Skip to main content

March 12, 2020 Board Minutes




March 12, 2020


The regular meeting of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Board of Managers was called to order by President Sherry White at 7:02 p.m. on March 12, 2020, at the District offices, 15320 Minnetonka Boulevard, Minnetonka, Minnesota.



Sherry White, Richard Miller, Arun Hejmadi, Kurt Rogness.


William Olson, Jessica Loftus, Eugene Maxwell.


James Wisker, Administrator; Brian Beck, Research & Monitoring Program Manager; Tiffany Schaufler, Project and Land Manager; Cole Thompson, Permitting Technician; Chris Meehan, Consulting Engineer; Michael Welch, Counsel.




Manager White added a discussion item on planning for the COVID-19 virus.

Manager Rogness moved and Manager Miller seconded approval of the agenda. Upon vote, the motion carried 4-0.

 James Wisker stated that he would like Brian Beck to present a report to the managers on MCWD’s real-time sensor network update that was on the Operations and Programs Committee agenda tonight. The managers concurred adding the item to the agenda.



Manager Miller moved and Manager Hejmadi seconded approval of the consent agenda, consisting of:

Resolution 20-019, Approval to Continue Joint Funding Agreement with the USGS for Gauging Stations and Technical Assistance in 2020 and 2021:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Board of Managers authorizes the Administrator to extend a joint funding agreement with the USGS for services from October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2021, with a total cost not to exceed $49,444 annually;

Resolution 20-020, Authorization to Execute a Grant Agreement for Wassermann Internal Load Management Project:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Board of Managers authorizes the District Administrator to execute a grant agreement with the Board of Water and Soil Resources for the Wassermann internal Load Management project; and the minutes of the February 27, 2020, meeting of the managers. Upon vote, the motion carried 4-0.


Board, Committee and Task Force Reports

President White stated that she has no president’s report and that the Operations and Programs Committee did not meet this evening so there’s no OPC report. Manager Miller reported from the Citizens Advisory Committee, noting that the group heard from Minnesota State Climatologist Kenny Blumenthal. The CAC had an extensive and terribly interesting discussion. He encouraged staff to make the recording that was made available. He said that Mr. Blumenthal stuck to facts, and a number of those were interesting, namely, that the warming trend is not so much indicated by hot days but by warmer nights. Mr. Wisker said that the recording will be sent to CAC members and managers, but is not going to be uploaded to the district’s website yet.


Permit 20-035: City of Minnetonka, 14550 Minnetonka Boulevard

Cole Thompson presented background on and staff’s analysis of an application from the City of Minnetonka for a permit for work to upgrade the city’s fire and police station with an addition. He stated that the project site is 1.5 miles southeast of the Gray’s Bay dam, and that MCWD has an agreement with the city whereby the city exercises sole regulatory authority for stormwater management and erosion control, leaving the district only to implement its Wetland Protection Rule. He said the reconstruction of impervious surface would trigger the MCWD stormwater requirements, therefore the wetland-buffer requirements are triggered. He said both wetlands implicated are rated Manage 2, which requires a 30-foot buffer. He described two different pinch points on the site where the city cannot provide the required minimum buffer width of 15 feet, leaving the project  short a total in four areas from the applicable minimum buffer width. He stated that the city is partially making up for this shortfall by creating 16,609 square feet of total buffer area in other parts of the project beyond what is required under the rule and providing stormwater management for 0.11 acres that would otherwise not be required. He said a condition of the permit is an update of the programmatic maintenance framework in place between the city and district with the new site plan buffer areas.

Manager Miller moved and Manager Rogness seconded approval of the variance from the district’s minimum buffer width.

Manager Miller stated that the project as presented seems straightforward but he wonders about the equation whereby the district can measure an effort to make up from a shortfall in buffer. Chris Meehan answered, noting that there really is no formula for off-setting buffer ecological services, but additional water-quality performance is a reasonable measure.

President White acknowledged Will Manchester from the City of Minnetonka, who was in attendance and noted that he was glad to answer any questions but otherwise had no additional information to provide.

Upon vote, the motion carried 4-0. Manager Miller moved and Manager Rogness seconded approval of permit 20-035. Upon vote, the motion carried 4-0.

The managers recognized Bob Cutshall, a manager at the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District in attendance. Manager Cutshall said he was visiting just to see how another district conducts its meeting. The managers welcomed Mr. Cutshall.


