. Nate’s expertise lies in managing inspection staff technology implementation, scheduling and quality control in addition to CFR 192/195 inspection, damage prevention and GIS-based web mapping.

[email protected] | 612.202.2997

Nate Osterberg

Garrett specializes in utility coordination and has worked on a variety of projects including state aid, federal aid, cooperative agreement, trunk highway, and design build projects. He has extensive experience utilizing Microstation, GEOPAK, and Open Roads Designer for plan development, 3D modelling of utilities, and utility conflict analysis.

[email protected] | 612.289.1175

Unprecedented $16M in Urban and Community Forestry Grants

August 14, 2023
By Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager, WSB

The Minnesota DNR has announced two forestry grants available for urban & community forestry activities. Neither grant requires a match, in fact you aren’t even encouraged to provide match information, which is new this year and a great time saver when it comes to reporting. Each grant is up to $500,000, with no minimum request and covers different activities.  

Eligible applicants include non-profit organizations with 501(c)(3) status and local units of government in Minnesota, including cities, counties, regional authorities, joint powers boards, towns and tribal. Parks and recreation boards in cities of the first class are also eligible to apply.  Unfortunately, funding is not available through these grants for school districts. Like previous grants, there is a list of five criteria that applicants will obtain extra points for meeting, such as using credentialed staff or consultants, benefiting underserved populations and areas of concern for environmental justice, communities with populations under 20,000, prioritizing EAB, and maintaining or increasing tree canopy cover.

The first grant is through ReLeaf funding. This grant covers a long list of activities. Injections and removal/replacement of ash trees is included, but also more activities than just EAB, such as maintenance pruning. Through this grant for the first time, cities can apply for funding to help their low-income residential property owners with tree work. Additionally, grant funding can cover staff time, which is a new feature.

The second grant is through Shade tree program bonding and the emphasis is primarily tree removal and stump grinding to make space for new trees to be planted. New this year, if you are removing infested ash in wooded areas, you will not be required to replant 1:1.

Here is a break down on each grant with examples of what they cover, and details on when applications are due. Both grants will go through 2027.

ReLeaf community forestry grants, 2023-2027 – $6.883 million in grants for local units of government and non-profit organizations in Minnesota that encourage and promote the inventory, planting, assessment, maintenance, treatment, improvement, protection and restoration of trees and forest resources to enhance community forest health and sustainability, reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and promote energy conservation.
Deadline: September 18, 2023.

Shade tree program bonding grants, 2023-2027 – $10.063 million in grants for local units of government in Minnesota that are planning to replace trees lost to forest pests, disease, or storm; or to establish a more diverse community forest better able to withstand disease and forest pests.
Deadline: October 2, 2023.

DNR staff offered a webinar, and the recording is now online. There are still two opportunities to attend sessions to learn more on 8/15 in Marshall and one on 8/16 in St. Paul. For more about the grants, and to learn about the listening sessions:  Community forestry | Minnesota DNR ( If you would like assistance with formulating a grant project, acquiring estimates for work and writing a grant, please contact Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager at [email protected] or 651-318-9945.  Emily is an ISA Certified Arborist (#4284A) and has had extensive experience applying for grants like these in her city forester roles with Minnetonka and Lakeville. She is already working with several cities to target their grant applications strategically.

Emily is a ISA Certified Arborist, MN Tree Inspector that brings 20 years of experience, primarily in community forestry. She has extensive experience in contract administration, management of staff, AmeriCorps members and contractors, budget and grant management, plan review, tree health and condition inspections, outreach and education. She works closely with partner organizations, staff, and the community to educate, manage natural resources and provide excellent customer service.

[email protected] | 651.318.9945

How Leaders are Getting Smart About Community Development

August 14, 2023
By Kim Lindquist, Director of Community Planning and Economic Development, WSB

Thoughtful, comprehensive and smart community development takes planning. Communities need to be socially and economically resilient, as well as attract and advance projects that benefit residents, local businesses, and the community as a whole.

Data and technology are key to twenty-first century community development, and adapting to and adopting smart strategies and tools can help give communities the edge in building the city of tomorrow.

