Smart City

Smart City – Building the Communities of Tomorrow

January 11, 2023
By John Bradford, Sr Project Manager, WSB

From electronically monitoring water pumps to installing GPS trackers on city snowplows, many cities are embracing technologies and tools to become a smart city. Communities across the country are advancing initiatives that make their cities more efficient, while protecting resources and public dollars. 

What opportunities are out there, and what does being a smart city mean? Let’s break it down. 

What Does It Mean to Be a Smart City? 

There is no one definition of smart city, but there are a few ways to approach the concept and adopt smart city initiatives that meet the needs of your community. 

The first is to consider policies and tools that benefit the public. How can smart cities improve health metrics, the way that residents interact with one another, or best utilize community resources? There are numerous technologies and innovative ideas that can improve the lives of citizens and benefit overall public wellbeing. 

The next area to think about is data systems, and how you can track information to improve the efficiency and life of equipment. Thorough asset management means understanding that infrastructure and equipment not only require preventative maintenance, but predictive management as well. New technologies can help cities understand when certain equipment needs to be repaired or adjusted, extending its life, and helping communities more effectively plan for capital improvements. Furthermore, for communities with sustainability plans, it’s important to understand how sustainability, asset management, and smart cities all connect. 

Next, when thinking about smart cities, it is critical to map how using technology can more effectively utilize resources. For example, many northern cities are installing GPS tracking devices on city snowplows and making traffic light modifications that allow the plows to make it through green lights instead of having to stop. This improves the efficiency of snow removal, better utilizes community resources, and positively benefits public safety by clearing roads more quickly and effectively. Another example is having occupancy sensors installed at community parks and playgrounds to track usage and the best allocation of resources. 

What it means to be a smart city can mean something different to each community, so it’s important to think about what works best for your community. 

What are the Biggest Opportunities and Challenges?

Smart cities are the future, and can help communities save money, direct resources more efficiently, and better connect and communicate with residents. The opportunities are endless, so communities need to look at places where they can find the greatest value and potential. 

But because there is no one definition of what a smart city means, many communities can feel pressure to do too much, or fail to see how the small technological investments and changes they are making fit into the big picture of a smart city. 

Furthermore, as every community faces limited budgets and funding priorities, understanding where smart city investments make the most sense and will have the biggest impact is key. Also looking at opportunities to expand funding resources is critical. WSB helps many communities with identifying and applying for grants. 

Where to Start?

Where do you start on the road to becoming a smart city? It’s important to think both big picture and in detail. 

Start by defining your goals. Is it improving the efficiency of public works? Is it better communication with residents and the public? And how do these goals tie into your city’s larger strategic plan? 

At WSB, we help communities navigate big ideas and in-depth planning. If you’re not sure where to start or have ideas, I encourage you to reach out for an exploration conversation. There are so many amazing new tools, technologies, and opportunities out there – and smart cities can help build a better future for all of us. Look to us this year to continue to share articles on the ways that technology can help improve your community.

John has worked in the private and public sectors for 29 years and has worked with the cities of Hopkins, Woodbury and Bloomington. His experience includes policy development, capital improvement planning, infrastructure planning, comprehensive planning, site master planning, facility expansion projects, and interagency partnership agreements, labor contract negotiations, and culture change management.

jbradford@wsbeng.com | 952.210.8280

IIJA

The Top 5 Ways that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Benefits Communities

January 11, 2023

Late last fall, Congress passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which infused an astounding $1.2 trillion into our nation’s infrastructure. The package, which includes $550 billion in new federal spending over the next five years, gave local and state governments significant opportunities to fund infrastructure improvements over the next several years, and many communities have already taken advantage of this influx of funding.

Transportation, clean energy, clean water, broadband expansion, and more, gave communities across the country an unprecedented opportunity to invest in projects that will have a meaningful impact on the future for residents, businesses, and the environment.

How Have Communities Benefited from this Funding?

Every community is different, and every community’s needs are different, but here are some of the top ways that local leaders, planners, and governments have benefited from IIJA.

Advancing Bigger Projects Sooner & Removing Financial Roadblocks

Whether a large metropolitan city or a small rural town, every community has a list of needed infrastructure projects, but funding and resources are often limited. Communities must prioritize, and sometimes put larger projects on the back burner due to budget constraints.

