City of Elk River (2016-2017)



Completed Projects



Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley
Spring 2016


Project Overview

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.


City Outcomes
  • The City of Elk River's Environmental and Planning Departments have begun using this GIS data to create a Complete Streets Policy, aimed at increasing bikeability in the community.

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


Project Overview

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. 


City Outcomes
  • The Environmental Division will meet with county staff to discuss a county-wide ban or incentive program for decreasing the use of plastic shopping bags, based on students’ research about the costs and benefits of plastic shopping bags for various stakeholders in the community.

Environmental Problem Solving (ESCI 310), Chip Small
Spring 2016


Project Overview

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. 


City Outcomes
  • The green roof project design was funded for implementation in 2017.
  • Further study by the City of Elk River revealed that the waste water treatment plant roof was not designed to be sturdy enough to hold the green roof infrastructure. 
  • City of Elk River staff are looking into alternative options for a green roof and it is still a goal for the city to have one in the future

Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley
Spring 2016


Project Overview

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).


City Outcomes
  • The City of Elk River will is using this infomraiton to create a new and accurate map of trails for the William H. Houlton Conservation Area.
Project Overview

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
Spring 2016

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. 


City Outcomes
  • The Environmental Division budgeted $5,000 for a buffer rebate program to start in 2017.
  • The program will encourage property owners to restore buffers along wetlands and other water bodies.

History and Climate (HIST 298), William Cavert
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River has not investigated its position on climate change and adaptation. The city is situated on the Mississippi and Elk Rivers. Along with a large number of wetlands, there is a significant amount of floodplain throughout the city. Increased rainfall has increased flooding potential for parts of our city. In addition, drought conditions will likely occur at times, requiring possible overuse of city wells for irrigation and potable water. Such water quality concerns and increased weather events are cause for concern and require planning and adaptation.  Planning and adaptation now can reduce or mitigate adverse effects of climate change in the future. This is beneficial to the health of our environment, businesses, residents, and city government.

Through individual research projects, students in History and Climate will apply course content about how climate has mattered to human societies and how we can reasonably link climate changes to specific human developments to understand and examine potential changes Elk River may face due to climate change.  Questions students may consider in their research include the following:  1) What climate change threats are there to Elk River? 2) What plans can Elk River make now? 3) What adapations can Elk River make now and in the future? 4) What costs will there be to the city? 5) Are there grants available for planning/adaptation now?


City Outcomes
  • Students presented a summary of their work to the Elk River City Council.
  • Students’ research will be shared with the Energy City Commission and used to plan for climate resilience in the community.

Senior Design Clinic (ENGR 480), School of Engineering
Fall 2016


Project Overview

Students in the senior design clinic will create a usable prototype for a solar powered picnic table installation. This solar powered picnic table installation will serve the general public visiting Orono Park (18583 Gary St. NW) along the shores of Lake Orono. The park and beach attract thousands of visitors each year. The park has a pavilion with picnic tables and a few picnic tables are located in the shade along the beach. There are no central outlets located in the park for charging capabilities. As our visitors needs change with ever more use of technology, this project will further promote the use of our city outdoor space. The park does host two Big Belly solar trash compactors. However, most visitors do not see the direct solar energy utilized with these products. The project will also be a demonstration site to Energy City tour groups – averaging 600 participants annually. It will be a visual to educate students on solar energy and the immediate output it can create. Finally, it will include educational information for general visitors and a real-time meter reader showing solar production to further educate the general public.


City Outcomes
  • The design phase of this project is complete, and the building phase will continue into the spring semester.
  • The City of Elk River is excited to have seen the plan for our solar powered picnic table that will be used to charge cell phones, tablets, and laptops at one of our destination parks, Lake Orono, and serve as a solar energy demonstration site.

Christian Faith and the Management Professions (THEO 422), Angela Senander
Fall 2016


Project Overview

Many communities around the country and world have recognized the harmful effects that polystyrene take-out containers have on the environment and have instituted bans on their use. Elk River is home to one of the state’s largest municipal solid waste landfills. The landfill’s staff and surrounding community often deal with litter from the landfill and a large portion of this litter is polystyrene containers. These products use valuable space in the landfill and take thousands of years to decompose. They contaminate our waters, harm our wildlife, and cause deterioration in our community’s aesthetics. Therefore, the City would like to investigate the costs and benefits of different options for discouraging the use of polystyrene take-out containers, including a ban or tax, or incentives for encouraging the use of alternatives.

Students in Christian Faith and the Management Professions will engage in research about the effects of the use of polystyrene containers 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 polystyrene containers.


City Outcomes
  • The Environmental Division will be meeting with county staff to discuss a county-wide ban of polystyrene, reducing the amount of litter in our community. This ban is now in place in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park. The City is interested in being the first county or outer-ring suburb to put a ban in place.

