Greening Minnesota ~ January 2011

There have been some interesting environmental development happening around the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Here are some of the community-related green news and stories that broke in January.

An in-depth survey of 3,000 households in Ramsey and Anoka counties is providing environmental researchers at the University of Minnesota insight into what it would take to get people to make more of an effort to reduce their impact on the earth. They asked about thermostat settings, number of children, cars, bedrooms, miles driven to work, lawn size and fertilizer use, even whether there were vegetarians in the house. As it turns out, most people really do care about their impact on the environment. But what really drives them to change is knowing how they rank on their own personal pollution scores, how they compare to their neighbors, and where they can improve. In the end, the researchers hope to find out how best to influence social norms and change behavior toward a more eco-friendly culture.

More U.S. consumers and developers are turning to factory-built housing for speed, quality and energy efficiency. The prefab market is positioning itself for major growth when the housing industry rebounds. Several prefab newcomers, including ZETA, Minnesota-based Hive Modular and Florida-based Cabin Fever, report healthy annual increases in the number of homes they're building. Several prefab newcomers, including Minneapolis-based Hive Modular, report healthy annual increases in the amount of homes they're building. The prefabs take 5 to 12 weeks to manufacture and 4 to 8 weeks to assemble and finish once it is delivered on site. Prices range from $200 to $250 per square foot. Several carried the Energy Star label and one earned the top, or platinum, rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Not finding a home that you like that's also energy efficient and earth-friendly? Perhaps buying a lot and a prefab is the right way to go.

The Varney Lake stormwater retention pond in White Bear Lake has become clogged with sediment that has dramatically reduced its capacity and must be removed. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) made three grants last year to cities looking to clear out such sediments and harmful poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from their stormwater ponds. Golden Valley and Circle Pines plan to use their grants to help pay for removal of the sediments and PAH to a landfill. The problem of sediment buildup in stormwater ponds faces cities throughout the metro area.

A scientific study of declining Lake St. Croix water quality calls for public activism along the length of the river to reverse decades of phosphorous contamination. Ignoring the problem would bring consequences for the entire St. Croix region, because the economy is built around the river's scenic and recreational value. Lake St. Croix, the portion of the river most popular with boaters, fell onto the impaired waters list in 2008 after monitoring of water quality showed excess phosphorous had created large oxygen-sucking algae blooms. Fertilizers, animal waste, storm-water runoff and other pollutants threaten recreational pursuits like fishing on the popular St. Croix River. The report concludes that all of the people who depend on the river must rally to repair it. Without corrective action, the study concludes, phosphorous contamination could reach 540 metric tons a year by 2020. The report depicts a goal of reducing it to 360 metric tons a year.

A proposed federal study of shrinking White Bear Lake could help residents and leaders figure out where the lake's water originates - and where its going. The lake has dropped about six feet since mid-2003. It reached an all-time low on November 13, 2010, when the lake level fell to 919.33 feet above sea level. A work session to pitch a $200,000 U.S. Geological Survey-led study to stakeholders is slated for early February in White Bear Lake. If approved and funded, research would begin this spring and continue through the summer.

If you know about green initiatives and other environmentally-conscious programs and events occurring in the Twin Cities or Minnesota, please leave a comment and let us know for February's Greening Minnesota issue!

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