TheIIJA is helping to change that mindset for many communities, giving leaders a greater opportunity to think big. Whether it’s getting on a project funding priority list, putting forward a feasibility plan, or thinking more comprehensively about the environment, transportation, or other community infrastructure needs, the federal infrastructure law has provided meaningful opportunities to secure funding for projects that may have previously been out of reach.

Viewing Projects Through an Equity Lens & Involving More Voices in Community Planning

Equity is a major component of IIJA, creating a real opportunity for communities to invest in projects that benefit traditionally underserved communities, as well as advance sizable projects that create a better community for all. Including equity in infrastructure project planning not only enhances local communities and benefits residents, but it also gives projects a competitive edge in securing dollars from the federal funding package. 

Many communities are viewing their infrastructure projects through an equity lens and incorporating more voices as they plan for the future.

Addressing Climate Change & Infrastructure Resiliency

Our climate is changing, and “once-in-a-century” storms no longer occur just once in a century. Higher temperatures, drought, more intense precipitation, wildfires, flooding, and changing ecosystems are all issues that impact communities’ infrastructure planning. Building greater resiliency in projects and planning for more extreme weather and climate events is critical and recognized within the IIJA funding.

Green infrastructure, innovative stormwater solutions, water reuse systems, native landscaping, and more can help mitigate risk and better protect populations, native species, and habitats.

Developing Brownfield Sites

Brownfields – previously developed sites that are no longer in use – are underutilized space that present real opportunities for economic, social, and environmental revitalization. However, they are often costly to redevelop. With more than $1.5 billion allocated to brownfields in the infrastructure package, many communities are taking advantage of the opportunity to move forward with brownfield projects, and expand their city’s tax base, grow jobs, build housing, and develop sites in ways that benefit residents and the community at large.

Building a More Sustainable Future

Sustainability is a fundamental component to infrastructure, and IIJA allows communities to invest in forward-looking projects that will have long term, positive environmental and social impacts. From electric vehicle charging stations and energy storage to ecological restoration, greater investment in sustainability is allowing local leaders to make bigger, more thoughtful investments that will help address climate change and resiliency.

Navigating a once-in-a-generation opportunity

Our team of funding experts help communities navigate grant applications, data gathering, project design and engineering, sustainability planning, stakeholder engagement, and more. IIJA is a once-in-a-generation infrastructure investment opportunity, and communities of all sizes can and should tap into the extraordinary opportunity for infrastructure improvement and investment.

Q&A with Bart Fischer | Know When the Time is Right for Staff Augmentation

October 14, 2022
By Bart Fischer, Sr Public Administrator and Kim Lindquist, Director of Community Planning, WSB

Staff turnover, economic conditions and resources all impact the capacity and workload of city staff. Scalable staff augmentation has become another tool in the toolbox of cities who are hoping to backfill a role, complete a special project or increase available resources. Bart Fischer, Sr. Public Administrator, explores the benefits of staff augmentation with Kim Lindquist, Director of Community Planning & Economic Development.

BF: Why would a city consider staff augmentation?

KL: The number one reason to consider staff augmentation is to support staff turnover and coverage during a time of transition. If a staff member resigns, it often takes months to fill a vacancy. The great thing about staff augmentation is that cities can keep their projects and workload moving forward with limited interruption during that interim time. It also allows cities to evaluate a position to determine if it requires a full-time employee, or if tasks can be handled on an as needed or part-time basis.

BF: Is there a magic number of hours or roles for staff augmentation?

KL: No, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s scalable. A city may need support for a month, or for a long-term project. In my experience staff augmentation looks different for each community, which is great because WSB has the flexibility to fit the client need. We have situations where the augmentation is project based, like review of a specific planning project, and we have other clients where the augmentation is service based, for example conducting code enforcement for the community. We work with the client to arrive at a solution that works for their needs including providing in-office hours, dedicating two or three days a week or working within a specific time period until the project is completed.   It’s a flexible option for cities that can be scaled up or down at any time. It really depends on the community and their unique needs.

BF: How is the talent shortage impacting staffing resources?

KL: In many local governments, we’ve seen a wave of baby boomers retiring that held upper-level director positions. As they retire, finding leaders to replace them has been challenging as attracting and retaining talent is a struggle across industries.  Communities who are having a hard time finding candidates to fill roles are relying on augmentation to ensure they’re moving their projects and initiatives forward while they work to fill those positions.

BF: What do you think are the biggest benefits of staff augmentation.

