Washington County Embarks on New Business Partnership to Save Money and Reduce Water Use

Washington County is reaching out to area businesses with an offer they can’t refuse – cut costs while protecting local water supplies. The outreach effort, conducted in partnership with the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTap) at the University of Minnesota includes two components: 1) Free, in-depth water efficiency consultations, conducted by MnTAP engineering staff;  and 2) Specially trained summer interns that can help to implement water efficiency measures. The goal is to reduce overall groundwater use within the county and make it easy for local businesses to do the right thing.

Because Minneapolis and St. Paul use water from the Mississippi River, people are often surprised to learn that 100% of the drinking water in Washington County comes from groundwater aquifers. In addition to providing drinking water for more than 246,000 people, groundwater is also the only source used for irrigation and industry in the county. Aquifers provide a clean source of drinking water that requires little to no treatment and local cities save money on infrastructure by not having to pipe water in from St. Paul.  Unfortunately, however, experts are beginning to worry that our growing population is using groundwater in these aquifers more quickly than it can be replenished. Already, some east metro lakes have seen short to long-term declines in water levels due to drought and increased pumping, and groundwater-fed trout streams are vulnerable as well. Meanwhile, Washington County’s population is expected to increase by 43% by 2030.

In its 2014-2024 Groundwater Plan, Washington County outlines a number of strategies for protecting groundwater resources through collaboration with state agencies and local cities, as well as schools and businesses. One initiative is the partnership with MnTAP, which will help area businesses to cut costs and conserve water.

MnTAP recognizes that many businesses don’t have enough staff time available to identify and implement water efficiency measures, even if it will help them to save money in the long run. In response, MnTAP offers free, in-depth water efficiency assessments to measure water use, examine existing processes, and identify cost-effective alternatives that use less water. MnTAP’s experienced engineering staff complete each assessment and create a thorough, site-specific report that is entirely confidential.

In addition to providing free water efficiency assessments, MnTAP also coordinates a summer internship program to help businesses develop and implement energy, waste, and water efficiency projects. The interns are qualified engineering students with good grades, leadership skills, and previous work experience. MnTAP provides cost-sharing for the intern salaries so that businesses are able to get 500 hours of full-time work for only $3000. MnTAP intern project advisors stay engaged throughout the summer and carry the project objectives and recommendations forward after the students leave, ensuring that businesses receive the support they need to make water efficiency improvements. Paul Madden, Technical Director at one participating business, says, “The MnTAP intern project allowed us to evaluate different opportunities in preventing waste, saving water and conserving energy. Working with MnTAP has provided ECO Finishing with the tools to save on water costs.”

Interns from the 2016 MnTAP program.
Interns from the 2016 MnTAP program.

Washington County hopes that area businesses will jump at the opportunity to save money and help to protect the shared water resources we all depend on.

To learn more about the MnTAP water efficiency program in Washington County, contact Mick Jost (jostx003@umn.edu, (612) 624-4694) or Matt Domski (domsk004@umn.edu, (612) 624-5119). Applications for the 2017 MnTAP Intern Program are due before February 1.