Resources & Sustainability

Certainly the most pressing issue for our usage of natural resources in the next few years will be sustainability of our potable water supply. As you have likely read, the district court ruled against the DNR in the White Bear Lake level lawsuit.1 At this point it is unclear exactly what the impact of the order will be (and the DNR is appealing the ruling), but certainly some sort of changes will be required. For Mahtomedi, we should aggressively pursue the relatively easier and less expensive things we can do for water conservation, like education efforts, appliance rebate programs, strongly tiered billing rates, alternative irrigation sources, and working directly with high-volume users to help them find ways to reduce consumption. Thankfully, much of that is already in progress, but this ruling means we will need to increase all of those efforts. Ultimately there is a good possibility that the city might be required to switch to using surface sources (the Mississippi River) for its water supply, which is certainly feasible, but complicated and expensive. Anything we can do now that at least buys more time before that is required will give the city more time to plan and make the cost easier to handle, and if conservation efforts are very successful maybe we can avoid that entirely.

The county conservation district has an annual sale of tree seedlings and rain barrels. The city should encourage residents to take advantage of both, with rain barrels saving rainwater for future lawn irrigation, and more shade trees keeping yards cooler and not needing as much irrigation in the first place. However, that sale is only once a year, and the trees are only seedlings. I would like to see some additional availability of rain barrels, along with perhaps a city-sponsored tree sale with adult trees like many other municipalities in the region do, perhaps in conjunction with the RITE of Spring event. Lawn watering bans or limitations are likely in the future, so we should also work with the conservation district and garden club to encourage planting of more resilient native plants capable of surviving dry periods. City-owned properties can be showcase examples of those types of plantings were appropriate. City ordinance does currently have a tree preservation requirement for development, and that should remain.

Overall energy usage and our city's carbon footprint are also a concern, although an area the city has a less direct impact on as it is not the utility provider for electricity or natural gas. Currently, city ordinance includes provisions for solar panels and solar access rights2 and wind turbines limited to the Public Buildings zoning districts3. While allowing solar panels is great, since we also have and encourage tree cover, for many homes they are not practical. With a recent change to state law, "community solar gardens" are now being built as a viable alternative, and as those get up and running the city should have outreach and education materials about them. With respect to wind turbines, the technology has improved significantly in recent years, making them quieter, more efficient, and more cost effective, so I would like to see a consideration of whether perhaps the ordinance could be amended to at least allow them in more zoning districts. The city should also continue efforts begun in recent years to make government buildings more energy efficient and source more of the energy for those buildings from renewable sources. In 2017 the city began working with Xcel Energy as part of their "Partners in Energy" program4 to identify energy strategies and entered into a solar garden subscription for city facilities. The results of those two efforts will help guide whether additional work should include building retrofits, installing wind turbines, future solar subscriptions, or participation in regular programs through Xcel.