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Putting Trees to Work

December 11, 2013

Putting Trees to Work

By Dan Edgerton and Amy Strasheim

Together, Thomas A. Edison High School, Jackson Square Park, and a flood mitigation basin comprise the Northeast Green Campus area of Minneapolis. These sites are managed, respectively, by Minneapolis Public Schools, Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, and Minneapolis Public Works -- without a formalized way to collaborate.

When the governing watershed -- the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization -- was interested in developing low-impact stormwater solutions to manage runoff that drains untreated to the Mississippi River, Stantec completed a feasibility study that looked at options.

Project goals included:

  • Developing sustainable stormwater management approaches for the area.
  • Fostering collaborative management of open space and stormwater.
  • Educating and engaging Edison students, staff, and the neighborhood on stormwater facility maintenance and management.

The initial phase of the project involved installing low-impact development stormwater management practices in the Edison High School parking lot, including a tree trench, rain garden, and permeable pavers. 

Tree trenches are tree plantings in rock trenches for the purpose of collecting, treating, evapotranspiring, and infiltrating stormwater.

Future phases of the project may include:

  • Collecting runoff from the high school gym roof in a cistern and reusing it to irrigate the school’s athletic fields.
  • Installing prairie plantings within a nearby flood mitigation basin for increased infiltration.
  • Replacing paved boulevards with pervious surface.

Tree trenches are fairly new technology, and very little data exist on their performance. Committed to furthering the understanding of sustainable stormwater management, Stantec provided research and development grant funds to help install and monitor infiltration volume and test the quality of the stormwater leaving the feature. The research results will contribute to better quantifying the stormwater runoff volume reduction and water quality improvement achieved by using urban trees as stormwater management BMPs.

Beyond the value of the research findings, the project enables high school students to assist with data collection and compilation, incorporating the work into their science curriculum.

A University of Minnesota student is assisting with and overseeing the data collection and analysis. Educational signage is proposed for each of the facilities.

An extensive neighborhood involvement program—including an open house, onsite presentation and cookout, and presentation to the local neighborhood association—has garnered strong support for the project and educated interested area residents on stormwater management. And they appreciate the attractive urban amenities that feature aesthetic plantings, too.

The cross-jurisdictional project has been successful in coordinating the efforts of the governing entities to collaboratively manage open space and stormwater.

The result: A better understanding of the effectiveness of tree trenches, improved water quality, and proof that working together can accomplish great things.

Dan Edgerton is senior associate with Stantec. Phone: (651) 604-4820. Email: Amy Strasheim is marketing manager (Great Lakes) with Stantec. Phone: (651) 604-4862 . Email: Website:

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