KL: I think many communities don’t realize the financial savings that come with staff augmentation. It alleviates the need to hire an FTE and allows staff to have additional bandwidth to focus on higher level tasks and council policies rather than routine tasks. When the economy is strong, people don’t think about the pluses and minuses of hiring someone, but at the same time, no one wants to lay anybody off.  The true benefits lie in the scalability and flexibility of staff augmentation. 

When WSB supports communities, we stress the full resources behind us. I work in planning, but have quick access to expertise in many areas including economic development, code enforcement, public works, city engineering, sustainability, etc. We bring a wealth of expertise to the table to help support a community’s comprehensive needs.

Bart Fischer has over two decades of experience in public administration. Throughout his tenure, he’s worked in five Minnesota communities as the city or assistant city administrator. Bart joined our firm in 2019 as a senior public administrator and focuses on lending his public service expertise to our clients.

bfisher@wsbeng.com | 651.485.1839

Kim Lindquist

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

klindquist@wsbeng.com | 612.670.2790

Writing an RFP to Maximize your Project’s Potential

By Lori Johnson, Sr Professional Community Planner and Laura Melcher, Sr Business Development Coordinator, WSB

Government leaders, whether at the city, county, or state level, face numerous engineering and infrastructure project needs that often require outside consultants and experts. When putting together a request for proposal (RFP), communities have an opportunity to better communicate those needs and requirements to improve the responses they receive. A well-written and informative RFP allows you to find the right outside partner to meet your needs. 

Below are some ways government staff can build a concise, well-organized, and effective RFP to ensure hiring the right consultant to reach your goals.

Communities can get more out of their consultants and establish better relationships by writing an RFP that lays out clear expectations and goals. A higher level of detail in your RFP will increase the responding firms ability to meet and exceed your RFPs expectations. 

Here are a few things to consider when composing your RFP:

  1. Be specific and customize your RFP. It’s important to clearly outline specific sections that you would like answered so that every detail is accounted for, ensuring firms can provide meaningful details on how to accomplish your goals.  
  2. Be detailed about your specific project. The more details you can provide upfront the better. This will allow consultants to be more specific in their writing, better showcase their applicable skills, and maximize potential without guessing at what should be included or how their services will meet your requirements. 
  3. Highlight your top priorities and concerns. By being open about what is most important, what concerns exist, and what stakeholders will be involved in a project, consultants are able to better understand exactly who they need to bring in from their team and how they can provide proper support and expertise. 
  4. Allow time for questions and communication with potential partners. Creating set times for potential firms to connect and ask questions, like a virtual Zoom session, is helpful to ensure no details are missed and applicants have a clear picture of your expectations. Having these meetings at least two weeks prior to the submission date is helpful, as consultants work on specific timelines to ensure you get a quality proposal. 
  5. Ensure that your RFP defines specific submission requirements and clear deadlines. There should be at least one month between the release of an RFP to its application deadline, as this allows firms to put meaningful time and effort into a proposal. If you have a good idea about how the proposal should be organized, page number requirements can be used to ensure the consultant is concise and follows directions. It is also helpful to be clear if the submission should be electronic or printed and mailed. The address or contact email should be given to allow the consultant to deliver it on time and to the correct location/person.
  6. Provide a clear budget when possible and comprehensive scoring criteria. Every project has a budget and budget limitations. Communicating that information will help a firm build a proposal that fits within your budget. Make sure you accurately communicate how you weigh different sections of a proposal. If the budget is weighted heavily, state that clearly in your RFP. 
  7. If a firm isn’t awarded the contract, offer honest insight and feedback. After interviewing firms or evaluating the proposals, you must choose the right one for your project. For those who weren’t chosen, provide honest feedback. This ensures that consultants gain a better understanding of what they can improve for next time. A good consultant will take constructive criticism and use it to make their proposals better in the future. This will also serve to build a trusted relationship with the firm.

Following these steps to create a more effective RFP will help to ensure you hire the right consultant to meet your community’s unique needs. 

