If we managed to capture .. even just a teeny tiny bit … the kind of Leadership, Cooperation, Collaboration and Resolve we saw here as Duluthians continue to step up and meet the challenges of their aging water & sewer infrastructure (and by aging, I mean like 1800s aging) well, then … this whole trip will have been a smashing success!
I believe we did just that …
Here is a quick fly over of our shoot in duluth MN:
Our first interview was at City hall with Mayor Don Ness who talked about, “Getting ahead of the Curve” which literally means to take action and prevent a problem, rather than waiting until the problem occurs, whereby said action would be less effective.
The honorable Mayor went on to explain:
A. The importance of knowing what those problems are
B. Having a long term plan to address those problems
C. Including your residents in the process and
D. Ensuring your residents and businesses see tangible results.
Next stop, was Western Lake Sanitary Sewer District (WLSSD) where we talked with Executive Director, Marianne Bohren.
Marianne told us about the collaborative efforts with Duluthians, Local Industry and Regulatory Bodies that not only resulted in significantly reduced Sanitary Sewer Overflows into Lake Superior; but was also responsible for the miraculous St. Louis River recovery where conditions went from unswimmable and unfishable … to being clean enough where it is now a walleye hotspot!
In fact, some experts say the State record walleye will come out of the St. Louis …
You heard it here first.
If you want to learn more about WLSSD and the St. Louis River, check out this video: “Return to the River”
After WLSSD we loaded our equipment and joined Steve Lipiniski and his repair crew for some water-main break B-Roll on the West end of Town.
Our videographer Mike Phillips (pictured left) climbed down the hole to film the repair work.
Wanna hear something really wild?
The water-main Mike is filming … was installed … in the 1800s!!
Next, we drove to a nearby scenic river and had a conversation with Duluthian Jennifer Julsrud, amid a grove of towering Cedar trees.
Jennifer is the President of Duluth’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and she talked about this newly formed commission made up of Councilors and Residents …
Their mission is to “Ensure safe, reliable, efficient utilities services at reasonable rates.”
Inspired by the success of a model Grand Rapids MN instituted some 100 years ago, Jennifer explained how orgs like these play an important role bringing a user perspective to the table and ensuring all stake holders are part of the process.
Early the next morning we drove up scenic Hwy 61 to an old water plant built in the 1800s that (believe it or not) is still in use today!
Some of the equipment (now antiques) are still there, along with some old B/W pictures of the very building we were in …
It is here we met with Water & Gas Supply Manager Howard Jacobson.
Howard walked us through the process of getting 20 million GPD to 86,000 Duluthians, that are spread out over a 28 mile area, several different pressure zones (because of the hills) … ALL … while being mindful of the 140 water-main breaks that are being worked on thru out the year!
Howard then demonstrated the new fangled technology that Duluth is using today to manage their system. It is portable, user friendly, efficient and saves Duluth Utility Operations a boatload of dough!
Next we talked to Duluth Utilities Manager Steve Lipinski who- at the time- was juggling 4 water-main breaks, a gas leak, a hydrant that was run over AND an emergency call from a neighboring town that needed Duluth’s help …
I personally know Steve from his many presentations at the mandatory conferences we have to attend to keep our water and sewer licenses.
I could ALWAYS count on Steve to give me REAL solutions, based on REAL experiences, that I could apply REAL time, in my own town!
I am sure he has NO idea how impactful his philanthropic work has been on large and small communities across MN. Steve will be retiring soon. We will definitely miss him!
Many States across the Nation are turning an eye towards Duluth MN for the ingenious ways they are handling their aging infrastructure.
Eric Shaffer, Chief Engineer of Utilities talked to us about one of those innovations in Canal Park.
You can’t see it in this picture but just behind Eric stands an 8,000,000 gallon sewage storage tank (under construction) designed to prevent sewage overflows during rain events.
In short: Instead of Sewage going into Lake Superior it goes into the Storage tank to be treated later-when it is not raining.
Not only have these tanks significantly reduced Sanitary Sewer Overflows into Lake Superior (and the basements of Duluthians) they [tanks] can also be used to isolate large parts of Duluths Sewer system … so Steve Lipinski and his repair crews can upgrade, rehab and replace the old pipes!
Last conversation of the day (before we hit the road back to the Cities) was on the pier under the Aerial Bridge with Jim Benning, P.E. – Director of Public Works & Utilities.
Jim reminded us:
A. That engineering is not only about solving complicated problems with MNs aging infrastructure; but it is also about the results …
(Jim points over his shoulder at the largest freshwater lake in the world)
B. Lake Superior is one of Duluth’s most sacred responsibilities and one they do not take lightly
C. By taking care of this Lake, not only do we take take care of Duluth; but Minnesota as well …
(end day 5 & 6 shoot Duluth MN)
We have only one shoot left … and it is set for Sept 14th.
We are working out the details as we speak …