Capture Federal Funds to Build Resilient Stormwater Infrastructure

By Jake Newhall, Director of Water Resources, WSB
April 15, 2024

Stormwater infrastructure around the country is being put to the test by age and deterioration as well as climate change events and abnormal weather like droughts and unusually intense rainfalls. With that in mind, communities need to follow five steps in order to create resilient stormwater infrastructure. The goal is to limit stormwater-related risks and to properly fund critical projects. Those steps can be simplified down into Identification, Project Development, Planning, Funding and Building.

Identifying Infrastructure Needs

Knowing is half the battle. Before a project can begin, a community must understand what their needs are with a specific focus on aging and failing infrastructure. If stormwater infrastructure fails, roads, nearby buildings and residences could be put at risk.

Developing a Resilient and Sustainable Project

The project development step is where you answer a multitude of questions on the project’s objectives and scope. First and foremost, is the project feasible from a financial or construction standpoint? What resilient solutions are being included to properly develop the updated infrastructure so it will last? In addition, what are the benefits of the project? Identifying the problem and answering these questions will allow for a much easier transition into the next steps like applying for grant funding. For example, regular maintenance of existing infrastructure will find little opportunity for grant funding. Developing your project with the set goal of improving infrastructure to become more sustainable and resilient will drastically improve your chances.

An example of improved resiliency is developing your infrastructure to respond to changing climates and abnormal weather conditions. Is your infrastructure project designed to handle prolonged droughts or intense rainfalls or intense snow melts?

From a stormwater perspective, a more sustainable project can include aspects like increased storage and volume control and a more efficient outlet system. Being able to retain the stormwater on site and slowly release it to downstream systems will not only better protect your community and those downstream, but can also lead to improved water quality.

Planning For Success

The third step can be simplified into making a plan. Collecting every aspect of the project into a planning document will set up a community for success. With no absolute assurances that grant funding will be accessible, the planning step gives communities the confidence that their project and the intent to update and revitalize their stormwater infrastructure, is not just a hope, but a tangible path to success.

Obtaining Grant Funding

The next step is grant funding. Recent policies from the federal and state government have created ample opportunity for bringing greater resiliency to stormwater infrastructure. For example, the Infrastructure and Jobs Act included over $50 billion in available federal funds towards drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. Similarly on the state level, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently announced $35 million in grant funding for stormwater resiliency projects. There are a variety of types of grants that all focus on different goals.

Building Resilient Stormwater Infrastructure

Finally, once all the previous steps have been completed to satisfaction, the final phase of developing resilient stormwater infrastructure is building. During this step, the project is fully designed and construction begins. As the final step is completed, your community will have transformed aging infrastructure into a success story that protects your community, those around it, and creates a more sustainable environment.

How WSB Can Help

The vast knowledge and experience at WSB will help clients find solutions to stormwater management. If a community has identified a need, WSB can build off even a tiny idea to help make it fit from project development all the way through construction. With WSB’s talented team of experts, a community will have a trusted partner who can help ensure a project is funded and built efficiently and effectively.

Jake has more than 15 years of engineering experience designing and managing many types of water resources projects, including modeling, planning, design, maintenance programs, and construction. Jake has worked with various municipalities, counties and state agencies to solve challenging water quality and water quantity problems.

[email protected] | 763.231.4861

Jake Newhall

What Does the Mild Winter Mean for Spring

March 11, 2024
By Jake Newhall, Director of Water Resources, Mary Newman, Sr Environmental Scientist, and Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager, WSB

As Midwesterners, we always expect Mother Nature to throw us some curveballs when it comes to weather. The winter of 2023-2024 has been no exception. El Nino weather patterns created unusually mild weather this winter and less snowfall. While cities may have benefited from things like fewer snow emergencies, what do these weather patterns mean as we head into spring?

Here are a few things to consider.

Stormwater Runoff

The lack of snowfall and warmer temperatures means that the ground is warmer than normal and contains less frost since there is not a layer of snow insulate the ground. The lack of precipitation and snowmelt could lead to drought this spring and into summer. Alternatively, if we do end up with significant snowfall in March and April, the thawed ground will allow water to absorb straight into the ground, resulting in less runoff and replenished groundwater sources.

If we don’t receive significant precipitation this spring, pond and lake levels are also expected to be lower than normal. While drought is a concern, the good news is that lower water levels provide an excellent opportunity for stormwater inspections. Other good news from a mild winter is that we are likely to see fewer environmental impacts this year from sanding, salting and runoff than in years with heavier snowfalls.