Lori has more than 25 years of experience working in a municipal planning department, having worked her way up through the planning department at the City of Blaine to become their city planner. She has worked in all aspects of city planning activities including project management, site plan and application review, public participation and long range planning.

ljohnson@wsbeng.com | 612.364.3029

Laura is a business development professional with over eight years of experience in the construction and engineering industry. She works with clients and internal teams to develop strategic solutions. Her experience in the construction industry across the United States has given her valuable insight on projects from the opportunity phase all the way through to the execution and completion of the construction project.

lmelcher@wsbeng.com | 615.772.4555

The Top Takeaways from the 2022 Minnesota Legislative Session

Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator, WSB and Gary Carlson, Intergovernmental Relations Director at the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC), unpack the issues communities should pay attention to post-legislative session and how to prepare for a potential special session.

BF: Thanks for joining me Gary for another legislative recap. As always, there were some predictable outcomes and other issues that created a wild ride this session. What were the top takeaways that communities should be paying attention to?

GC: The biggest question for everyone is whether there will be a special session. There were a lot of things left in limbo when the legislature adjourned. Many people, on both sides of the aisle, are wondering where we go from here.

BF: Yes, I’ve been checking every day to see whether or not a special session will be called. What bills did not pass that are making things feel unfinished?

GC: There are two big bills that were not passed: the Tax Bill and the Bonding Bill. More and more, you’ll see that legislators are piling everything into these bills. To gain more support, they compress everything into a few bills, and if they don’t have agreements, then everything dies. Much of what is traditionally in the Tax and Bonding Bills have direct impact on our communities.

BF: What are the impacts if a special session isn’t called?

GC: Well, the Tax Bill generally contains local sales taxes, tax increment financing, lodging, entertainment taxes, etc. Without this passage, communities are kind of left hanging. An even bigger issue is that the Bonding Bill was never unveiled. Usually, committees would release a compilation of projects they want to include, but they never got that far.

The lack of a Tax Bill has a tremendous impact on the 15 cities that had local sales tax requests. In addition, it also impacts the 18 cities that received sales tax authority last year that have not yet conducted the referendum. Many of those projects have seen unexpectedly large construction cost increases due to rising labor costs and supply chain disruptions and those cost increases would have been partially addressed in the omnibus tax bill agreement that never made to a final vote.

 BF: What did get accomplished this session?

GC: There were some pretty significant bills were passed including the Frontline Worker Pay Bill and the Unemployment Insurance Bill as well as the opioid settlement bill which will distribute $253 million to counties and many larger cities over the next 18 years. The state budget is in place and there is a surplus, so we’re in good shape there. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t a lot done that relates directly to cities and counties.

BF: Any advice for communities post-session?

GC: There is no time limit on when a special session can be called so be on the watch for it. There is still so much uncertainty. If a city or county has a project as part of the bonding request or local sales taxes, they should continue to push their legislators for a special session.

BF: Thank you, Gary.  As always, I appreciate your expertise and the valuable insight you provide.

Still have more questions?  Connect with the League of Minnesota Cities Intergovernmental Relations staff.

Bart Fischer

Bart Fischer has over two decades of experience in public administration. Throughout his tenure, he’s worked in five Minnesota communities as the city or assistant city administrator.  Bart joined our firm in 2019 as a senior public administrator and focuses on lending his public service expertise to our clients.

Gary Carlson

Gary Carlson has 37 years of experience in government affairs. As the Intergovernmental Relations Director at the League of Minnesota Cities, Gary leads the League’s legislative efforts that matter to cities including aid to cities, economic development, employment and human resources, pensions and retirement, public finance, taxes, tax increment financing (TIF) and workers’ compensation.

Main Street

How Communities Can Effectively Manage Population Growth

By Jay Kennedy, Vice President | Texas Operations, WSB

Experiencing significant growth is exciting for communities, and many places are seeing considerable population growth and expansion across the country. But this growth also leaves many leaders asking, “How can we effectively manage this growth for our community and residents?”

Meeting the needs of new and existing residents, and addressing development, environmental, infrastructure, and other related challenges that come along with growth is critical. Here are some things cities can do to effectively manage growth.

Planning, Planning & More Planning

Communities must plan for the future thoughtfully, understanding risk and tapping into opportunities. Generally, communities have a 30-year land use plan, which drives the development of comprehensive infrastructure plans to accommodate the growth. A complete plan also includes a capital improvement plan including a financing plan. These plans are updated on average every five to 10 years—especially if a community needs to pivot or adjust due to faster than expected population growth.   

For significant improvements, such as water and sewage treatment facilities and significant transportation projects, the approval processes can be time consuming, so it is important to manage risk and find a balance that meets the community’s needs for delivering infrastructure at the right time.   

