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1. Establish a Vision and Set Goals:


The movement to update stormwater infrastructure in Two Harbors formally began in 1998 when the Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) identified Skunk Creek as a high priority watershed in the Lake County Water Plan update process. The aftermath of the 1999 flood event validated the priorities identified by the SWCD and galvanized local citizens to support concerted action. In the immediate aftermath of the flooding the City of Two Harbors, Lake County SWCD staff, and city representatives began to engage with citizen advisory groups and the city council to discuss changes that needed to be made to local stormwater management. The SWCD also conducted two public surveys in which Skunk Creek was identified as a high priority by the community. A project vision and goals were established and a grant for the completion of a commissioned stormwater management plan was obtained. This management plan set a framework for specific future actions the community could take to meet its goals.


1. Establish a Vision and Set Goals:


The movement to update stormwater infrastructure in Two Harbors formally began in 1998 when the Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) identified Skunk Creek as a high priority watershed in the Lake County Water Plan update process. The aftermath of the 1999 flood event validated the priorities identified by the SWCD and galvanized local citizens to support concerted action. In the immediate aftermath of the flooding the City of Two Harbors, Lake County SWCD staff, and city representatives began to engage with citizen advisory groups and the city council to discuss changes that needed to be made to local stormwater management. The SWCD also conducted two public surveys in which Skunk Creek was identified as a high priority by the community. A project vision and goals were established and a grant for the completion of a commissioned stormwater management plan was obtained. This management plan set a framework for specific future actions the community could take to meet its goals.

2. Site Inventory and Data Collection:


To ensure that their planning efforts would successfully meet flood resilience goals, the City of Two Harbors contracted with local engineers to model, project, and recommend stormwater development options that could be used to remedy existing issues. The consulting engineers inventoried and compiled all data necessary to complete the U.S. EPA’s Stormwater Management Model (SWMM). Detailed data on Skunk Creek was collected in the field using hand-held GPS over the course of approximately two weeks. In addition, maps of the area by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Highway Department, as well as Two Harbors city plans, were evaluated. These local resources were critical in shedding light on the watershed’s geography as well as the locations and cross-sections of existing pipes.

Once all data had been collected and the model parameters entered, the consulting engineers completed a sensitivity analysis of these parameters in which they determined which variables had the greatest impacts on the outcomes projected. Finally, gaged stream flow data was used to calibrate the model.

3. Analyze Alternatives and Outcomes:


The consulting engineers proposed infrastructure alternatives—various flood control structure and Low Impact Development types—to meet the goals set forth in the city’s Stormwater Management Plan. Using the EPA’s Stormwater Management Model, the consulting engineers were able to model 25-, 50-, and 100-year storm events in order to determine what the current system could handle without experiencing serious flooding. From there they were then able to add stormwater infrastructure to the system and again project the outcomes of various flood events. Using this iterative methodology they were able to evaluate how different LID and flood control structures would affect the system and determine which alterations would have the largest impact on the watershed. After their analysis was completed, the consulting engineers shared the plan and its recommendations with the Two Harbors City Council, Lake County Water Plan Committee, Skunk Creek Advisory Committee, and interested city residents.

4. Find and Leverage Funding Opportunities:


Recognizing that infrastructure development requires a significant investment, the presence of funding opportunities was a critical factor when deciding which structures to build first in Two Harbors. Whenever grants became available for infrastructure projects, the Lake County SWCD and University of Minnesota Extension personnel made efforts to submit an application. Maintaining this flexible approach to implementation of the Stormwater Management Plan helped to expedite the process and saved on out-of-pocket costs to the City. Moreover, when grants were obtained, these same personnel made a concerted effort to build strong relationships with the funding entities. These relationships were fostered largely through the project partners’ successful efforts to meet deadlines, giving credit to organizations that provided funding, and by publicizing the project’s progress via local media outlets.

In addition, SWCD staff and UMN Extension personnel invited project partners, funding entities, and interested citizens to tour the sites once the project had been completed. These tours gave funders the opportunity to witness firsthand how their contributions had benefited the community, and helped to cultivate feelings of project ownership. As a result, many of the funding opportunities were exercised by the City of Two Harbors multiple times over the course of the ten-year initiative. Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program, the Great Lakes Commission, and the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources provided the majority of the grant funding.

5. Evaluate and Select a Strategy:


In addition to the availability of funding opportunities, both the price and benefits of each individual project were considered when deciding which of the modeled infrastructure projects to pursue. The consulting engineers that were hired made price estimations for each Low Impact Development or flood control structure option, and from there made recommendations on which projects should come first. In general, low-cost strategies with high potential returns were highlighted, while strategies that were deemed to be not as efficient received a lower priority ranking.

6. Implement Strategy:


After evaluating funding sources and carrying out basic analyses of cost efficiency, Lake County SWCD and UMN Extension staff then prioritized projects that would capture water before it could flow into Skunk Creek. This approach, described as “prescription then prevention”, was based on the assumption that projects implemented would be more effective if the main cause of flooding was alleviated first. Thus, the first project completed was the building of three detention basins. From there, SWCD and UMN Extension personnel turned their attention to erosion control projects, the Urban Forest Management Plan, and the Lake County Courthouse rain garden. These projects helped to mitigate the secondary effects of heavy rainfall and flooding by reducing erosion rates, reducing runoff from impervious surfaces within the city, and minimizing the volume of pollutants eventually entering Lake Superior. Throughout the ten-year project timeline, the entities in charge made sure that relevant stakeholders were aware of and included in each successive step; for example, the county’s Master Gardeners organization were a key partner in the development of the courthouse rain garden.

Lake County SWCD and UMN Extension staff worked closely with state and federal agencies to find flexible solutions to the challenges they encountered when implementing the Stormwater Management Plan. For example, representatives of the SWCD, City of Two Harbors, and UMN Extension leveraged their relational capital to compel the Minnesota Department of Transportation to partner with them to enlarge a culvert under Highway 61—at no cost to the city itself. Another key is example is the Battaglia Parkway stormwater detention basin, here project partners worked with a developer and BWSR to meet state permit requirements by constructing a stormwater detention basin instead of a wetland outside of watershed. The project partners worked together in these and other instances to overcome obstacles creatively and to fund the bulk of the infrastructure improvements and development that were put in place.