Stormwater Summit comes to Minneapolis – FINALLY!

After three years of planning (thanks COVID19!), the national Stormwater Summit finally convened in Minneapolis two weeks ago. Originally planned for 2020, and then for 2021, the in-person version of this annual event finally landed. The Twin Cities, as well as Minnesota as a whole, have much to showcase but in true Midwestern style, they often keep their lights under a bushel. Finally, the region was able to throw open the doors for all to see and welcome stormwater leaders from around the U.S. who also shared many of their ground-breaking (pun intended?) work.

As the past president of WEF, the host organization, I appreciated the opportunity to share in the opening remarks, setting a context not only for what WEF is doing in this space but also to ground us in the importance of water leadership and innovation in a world increasingly threatened by climate change, resource constraints, and economic inequality. Stormwater management is essential to adapting to the changing rainfall patterns we are experiencing through climate change and exacerbated by urban / suburban / commercial development patterns, and with innovative applications of green stormwater infrastructure, smart technologies, and strategic re-use of rainwater we have the opportunity to not just react (“adapt”) to stormwater but to actually chip away at the root causes of climate change (“mitigate”).

In case you missed the Summit, here are a few memorable highlights from my vantage:

  • Flooding and other ravages of stormwater are not equally felt by all, and I was encouraged that the all-day workshop “Get to Know the Equity Guide: Measuring & Evaluating Progress Towards Equity in GSI” hosted by April Mendez and her colleagues at Greenprint Partners was well attended. It seems that could be an annual event for the Stormwater Summit, and potentially WEFTEC and/or the Utility Management Conference.
  • The award-winning Capitol Region Watershed District hosted an afternoon tour of a sampling of its projects, including Allianz Field, home to the Minnesota United Soccer Team, as well as the redevelopment site for the former Ford Assembly Plant on the bluffs atop the Mississippi River. Follow the links to see just how comprehensive the approaches are for these two sites – the links tell the story better than I can.
  • A do-it-yourself “Downtown Minneapolis Stormwater Walking Tour 2022” assembled by Mike Harder, Environmental Administrator with the Metropolitan Airports Commission. Mike used the app geotourist to put together a six-stop tour of downtown Minneapolis showcasing everything from Westminster Presbyterian Church’s (right across from our hotel!) green roof and water re-use system to the increasingly routine use of nature-based solutions incorporated into skate parks, bike paths, and road projects throughout the city. I’m not sure which I was more excited about – the Minneapolis highlights, or the endless possibilities for using geotourist for stormwater tours at future conference locations!
  • Despite having a long way to go, Minnesota is doing a lot of things right. The Watershed Act of 1955 laid the ground for the state’s enviable network of watershed districts, including the afore-mentioned Capitol Region Watershed District. We heard about cutting-edge stormwater research at the St. Anthony’s Falls Laboratory of the University of Minnesota, advancing knowledge on everything from biofiltration media to road-salt alternatives. They didn’t need to twist my arm when they suggested signing up for their Youtube channel.
  • Minnesota voters impressed me long before I moved here when, in 2008, they approved the Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment (to the state constitution) which, for 25 years, provides sales tax funds specifically for water protection and restoration. This is on top of the Environmental Trust Fund, which benefits from the state’s lottery. The Land of 10,000 Lakes takes its water seriously.
  • I gravitated toward Minnesota-focused sessions, so my “highlights” are a little biased. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the Californian’s made me a bit jealous. Three student volunteers from Poseidon Education, ranging from middle-school to college, showed the rest of us up with their polished and passionate presentations detailing the stormwater action they are taking within their West-Coast schools. I was impressed with the depth of the work they’ve taken on to tackle litter as well as stormwater flooding at their schools and in their communities more broadly. Downtown Minneapolis is pretty clean, but you better believe those students inspired me to pick up litter while I was out on the Stormwater Walking Tour mentioned above. I’m hoping this isn’t the last time we see Poseidon Education at a WEF event!

We also learned about things to look forward to. Within the next few months, we’ll see an updated version of the 2015 Rainfall to Results: The Future of Stormwater, with new emphasis on resilience. Second, the MS4 Needs Assessment Survey will be released this fall. This biannual survey, leading up to its third iteration, is the best assessment we have of the needs and challenges for municipal stormwater. Please participate and encourage your colleagues to do so as well. And of course, mark your calendars for the next Stormwater Summit which will be held in Kansas City, Missouri, June 27-30, 2023.

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