Managing Permitting & City Work

When a city experiences dramatic population growth, they are not always able to add staff resources to respond to increased permitting requests within the required deadlines. Especially if applications are flooding in at the same time, city staff can be overwhelmed, and applicants can experience delays awaiting approval.

There are some things that cities can do to help streamline this process and make it more efficient.

First, technology can help speed up the process for cities. Programs that help track and schedule reviews ensure tasks are clear, and development proposals and permitting requests are reviewed in a timely manner.  Automation and improved workflows can also minimize the time for reviews.

Additionally, many cities also contract with firms like WSB where we work hand in hand with staff to help review development requests. Bringing in outside experts can help manage peaks and make the permitting process more efficient.

Furthermore, it’s vital that cities clearly lay out the requirements and what criteria they expect from applicants. This helps reduce delays and improves the chances of getting a quality, thorough submittal package.

Finally, during construction, city representation at construction sites helps keep projects are on track and meet city requirements. With proper monitoring on site, it verifies that projects are going according to plan and won’t cause more headaches for city staff down the road.

Understanding the Value of Development

Many cities have a philosophy that development pays for itself. An expanded tax base, critical infrastructure investments, and proactive planning all help bring value to the community, making it an attractive place to live, work, and raise a family.

For communities, it’s important to remember when reviewing development applications that once a project is done, it’s up to that community to manage the roads, parks, utilities, water, and other essential services associated with the project.

Proper planning and investment, along with choosing smart projects, will help cities manage growth effectively.

Jay has over 30 years of experience managing municipal and civil engineering projects. He has also provided land entitlement services for residential and commercial projects. Jay’s specific experience as a City Engineer included leadership and management of comprehensive infrastructure plans, as well as CIP development and implementation.

jkennedy@wsbeng.com |  512.518.1819

Improve Project Outcomes Using an Owner’s Representative

By Bob Barth, Director of Land Development, WSB

From inception to completion of a project, having an expert walk alongside you can make all the difference. An owner’s representative, often seen as a significant value in private sector projects, can and should be used for public projects to add value as well.

What is an Owner’s Representative?

An owner’s representative is essentially the eyes and ears of a project – representing the owner, investor, or developer throughout a project. A deep understanding of the overall goals of the project, as well as having an in-depth knowledge of engineering and construction, means this person is an advocate and champion that can ensure a project goes according to plan, while helping to mitigate risk.  

Given the proven value of the service, it is curious that public sector vertical construction has traditionally underutilized the owner’s representative in favor of project leadership from the lead architect or general contractor. So why should the public sector use an owner’s representative?

They help keep projects on track and on budget.

The more expensive the project, the more the architect and contractor get paid. Though obvious, this fundamental conflict creates competing incentives for both the architect and contractor. The owner representative’s compensation, in contrast, is often determined by the original project budget and does not subsequently increase or decrease as the project budget increases or decreases. Their job is to act on behalf of the owner, keep the budget on track, and represent the overall financial interests of the project.

Owner’s representatives see the big picture.

Public project financing is very different from private project funding. Public sector projects are often financed through bonding, and operating budgets serve as a proxy for revenues. Cost needs to be managed throughout a project’s duration, as do relationships. An effective owner’s representative does this.

Additionally, the project schedule is more complex than the design schedule kept by the architect, or the construction schedule managed by the contractor. The project schedule includes time building stakeholder consensus, conducting preliminary environmental and property investigations, aligning financing, and developing project parameters. These activities often precede the architect’s involvement and need to be managed by someone with a wider perspective on the project – the owner’s representative. The project schedule also includes post-construction activities such as commissioning, grant close-out, sustainability certification, occupancy, and logistics. These are not activities contractors can effectively manage but, rather, activities that the owner’s representative expects to manage.

They simplify decision-making and mitigate risk.

Finally, well-structured projects allow the owner’s representative to lead in all aspects of a project, empowering them to make decisions over contractors, architects, and other consultants. Effective owner’s representatives also build consensus among teams and stakeholders. All of this brings critical leadership and certainty to projects.

When unexpected change orders, cost overruns, unforeseen environmental and property issues, or other problems arise, a good owner’s representative help manage and mitigate risk. 

In summary, owner’s representatives bring expertise, leadership, and credibility projects. Given their value, they should be utilized in more public projects.

