Stormwater Rules: Planning as if the River Matters
An article in this morning’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune highlights a new proposal by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) that would change how cities of all sizes handle stormwater. The proposal, which is controversial for reasons having to do with cost, and with notions of local control for urban land use, would mandate reduction in both volume of stormwater and the pollutants it carries. In essence, cities would be asked to keep rain water where it falls and ensure that the water that does come off the land into nearby rivers and lakes is as clean as possible.
There are, of course, at least three ways to see this news. First, river advocates would be saying “It’s about time we alleviated the damage cities inflict on surface waters.” Conversely, others would see this as another example of government overreach, and one that will impose higher costs on all taxpayers.
Not surprisingly, we hold a third view. Rivers, streams and lakes within and adjacent to cities are some of those cities’ greatest assets, and has been shown repeatedly can be drivers of higher property values. Some cities will pass the costs of new features such as rain gardens and more intensive onsite water management practices to developers and construction companies, raising the costs of new development slightly while protecting taxpayers at large.
More important perhaps, given what’s generally recognized as an impending crisis for decaying water infrastructure, rules such as the MPCA proposes could extend the life of municipal stormwater systems by reducing the wear and tear associated with heavy flow events. As the local example of Faribault Foods’ innovative water and energy conservation plan shows, new ways of managing water can reduce discharge by hundreds of millions of gallons annually.
Rules such as those proposed by the MPCA exemplify the innovations that we’ll have to make if we really are going to live as if our rivers and streams matter. Many would argue that the Mississippi River is one of the state’s most critical assets. Changing the “urban development DNA” of our metropolitan areas along the river is central to learning how to live with this world-renowned place for decades to come.