Lakes, Rivers and Streams

When thinking about water quality, it’s also important to think about what this mild winter will mean for lakes, rivers and streams.

Lack of snow cover and ice means that aquatic vegetation will have an early start this spring and likely result in an abundance, especially with invasive curly leaf pondweed. The increased abundance will have an impact on phosphorus levels in the water as these plants die back in the late summer. If the warm weather and low precipitation levels continue, this could mean a higher likelihood of harmful algal blooms which can put pets and animals when they drink the water. However, the increased cover may benefit the aquatic community in the meantime for those that depend on its cover for survival.

Many water managers have a plan for invasive curly leaf pondweed management. This year, harvest may have to occur earlier and more often to combat a late season phosphorus rise. As in most years, it will also be important to monitor algal blooms and inform lake users if sampling indicates harmful bacteria levels that would have an impact to human and animal health.

Trees and Invasive Species Management

For communities managing tree health, it’s also critical to explore how this year’s mild winter will impact trees. With many places in dry or moderate drought conditions, more trees will experience drought stress. If precipitation patterns continue, it’s important to build out a plan for regular watering throughout the summer to protect trees. Furthermore, drought stress and lack of adequate watering can make trees more susceptible to secondary pests.

The lack of subzero temperatures this winter also means that the invasive species Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) larva largely survived the winter. It takes 24-48 hours of temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit to kill EAB larva. EAB is a serious concern to ash trees across the United States, occurring in 30 states including Minnesota, Colorado, and Texas.

Oak wilt disease is another concern. The normal oak pruning season is typically from November through early April to prevent oak wilt transmission. For 2024, it will end earlier, oak tree pruning should be stopped immediately to protect tree health and limit the spread of oak wilt. The University of Minnesota Extension provides an oak wilt status page on their website that should be monitored closely each spring to ensure you aren’t pruning during high-risk oak wilt season.

How WSB Can Help

This unusually warm and dry winter is creating both problems and opportunities for communities – from managing water quality to protecting wildlife and native tree populations. WSB has a team of experts who can help plan and execute sustainable solutions that protect ecosystems, enhance water quality, restore habitats, and meet the unique needs of your community.

Jake has more than 15 years of engineering experience designing and managing many types of water resources projects, including modeling, planning, design, maintenance programs, and construction. Jake has worked with various municipalities, counties and state agencies to solve challenging water quality and water quantity problems.

[email protected] | 763.231.4861

Jake Newhall

Mary works as an environmental scientist where she provides reliable field data collection and reporting that includes: boat electrofishing fish surveys, water quality sampling, in stream fish sampling, physical stream barrier observations and maintenance, various techniques for rough fish removal, fish tagging and tracking, and aquatic habitat improvement recommendations.

[email protected] | 763.762.2858

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

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

Supporting the Infrastructure of an Entire Community

July 18, 2023
By Brian Bourassa, VP of Corporate Development

Investing in the vitality of the city of Lino Lakes, Minnesota.

At WSB, we use the term infrastructure broadly to define the places, spaces and systems that support our lives.  As important as infrastructure is to our way of life, we don’t often think about it until something goes wrong.  We’ve been privileged to support communities across the U.S. with their infrastructure needs. The scale of the projects may vary, but the impact is always significant.  

For the last several decades, the city of Lino Lakes, just north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, has been investing in their infrastructure across the community.  In the end, it’s not one single project that has helped to build a vibrant community, but rather the collective investment in varying infrastructure. These investments have played a vital role in spurring development and progress within the city.

1. Biological Water Treatment Plant

The city is currently planning to construct a water treatment plant due to some of the city wells having manganese levels above the recommended guidelines. A biological treatment approach is unique because it relies on natural microbial activity to remove contaminants rather than chemicals, an environmentally sustainable strategy.

2. West Shadow Lake Drive

West Shadow Lake Drive is a residential street that was plagued by potholes, had no sewer or water, and faced challenges from high groundwater levels due to its proximity to Reshanau Lake. As part of the city’s pavement management program, the road was removed and replaced to support the city’s roadway infrastructure and sanitary sewer, watermain and storm sewer infrastructure was also installed. In addition, environmental work and wetland enhancements occurred throughout the area.

3. 12th Avenue Trail Project

The 12th Avenue Trail connection was identified as a priority in the city’s Comprehensive Parks and Trails System Capital Improvement Plan due to the lack of trail connection along 12th Avenue.  Prior to project completion, the busy rural road was narrow with unsafe conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. The project resulted in increased safety and a more bikeable, accessible community.

