University researchers, St. Paul officials work for greener stormwater infrastructure

Some St. Paul officials hope to get the project into the city’s code in 2019.

Caitlin Anderson

University of Minnesota researchers are working with the City of St. Paul to help improve environmental impact of stormwater infrastructure.

The Institute for Urban and Regional Infrastructure Finance in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs conducted research last year on community-based green infrastructure for stormwater management. The City of St. Paul is implementing the research’s results in certain areas around the city. 

City officials are also using the research to guide a development project. They plan to adopt an ordinance in 2019 that would put the project into the city’s code, allowing them to set up district financing for further stormwater developments. 

“We are looking really deep into communities in St. Paul,” said Jerry Zhao, director of IURIF. “[We’re] thinking about some new ways to get money and make financial arrangements to make something happen.”

The traditional way to deal with stormwater is through grey infrastructure, which involves using underground pipes. These pipes may not get sufficient attention or funding because they are less visible and hidden underground, and are less efficient as a result and as a result, Zhao said. 

The new system would create the potential implement just one stormwater system per city instead of individual ones on each lot, making it more sustainable and efficient, Zhao said.

For this project to be implemented, the city needs money. The University is researching how the project could be financed, and is exploring the effectiveness of funding from private and public contributors.  One method being considered by the City is called the “fee-in-lieu” method, which offers fees that property developers can pay to the city to create the greener facilities instead of building individual ones, Zhao said. 

The City’s main goal is to use rain as a resource.

“We wanted to bring that stormwater to the surface … so that we can realize multiple benefits out of it and reconnect people to their urban ecosystem,” said Wes Saunders-Pearce, St. Paul’s water resource coordinator. 

Saunders-Pearce said the City hopes to have “cleaner air, as well as cleaner water and more visibility and open space in places that are currently lacking those features.”

This method appeals to developers because plentiful green spaces often increase nearby property values, said City of St. Paul Treasurer Michael Solomon. 

A major redevelopment area that is being worked on now is called the Snelling-Midway development, which encompasses a new soccer stadium in St. Paul. The city is implementing the greener stormwater infrastructure research into the development. Past projects that include this infrastructure are the downtown ballpark CHS Field and tree trenches along the sidewalks next to the Green Line light-rail. 

“Governments are not always doing traditional things, there are new things the government can try out,” Zhao said. “Many times, it needs the collaboration between the University and government. And I would love to see those things happen [more].”

The partnership is part of a government-issued program called MetroLab Network, which looks to promote collaboration between universities and cities. The University and City expect to collaborate on projects in the future, such as a possible citywide implementation of snow plowing alleys.

“We could utilize resources and expertise from the University to help move us forward and maybe think outside the box and bring a little horsepower to the table,” Saunders-Pearce said.