Bob has over 20-years of experience providing technical and management support to public and private clients. In addition to leading our Land Development Group, Bob is also responsible for our Commercial Market Sector, delivering a wide-range of services to industrial, institutional, property management, and construction clients.

bbarth@wsbeng.com | 763.231.4876

Moving Past the 2021 Minnesota Drought

By Alyson Fauske, Sr Project Manager, WSB

2021 has presented a number of challenges to communities, not least of which was a major drought. Minnesota was faced with above-normal temperatures along with lower-than-average precipitation, resulting in one of the worst droughts seen in the area in the last 20-30 years.

As we move into fall and winter in Minnesota, leaders may be thinking that the worst of the drought is over and that they can move on to thinking about managing winter snow and cold. However, the ramifications of the drought are likely to continue into 2022. Below is a list of some of the ways the drought may have longer-term effects to communities.

  1. Loss of saplings. Communities that implemented projects in 2021 that included planting saplings are likely going to find that many of them have not survived the year and are going to need to be replaced in the spring.  
  2. Mature tree loss. Due to the stress of drought, mature trees in the community may have suffered from pests or disease. These shade trees are a major resource to communities and may need to be treated or replaced.
  3. Watering restrictions. Many communities implemented watering restrictions due to drought conditions. Irrigation systems that ran too often or for too long used more resources than necessary leading to reduced water availability for daily needs. This also resulted in concerned or confused residents that didn’t understand how or why these restrictions were needed for the good of the community.
  4. Low reserves of community water supplies. In addition to increased watering demands for vegetation, valuable water was often lost through inefficient or defective equipment in many residents and businesses.
  5. Well interference. Drought can often result in domestic or municipal wells running out of water. The MN DNR received significantly more calls this year than normal about dry wells that require them to investigate and often result in owners or municipalities incur repair costs.

Nearly all Minnesota cities experienced some or all these challenges this summer. As a result of the extreme stress put on local water infrastructure, the MN DNR has put together the 2021 Drought Assistance Proposal. This proposal includes a request for $13.3 million in funding to help cities address the effects of this drought.

WSB is tracking the funding package as it moves through the legislature and will be prepared to assist clients with grant applications for the fund as well as identify other funding opportunities that are tied to this effort.

Alyson is a Senior Project Manager in WSB’s Municipal Group and the City Engineer for the City of Minnetrista. With 20 years of engineering experience in the municipal industry, Alyson Fauske has built her career providing municipal engineering services throughout the Twin Cities.

afauske@wsbeng.com | 763.512.5244

Chlorides

The Road to Reducing Chlorides

By Chris Petree, Director of Operations, Alison Harwood, Director of Natural Resources, and Ray Theiler, Water/Wastewater Engineer

Understanding chlorides and making responsible decisions about them is challenging at best. They serve important functions in our everyday life, but they can also create lasting damage to the world around us. Learn more about how the chlorides are used on a day-to-day basis, what the long term affects are, and what options are available to properly manage them.

What are chlorides and how do they play a role in our lives?

Simply put, chlorides are salt. They play a big role in Minnesota life. Primarily, they are used in our water softeners to treat the state’s notoriously hard water and for de-icing the roads during winter months.

What negative impacts does over usage of chloride have?

Overuse of chlorides can affect our communities in a variety of ways. Understanding their full impact can be nearly impossible to calculate. Below are just a few of the ways people should be aware of.

Community water supplies: Many of our communities get their water from groundwater wells. They pull water from the ground to provide a public water supply. Excessive use of chlorides leads to groundwater contamination which makes its way into lakes and rivers and ponds, ultimately infiltrating the groundwater. When the groundwater develops high chloride levels or contamination, it becomes a safety issue that communities need to address.

Plants and wildlife: When concentrations of chlorides get high enough, it begins to kill plant life and setting off a domino effect in the eco systems. High levels of chloride destroy plant roots in aquatic systems resulting in fewer plants rooted to the lakebed. The lack of supportive root systems compromises bed stabilization and leads to more opportunity for sediment to be churned up, resulting in reduced water transparency and water quality. Salt used on roads can negatively affect wildlife and local pets. These animals often eat the salt used on roadways which can lead to illness or death. Even animals who need added salt in their diet are in danger, they are attracted to roadways (i.e., deer) causing safety concerns for the animals and drivers.

Infrastructure and transportation: Regardless of the application, we know that salt can be destructive and can lead to damage. Metal is particularly susceptible to salt damage.

