Flood-Control Investments Bring Big Returns

The Takeaway: A Lake Superior city has likely avoided millions of dollars in flood damage through smart stormwater planning.

In October 2018 the Minnesota city of Two Harbors emerged mostly unscathed after a fierce storm left other Lake Superior towns with a total of $18.4 million dollars in infrastructure damage. Two Harbors survived an even harsher test six years earlier with only minor damage, after the “solstice flood” left Duluth and nearby towns with a $100-million-dollar repair bill for washed-out roads and bridges, uprooted trees, and massive runoff into Lake Superior. The town’s action on smart stormwater management, begun years earlier, is the reason. Technical assistance and three grants by the Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program helped Two Harbors get there.

In 1999, the state coastal program’s initial $22,000 grant helped fund Two Harbors’ first stormwater plan. It laid out a strategy for lessening watershed runoff that had caused flooding and water pollution, property damage, streambank erosion, and potentially unsafe roads. Later, the coastal program’s technical assistance and $144,000 grant supported construction of three large basins that hold stormwater, then release it slowly after a deluge. Other improvements included two stream bank stabilization projects and a rain garden.

An additional coastal program grant, of $57,000, helped the Two Harbors Tree Commission slow erosion, sediment, and runoff by planting trees across the urban landscape. The program’s technical assistance also aids local efforts to reduce E. coli in watershed trouble spots.

Two Harbors’ stormwater planning efforts were led by the Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District and University of Minnesota Extension personnel. Other plan investors included the City of Two Harbors ($80,000) and the Lake County Water Management Plan ($10,000). (2019)

Partners: City of Two Harbors, Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District, Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program, University of Minnesota Extension