Spring 2016 Projects


City of Delano (Spring 2016)

Benchmarking Energy Efficiency of Public Buildings; Analyzing Street Lighting Upgrades

Economics of the Public Sector (ECON 337), Matthew Kim
Managerial Decision Making (ECON 401), Monica Hartmann

The City of Delano seeks to increase the energy efficiency of its public infrastructure to reduce energy use and costs. Students will collaborate on two projects: 1) a benchmarking study of public buildings and 2) an analysis for street lighting upgrades. Based on their analysis, students will propose potential improvements/upgrades to public buildings and evaluate the technical and political feasibility of the proposed upgrades; students will also determine options for updating the City’s street lighting to LED lighting and the payoff times for different updating scenarios.  Students will provide these policy recommendations to the City in a report, and students will also create a dynamic analytical tool for the City that can be updated as parameter values change or additional data become available. Students will also present their work to the Delano City Council or city staff. Students’ work will also assist the City in advancing their GreenStep City rating through increasing the energy efficiency of public infrastructure.


City of Elk River

Bike Route Analysis

Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley

Elk River is home to 25.63 miles of paved trails and 52.15 miles of sidewalks as well as popular bike trails and a mountain biking park. The Parks Master Plan addressed various gaps in the trail system and determined future trails. However, a study has yet to be done on bike lanes on streets. Some roads have shoulders that can be used for biking but they are not marked. Also, gaps in current trails could be filled by creating marked bike lanes on streets. Students will analyze options for optimal street bike lane routes for connectivity throughout the city.

Decreasing Use of Plastic Shopping Bags

Christian Faith and the Management Professions (THEO 422), J-Term and Spring 2016, Angela Senander

Many communities around the country and world have recognized the harmful effects that plastic shopping bags have on the environment and have instituted bans or taxes on their use. Elk River is home to one of the state’s largest municipal solid waste landfills. The landfill staff and community often deal with plastic shopping bag litter from the landfill, and plastic shopping bags also become stuck in the City’s waste to energy plant machinery. Plastic shopping bag litter contaminates our waters, harms wildlife, and causes deterioration of the community’s aesthetics. Therefore, the City would like to investigate the costs and benefits of different options for discouraging the use of plastic bags, including a ban or tax, or incentives for encouraging the use of alternatives. Students will engage in research about the effects of the use of plastic bags on the common good, taking into account various stakeholders such as businesses that are harmed by their use, businesses that benefit from their use, residents of different economic backgrounds, future generations, and the earth. They will examine ways in which governments and citizens (both individual and corporate) in other communities have worked to promote the common good by decreasing the use of plastic bags. 

Green Roof Design

Environmental Problem Solving (ESCI 310), Chip Small

The City of Elk River is home to an impaired lake and two impaired rivers. The City has been focusing on stormwater runoff reduction to these waters as well as pre-treatment techniques to improve water quality. However, the City has not implemented an alternative treatment system on city property, such as a green roof.  Elk River’s Wastewater Treatment plant (WWTP)  is currently undergoing a remodel and expansion. This would be a good site for a green roof installation demonstration project to promote infiltration projects on public land and to educate residents on the importance of stormwater runoff reductions. A team of Environmental Problem Solving students will conduct a feasibility and analysis study of different ecological designs for a green roof installation.  Read their final project report

Park Trail Mapping

Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley

The City of Elk River is home to over 40 parks, each with trails and other amenities. The City’s park system provides open space, land conservation, and recreation opportunities for the community and beyond. However, the City’s current GPS technology is difficult to use in parks due to dense tree coverage, and the City needs to create maps that can easily be updated when trail courses change. Students will create digital maps of trails in the William H. Houlton Conservation Area (Elk River’s newest park, not opened to public yet).

Wetland Buffer Assessment

The City of Elk River is home to 1256 wetlands, according to the National Wetland Inventory (NWI). Wetlands play a vital role in our community’s flood management, water quality, wildlife habitat, and aesthetics. In 2006, the city updated their ordinance to include a 25-foot Wetland Buffer Strip around all wetlands and stormwater ponds. The Buffer Strip does not allow for any mowing or plantings in order to maintain the wetland in its natural and constantly fluctuating state. In addition, there is a 20-foot Wetland Buffer Strip Setback which does not allow for structures (45-foot structure setback). Many properties within Elk River are not aware of these regulations and therefore, are non-conforming. The city seeks to educate residents and businesses of the regulations and identify which properties are not in compliance. Using aerial imagery and NWI data, this could easily be documented.

Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley

Students will map which properties are non-conforming, beginning with City property. These maps will provide needed information for the City to address other policy and public education and outreach efforts to increase compliance and improve wetland quality and function.

Public Policy Masters Research, Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson will investigate wetland buffer policy options as well as incentives and education strategies to increase compliance. 


Mississippi Watershed Management Organization

Culturally Diverse Environmental Engagement

Large Client Systems (SOWK 402), Ande Nesmith, Social Work

The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) seeks to more effectively engage culturally diverse residents in promoting water quality through programs that resonate with and are beneficial to residents in their daily lives.  Students in Large Client Systems will create a logic model to guide MWMO’s outreach with culturally diverse populations that both benefits the community and advances MWMO’s mission of promoting water quality.  MWMO will identify the community (or communities, depending on number of students) to create a targeted logic model for cultural engagement‌.