Here are some ways that cities are getting smart about community development.

Smart tools better promote cities and project opportunities to developers.

City leaders know that their community is the best place to live, work, and grow a business. But how is that easily communicated to the right audiences to attract development and investment? That is where smart tools come into play.

More than ever before, people expect to have information at their fingertips. For local leaders, that means ensuring that the community’s online presence is accessible and does a good job telling the story about why your community matters.

This also means having a place where developers can easily find what parcels of land are ready and available for development. Critical data for developer decision-making includes not only spaces that appear “shovel-ready,” but also what transportation systems are near a property, what utilities serve the area, and more.

Some utilities like Xcel Energy and the State of Minnesota allow developers to search their databases online to find development property that meets their individual needs. Being aware of, and partnering with these services, can also ensure cities are promoting what is available and ready for investment.

Use data to make communities more resilient.

Resiliency is key to community development, and a vital part of resiliency is having a diversified tax base with a good mix of residential, commercial, and industrial properties. This is also important to help communities withstand economic downturns.

When crafting comprehensive plans, building strategies to attract new development, and planning for growth, data is more important than ever. Most cities have a trove of data available and using that information in smart ways to guide decision-making helps ensure community durability and resiliency.   

Smart cities empower residents to engage and make communities more accessible.

Whether it’s a resident easily pulling up data on zoning and permitting to build a deck extension on their home or participating in public meetings on a community’s comprehensive plan, technology is making it easier for residents to engage with and be invested in the future of their city.

As cities plan new neighborhoods or projects for example, they can foster community buy-in by using virtual tools to illustrate what a completed project will look like. Advances in surveying and mapping also allow for more instantaneous engagement and better demonstrate to residents and developers where there are meaningful opportunities for growth.

Smart cities meet people where they are, and technology makes information easily available and accessible.

How WSB Can Help

WSB’s team of experts help local leaders with community planning, zoning applications, permitting, developing and executing comprehensive plans, and ensuring community resiliency. We work with cities every day to build smart tools and tactics into their community development strategies. 

Kim is a planning professional with over 30 years of experience overseeing a variety of complex planning projects. She has worked in high growth communities with developers and the public on entitlements for residential development and attracting business to the city.

[email protected] | 763.287.8303

Kim Lindquist

5 Ways To Improve Pedestrian Safety For All Residents

August 14, 2023
By Gus Perron, Project Manager, WSB

In recent years, there has been a distressing increase in pedestrian-vehicle collisions, highlighting the vulnerability of pedestrians on the road. Several reasons have contributed to this surge including the unforeseen impact of COVID-19, which kept people off the roads for extended periods, leading to increased speeds and reduced vigilance. Moreover, distracted driving due to the prevalence of smartphones and electronic devices, impaired driving, speeding and inadequate pedestrian infrastructure have all played a role in pedestrian-related accidents and fatalities.

Combating this concerning trend necessitates a comprehensive approach encompassing awareness campaigns, responsible driving habits, and improved infrastructure to prioritize pedestrian safety and reduce these tragic accidents.

Here are five things communities can do to increase pedestrian safety.

Implement a Complete Streets policy

Communities should consider a Complete Streets transportation policy that prioritizes the safety and accessibility of all road users. That means finding balance and designing streets that cater to pedestrians, cyclists, public transit users and motorists. Complete streets encourage active transportation and promote pedestrian safety. With dedicated bike lanes, well-marked crosswalks and improved transit facilities, the policy fosters a pedestrian-friendly environment while enhancing overall traffic flow. By combining these elements and striking a balance, communities can advance holistic solutions to improve safety for all users. 

Protect students with Safe Routes To School

Safe Routes to School is a national program dedicated to enhancing pedestrian safety for students traveling to and from school. By funding and implementing infrastructure improvements and traffic calming measures, Safe Routes to School creates safer pathways, crosswalks and bike lanes for children. Moreover, the program emphasizes educational initiatives to promote road safety awareness and responsible pedestrian behavior. Cities should explore grant funding opportunities for safe routes to school projects. 

