The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) 2522 Marshall Street NE, an organization that strives to conserve and help advance water quality, recently developed an application that tracks storm drain water and its direct path to the Mississippi River. By developing the Path to the River app, the MWMO hopes that once community members see how the water’s path is traced to the Mississippi, they will have the ability to understand their own direct impact made during the process.
The MWMO is comprised of 25,543 acres of urban lands and waters and is one of three dozen watershed organizations in the Twin Cities area. The MWMO watershed includes Columbia Heights, Fridley, Hilltop, Lauderdale, Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, St. Anthony Village, and Saint Paul.
Coordinating with Barr Engineers and the University of Minnesota’s U-Spatial Group, the Path to the River app has been a collaborative work in progress during the last few years. Nick Busse, communications principal at MWMO, has been part of the project since its inception and has a goal to educate residents about the impact stormwater can have on communities.
“One of the basic challenges we have in communicating about stormwater runoff and storm water pollution is, people don’t understand that the things they do in their communities, workplaces, and homes, have a direct impact on water quality in the river,” Busse said. “Using the data that we created through our watershed modeling project, we took that and created an application showing the direct path that stormwater runoff takes from a point on the land and showing the actual path [to the river].”
The app allows users to click on a location within the MWMO watershed and track the path of the stormwater from that location to the Mississippi. Not only does the application show the direct path to the Mississippi, but also shows water contamination levels, the time it takes water to get to the river, and whether or not the water is captured and cleaned by what is known as a stormwater best management practice (BMP), along the path.
For example, it takes 331 hours, 28 minutes for stormwater to travel from Kordiak Park, 1845 49th Avenue, Columbia Heights to the river. It’s relatively clean water. Water that exits the Northtown Yards near St. Anthony Parkway and University heads north before turning torward the river. It has a high pollution potential, and takes just 40 minutes to get there. The storm sewers at Broadway and Marshall Streets empty into the river in just 27 minutes. St. Anthony’s storm sewer system has yet to be added to the app.
“The low, medium, and high [pollution] potential is based on land use,” says Busse. “If it is an industrial area or a mixed-use commercial area where there is generally a more impervious surface, that’s going to be higher potential [for pollution]. Medium is generally single-family homes or sometimes multi-family homes. It’s only based on land use.”
Although cities typically set the regulatory standards for developers working on projects, the MWMO will fund BMPs for a stormwater project if there is a benefit that helps protect the river as well as the surrounding environment and habitat. In Northeast Minneapolis, Thomas Edison High School completed the Green Campus Project, and added multiple BMPs with infrastructure built by MWMO as an effort to improve water quality.
“At Edison, there is a rain garden, permeable pavers, and a tree trench in the parking lot,” said Busse. “Those are examples of things that are taking the runoff and helping it infiltrate into the ground. The water then goes down into the groundwater table, while the soil filters out most of the pollutants. There is a storm water reuse system at Edison as well that is taking some of the runoff from the gymnasium and using it to water the athletic field. Those are the two different realms we work in — green infrastructure that treats stormwater runoff, and then green infrastructure that uses it as a reuse resource.”
The Path to the River app is meant to start conversations about storm drains and pollution, with the goal that residents will activate in their community and change the levels of pollution that reach the river. Busse believes communities can directly participate to help eliminate pollutants travelling to the river through our storm drains.
“People can have a direct impact like adopting a storm drain, learning ways to clear snow and ice that do not involve using salt, and getting informed on the issues by learning what sources of pollution are,” says Busse. “Support legislation and actions that will help reduce pollution going to the river. Those are things people can do regardless if people own a home.”
The Path to the River app can be found at: www.mwmo.org/path-to-the-river. It is not yet optimized for mobile phones. More information about MWMO, their projects and other programs can be found at: www.mwmo.org/about/about-the-mwmo.
Adopt-a-Drain: What you can do to help keep water clean
Although the Path to the River application is not a planning tool, there are options for community members to become more involved in how water reaches the Mississippi River through free programs. Community members can have a direct impact and influence by adopting storm drains. The City of Minneapolis, as well as other metro-wide cities, makes this possible through their Adopt-a-Drain programs.
Managed by Lane Christianson, Adopt-a-Drain program manager at the City of Minneapolis, the project was developed as an effort for community members to take an active role to keep drains clean by removing potential pollutants in their neighborhoods. The adoption process is very simple and as an added bonus, the adopting community member has the ability to name the adopted drains.
The requirements for the program are not laborious, and promotes education and participation of all ages. The city requests that participants clean their storm drain at least two times a year, keep track of the weight of waste removed from the drain area, and report those numbers to the city. Recently, the 10,000th drain was adopted in the City of Minneapolis.
Michelle Spangler, who has lived in the Audubon neighborhood for 12 years, is spearheading a Northeast neighborhood Adopt-a-Drain contest and challenge. Spangler, a former science teacher, and a Master Water Steward trained through MWMO, became inspired to adopt her own drains and become a community advocate after realizing how pollutants impact our water and inevitably, our health.
“Everything that enters our storm drains goes straight to the Mississippi,” says Spangler. “Not a lot of people know that.That is where our drinking water comes from and where millions of people downstream get their drinking water. We can make a measurable difference in how to keep our river cleaner.”
The contest, which runs from May through October, challenges all Northeast neighborhoods to see who can adopt the most drains. Prizes will be disbursed to individuals and communities depending on how many drains are adopted, how much waste is collected, and how much data is reported to the city. Spangler has a goal of not only getting all the drains in the Northeast area adopted, but bringing communities together.
“It is a contest between neighborhoods, but I hope it will unify our neighborhood around caring about our river and feeling inspired,” says Spangler. “We are not waiting around for anyone to save us. We can take concrete action to make a difference. I hope that inspires people to feel more hopeful about taking care of our planet.”
Spangler hopes that schools, businesses, churches and residents in the community adopt drains. Spangler is applying for a grant that would promote equity and opportunity for all Northeast residents by allowing access to brooms, bags, and dustpans.
“Knowledge is power,” says Spangler. “The more we know how things work, we can do something about it that is attainable and achievable. I hear a lot of anxiety and frustration about climate change. I want to demonstrate that we can protect the things we care about and our children’s future. You get in there, you work with your hands, and you can make a difference. People need hope right now.”
Apply to adopt a drain at: www.adopt-a-drain.org.
More information about the Adopt-a-Drain contest can be found through the Audubon Neighborhood Association website.
Below: Michael Schwartz and Ivy Spindler- Schwartz cleared leaves from a storm drain. The leaves should be set out for city yard waste pickup. (Photo by Marla Khan-Schwartz)