  • High levels of chlorides on the streets have historically had a negative affect on vehicles. The salt on the roads builds up on the vehicles leading to premature rusting.
  • Pumping water with high chloride levels through pipes can lead to corrosion within water distribution systems, which in turn leads to issues with lead and copper in our water system.
  • The chlorides in the water cause premature degradation and failures of storm sewer systems, specifically in catch basins and manholes.

What are the benefits of reducing chloride usage?

The benefits of reducing chlorides are a long list that includes protecting the environment, the health of the community, and local infrastructure. However, often cost is the factor that really creates urgency around reducing chlorides.

Introducing the chlorides into the environment will ultimately require repair and rehab of groundwater systems, storm water systems, water infrastructure, wetlands, etc. All these systems have costs associated with them.

Acquiring the salt is another expense. Whether a small city, county, or state, the budget needed for de-icing is huge. Salt and de-icing chemicals are not produced locally. They can only be delivered by truck, train, or barge from the South. Taxpayer dollars are the how this transportation is funded, reducing chlorides frees up tax dollars to support other needs.

How to do you continue to maintain safe roadways in the winter, while meeting environmental regulations?

Technology and training are key.

It used to be that a salt truck was sent out with only a lever and a couple of dials for the operator to control salt usage. The technology and equipment currently available allows operators to apply the exact amounts of de-icing chemical needed based on precipitation type, air temperatures, and pavement temperatures. It is critical these staff are trained to use the equipment properly. Equipment and training will require an upfront investment but will ultimately save significant amounts of money on resources and damage repair done in the long run.

Some communities are exploring alternative de-icing chemicals beyond chloride. For example, you can mix in beet juice, molasses, sand, etc. There are many alternatives and mixtures that are less harsh on the environment, more cost effective and benefit communities in the long term.

How can communities help reduce chloride usage overall?

  • Make sure water softeners are functioning efficiently or upgrade to a higher efficiency model.
  • Explore those alternatives to road salt.
  • Educate: There are resources and trainings available.
    • MPCA Smart Salt Training: Educate businesses, property managers and residents. Its important communities take an active role in chloride reduction.
  • Involvement: Get communities involved by including information in community newsletters.

WSB can evaluate chloride usage and make recommendations for how to move forward. Our staff have the experience and knowledge, from years and years working at public agencies, that we can provide operational assistance and assessments when it comes to communities and planning.

Reasons municipalities implement water restrictions

Alyson Fauske, Sr Municipal Project Manager, WSB

In Minnesota, also known as the land of 10,000 lakes, many people wonder how even in times of severe drought, we don’t have enough water. As of early August, over 35% of the state is now experiencing extreme drought conditions. These drought conditions significantly impact municipal water supplies.

The type of water that cities supply to their residents is treated for a number of economic and environmental reasons. Cities around the state measure the annual average demand and peak demand, but drought conditions like we’re experiencing now, fall outside of annual averages.

In the last several weeks, many cities have implemented additional restrictions, and many residents don’t understand how these restrictions can help restore water levels within a matter of hours. Although it doesn’t seem like limiting irrigation or water use would have much of an impact, it significantly improves a city’s supply.

Enacting water restrictions alleviate the demand and can prevent communities from falling below fire protection and boil water levels. The below diagram shows an example of a water tower’s levels in a week. Water towers have censors that measure elevations. There is a minimum water level within the water tower to provide adequate fire protection. In our example, that level is 21 feet, meaning if there were a fire and the water tower level was below 21 feet there may not be adequate supply to fight the fire. 

There is also a minimum level that needs to be maintained in the water tower to ensure that the pressure in the system is high enough to keep contaminants from entering the water system. In our example, if the water elevation drops below 10 feet a boil water notice would be implemented. 

There are several actions that communities are taking today to help limit water usage including developing water reuse systems and plans, adjusting landscaping to include more native, drought resistant plantings and grasses, and reducing overall water consumption.

Instances of severe drought remind us that water is not a limitless resource and that forces outside of our control can have major impacts on our infrastructure.  

With 20 years of engineering experience in the municipal industry, Alyson Fauske has built her career providing municipal engineering services throughout the Twin Cities. Her portfolio of work includes street and utility reconstruction, technical analysis and field observations, direct project planning and management, and comprehensive and capital planning services.

afauske@wsbeng.com | 763.512.5244