Final Report: Duluth Streams: Community Partnerships for Understanding Urban Stormwater and Water Quality Issues at the Head of the Great Lakes

EPA Grant Number: R829321
Title: Duluth Streams: Community Partnerships for Understanding Urban Stormwater and Water Quality Issues at the Head of the Great Lakes
Investigators: Lonsdale, Marion , Axler, Richard , Hagley, Cindy , Host, George E. , Munson, Bruce , Richards, Carl
Institution: Department of Public Works & Utilities - Duluth , University of Minnesota - Duluth
EPA Project Officer: Hiscock, Michael
Project Period: October 1, 2001 through September 30, 2003
Project Amount: $724,261
RFA: Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking (EMPACT) (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Environmental Statistics , Water , Ecosystems , Air , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


The objectives of this research project were to:

  1. link real-time remote sensing of water quality in four urban streams and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to current and historical water quality and biological databases (all 42 Duluth streams) using advanced data visualization tools in World Wide Web and information kiosk formats;
  2. incorporate visually engaging interpretive text, animations, and videos into the Duluth Streams Web Site to illustrate the nature and consequences of degraded stormwater and the real costs to society;
  3. and engage the public in the stormwater issue via programmatic activities such as establishing high school directed neighborhood stewardship/monitoring of three streams, developing curricula for high school and college students for inclusion in our Water on the Web (WOW) curriculum, hosting a Duluth Streams congress as a community forum for presenting all project results, and adapting the Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) program to the Greater Duluth metropolitan area.

This final report summarizes the accomplishments of the Duluth Streams partnership from its inception in January 2002 through September 2004. Project objectives listed above are from the original proposal.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Duluth, Minnesota, lies at the westernmost end of Lake Superior, the source and headwaters of the entire Laurentian Great Lakes ecosystem. Perhaps better known for its extremely cold winters, Duluth residents and visitors know it as a city of forested hills, wetlands, and trout streams with 42 named creeks and streams moving through the city in 30 subwatersheds. Duluth’s park system is one of the most extensive in the nation, and the city owns and maintains 11,000 acres, including 125 municipal parks. Streams form the fabric of the aesthetic appeal and character of Duluth but also are the core of the city’s stormwater runoff system, with 250 miles of storm sewer, 93 miles of creeks, 4,716 manholes, 2 lift stations, 13 sediment boxes, and over 138 miles of roadway ditches.

Urbanization and rural development have placed increased pressure on the region’s coastal communities and on Duluth’s urban streams, particularly on the 12 (plus two pending) designated as trout streams and 14 that are classified as protected waters.

The entire Minnesota North Shore of Lake Superior is a high-growth area. Stream communities of fish and amphibians and the invertebrates that sustain them are being impacted adversely by increased temperature, excessive turbidity, and suspended solids, road salts, organic matter, and nutrients. Some have been placed on the Minnesota List of Impaired Waters, and several have been targeted for total maximum daily load (TMDL) development. Furthermore, all of these streams discharge either directly into ultra-oligotrophic Lake Superior or indirectly via the St. Louis River estuary and harbor. This is particularly important because Lake Superior has been designated as a zero-discharge demonstration project by the international joint commission tasked with eliminating inputs of persistent toxic chemicals to the Great Lakes system. Second, the lake’s nearshore zone is the source of much of its biological productivity and is extremely nutrient deficient and sensitive to increased inputs of nutrients, suspended solids, turbidity, and organic matter. Last, the harbor itself is one of the 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern because of serious impairments to its beneficial uses. There are also significant social and economic impacts associated with this region—the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that angling in North Shore streams and Lake Superior produces $63 million in direct sales and income and more than 1,200 jobs. For North Shore streams alone, the numbers are more than $33 million in direct sales and income and more than 435 jobs.

Stormwater issues have become increasingly important to resource and regulatory agencies and to the general public. In 1998, the city of Duluth established a stormwater utility to address the quality and quantity of surface water moving through the city and in 2003 was issued a stormwater permit under Phase II of the federal Clean Water Act’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. Beginning in January 2002, under funding through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking (EPA EMPACT) in combination with in-kind efforts from various agencies, the Natural Resources Research Institute and Minnesota Sea Grant formed a partnership with the city of Duluth, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Great Lakes Aquarium, and the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District to create Duluth Streams. Additional partners have joined to form a Regional Stormwater Protection Team (RSPT). The partnership’s chief goal is to enhance the general public’s understanding of aquatic ecosystems and their connections to watershed land use to provide both economic and environmental sustainability.

Major Accomplishments

We have installed automated water quality and stage height/flow sensors in three high-gradient urban trout streams and one large river. Sensors collect intensive monitoring data, which are logged and transmitted semiautomatically to the Duluth Streams Web Site. We created a dynamic Web site, Exit , which links time-relevant, remotely sensed intensive water quality data in four urban streams to current and historical water quality and biological databases (all 42 Duluth streams) and GIS maps and technology. We also developed an advanced data visualization tool for animating water quality data and coupled it with data vignettes and visually engaging interpretive text on the Web site to illustrate the nature and consequences of degraded stormwater and the real costs to society. We educated the public about the stormwater issue via a variety of activities including festivals, kiosks, workshops, brochures and pamphlets, trading cards and tattoos, newspaper, magazine, and television and radio advertisements (in progress). We created and/or disseminated curricular materials for schools (elementary, middle, and high school) and colleges (via by adapting existing materials, creating new materials, establishing school-directed stewardship and monitoring of three streams, and developing a comprehensive online section for the St. Louis River Watch program (> 32 high schools). We facilitated public access to water-related information such as drinking water, wastewater, groundwater, and stormwater and provided guidance on minimizing impacts to local waters.