Adopt a policy on uncontrolled crossings

Uncontrolled crossings, characterized by the absence of stop signs or traffic signals, pose significant safety challenges for pedestrians. To address this issue, it is crucial to develop a comprehensive policy that clearly communicates what a community’s rules and priorities are at these types of crossings. Building local support is essential in gaining traction for the implementation of appropriate measures which could include installing marked crosswalks, warning signs, pedestrian refuge islands, curb extensions (bumpouts) or beacons to enhance pedestrian visibility and safety. By proactively addressing uncontrolled crossings, local authorities can create safer road environments and protect pedestrians and drivers from potential hazards.

Design facilities for pedestrians of all abilities 

Ensuring safe and accessible facilities for pedestrians with physical disabilities at crossings is of the utmost importance, a protected civil right. There must be sufficient signal crosswalk times so people with mobility issues can cross safely. Additionally, implementing detectable warning surfaces at curb ramps can serve as tactile indicators for those with vision impairments, alerting pedestrians that the protection of the sidewalk is ending and a crosswalk is beginning. Sidewalks should also be wide enough and without barriers, cracks, large gaps, etc. to ensure they are usable for people with disabilities including wheelchair users. 

By incorporating these features, municipalities can enhance pedestrian safety and create a more inclusive and accommodating environment for everyone. 

Consider the technology and tools that work best for a crossing 

Different types of beacons can serve different types of crossings, so communities should explore what works best. RRFB (Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon) warning lights can be installed, requiring pedestrians to push a button to activate flashing lights, alerting vehicles that people are crossing. Alternatively, a Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon, activated by pedestrians, can operate similarly to a traffic light, flashing yellow and red to control traffic flow. Although the Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon may cost more upfront, it becomes more advantageous for pedestrians in areas with higher traffic volume or faster vehicle speeds. By integrating these technologies, communities can improve the overall pedestrian experience and improve safety. 

How WSB can help

WSB plays a vital role in enhancing pedestrian safety and accessibility. We can help communities identify funding, develop policies, as well as scope, design, and construct pedestrian infrastructure enhancements. By thoroughly analyzing the impact of traffic solutions for vehicles and pedestrians, including those using mobility devices, they ensure comprehensive and inclusive planning, balancing the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. Drawing from their depth of experience, WSB actively listens to clients’ needs, tailoring individualized plans that address specific community needs. With a keen focus on safety, WSB considers existing speeds, crossing widths and traffic volumes to identify the most effective solutions to mitigate potential fatalities. Leveraging the latest technological tools for data collection, WSB can assess data to identify areas of highest need, allowing for practical and data-driven improvements.

Gus is WSB’s expert in accessible pedestrian and bicycle facilities, with a traffic engineering background which allows him to blend pedestrian accessibility with safety and mobility. He uses best practices to achieve constructable and usable pedestrian facilities for a variety of project scopes across different environments.

[email protected] | 612.360.1296

Build Resilience into Water Reuse Infrastructure and Systems

August 14, 2023
By Bill Alms, Project Manager, WSB

The Midwest is experiencing a drought this summer. High temperatures and scarce precipitation have led many communities to implement watering bans and other solutions to help manage limited water resources.

For community leaders, it’s crucial to recognize that addressing drought and the impacts of climate change is a marathon, and not a sprint. While drought is top of mind for communities right now, it is equally essential to adopt a long-term perspective, and explore investing in systems and infrastructure that will minimize the impacts of drought and flooding in the long term and protect potable water supplies.

How can communities think long-term about water resiliency, reuse systems and planning? Here are some things to consider.

Invest in Resilient Water Systems that Can Handle Climate Extremes

Cycles of drought and flooding are becoming more common as global temperatures rise. Ensuring access to clean, safe water is critical for communities, and that means investing in infrastructure and water reuse systems that are efficient, effective and resilient.

WSB worked with Hugo, Minnesota on a sustainable water reuse strategy more than a decade ago, helping them build resiliency into systems. From reducing potable water use in landscaping, to placing reservoirs in strategic locations to ensure adequate water supply for high use areas, to educating the public on the importance of water conservation and reuse, the city’s water reuse strategy has been successful. It’s also made their water systems less susceptible to drought and climate change.