Industrial Organization (ECON 332), Michael Walrath
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River has organized solid waste collection for its residents through two haulers (Randy’s Environmental Services and Republic Services). The haulers are under contract with the City of Elk River until 2022. Residential accounts are set up and billed through Elk River Municipal Utilities. Customers pay a monthly fee on their utility bill for their collection services based on the size of the garbage cart, the rate of pick up, and whether or not they participate in organics waste collection. The haulers take the garbage to Great River Energy, which also charges the city for disposal and separation of compostable bags.

The city’s contract fee to the haulers is set until 2022, but the residential customer rates have not been adjusted since 2013.  Students will examine whether current customer rates offset the current costs to the city or whether the city is subsidizing collection.  Also, students will explore options for billing the “free” recycling (fee currently included with garbage charge) separately from garbage to prevent recycling charges from being taxed.  Finally, students will examine the possibility of eliminating the separate charge of organics collection (possibly by incorporating the residential fee for organics collection into garbage collection fees).


City Outcomes
  • Based on the information provided in the student project, a proposal was made by city staff to the City Council for a new waste rate structure in 2018

Conservation Biology (BIOL 335), Sami Nichols
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River has not investigated its position on climate change and adaptation or its potential effects on the ecology and landscape of the city.  Using climate models,  Conservation Biology students will explore potential effects of climate change on specific tree species, focusing on street trees.  Students will examine how climate change may affect current tree species in Elk River, including trees that are slated to be planted or are donated to Elk River.  Students will also provide recommendations for future plantings that will adapt well to potential climate changes and outline future changes the city may face in their urban canopy and tree management needs.  Also, more generally, students may examine how Elk River could become certified as a “Tree City USA.”   The Parks and Recreation Department and the Environmental Division may review the recommendations and take the information to the Energy City Commission and City Council for consideration. Planning and adaptation now can reduce climate change in the future. This is beneficial to the health of our environment, business, residents, and city government.


City Outcomes
  • Sherburne County Soil and Water Conservation District and Elk River’s Parks and Recreation and Streets staff will use students’ work to determine the most resilient tree species to plant in the community to ensure a healthy tree canopy for years to come.
  • This information will also be published for residents and will be included in Elk River’s Complete Streets Policy.

Psychology and Work (PSYC 342), Elise Amel
Fall 2016


Project Overview

Elk River seeks to encourage sustainable behaviors for city employees as part of the City’s overall sustainability strategy and goals.  In 2015, Elk River city staff participated in the Class 5 Energy Efficiency Behavior Based Challenge. The challenge involved no cost projects to increase energy efficiency in city buildings through behavior change of city employees. This program involved the use of newsletters, challenges, print material, and other low or no cost techniques. The program was very successful with a 4% reduction of energy usage across city buildings over a year. Employees responded to the program well and continue to implement best management practices.  Elk River would like to broaden this approach to encourage additional sustainable behaviors of city employees.  Elk River will collaborate with students in Psychology and Work to adapt and refine this challenge to create approaches for sustainable behaviors around water conservation, waste reduction, purchasing practices, and transportation choices.

City Outcomes
  • The Environmental Division is excited to use this project to promote sustainable behavior changes with city staff.
  • The City also shared students’ research and tools with the Great Plains Institute, who will use it to create Minnesota community campaign projects.

Introduction to German Studies (GERM 300), Susanne Wagner
Fall 2016


The City of Elk River was selected to participate in the Climate Smart Municipalities partnership for 2016-2018. This partnership is between the state of Minnesota and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Five Minnesota cities (Elk River, Morris, Warren, Duluth, and Rochester) have been paired up with NRW cities (Iserloh, Saerbeck, Arnsberg, Munster, and Siegen) to collaborate on energy-smart and sustainable projects. In July of 2016, the Minnesota delegation traveled to NRW to visit the partner cities and tour a number of facilities such as solar installation, wind turbines, district heating plants, natural gas plants, and sustainable building projects.

Elk River is partnered with Iserlohn, a community of around 90,000 in population located in the middle of NRW. Iserlohn is currently working on a district heating expansion and increasing “e-mobility” (electric vehicles and bikes) transportation in the community. These are both projects that Elk River is currently pursing as well. The two communities plan to collaborate together and support each other’s projects.

During Elk River's visit to Iserlohn, they discussed the Konzeptpapier VideoContest. This was a project that Iserlohn city staff completed in 2012 to garner interest in climate smart and clean energy from the community. This document is in German but would be useful for Elk River to copy as a competition for our community. Students will translate these materials for Elk River, so they can use them as a model to develop a similar program.


City Outcomes
  • As a part of the City of Elk River's German partnership in Climate-Smart Municipalities, translation is a necessary step to move forward on projects. The translation of these materials from our German city partner will allow Elk River to conduct a video contest geared toward K-12 students to promote sustainability and climate change efforts.

Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley
Fall 2016


Project Overview

Geography students will collaborate with Elk River on GIS mapping projects.


