St. Paul, Minn., Modernizes Stormwater Infrastructure

Sourced from Government Technology Magazine

MetroLab Network has partnered with Government Technology to bring its readers a segment called the MetroLab Innovation of the Month Series, which highlights impactful tech, data and innovation projects underway between cities and universities. If you’d like to learn more or contact the project leads, please contact MetroLab at info@metrolabnetwork.org for more information.

In this installment of the Innovation of the Month Series, we explore how St. Paul, Minn., is rethinking stormwater management through the use of green infrastructure.

MetroLab’s Executive Director Ben Levine spoke with Wes Saunders-Pearce, water resource coordinator, and Michael Solomon, treasurer, both from the city of St. Paul; and Jerry (Zhirong) Zhao, associate professor and director of the Institute for Urban and Regional Infrastructure Finance at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Ben Levine: Can you explain what green infrastructure is — how it works, what problems it solves and why it's an attractive tool?

Wes Saunders-Pearce: Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and other elements and practices to restore some of the natural processes required to manage water and create healthier urban environments. It is a stormwater management approach that utilizes natural landscape features and hydrologic processes to treat stormwater by infiltrating, evapotranspiring and/or reusing runoff. Large-scale green infrastructure systems help address climate change impacts on local populations by reducing urban heat stress and improving air quality. Green infrastructure also achieves other environmental goals such as improved wildlife habitat and increased opportunities for outdoor recreation. Often green infrastructure programs are the result of federal requirements. But for St. Paul, where our sewer systems already meet federal code and are not mandated to change, shifting to using stormwater as a resource is completely voluntary. It is an act of departing from past practice to leave a better legacy that invests in our future.

Jerry Zhao: That’s right. In contrast to traditional “gray infrastructure” — with underground pipe networks — green infrastructure uses features such as rain gardens, permeable pavements and green roofs. You can imagine how those tools can offer benefits to residents and communities beyond the core water infrastructure functions.

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