Communities looking to find similar success should approach water reuse and infrastructure in steps.

  1. Start with a feasibility analysis. Communities should begin with a feasibility analysis to determine areas with the lowest water supply, high water consumption, and inefficiency points. Based on this analysis, authorities can establish priorities, discerning which places require the most water and where there is greatest demand. Facilities like athletic complexes, schools, and manufacturing plants, which consume substantial amounts of water, should be evaluated accordingly. Pairing a usage map with existing sources can help determine how to build a more integrated and efficient system.
  2. Think regionally. It’s important to think regionally when planning for water reuse systems instead of site by site. How far apart are water sources? Where is the greatest consumption? Thinking about how pump systems can serve larger areas, placing retention ponds in strategic locations best suited to collect stormwater, and connecting water sources across a community promotes greater efficiency and benefits the environment, especially under drought conditions.
  3. Understand the value of long-term investments. When investing in more resilient water reuse systems, communities may be deterred by significant upfront costs, but the long-term benefits are significant. Communities should look at water reuse systems like other utilities and how to best maximize return on investment for everything from pumps to irrigation systems, to reservoirs. Adopting large-scale water intake and distribution infrastructure to meet specific needs minimizes water waste, as well as reduces the negative impacts from drought and flooding cycles. Numerous grants and funding sources are available to help design and implement water reuse projects.
  4. Engage residents. Public buy-in for reuse systems is important to foster conservation best practices and reduce the strain on groundwater reservoirs. More efficient systems and incentives for users can also significantly reduce the strain on water supply systems.
Take Advantage of the Drought

In the short term, many water basins are running low or are dry. While this situation poses many problems for communities, and reinforces the importance of resilient water reuse infrastructure, drought also provides an unexpected opportunity for critical maintenance work. Routine maintenance or fixing erosion or failed intakes and outfalls, for example, can be difficult when water levels are normal or high. Low water levels provide a meaningful opportunity to ensure systems are functioning properly, and access equipment that may normally be underwater.

How Can WSB Help?

WSB offers a wide range of services to assist cities and communities in implementing effective water conservation practices, especially in dealing with the challenges posed by aging infrastructure and extreme weather cycles of drought and flooding.

WSB provides tailored solutions for every community, and can help with feasibility analysis, design of reuse systems, public engagement, securing grant funding for projects and more. WSB empowers communities to ensure the longevity and functionality of their water-related assets, fostering sustainable water conservation practices for the future and more resilient systems.

Bill is a project manager in WSB’s Water Resources group providing planning, design and construction management for a wide range of water resource projects. He has experience includes low impact developments utilizing standard and alternative storm water management systems including above and below ground infiltration, filtration and detention systems and rainwater harvesting and reuse.

[email protected] | 952.388.4188

How Communities Can Prepare for Minnesota’s New Native Landscaping Law

August 14, 2023
By Alison Harwood, Director of Natural Resources, Kim Lindquist, Director of Community Planning & Economic Development and Jason Amberg, Director of Landscape Architecture, WSB

Native landscaping is growing in popularity, from pollinator-friendly plants and prairie grasses to rain gardens. Now the state of Minnesota passed a new law, effective July 1 of this year, that requires municipalities to allow property owners and occupants to install and maintain managed natural landscapes.

What are the pros and cons of this new law, and what does it mean for cities? Here are some things to consider.

What are the benefits of native landscaping?

Native landscaping covers a spectrum of options that includes a variety of landscaping. This could mean including only plant materials that grow naturally within the region to combinations that blend some areas of native plantings with some areas of manicured lawns or ornamental landscapes. Introducing native plant communities can provide critical resources for pollinators and provide a place for certain species to hibernate in winter. Rain gardens can help manage stormwater run off and reduce chemical runoff.

In addition to the natural benefits, there are economic benefits as well. Native landscaping reduces the need for irrigation and watering as plants are often more drought resistant. There are also cost savings from reduced fertilizer and chemical usage, as well as reduced maintenance costs.

How are native landscapes maintained?