Real-Time Sensor Network Update

Brian Beck and Tiffany Schaufler came forward to provide the managers with a presentation on updates under way to MCWD’s real-time water-level sensor network. Mr. Beck stated that the idea of the network is to measure water volumes going into and coming out of Lake Minnetonka to determine where flow will go once it leaves Gray’s Bay dam, then to assess potential impacts. He stated that the real-time data MCWD has are very useful, but the question staff is turning to is how to be predictive. He said that the first step in this effort is installation of additional water-level sensors. More broadly, the goal of the update is – using what flexibility MCWD has under the operating agreement for the dam – to squeeze every inch of available capacity in the lake to minimize flooding downstream. Mr. Wisker added that the upgrade will allow better communications with watershed cities so they can deploy resources such as emergency resources such as sand bags most efficiently and effectively.

In response to a question from Manager Miller, Mr. Beck stated that watershed cities will soon have access to the data collected but the predictive information is not yet available. Mr. Wisker added that long-term, the idea is to determine vulnerable areas and work on improving climate resilience. He stated that also the district will be able to identify best possible locations for projects not only for flood mitigation but water-quality improvement as well.

In response to a question from Manager Miller, Ms. Schaufler added that right now MCWD can only make predictions where it is currently collecting data on water levels. But the upgrade will expand from 20 data points to 52,000, collected every two weeks. Mr. Wisker added that right now staff are proving out the system for dam operation, and from there will be moving toward being able to be more predictive for other areas in the watershed. He stated that critical to this is the capacity in the dam operating manual that allows MCWD to respond to the data it collects in combination with weather forecasts. Mr. Beck stated that critical to the increased capacity is an machine-learning advancements that have been made public by Google. In response, Manager Hejmadi asked whether there are other machine-learning algorithms available. Mr. Beck stated that there are other algorithms available but almost all of them are based on the same mathematical approach. In response to further questions from Manager Hejmadi, Mr. Beck stated that the difficulty with other approaches to optimizing the district’s data to make predictions is that physical models, such as the district’s XP-SWMM model, are very slow and cannot quickly complete calculations.

Mr. Beck continued, noting that the second-most important element of the present work is improvement of MCWD’s physical base model. He stated that the district’s hydraulics model (XP-SWMM) was built in 2003, and such physics-based modeling software has improved dramatically. He stated that modern physics based model software is capable of much faster calculations, which allow more detailed assessment of areas for flooding inundation.

Mr. Wisker added that the State of Minnesota has a great deal of data that would help make the system, when optimized, readily transferrable to other watersheds. He said this replicability is critical. In response to a question from Manager Miller, Mr. Beck noted that a high percentage of the runoff in the watershed goes into Minnehaha Creek, but he cannot say precisely how much. Mr. Wisker said staff are meeting with technical advisors tomorrow to review and critique MCWD’s approach to optimizing the sensor network. In response to a further question from Manager Hejmadi, Mr. Beck stated that while traditionally the high-powered computing available at university research labs would be important to such work, a shift of the operation of the underlying software from computer processing units to graphics processing units means that staff can run the software on relatively inexpensive workstation computers. Staff and the engineer noted that similar predictive work is under way at the Iowa Flood Forecasting Center and in Boston, but much of the work elsewhere is focused on ocean levels. The managers expressed their excitement about this work and encouraged Mr. Beck and Ms. Schaufler to carry on.

Mr. Wisker stated that he is pursuing options for funding the work.

Manager Miller noted that at the second meeting in April he would like the managers to consider a resolution on 325 Blake Road he provided tonight that directs staff to hold off on pursuit of redevelopment of the property until progress can be made to ensure the partnership with the city is productive.

Administrator’s Report

Mr. Wisker stated that the sole focus of his report this evening is planning and preparation for maintaining operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said plans are coming together and the office is moving work to take place remotely. He said a third of the staff will be working at home or otherwise off-site immediately, and that in the next few days staff will be testing web-based platforms and other remote-meeting options to minimize contact to help slow the spread of the disease. For meetings, he stated that MCWD will be canceling and limiting activities, and that he will be meeting with west metro city managers to talk about best practices. Michael Welch added that under the circumstances of pandemic, state law allows MCWD to conduct board meetings by telephone or video conferencing, which likely will be necessary in coming weeks.


There being no further business, the meeting of the Board of Managers adjourned at 8:30 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Kurt Rogness, Secretary 

Minutes Type: 
Board of Managers