We expanded the partnership to create the RSPT, which includes adjacent communities, new stormwater permittees, and regulatory and resource agencies to provide consistent educational information for the public, the private sector, and policymakers with the Duluth Streams Web Site as a central hub. We helped the University of Minnesota–Duluth develop a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan and adapted the NEMO nonpoint education program to the Greater Duluth metropolitan area. We collaborated with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to develop and host Exit for disseminating beach pathogen advisories and related information and created a Web-based conservation design toolkit as part of their pollution prevention efforts.

We initiated the development of an extensive library of GIS data for all 42 watersheds, initially focusing on the 3 watersheds having automated data; the second tier included all 12 designated trout streams. We provided an online Internet Map Server with a “Quick Start Primer” allowing the user to create interactive, customized maps. We also accessed and adapted online discharge and precipitation data from the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District to illustrate Duluth’s inflow and infiltration problem using the data visualization tool combined with additional interpretive materials.

Relevant Collaborations and Related Grants

Duluth Streams was developed by University of Minnesota staff as a spinoff from these National Science Foundation and EPA-funded projects: WOW ( Exit ) and Lake Access ( Exit ). Duluth Streams is directed by the same group of principal investigators (PIs) and is still in progress. WOW (co-PI Bruce Munson, lead) currently is in its fifth year and is developing a year-long, national-scope “Water Resource Science and Management” course including 27 modules covering the major disciplines needed by future water resource management technicians. This complements an earlier basic science curriculum that focused on real-time data from lakes in Minnesota. Duluth Streams data will feed into WOW for use as the focus of its Midwest streams curriculum; there will be an extensive set of lecture notes and laboratory modules (Web-based, PowerPoint and PDF formats) to provide additional context and scope.

Lake Access (co-PI George Host, lead) has similar goals to Duluth Streams but focuses on urban lakes in the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area and was the model for EPA-EMPACT’s technology transfer to other communities (e.g., New York Lake Access, In the past year, Lake Access focused on lawn fertilization as a component of urban stormwater and eutrophication. The Minnesota Shoreland Management Resource Guide is another related project led by the Minnesota Sea Grant in cooperation with the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center (co-PI Cynthia Hagley, lead). This guide assembles relevant educational, permitting, and other management information on shorelands into a single Web site. The Web site accompanies a larger program led jointly by the Minnesota Sea Grant and the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center and Extension Service. This program trains lake associations and local decisionmakers to better manage shorelands. All of these projects have received national recognition; the WOW Web Site alone receives over a million page requests a year throughout the United States and from countries around the world. Many elements from these Web-based projects are being adapted for use in Duluth Streams and vice-versa.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 8 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

water, watersheds, stormwater, stream, aquatic ecology, limnology, stream habitat, water pollution, urban runoff, nonpoint source pollution, Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking, EMPACT, water quality, erosion, impervious surface, data visualization tools, automated water quality monitoring, stream monitoring, best management practices, BMPs, stream assessment, low impact design, inflow and infiltration, water science education, environmental education, River Watch, ecological effects, cumulative effects, dissolved and particulate solids, total dissolved solids, TDS, electrical conductivity, EC, total soluble salts, TSS, turbidity, nutrients, fecal coliform bacteria, 5-day biochemical oxygen demand, BOD5, dissolved oxygen, pH, clarity, major ions, chloride, ecosystem, indicators, restoration, terrestrial, aquatic, habitat, sustainable development, clean technologies, innovative technology, renewable, waste reduction, waste minimization, environmentally conscious manufacturing, remediation, stormwater BMPs, public policy, decisionmaking, community-based, cost benefit, public good, conservation, environmental assets, environmental chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, social science, ecology, hydrology, geology, fisheries, water science, science/environmental education, modeling, monitoring, analytical, surveys, measurement methods, satellite, landsat, remote sensing, time-relevant, event-based sampling, data visualization tools, aerial photography, Great Lakes, Midwest, Minnesota, MN, EPA Region 5, urban, municipal, transportation, environmental consulting, government resource agencies,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, ECOSYSTEMS, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, RESEARCH, Ground Water, Water & Watershed, Monitoring/Modeling, Monitoring, Civil/Environmental Engineering, Wet Weather Flows, Terrestrial Ecosystems, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Urban and Regional Planning, Watersheds, aquatic ecosystem, EMPACT, remote sensing, hydrologic dynamics, nutrient transport, wetlands, community-based approach, streams, nutrients, downstream effects, runoff, sediment transport, stream ecosystems, community water quality information system, stormwater, community outreach, community tracking, nutrient monitoring , water quality, community partnerships, aquatic ecosystems, lake ecosysyems, ecological models, nutrient transport model, stormwater runoff, ecology assessment models, water management options, watershed assessment, land management, stream ecosystem, Great Lakes, storm water, Storm Water Management Model, land use

Relevant Websites: Exit Exit Exit Exit Exit Exit Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2002 Progress Report