4. Master Plan and Comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan

Located in the northeast corner of Lino Lakes is a 1300-acre greenfield area that is prime for development opportunities. WSB was contracted to develop a master plan, comprehensive stormwater management plan and update the Alternative Urban Areawide Review (AUAR) for the area. Development opportunities will include residential, industrial and commercial that will spur economic activity in the area. 

5. The Rookery Activity Center

When the local YMCA closed in 2020 it left a hole in the community. The city of Lino Lakes took action to reinvigorate the space. To establish itself as a new asset within the community, the building needed an overhaul, not just in amenities and programming, but also the brand.  WSB worked with the city to develop a story, identity and brand assets.

6. Tower Park  

Tower Park is located on a 60-acre piece of land that was purchased by the city over 20 years ago.  The city council felt strongly about developing the space into a destination recreation area for the community.  WSB provided the park master plan and phase 1 design support. Tower Park is now home to some of the city’s most popular pickleball and tennis courts.  The project was completed last year. 

7. Birch Street Roundabouts

Birch Street is a heavily traveled roadway through the city with frequent accidents occurring due to the number of entrances to the high-speed roadway.  There were safety concerns from residents and a nearby school. To help alleviate the number of accidents and increase safety, several roundabouts, medians, crosswalks and safety signage were added.

8. Gateways to the City – Placemaking

Lino Lakes is a proud community and wants to enhance their welcoming presence by creating placemaking monuments at city entrances. The project is still under development, but once complete, the entrances will offer a ‘front door’ to the city and will invite visitors and residents to step inside and explore the community.

9. Feasibility Study – Lake Amelia Subwatershed

A 255-acre subwatershed of Lake Amelia is currently undergoing a feasibility study to address existing stormwater management concerns and anticipated future land use changes to the area.  The short-term phase includes solutions to address flooding concerns.  The long-term phase proposes more holistic improvements to the corridor that that would occur alongside its eventual development. The study will help guide future planning in the area and will ensure that the area is prime for development.

10. Shenandoah Park Improvements

In partnership with the Rice Creek Watershed District, the city is exploring multiple improvements to the Shenandoah Park area to improve water quality, ensure its habitat is supported, and create a destination for park users. WSB is currently exploring water quality improvement options, wetland restoration, flood retention and greenway spaces to support the goals of the watershed district and the city.

Brian has more than 25 years of experience in the civil engineering field and has worked extensively in both the public and private market sectors. This experience has provided Brian with a broad engineering background, and has allowed him to develop a strong understanding of both public financing and private business perspectives. Brian’s lasting client relationships are a testament to the focus he places on developing creative solutions and providing over-the-top customer service.

Designing Drainage Systems for Renewable Energy Sites

By Dan Cazanacli, Project Manager, and Henry Meeker, Graduate Engineer, WSB

When designing drainage systems for renewable energy sites, many different surface water factors must be considered to ensure a well-constructed system. These factors include how floods can impact the site, how water damage affects equipment and access points, soil erosion, water regulations, and how runoff impacts the surrounding ecosystem.

Floods can cause both widespread and deep channelized flow across solar farms.

Designers need to understand how water will flow across the site in different flood scenarios. Many renewable energy sites are located near floodplains, which can make the design process even more complicated. To tackle these challenges, WSB engineers use sophisticated 2D hydraulic models to map the direction, depth, and speed of water flow across the site.

Stop water damage to critical site components.

A crucial part of the drainage systems design process is ensuring that water, in any scenario, can flow smoothly across the site without causing any damage or flooding to critical components, such as inverters or battery storage units. Designers use the results of the hydraulic models to find the best solutions for water flow and to place these critical components away from the main flow of water. The models are also used to identify areas where water flows too quickly. WSB develops erosion control measures in these situations, such as reinforcing road surfaces at low water crossings.

Plan for ground erosion around solar panel support piles.

Another important aspect of renewable energy site design is ensuring that the supports for the solar panels can withstand strong winds and flooding. Each site is unique, our engineers work closely with our clients to use the results of the hydraulic models to assess the potential scour depth, meaning the point in the ground where erosion could occur, around the support piles and identify the appropriate methodology to use. This determines the best depth for embedding them. The models can also be used to identify areas where water is flowing too quickly and to develop erosion control measures, such as rock stabilization.

Consider water quality and management regulations.