The new Minnesota statute clearly states that native landscapes must be well-maintained, but what does that mean? In the statute, managed natural landscape is defined as a planned, intentional, and maintained planting of native or nonnative grasses, wildflowers, forbs, ferns, shrubs or trees, including but not limited to rain gardens, meadow vegetation and ornamental plants.

When thinking about a traditional manicured lawn, maintenance includes regular mowing throughout the spring and summer, regular watering when it gets dry and the application of fertilizers and herbicides. Then in fall, landscapes are often cleaned to remove dead plants and leaf litter.

For native landscapes, however, there is far less maintenance and plants often grow quite tall. In fact, the new law allows native grasses to grow taller than 8 inches high. Plus, as the weather turns cold, it’s better to leave the lawn and dead vegetation in place, providing quality habitat for wintering animals and insects.

What does this ordinance mean for local governments across Minnesota?

While many cities have adopted ordinances in the past decade allowing native landscaping, many others have ordinances prohibiting native landscaping or yards to have grass taller than 8 inches. This new state law supersedes local law, and it is important that communities update ordinances to comply with state statute.

Moreover, ordinance changes often take at least 60-90 days, so it’s important to act before next spring when many residents will begin lawn maintenance and planting. This ensures residents have a clear direction from the city.

Managing Public Engagement and Education

With this new law, there are a few issues local communities must navigate to ensure residents feel heard and legal requirements are made clear.

For residents concerned about unkempt lawns or who prefer neighborhoods to have a more manicured look, it’s important to communicate the benefits of native landscaping for the community and residents. Moreover, residents should be educated that while native grass and plants can grow taller than 8 inches, traditional manicured lawns cannot. And whether having natural landscaping or manicured lawns, noxious weeds are not allowed by this law change. Cities can and will still be enforcing unkempt lawns that do not meet state and local law requirements.

Educational community meetings, handouts, guidance on websites, and social media campaigns are all ways that cities can effectively communicate with residents about the new native landscaping laws.

How WSB Can Help

If you’re a city leader who needs help navigating ordinance changes around this new statute, WSB’s team can help.

Our landscaping team can also help clients design and build native landscaping into their public or private spaces, offering solutions that are aesthetically striking, environmentally friendly and economically beneficial.

Native landscaping is growing in popularity, helping bring people and nature closer together.

Alison leads the Natural Resources group. Her experience includes work in the natural resources field, including wetland and avian surveys, permitting, alternatives analysis, and environmental documentation for projects in both the public and private sector.

[email protected] | 612.360.1320

Kim is a planning professional with over 30 years of experience overseeing a variety of complex planning projects. She has worked in high growth communities with developers and the public on entitlements for residential development and attracting business to the city.

[email protected] | 763.287.8303

Kim Lindquist

Jason is the Director of Landscape Architecture at WSB with more than 25 years of experience in public space planning and design. From small-scale neighborhood park improvements to comprehensive park and trail system plans, Jason has worked with park boards, municipalities, governing agencies and community residents.

[email protected] | 612.518.3696

Jason Amberg

Lessons from Texas: How Communities Can Create & Adapt Transportation Plans for Economic Growth & Population Booms

July 31, 2023

By Steve Lindsey, Director of Transportation Design, and Janna Rosenthal, Senior Transportation Planner

Central Texas’ population is growing rapidly with several of Austin’s suburbs ranking among the fastest growing cities in the country. Smaller and traditionally more rural communities and counties are seeing residents flock to their towns, driven by a variety of factors. Furthermore, businesses such as Samsung, Apple, and TESLA are heavily investing in the region, and large cities like Austin are continuing to grow.

As communities experience rapid growth, how can they update and adapt their transportation plans to minimize growing pains? How can planners continue to attract and maintain business investment and residents while ensuring that growth doesn’t outpace infrastructure capacity?

WSB’s Texas team is at the forefront of helping counties and communities create and execute comprehensive transportation plans that are flexible, nimble and take a long-term view of community growth and resident needs. Here are some lessons learned in Texas that apply to communities across the country experiencing rapid growth.  

What happens when a transportation plan doesn’t meet the needs of a community?