City Outcomes
  • City staff will use the GIS maps for Hillside Park and Woodland Trails Park to monitor park maintenance and assist with emergency management.
  • Residents can use the maps when they visit the parks.

Aquatic Biology (BIOL 435), Leah Domine and Chip Small
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River is working to improve water quality in its lakes and rivers.  As a part of this effort, Elk River is examining the overall management of Lake Orono to build a better understanding of the lake as a whole. Aquatic Biology students will model levels of pollutants in Lake Orono after rainfall events.  This would allow Elk River to predict the chance that levels of pollutants would reach thresholds requiring the lake to be closed to swimming.  Students will also conduct sampling of macroinvertebrates, a source of data Elk River does not currently have for Lake Orono.


City Outcomes
  • This project resulted in coordination between city and county staff to collect more data at the county level, change our sampling schedule at the city level, and continue monitoring results. This project will be continued with St. Thomas courses in future semesters.

Senior Design Clinic (ENGR 480), Greg Mowry
Spring 2017

Students in the senior design clinic will create a usable prototype for a solar powered picnic table installation. This solar powered picnic table installation will serve the general public visiting Orono Park (18583 Gary St. NW) along the shores of Lake Orono. The park and beach attract thousands of visitors each year. The park has a pavilion with picnic tables and a few picnic tables are located in the shade along the beach. There are no central outlets located in the park for charging capabilities. As our visitors needs change with ever more use of technology, this project will further promote the use of our city outdoor space. The park does host two Big Belly solar trash compactors. However, most visitors do not see the direct solar energy utilized with these products. The project will also be a demonstration site to Energy City tour groups – averaging 600 participants annually. It will be a visual to educate students on solar energy and the immediate output it can create. Finally, it will include educational information for general visitors and a real-time meter reader showing solar production to further educate the general public.


City Outcomes
  • Students completed the building phase and delivered a final, working product 
  • The City is working to finalize funding avenues for the construction of the table and the project should be completed in spring 2018

Environmental Problem Solving (ESCI 310)Chip Small
Spring 2017


Project Overview

The City of Elk River is working to improve water quality in its lakes and rivers.  As a part of this effort, Elk River is examining the overall management of Lake Orono to build a better understanding of the lake as a whole. Environmental Problem Solving students will build upon the work of Aquatic Biology students from Fall 2016.  Students will refine and expand models of pollutant levels in Lake Orono after rainfall events.  This work will help Elk River predict the chance that levels of pollutants will reach thresholds requiring the lake to be closed to swimming.


Project Outcomes

Applied GIS (GEOG 421), David Kelley
Spring 2017

The City of Elk River is home to a number of water bodies including streams, rivers, and lakes. These water bodies have been mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for flooding concerns. These maps outline Floodplains (Floodways and Floodfringe) within city limits. Building in Floodplains must follow state regulations, as adopted by the city.  However, maps have not always been made available to the City of Elk River. Because of this, there are a number of houses located within the Floodplains that are now considered non-conforming as they were not built to today’s standards for flood protection to the structure, residents, or property. In some cases, houses are in great danger of flooding, while others may not actually be in the floodplain area.  Students will identify the properties which contain Floodplain and further identify any structures located within the Floodplain. They will also examine which of these structures, if any, could be considered incorrectly mapped. This information will inform the city's decisions regarding different options to address non-conforming properties, such as buying out these non-conforming properties.

Applied Business Research, MBA Client Consulting Program, Avinash Malshe
Spring 2017

Elk River has been known as "Energy City" since 1996 and is dedicated to providing education and outreach on renewable energy and energy efficiency demonstrations. Today, "Energy City" includes all city sustainability issues from urban forestry to water conservation.  However, many Elk River residents and businesses are not aware of "Energy City."  A team of students from Applied Business Research will research community engagement in "Energy City" to inform the city's engagement with residents.


City Outcomes
  • The final report from the project was presented to the Energy City Commission in August 2017 and they supported all its findings and recommendations.
  • The final report recommendation to allow residents to serve on the Energy City Commission was formally adopted.
  • The report will be presented to the City Council in September 2017.

Christian Faith and the Management Professions (THEO 422), Angela Senander
J-Term 2017

The City of Elk River has long been a leader in recycling participation and organics recycling involvement. In fact, the city was one of the first to implement single stream recycling and household organics collection in the state of Minnesota. Elk River organizes recycling collection for single family homes, splitting these residents between two haulers; the haulers deliver recyclables to different facilities, sometimes causing confusion between residents as to how their recycling process works. Also, the recycling industry changes frequently and rapidly, and city staff struggle to create a simple to understand process for homeowners. Also, organics recycling is voluntary for homeowners, and staff would like to see participation increase. Furthermore, landlords of apartment complexes and businesses organize their own recycling and compost collection systems, which do not follow a standard set of guidelines. Across these different constituencies, Elk River would like to improve city residents’ understanding of and participation in both recycling and organics collection.