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Shoreview seeks to secure funding for novel approach to groundwater awareness
Water issues are more visible than ever—in regards to both too much and too little in area lakes and streams—though much of what is used by cities in the metro area comes from an essentially invisible source that isn’t seen until one turns on the tap: groundwater.
The city of Shoreview is attempting to bring groundwater use more out into the open with its Water Consumption and Groundwater Awareness Project, which cleared its first hurdle towards funding earlier this summer after the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources recommended it for funding next year.
Funding would be provided by the state’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund; LCCMR recommended 65 projects totaling over $45.8 million to be funded in 2015.
The groundwater project, laid out by Shoreview’s environmental officer Jessica Schaum in the proposal for funding from ENRTF, would “[p]rovide biweekly water consumption data to 400 residential households for a two year period to determine if additional groundwater can be conserved due to a greater awareness of the consumption data.”
To do so, for a price tag of about $54,000, the city would give those 400 households thermostat-sized wireless meter readers. The wireless meter readers would link up with the city’s already installed water meters to give households biweekly glimpses of how much water they’re using while their actual usage is still fresh in mind.
Public works director Mark Maloney said that type of real time data would be much more informative to users than the usage information provided on city water bills, which are delivered on a quarterly basis to customers.
“Right now you get a water bill every three months,” Maloney said. “By the time you get the bill, you’re so disconnected from what you were doing three months ago, it’s hard to correlate the cost, or the use data, with what you were actually doing back then.”
Shoreview city council member Ady Wickstrom, a frequent advocate for water conservation, said she thinks that giving water consumers more information about their consumption will be a “very useful project.”
“It’s an exciting project to see if this will make a difference in people’s use of water,” Wickstrom said. “Conservation is our first line of attack on this problem.”
“We only pump what people use,” she said. “If we get people to use less, we pump less.”
Right time, right topic
“Given that groundwater and groundwater use and water resource scarcity is like, the topic right now in this area, we thought it would be timely, if nothing else, to see what a water utility could accomplish in this area,” Maloney said, adding that water use was the “900 pound topic.”
While Maloney stressed that participation in the groundwater project would be completely voluntary, he said that he and Schaum designed the project to seek water customers in eight areas of Shoreview in order to obtain “statistically significant” data.
The project would seek participants who live in a variety of different situations: small and large lots, sandy or mostly clay lots, in large and small, new and old, homes.
Maloney said city water meters that Shoreview installed in homes about five years ago “ping” usage information regularly; city utility workers drive around and collect the data remotely every three months.
Using that same ping of information, the meter readers would display updated usage information twice weekly. Maloney said city utility workers would deliver the meter readers to the participating households, and said setup should take about five minutes.
Both Maloney and Schaum said they are confident they will have no trouble finding 400 participants (Schaum said 400 is the city’s working number for community surveys).
“It shouldn’t be that hard to find people interested in this topic because everyone is talking about water right now,” Maloney said.
“What they get out of it is the use of this device and the end product of it is hopefully a lower [water] bill,” he added.
“Most people don’t care about an issue until it impacts their pocketbook or policy, somehow in [their] life, and I think this is a new way for us to get out there,” Schaum explained.
Both said they are also confident, barring major political change at the state level, that funding for the project will be approved near the end of next year’s legislative session.
“I don’t think I’m too worried; we’re asking for such a small amount of money,” Schaum said, adding that the tangible results the project seeks are an additional strength. “I feel like this is such an on-the-ground project: you can touch it, feel it, grab it.”
“It seems like a lot of bang for the buck,” Maloney said, noting that other projects were requesting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
The bulk of the money the city is requesting from the ENRTF would be to purchase the meter readers: at $125 a piece, outfitting each home in the program would cost about $53,000.
The remaining $1,000 of the $54,000 request would go towards mailers promoting the project and an “open house style public meeting to kick off [the] project,” the proposal reads.
If all goes as planned, the Water Consumption and Groundwater Awareness Project would be in effect from 2016 to 2017, with the findings tabulated and published by the summer of the year after.
“Water rates are never going to go down,” Maloney said. “It’s never too early to get people sensitized to the idea.”
Mike Munzenrider can be reached at email@example.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.