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Posted on: August 22, 2023

Council Perspective: Managing Growth and Supplying Water

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By Mayor Anne Burt

One of the City Council's collective commitments has been to share regular updates about per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and its impact on the water supply. As your mayor the last four plus years, this area has been my primary focus. I often consider it providential that my role as mayor has intersected with and been influenced by my decades-long professional career in water treatment. My journey with water began with my bachelor's degree in chemistry and then my subsequent employment in the world of water, where I have been involved in the improvement of water quality and quantity for drinking, potable and industrial applications. Water is so important to our quality of life and together the City Council and staff have been working diligently to ensure we can meet water demand now and into the future.

I want to give you an update on the impact of PFAS and community growth on our water supply. Emerging science, detection capabilities and changing health standards of PFAS keep evolving. As a result, over the last five years or so, we've poured thousands of hours into preparing to erect what will be one of the largest PFAS treatment plants in the nation; constructing and expanding our temporary water treatment plant; adding two new water production wells; building interim treatment plants at three well sites; optimizing operations; and implementing new lawn irrigation policies. Over time, impacts from PFAS chemicals will continue to develop, evidenced by the recent Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) health advisory on another city water production well.

Growth management

As a developing community, we recognize we need to carefully balance managing our water supply with continuing to meet the housing needs of the community. Out of an abundance of caution, the City Council approved some significant changes to our growth management policies in July that will delay the start of development in some areas of the city until we are closer to the permanent water treatment plant being operational later this decade. 

From our early days as a city, local officials anticipated growth and implemented long-term planning strategies that have allowed us to carefully manage growth. This is primarily done through comprehensive planning, master planning, growth management and development phasing. 

Our residential growth over the last two decades has been consistent with our long-term planning goals, plans and strategies. We anticipated approximately 400 housing units would be constructed per year on average in the new growth areas between 2012-2029 and the average growth rate in these areas between 2011-2022 was 328 units per year.

With changing times and conditions, however, the City Council determined that adjusting the growth management policy now is good risk management in case conditions worsen (like MDH placing more health advisories on existing wells in the future). 

This is the second time in the last two years the City Council has tightened the growth management policy to reduce the pace of growth in the community and added development controls and review opportunities. The City Council retains discretion on the timing of opening of sub-phases for development and timing of master planning efforts in advance of development activity. 

It's important to note that you may continue to see development or redevelopment in areas where there is city water and sewer service due to previous city approvals and property rights. It's also important to remember that the city does not own the land that may be developed; it is privately owned, and property owners have the right to develop their property in accordance with the city's comprehensive plan

Water Management

The city has conducted water system modeling work to evaluate the impacts of future growth on the water distribution system to ensure we have drinking water available now and into the future.

The modeling data shows the most significant driver of water demand within the community is the discretionary use of water for lawn irrigation by existing homes, businesses and homeowner associations. The average number of gallons of water we pump per day in the summer months is about four times more than during the winter months, mostly due to lawn watering. We only operate four to five wells at a time on a rotation during the winter months. Today, we have 16 wells available for use, and we need them all in the summer months to meet demand.

The best thing residents, homeowner associations and businesses can do to help is to reduce lawn irrigation use during the summer months and follow the updated irrigation policy zones. Remember, 1 inch of water per week (including rainfall) is all your lawn needs to be healthy. 

As we continue to work toward full water system treatment over the next four to six years, we'll continue to monitor and manage community growth and its impacts on water supply and quality. Please stay water wise and do your part to protect this precious natural asset.

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