When cities and counties fail to adequately plan for and invest in transportation infrastructure, residents and businesses often experience negative repercussions. Insufficient transportation planning can lead to congestion, decreased mobility and accessibility, safety concerns, and can ultimately hamper further growth and investment in the community.

Community leaders must understand the relationship between transportation infrastructure and economic development and investment. Is there enough housing for workers? Are workers able to easily get to and from work without overly burdensome commutes? Are there public transportation options that meet the needs of residents and businesses? Plans must provide answers to these questions and factor in a variety of needs.

Transportation infrastructure is a major consideration for businesses who are looking to expand or relocate. Investors consider access to markets and local/regional transportation connectivity when deciding on the location of new ventures. When transportation plans fail to meet the needs of a community, they are less likely to attract and retain businesses, investment projects and industrial development. Transportation planning that supports growth means ensuring residents and visitors can travel the community freely, efficiently and safely.

How to craft a transportation plan that has a long-term vision.

Proactive transportation planning is essential to ensure that the community can support growth. Community leaders need to advance comprehensive transportation plans that have a broad, long-term vision for their community over the next several decades, while regularly reevaluating to see where changes need to be made and priorities may have shifted. As population growth and economic development accelerate, it is vital to evaluate the existing transportation infrastructure’s capacity to handle the growing demand. Identifying potential bottlenecks, road networks operating beyond their capacity, and inadequate public transit systems can prompt the need for changes in long-term transportation plans.

Long range transportation plans can also help reduce potential future conflicts. Identifying the location of future roadway corridors and incorporating them into development plans can minimize the need for residential and/or commercial displacements. A prime example of preparing transportation projects for the future is the work done in Williamson County— one of the fastest growing counties in the country. In preparation for population and economic growth, new location routes that are identified in the county’s Long Range Transportation Plan in undeveloped portions of the county are studied and designed. In doing so, the plan accommodates population expansion, allowing for continued growth and minimizing potential future conflicts.

At the end of the day, a plan should build a solid foundation for the future, and be flexible and nimble to accommodate emerging trends.

Understand the value of public engagement.

Not in my backyard! Communities are all too familiar with pushback from residents and local businesses when people feel community plans will negatively impact their home, neighborhood, business, or city. Lack of local connection and public input can worsen these issues when things like new roadways, zoning changes or other transportation investments are advanced. Proactive transportation planning allows for greater public engagement earlier in the process, helping reduce resident push-back in the long-term.

Furthermore, comprehensive planning can also foster better coordination between stakeholders and different areas of local government (like cities and counties), helping make processes run smoother and ensuring transportation visions are aligned and meet the needs of the region.

Plan for emerging technologies.

Booming populations aren’t the only thing that transportation planners are looking at – they are also exploring how emerging technologies will impact their plans. The electrification of vehicles requires planning for a robust and accessible charging infrastructure with strategically located charging stations along major corridors and at key destinations. Furthermore, autonomous vehicles are also an emerging technology that may dominate our roadways in future decades. Planning for emerging technologies and putting the proper infrastructure in place now will put communities ahead of the curve and reduce conflicts in the long-term.

How WSB can help.

WSB’s transportation team has meaningful expertise and can help your city, county or agency achieve its vision. Our experienced staff offers assistance in setting goals, creating and updating transportation plans, corridor planning and implementing transportation plans through roadway design and development.

Steve comes to WSB with over 22 years of experience in all phases of the transportation industry including schematic, environmental, GEC/program management, construction and plans, specification and estimates (PS&E). He has a history working with TxDOT divisions and districts around the state as well as municipal clients in central Texas. As director of transportation based out of Austin, Texas, Steve is helping grow WSB’s transportation practice and solidify WSB as a go-to firm throughout the entire state of Texas.

Janna has 10 years of experience as a transportation planner and is well-versed in the transportation consulting industry. She specializes in freight planning and corridor feasibility studies including developing goals and objectives, screening and evaluating projects, conditions and performance analysis, needs assessments, and stakeholder/public outreach. She routinely works in analyzing large data sets and presenting material in a context that is easily understood, and is trained in traffic noise analysis. She supports WSB through her large skill set and knowledge.