April 27 --Humans have done much to alter the Earth's landscape and, as a result, the water ecosystems around us.
In Hugo , they're trying a new approach to mitigate the damage.
The city is requesting $3 million in state funding for three stormwater-treatment projects that will reduce the amount of groundwater pumped for human use and reduce pollutants funneled into local lakes. A smaller project in partnership with the Rice Creek Watershed District and Oneka Ridge Golf Course already is underway.
"The culture that we're in, there's a big concern for the sustainability for the aquifer. So anything we can do to use the water available to us in a smarter way, I think, is good public policy," Hugo Mayor Tom Weidt said. "We're trying to do the right thing and think big, and look outside the normal channels you would to deal with this stuff. And some of that makes you a trailblazer."
The city of Hugo pumps about 450 million gallons of water every year from the underground aquifer that supplies the region's drinking water. About half of what's pumped is used for irrigation, Weidt said. At the same time, stormwater collection and drainage systems are sending even more than that downstream toward the Mississippi River .
"As a city, we determined last year that our water use and our water availability was a very important piece to our growth and to the future," the mayor said. "We came up with the idea to reuse our stormwater (for irrigation) and to save the groundwater pumping for actual use for residents."
While officials in the city of about 14,000 were looking at water usage and identifying areas for conservation, the watershed district was looking at water quality and avenues to alleviate pollution.
Bald Eagle Lake , which sits in the southwest corner of the city, was found to have excessive levels of phosphorus.
The watershed district approached Oneka Ridge Golf Course with a potential mitigation project because the property has a drainage ditch connected to the lake.
It became a "mutually agreeable" project for the watershed, the course and the city, said Matt Kocian , a lake and stream specialist for Rice Creek Watershed District.
The course was grappling with low pond levels and irrigation issues. The city wanted to find ways to curb large-scale irrigation. And the watershed district needed to reduce the amount of polluted runoff going into Bald Eagle Lake .
Construction of a large stormwater pond with a connected network of infiltration and irrigation piping began in November. The system will collect runoff from the surrounding 1,000 acres and use it to irrigate the course's 116 acres. Any excess water will be put back into the ground, which is a natural filter, instead of being piped directly into the lake.
"We have several projects like this with multiple benefits," Kocian said. "One of our primary goals here is improving and protecting water quality. Oftentimes, we're able to find projects that accomplish that along with other things. And this is one of them."
The Oneka Ridge project was funded by nearly $500,000 in grant funds from the state's Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, with matching funds and in-kind support from the watershed district, the city and the golf course, according to the watershed district.
The project fit well with the city's water conservation goals, which are based on the three R's, Weidt said: reduce, reuse, replenish.
Similar water projects are planned elsewhere in the city. The requested state funding, which remains under consideration by the Legislature , would be used for stormwater reuse systems along County Road 8 , in Beaver Ponds Park and in the Water's Edge residential area.
Weidt said that the plans are sound and that the city's funding request has been well received.
"I would hope that they do the right thing and fund it," the mayor said.
If not, the city won't give up easily.
"We want to move forward with the plan. We think it's the right thing to do," Weidt said. "So we'll continue to look for funding. Worst-case scenario, we'll go back again next year."
Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162.
Follow her at twitter.com/LizMohr .
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