Designers also need to consider regulations around stormwater management, water quality, floodplains, wetlands, and critical species/habitats. Project timelines will be significantly delayed without proper planning and consideration of these factors. WSB works to minimize the impact of the site on these sensitive areas while ensuring that the project proceeds on schedule. This often involves working closely with local government units and obtaining the necessary permits.

Protect ecosystem health.

Designers must understand how solar panels interact with the surrounding vegetation and soil. Major institutions, like the University of Minnesota, are performing ongoing research into how panel runoff affects water infiltration and an ecosystem’s health that will be incorporated into designs. Designers can leverage these findings to optimize water quality benefits for the site, incorporating water quality basins, pollinator-friendly vegetation, and site-specific erosion control measures.

How WSB Can Help

Do you need help planning your solar project and navigating challenges around drainage water systems? WSB can help with your design, develop erosion control models, ensure protection of local ecosystems through sustainable solutions, and more.

Dan has 15 years of experience in water resources and geotechnical engineering in the private sector. Dan is now a project manager for WSB, and provides value to projects through his extensive background in hydrology and hydraulics, fluid mechanics, geomorphology, geology, soil mechanics, and groundwater flow.
[email protected] | 612.201.0184

As a water resources graduate engineer with WSB, Henry works on a variety of stormwater management projects. His work on regional stormwater systems, roadway improvement projects, and stormwater treatment retrofits benefited from his technical knowledge which includes utility-scale solar drainage, hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, water quality modeling, floodplain modeling, best management practice design, watershed permitting, and stormwater conveyance systems.
[email protected] | 612.258.8157

Snow Melt Offers an Opportunity to Improve Flood Management Systems

February 13, 2023
By Bill Alms, Project Manager, WSB

Since 2020 Minnesota has experienced drought conditions, with less than average rainfall. The five years before that, Minnesota faced several extremely wet years, and communities were more prone to flooding with average rainfall as much as a foot above average.

This winter, Minnesota has already received well above average snowfall, similar to the winter of 2019-2020. If snow melt trends stay similar this spring to the spring of 2020, it may offer communities a unique opportunity to measure flood storage capacity, identify underperforming outlets, and update flood resiliency plans based on real time data. 

Why This Spring May Provide the Perfect Test Case

Coming off of a wet summer and a snowy winter in the spring of 2020, many communities saw flood storage capacity at its limit. Numerous reservoirs and ponds were high or overflowing, and communities struggled with underperforming drainage outlets. 

Now, this year many of those basins and ponds are low due to ongoing drought and extremely dry conditions – the opposite of 2020. However, with similar snow melts expected in the spring of 2020 and our upcoming spring, this could be an opportunity to reexamine those stormwater basins and assumptions around storm events. 

In short, this may be a rare opportunity to compare real world outcomes with projected models in flood resiliency plans. 

Updating Flood Management Systems 

If outlets flood again this spring with similar snow melts, coming off drought conditions, it is an indication that flood capacity needs to be expanded or elevation increased. It may also indicate where underperforming outlets need to be redesigned or rethought to better reduce flood risk and protect infrastructure. 

Smart technology tools can help determine where to add more storage and how communities can do next step planning on flood mitigation. Communities can install pumps within storm basins, for example, in areas that need more flood storage.

Other Tools to Address Flood Risk During Spring Snow Melts

In addition to updating flood management systems this spring, communities should also ensure they are acting on current flood management plans and tools to prevent flooding and protect infrastructure. This includes zoning areas that need the most attention, educating residents on the importance of removing ice and snow at low points and ensuring storm drains are clear, sandbagging structures if necessary, pumping areas with poor drainage patterns, and more. 

How WSB Can Help

Not sure how to best update flood mitigation plans or where to allocate resources? WSB’s team has the technology, tools, and expertise to address stormwater systems, improve flood resiliency, and implement personalized flood plans that best meet the needs of your community. 

Bill is a project manager in WSB’s Water Resources Group serving clients with their water resources engineering needs. His experience includes planning, design, and construction management, research and inspection of municipal storm water systems, hydrologic, hydraulic, and water quality modeling, watershed permitting submittals, and development plan reviews. He is a technical resource in watershed policy, planning, and capital improvement budgeting.

[email protected] | 952.388.4188

WSB Branded Background

WSB Announces Jake Newhall Promotion to Director of Water Resources

November 28, 2022

Jake Newhall

WSB, a Twin Cities-based design and consulting firm specializing in engineering, community planning, environmental, and construction services announced Jake Newhall’s promotion to director of water resources

As director, Newhall will assume day-to-day operations of the water resources group as well as focus on strategy, business development, and setting operational goals with company leadership.

