Report finds a quarter of Minnesota community plans don’t address climate caused extreme weather

Flooded ditches along a highway
Standing water fills ditches and covers parts of farm fields along U.S. Highway 59 near Brooks, Minn., on Saturday, April 23. The combination of heavy rain and melting snow prompted forecasters to issue flood warnings across much of northwestern Minnesota.
Minnesota Department of Transportation

About a quarter of Minnesota’s cities, counties and tribal nations don't have plans to address extreme weather caused by climate change, despite experiencing more severe rainfall and flooding. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released preliminary survey results gathered from 380 local governments  around the state, with 87 percent of local governments reported recently experiencing the effects of at least one weather trend caused by climate change.

The survey found:

  • 54 percent of respondents experienced more extreme rainfall and storms

  • 49 percent of respondents experienced extreme drought

  • 46 percent saw less consistent snow cover

  • 33 percent saw more frequent flooding

But the report found only 12 percent have a standalone climate adaptation or resilience plans, and about a quarter of respondents stated they don’t have plans to address extreme weather caused by climate change.  Almost half of the surveyed communities stated they need more funding for planning infrastructure upgrades to address problems. 

During the current legislative session, the MPCA requested $21.1 million in funds to help cities upgrade aging stormwater infrastructure to manage increased heavier rainfall. It also requested $55 million for related projects such as streambank restoration and shade tree planting. The proposals were based on the bipartisan budget agreement last year. 

“The climate adaptation grant proposals in front of the Legislature [are] MPCA’s top priorities for 2022,” said MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler. “If Minnesota cities are not prepared for climate change, residents and businesses will continue to experience the impacts of extreme weather.”

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Still, some cities are proactively preparing for climate change impacts. From the survey, 29 percent of communities planted trees to create additional shade cover and 27 percent reduced erosion trouble spots on waterways. A further  24 percent upgraded their infrastructure to better manage heavier rains.

Addressing climate change

Meanwhile, city leaders shared how their communities are adapting to climate change. Some implemented energy efficiency requirements to zoning and building codes. Others planted diverse tree species to counter emerald ash borer infestations or improved infrastructure to mitigate flooding. 

Puddles are seen on a sidewalk after a rain
A car zooms past in the rain on North Broadway Street in New Ulm, Minn. on Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021.
Hannah Yang | MPR News

The leaders told a press conference how their towns are directly affected by climate change and are working to be proactive in minimizing the threats and planning for them. 

The Minneapolis suburb of Richfield experienced severe storms that flooded streets and basements. Council Member Mary Supple said the high water swept away the floating boardwalk at the Woodlake Nature Center and parts of the roof and some solar panels on the city pool building were also damaged. 

Supple said the city’s public safety department is working on addressing the cost to taxpayers. 

“So as Minnesotans, we’re used to having four seasons and changing weather,” she said. “But, climate change has made those changes more extreme and harder to deal with.”

In southern Minnesota, New Ulm sits beside the Minnesota River which experiences frequent flooding during heavy rainfall. The city needs funds to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant. New Ulm Mayor Terry Sveine worries about how to mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

“It’s raising the pumping stations that are all outside of town in the floodplain and they’re getting swamped with water,” Sveine said. “Floodwater is going to go down into the artesian well, and we don’t want that. So raising the pumping stations as well as the access roads. I'm pleased to see that people are taking on more and more. But our biggest need boils down to money as it often does.”

Biwabik City Administrator Jeff Jacobson said his small town of about 1,000 people swells to between 4,000 to 5,000 depending on the season, and  big swings in weather affects them.  Income from skiers depends on snowfall. Also too little rainfall that helps keep golf courses operating during the summer directly affects tourism. 

“If those environmental factors work against us, if we have a drought during golf season or drought during snowmaking season, that’s really just going to devastate the folks that are coming through and supporting the local businesses,” said Jacobson.