Climate change worries St. Cloud officials over flooding | Minnesota News
By BECCA MOST, St. Cloud Times
ST. CLOUD, Minnesota (AP) — Local officials and area representatives recently gathered on a veranda by Lake George to discuss the need to invest in local infrastructure as more frequent and heavier rains caused by climate change are straining aging stormwater systems and causing more flooding in Saint Cloud.
Governor Tim Walz is proposing new legislation that would establish a $21.1 million grant program for stormwater infrastructure upgrades across the state.
“Communities across our state face a common threat. Extreme weather events like mega-rains are intensifying due to climate change,” said Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Katrina Kessler. “Minnesota is getting hotter and wetter. In fact, the 2010s were the wettest decade on record in Minnesota, and these mega-rains are now four times more likely to occur than just four generations ago.
A “mega-rain” is described by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as an event where six inches or more of rain covers more than 1,000 square miles in 24 hours or less, with at least eight inches of rain elsewhere in that area . According to the DNR, from 2000 to 2021, Minnesota has experienced twice as many mega-rains as in 1973-1999, the St. Cloud Times reported.
More frequent downpours lead to more flooding, which threatens homes, businesses and critical infrastructure, including roads and hospitals, Kessler said.
“Today, more than 155,000 homes and apartment buildings, 13,000 commercial buildings and 29,000 miles of roads in Minnesota are at risk of severe flooding,” she said. “This type of flooding has an incredible impact on our local economies and our individual wallets. According to the Minnesota Insurance Federation, extreme weather events have caused insurance premiums to increase 366% in our state since 1998. If Minnesota cities are not prepared for climate change, our residents and businesses will continue to bear the brunt of these devastating weather conditions. events.”
The grant money would be used to improve critical stormwater infrastructure around the state to mitigate flood damage and help cities adapt to climate change, Kessler said. Local governments will be able to identify problems in their own community, develop plans and come up with solutions that make sense to them, she said.
Once the legislative session ends in May, they’ll know the fate of that bail request, and if it’s successful, six months later, cities can apply for grants through the MPCA, Kessler said.
“The way it’s currently set up is that each project could receive up to $5 million, which would pay for a project here. And depending on the size of the project, we hope to fund four to 20 projects across the state,” she said. “Obviously, that doesn’t meet the whole need. But again, I think it sends a signal that we need to invest in this area and prepares the state and communities to think about how we can more effectively use the federal dollars that come into the state through bipartisan investment in infrastructure.
“We have 200 miles of storm drains in this city, 24,000 structures. And a lot of those pipes, by the way, are 100 years old and buried in the 20s,” Mayor Dave Kleis said at the meeting. “So not only are they aged, but the material that was used (isn’t what we would use now).”
Although people can see projects such as road improvements for themselves, “they forget about all the pipes that are in the ground and really increase their (property) value,” he said.
“We don’t get calls until their neighborhood is flooded,” Kleis said. “But what we put in the ground to protect that is extremely important.”
One of the projects the city is seeking funding for is a $3 million stormwater infrastructure project on the Highway 23 lift station, which has been deteriorating for more than 60 years. A lift station is used to move sewage from a lower elevation to a higher elevation.
The lift station’s 100-acre watershed includes major waters like Lake George. Past lift station failures have resulted in extensive flooding on nearby roads.
Other St. Cloud infrastructure projects include a project to redirect stormwater away from a 1900s brick storm drain that served as a haven for local bats, upgrades to stormwater infrastructure in the Pantown neighborhood and stormwater improvements in Spirit Lake and Point Pleasant.
Sartell is also seeking funding to repair roads that failed prematurely and stop flooding, said Sartell public works director John Kothenbeutel.
Sartell City Engineer April Ryan said some residents had seen their homes flooded for several years as extreme weather conditions worsened, and the flooding “makes the roads icy in the winter and slimy in the summer”.
Treatment systems around Sartell also need maintenance and are full of sediment, which has also caused flooding, she said.
“Sartell took a few interns and put them in kayaks the last two summers and put sonar gear on and measured how much sediment was in those ponds. And we have to remove over 6,500 tons of sediment, which equates to about 930 elephants of sediment that Sartell alone has to remove from their ponds,” Ryan said. “And those costs associated with that, they estimate $6 million to $8 million just removing the sediment. So that just adds to the amount of money needed to take care of the stormwater infrastructure.
Both Reps. Tama Theis, R-St. Cloud and Sen. Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud, expressed the need to deal with flooding in the region.
“A lot of us have walked down Ninth Avenue and seen it flooded. Have you ever stopped to think that’s where any ambulance has to go? That’s where a fire truck has to go? Putnam said. “It’s not just about quality of life, although it’s absolutely that. It’s not just about preparing for growth and the general infrastructure needs of our community.” is a matter of public safety, of being able to deal with these kinds of deeper structural issues, of preparing our community for an average day and a horrible day at the same time.
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