“We continue to see an increased need for robust water resources services in the communities we support,” said Andi Moffatt, WSB’s vice president of environmental services. “Expanding our water resources leadership and focusing responsibilities ensures our team is positioned to deliver exceptional services for our clients. I have no doubt that Jake will thrive in this leadership role and will continue to help our team develop and drive our business forward.”

Throughout his tenure at WSB, Newhall has been instrumental in shaping the growth of WSB’s water resources team. His well-rounded skills and experience have allowed him to solve some of the firm’s clients most complex stormwater management challenges.

“I am proud that I have the opportunity to grow my career at WSB,” said Newhall. “For more than 16 years, I have worked at WSB with a focus on solving complex stormwater and water resource related problems. I look forward to serving in this new leadership position, advancing strategic initiatives to expand our firm and delivering unparalleled results for our clients.”

WSB’s water resources services balance engineering, ecosystems and social impacts to create sustainable water infrastructure.  The firm offers services in stormwater, floodplain management, lake and stream habitat restoration, water quality monitoring and more. Additional information about WSB and its services are available at


When the Leaves Fall: Proactive Leaf Management Tips for Communities

November 15, 2022
By Jake Newhall, Project Manager, WSB

Autumn is in full swing. While the arrangements of red, orange, and yellow are stunning, the mass collection of leaves that enter a city’s sewer system after a rainfall can cause serious damage – from clogs to flooding to pollutants in our waterways. 

When the Leaves Fall

When leaves fall, especially when followed by heavy rainfall, leaves on roads, sidewalks, and other impervious services can wash down into city sewers. When the leaves break down and decompose, the nutrients they contain can end up in water. This leads to harmful algal blooms and degraded water quality in rivers, streams, lakes, and other water bodies. 

Additionally, too many leaves washing down stormwater systems can also clog pipes and drains, cause localized flooding, and lead to expensive maintenance costs for cities. 

How can cities proactively address fall foliage and prevent these issues? Here are some tips and tricks. 

Targeted Street Sweeping

The first thing communities can do to avoid these problems is establish a targeted street sweeping plan which analyzes and maps impervious surfaces and high tree canopy coverage areas, as well as their proximity to high-value water resources. Street sweeping is one of the most cost-effective methods to reduce pollutant and nutrient loads to waterbodies and can be very helpful in achieving TMDL goals.

While leaf fall can happen at different times each year depending on several factors including weather, an efficient street sweeping plan prepares communities to manage and strategically target optimum leaf removal.  

Community Education 

Another thing communities can do to help prevent leaves from clogging drains and entering into waterways is to educate residents and private property owners about best practices in autumn. Raking leaves, bagging them, clearing the gutters near private properties, Adopt-a-Drain programs, and properly disposing of the leaves can go a long way in reducing the total amount of nutrients in our waterways and leaves in storm drains. 

How WSB Can Help 

Not sure where to start with creating a targeted street sweeping plan? WSB can help create a customized street sweeping plan that meets your community’s needs. WSB can also help communities reach their pollutant removal goals and execute on water quality management. 

Jake has more than 15 years of engineering experience designing and managing many types of water resources projects, including modeling, planning, design, maintenance programs, and construction. Jake has worked with various municipalities, counties and state agencies to solve challenging water quality and water quantity problems.

[email protected] | 763.231.4861

Communities Can Prepare for Flooding and Build Resilience into Systems

By Jake Newhall, Project Manager, WSB

Extreme rainfall events are occurring with increased frequency. Due to climate and environmental changes, many cities and communities are facing an increased flood risk and must act to protect their communities, residents, and infrastructure. A 2019 report by the National Institute of Building Sciences noted that Natural hazard mitigation saves $6 for every $1 spent on infrastructure resilience.

Source: National Institute of Building Sciences

How can community planners, engineers, and elected officials prepare for and protect their communities from flooding? Here are some guidelines to help reduce flood risk in your community when a storm hits.

Preparing for and Understanding the Weaknesses in Your Systems 

Flood vulnerability and resiliency studies are a process for evaluating a community’s ability to withstand rainfall and identify flood risk. These studies look at the existing systems and determine the risks, and where improvements can be made to protect priority infrastructure. This is vital for communities to reduce risks and flood damage to property and public infrastructure – especially in densely populated areas and those near major roadways. 