Examining Land Use Scenarios for Vacant Lots

Environmental Problem Solving (ESCI 310), Chip Small

Students will examine the effects of various land use scenarios on stormwater runoff  and pollinator habitat connectivity.  Specifically, students will examine possible effects of the conversion of vacant lots in North Minneapolis to alternative uses (e.g., urban agriculture, pollinator habitat, raingardens, or a combination of uses) on stormwater runoff rates. Students will also examine optimal and minimum spatial distances between pollinator gardens. Finally, students will explore co-benefit scenarios for combinations of different land use practices. Students’ analysis will be used to inform the targeted selection of locations for these alternative land uses and to provide justification for the conversion of vacant lots to alternative uses within MWMO’s management boundaries.

Mississippi River Corridor Habitat Assessment

Environmental Science Senior Research Seminar (ESCI 430), Lisa Lamb and Sami Nichols

The Mississippi River corridor is an ecosystem of connected natural and urban habitats, which provides benefits to both wildlife and humans. The “Above the Falls” stretch of the Mississippi River shoreline has historically been industrial, but the Mississippi River Management Organization (MWMO), the Mississippi Riverfront Partnership (MRP), and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) would like to restore this area to provide habitat connectivity along the river corridor.  Property ownership complicates this goal; property along this stretch of the river has multiple owners and uses (e.g., residential, industrial, parks, vacant Brownfields).  “Postage-stamp” parks have been created along this stretch, as the MPRB and partners purchase land along the river in a piecemeal fashion, when available.

To achieve restoration goals in this context, the corridor as a whole needs to be assessed for wildlife function.  For example: What wildlife species are currently present? What is a meaningful corridor (size/length) to maximize wildlife habitat and to provide habitat conveyance?  Finally, the complexity of property ownership and public access needs to be considered.  How can the corridor be restored considering the current context of multiple property owners along the river? How can restoration goals be achieved while still providing an accessible riverfront for the public?

Organizational Communication with Volunteers

Organizational Communication (COJO 320), Xiaowen Guan

The Freshwater Society’s (FWS) Master Water Stewards program (MWS) develops, certifies, and supports community volunteer leaders to manage stormwater at a neighborhood scale to improve water quality. FWS is wrapping up the third year of its partnership with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and is preparing to expand the MWS program to seven watershed districts and one city in the coming year, including the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization. To support this expansion, FWS would like to develop a set of recommended communication practices for its new partners to use to develop and maintain engaged, interested, and involved water stewards after they have completed their certification. Students will examine how FWS has set up communication with MWS volunteers to identify and analyze what works well and what can be improved to develop and maintain engaged, interested, and involved water stewards after they have completed their certification. Based on this research, they will create a set of recommended communication practices or blueprint for communication for new local government unit partners to develop and maintain engaged, interested, and involved water stewards.

Public Media for the Master Water Stewards

Analytic and Persuasive Writing (ENGL 304), Lucia Pawlowski

The Freshwater Society’s (FWS) Master Water Stewards (MWS) program develops, certifies, and supports community volunteer leaders to manage stormwater at a neighborhood scale to improve water quality. FWS is wrapping up the third year of its MWS pilot partnership with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and is preparing to expand the MWS program to seven watershed districts and one city in the coming year, including the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO).  To support the expansion of the program, FWS would like to increase the public visibility of the program to recruit future MWS participants and to share stories of current MWS projects and activities.  Students in Analytical and Persuasive writing will create different media to help achieve this goal, including live tweets of watershed tours and narratives of Master Water Stewards’ journeys from “0-10” in their understanding of watersheds.

Stormwater Best Management Practices Curriculum Units

Engineering in the P-12 Classroom (TEGR 528 and EDUC 327), Summer 2016, Deb Besser, Center for Engineering Education, and Debbie Monson, Teacher Education

The Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization’s (MWMO) education and outreach program seeks to “provide information, services and products to promote responsible stewardship of water and natural resources by the watershed community.” As part of this goal, MWMO would like to develop curriculum units for stormwater management best management practices (BMPs) that can be shared with both formal and informal educators. Currently, MWMO shares general resources with educators (e.g., resources from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Geological Survey), but MWMO does not have the capacity to develop curriculum units for specific BMPs in their watershed.

Students in Engineering in the P-12 Classroom will be invited to develop engineering design curriculum units for BMPs in MWMO’s watershed boundaries. Curriculum resources tailored to stormwater management BMPs that are installed on sites within MWMO’s boundaries may increase and facilitate educators’ and the public’s engagement with these sites and practices. Curriculum units that educators can use at specific sites in the watershed would also support the goal of place-based education.

Urban Agriculture Ethnography Project

Ethnographic Writing (GENG 672), Todd Lawrence

The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization seeks to understand why and how residents within their watershed engage in urban agriculture, including motivations, barriers, and benefits, in order to more effectively engage other residents in urban agriculture.  MWMO’s overarching goal is to improve water quality by reducing the volume and speed of stormwater runoff.  Urban agricultural practices may reduce the volume and speed of stormwater runoff by changing compacted soils that cannot infilitrate water to healthier soils that can absorb stormwater.

Students will investigate engagement in urban agriculture through ethnographic research with residents of North Minneapolis.  Based on this research, students will create narratives of residents’ stories of engagement with urban agriculture. In the process of writing these ethnographies, students will explore themes about motivations for and meanings of engaging in urban agriculture as well as barriers residents experience.  This study will provide rich, qualitative data upon which a further study examining motivations to engage in urban agriculture can be developed and messages to encourage residents’ engagement in urban agriculture can be built.