Like most suburban communities, the City of Hugo uses nearly half of its municipal water supply to provide some form of irrigation. Unlike most communities, the city is telling residents in some neighborhoods to go ahead and keep the sprinklers running.
It’s not that Hugo wants to waste water. In fact, the city is keenly interested in reducing its groundwater footprint. Located just north of White Bear Lake, Hugo is developing rapidly and is one of the communities included in the Minnesota DNR’s North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area. “But, we’d already plucked the low-hanging fruit,” city administrator Bryan Bear explains. “We’d offered rebates for water-saving fixtures, required developers to put down topsoil before sodding new lawns… Then we started looking at stormwater reuse and realized we could be making a much larger impact.”
In Forest Lake, stormwater reuse is quickly becoming popular as well, as a new strategy to minimize groundwater pumping while also protecting wetlands, lakes and streams from runoff pollution. The idea is to capture stormwater runoff from rooftops and roadways – typically treated like a waste-product – and use it to irrigate turf and landscaping. It’s a classic example of turning trash into treasure.
Hugo completed its first stormwater reuse project in 2014, in partnership with Rice Creek Watershed District (RCWD) and Oneka Ridge Golf Course. The partners excavated a large stormwater pond near the 18th tee and connected it to the golf course irrigation system. Since then, Oneka Ridge has been able to cut its groundwater pumping by 40-50% and also keeps 75 pounds per year of phosphorus out of nearby Bald Eagle Lake. This is important because phosphorus is the key nutrient responsible for causing algae blooms in lakes during the summer. Minnesota Clean Water Fund provided $497,100 in funding support for the project.
Now, Bear hopes that stormwater reuse will become the new norm in his city. At Beaver Ponds Park, the city installed a stormwater reuse system to irrigate the soccer fields. At the Water’s Edge HOA, existing stormwater ponds were retrofitted to provide water for irrigation as well. When the Clearwater Cove neighborhood was built, developers worked with the city ahead of time to incorporate stormwater reuse from the get-go. “The developers are beginning to use this as a strategy for meeting the watershed district’s stormwater permit requirements,” Bear says, “but it also helps to reduce the city’s peak water demand.”
In 2018, stormwater reuse projects in Hugo reduced the city’s total water usage by 6% (20,000,000 gal). Looking to the future, the city expects to see big cost savings there as well. Previously, in its Comprehensive Plan, Hugo had planned to operate eleven wells and four water towers by the year 2030. Now, the city has revised its comp plan and only expects to need seven wells and three water towers by the year 2040.
In Forest Lake, stormwater reuse projects are currently under construction at the Forest Lake Area High School and Forest Hills Golf Club. The high school project will save 4.1 million gallons of groundwater a year and keep 20lbs per year of phosphorus out of Clear Lake, while the golf course project will save 26 million gallons of groundwater annually and keep 77lbs per year of phosphorus out of Shields Lake, which flows to Forest Lake. RCWD is providing support for the high school project, and the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District is leading the effort at Forest Hills Golf Club. Both projects are partially funded by the Minnesota Clean Water Fund.
During a tour for city council and local leaders, teacher Mike Miron talked about new curriculum teachers have created for Forest Lake High School’s stormwater reuse system. Students will learn about groundwater, watersheds, and engineering technology, in addition to collecting water quality data once the system is up and running. “We have the benefit of taking students out of the classroom to experience something real and hands-on,” Miron explained. “It’s the same formula as in the classroom, but for some kids it will connect better out here. We want to get kids thinking about real world problems and engage them as citizens, not just students.”
Though stormater reuse seems to be a win-win strategy, there are some differences for residents that can take some getting used to. In most of the metro area, cities are asking residents to minimize their lawn watering. In neighborhoods with stormwater reuse systems, however, Hugo wants people to keep the sprinklers running. “It’s actually a good thing if people are watering their lawns a lot,” explains Bear, “because it helps to keep their neighborhood stormwater ponds from overflowing during larger rain events.” Likewise, the city discourages raingardens in these neighborhoods because they want to make sure the ponds have enough water during dry spells to meet people’s watering needs.
Overall, Bear feels like stormwater reuse is a winning strategy and he hopes to see more cities following Hugo’s lead. “We hope to see more of this happening,” he finishes. “It just makes so much sense.”