Want to know where the rich people are in Minneapolis and St. Paul?

What about the old people?

Foreign born?

Wilder Research has just revamped its Minnesota Compass neighborhood profiles to make it a lot easier to create those snapshots at a glance.

Minnesota Compass  has compiled census and other information about Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods for the past three years. But the site just got easier to use.

With one click, you can create themed maps like those above. Another click and you can zero in on a specific neighborhood for its profile.

Craig Helmstetter, Wilder Research senior research manager, pointed out some stark contrasts as examples of what you can learn.

In Minneapolis, the North Loop area and the Near North neighborhood lie right next to each other, but their median incomes are on different planets, $70,000 apart.

In St. Paul, 30 percent of the residents of St. Paul’s Thomas-Dale neighborhood were born outside the United States, but right next door in Como Park, only 7 percent were.

It’s not new that the Twin Cities is a varied mosaic of neighborhoods. But take some time to play around with the data. Who rents and who owns? Who has health insurance? Where are concentrations of poverty?

You might learn something about where you live.

A main theme that came out of my reporting on reusing treated wastewater was that it can be expensive to both meet health standards and build a new distribution system for it. But one way to re-use water without building a new set of pipes all over the Twin Cities is to think small and local.

So the University of Minnesota now has stormwater toilets in its new 17th Avenue Residence Hall.

Right now we use water that’s treated to drinking water standards for everything — flushing toilets, washing clothes, watering our lawns. About 65 billion gallons of that drinking water is used once, treated and discharged into the Mississippi River at the state’s largest wastewater treatment plant in St. Paul each year. As water planners think harder about using water treated to lesser standards where it’s appropriate, home rain barrels are becoming more popular, and now some more sophisticated technology at golf courses and parks is capturing stormwater to reuse for irrigation.

At the university, a new source of water for 200 toilets and 600 students is less than a year old but “working better than even we expected it to,” said Cathy Abene, the university’s principal civil engineer.

The system collects stormwater from the roof of the new student housing at 17th Avenue and University Avenue SE in Minneapolis, and a cistern can hold up to 35,000 gallons of water to serve the building.

During dry spells and winter months, the toilet system is supplemented with regular potable water. But Abene said even during those frigid “polar vortex” days last winter, the cistern was still getting water from melted snow.

“The roof was up high enough in the sun to get enough melt into the system,” she said. “We were surprised by that.”

University officials are still crunching the data to find out how much water the system has provided, but Abene said it’s possible university officials will pursue similar technology for other new construction.

And while the system conserves drinking water, that wasn’t the primary driver for the project. It was the state’s stormwater rules, which require new development to capture a portion of their stormwater to reduce runoff into the state’s lakes and rivers.

Abene says the university is now looking at ways to reuse stormwater for building cooling systems. And while stormwater regulations are the primary motivation, she said water conservation is becoming more important in Minnesota.

“We have so much water and everybody values the water we have, but we have lagged on conservation,” she said. “More of these sorts of systems emerging. It’s pretty exciting because it will put us ahead of a lot of places.”


Receding water levels of White Bear Lake. File / Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

Piping Mississippi River water into White Bear Lake would cost about $50 million upfront, but it’s not certain the move would restore the lake’s water levels, according to a new report from the Metropolitan Council.

White Bear Lake is down several feet, and property owners on the lake have sued the Department of Natural Resources, saying the agency failed to manage the situation. Research by the U.S. Geological Survey showed a link between increased groundwater pumping in the growing northeast metro suburbs and lake levels, but weather patterns have also contributed to the problem.

Perhaps of greater concern than the lake, though, is ensuring that growing nearby suburbs will have enough water to meet expected needs. The Legislature asked the Met Council to study some possible solutions both to White Bear Lake’s low water and to concerns about unsustainable groundwater pumping in the region. In a draft report today, the council outlined three solutions and preliminary cost estimates:

  • Use 2 billion gallons a year of Mississippi River water to augment White Bear Lake using St. Paul’s water system. Besides capital costs of $50 million, this would cost about $300,000 annually to maintain. The study says it’s unlikely the augmentation would help address larger concerns about groundwater supplies, and it also says it’s uncertain the water being pumped into the lake would restore previous levels or prevent the lake from dropping further.
  • Build a new water treatment system for northeast suburbs using the Mississippi River as the source. The study gave two different cost estimates for this option, designed to relieve some of the demand on the area’s municipal wells. The less expensive solution would cost about $230 million and serve the communities of Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake, White Bear Township, Mahtomedi and Shoreview. Serving another seven cities — Centerville, Hugo, Lino Lakes, Circle Pines, Columbus, Forest Lake and Lexington — would cost $610 million.
  • Have the northeast suburbs switch from groundwater to surface water supplied by St. Paul’s system. Three estimates were provided for this option: $5.2 million to expand St. Paul’s service only to North St. Paul, $155 million to expand service to North St. Paul, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake, White Bear Township, Mahtomedi and Shoreview and $632 million to serve all 13 communities in the study area.

The consultants have not completed their work, and one of the major tasks left is to estimate how much groundwater would be saved in each scenario. More details are due in October, but the Met Council’s manager of water supply planning, Ali Elhassan, said he was surprised at the steep costs of connecting all of the 13 suburbs to either St. Paul’s system or a new treatment plant.

“If we want to connect communities beyond those (first) six cities, it’s going to take a huge infrastructure development and update,” he said.

But Elhassan said it’s important to note that those cities account for about 62 percent of water use among the 13 communities.

Besides studying White Bear Lake augmentation and switching cities from groundwater to surface water, the Legislature has also asked the Metropolitan Council to look at other groundwater solutions, including stormwater reuse, groundwater recharge and conservation among bigger industrial users.

“‘There is no one silver bullet that can solve the problem. It might take more than one approach,” he said.

State Rep. Jean Wagenius, whose committee has led groundwater management efforts, agreed that the problem is complex, and she said the preliminary findings didn’t provide enough details yet for lawmakers to make any decisions.

“I think we need a lot more good information,” she said.

And on the White Bear Lake augmentation question, Elhassan said the Met Council study probably won’t be able to answer what water levels the project would achieve. He said the U.S. Geological Survey is still studying groundwater-to-surface water relationships in the region and won’t have results until 2016.

Meanwhile, the cities of Centerville, Circle Pines, Hugo, Lexington and Lino Lakes are working on their own study looking at the feasibility of a joint water utility. The results of that study are expected this fall.