As we face more extreme weather events, communities should consider increased rainfall depths and intensities so they can be proactive in system planning. The current storm probabilities available have not been updated since 2014, yet rainfall trends show increases over the last decade. Communities can greatly benefit if they anticipate the future probabilities of storms and construct systems that can handle more intense rainfalls. Using a range of design storms, you can determine flood depths, frequency, duration and assign risk to help prioritize funding. 

Completing a risk analysis and inundation mapping utilizing existing modeling can be a low-cost way to start evaluating your system.

Identifying Projects to Reduce Flood Risk

Locating the areas of risk in your community is critical to flood prevention. That could include finding where your system needs more capacity and storage to reduce flooding, determine what properties are prone to flooding, and creating solutions such as relocation, emergency response, or additional flood protection investments. 

Where collected water goes is important when examining and determining updates for your systems. The primary options are to either pass the water downstream into creeks and rivers, or store it in drainage ponds, underground systems, or other storage areas. Another option is to reduce the impervious footprint to reduce the amount of runoff that is generated. Emerging technology allows for predictive rainfall systems that can generate additional storage ahead of a large rainfall event by releasing water early and prior to a peak event through a critical area.

The risk with moving the storm water downstream is the possibility of flooding and eroding the creeks and rivers. If conveyance capacity is increased to the downstream system, it is necessary to make sure that proper measures are taken to avoid flooding and erosion that can harm waters and ecosystems. Water storage options like drainage ponds or underground storage, are options for many communities to utilize. Balancing needs, functionality, and the cost of storage and land is important for communities to explore. Water quality and pollutant removals can be a secondary benefit of many stormwater storage systems that can help communities achieve other goals at the same time.  

Finally, for most communities, the needs often outweigh the budget available to accomplish them all. WSB helps clients navigate flood vulnerabilities, pursue grant funding, and help make informed decisions that best serve a community’s individual needs. 

Jake has more than 15 years of engineering experience designing and managing many types of water resources projects, including modeling, planning, design, maintenance programs, and construction. Jake has worked with various municipalities, counties and state agencies to solve challenging water quality and water quantity problems.

[email protected] | 763.231.4861

Water Sustainability and Community Planning

By Alyson Fauske, Sr Project Manager, WSB

Last summer, Minnesota experienced a drought due to above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation. This created a significant challenge for many community leaders and public agencies. To keep up with demand, wells were pumping at or near capacity over much of the summer, and communities were forced to implement water restrictions for the first time in decades. Some cities banned lawn sprinkling all together, though this is not water sustainability.

Heading into 2022, Minnesota is still facing drought conditions in some parts of the state. There are a number of things that communities and public agencies can do to plan for and respond to drought conditions using sustainable water planning.

Water Sustainability
The graphics above from the U.S. Drought Monitor track the progression of drought conditions beginning in June, 2021.

Limit Water Usage

In drought conditions, limiting water usage is critical and often the first step taken. Communities can help limit water use by developing water reuse systems and plans. They can also implement landscaping practices that require less watering including native plants and drought resistant plantings and grasses. Native plants also have the added benefit of supporting local wildlife health and helping to protect pollinator populations.

Tap Into Local Grants & Resources

In 2021, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) put together a Drought Assistance Proposal. This proposal includes a request for $13.3 million in funding to help cities address the effects of last year’s drought. WSB is tracking the funding package as it moves through the legislature and will be prepared to assist clients with grant applications for any approved funding, as well as identify other funding opportunities that are tied to this effort.

Long Term Water Sustainability

A significant portion of the budget for the Drought Assistance Proposal is set aside for proactive water conservation measures that would help combat the effects of potential future droughts.

Municipal engineering and sustainability go hand in hand. Municipal engineers develop plans and projects that maintain infrastructure, considering the whole life cycle of the project while aiming to minimize the amount the taxpayer needs to provide to routinely maintain the infrastructure.

Proactive water conservation measures allow communities to be better prepared for the next potential drought. These measures may consist of finding and repairing leaks, increasing irrigation efficiency, or incentivizing residential and business customers to install water-saving devices.

Climate change and a greater risk of drought impacts community planning, and leaders who implement sustainability measures that are proactive, and not just reactive to an immediate crisis, will fare better in managing drought.

If you want to learn more, contact Alyson Fauske, Senior Project Manager at 612-263-1736 or [email protected].

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.

[email protected] | 612.263.1736