Like most suburban communities, the City of Hugo uses nearly half of its municipal water supply to provide some form of irrigation. Unlike most communities, the city is telling residents in some neighborhoods to go ahead and keep the sprinklers running.

It’s not that Hugo wants to waste water. In fact, the city is keenly interested in reducing its groundwater footprint. 

Located just north of White Bear Lake, Hugo is developing rapidly and is one of the communities included in the Minnesota DNR’s North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area. “But, we’d already plucked the low-hanging fruit,” City Administrator Bryan Bear explained. “We offered rebates for water-saving fixtures, required developers to put down topsoil before sodding new lawns … Then we started looking at stormwater reuse and realized we could be making a much larger impact.”

Over the past several years, Hugo has worked with the Rice Creek Watershed District, as well as developers and Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs), to change the way stormwater management happens in the city. Watershed district rules typically require developers to build stormwater ponds or similar practices to manage runoff from rooftops and roadways so that wetlands, lakes and streams don’t become polluted. The stormwater is essentially treated like a waste product.  Then, separately, the HOA connects to the city’s water supply (potable groundwater from aquifers) to provide water for household use and irrigation. 

The city pumps out pure, clean  drinking water and about half of it is literally dumped on the ground. Bear wondered if there was a way to reduce stormwater runoff, while also providing water for irrigation. 

In 2014, Rice Creek Watershed District and city of Hugo partnered with the Oneka Ridge Golf Course on the city’s first ever stormwater reuse project. They excavated a large stormwater pond near the 18th tee and connected it to the golf course irrigation system. By reusing the stormater, Oneka Ridge has cut its groundwater pumping by 40-50 percent and also keeps 75 pounds per year of phosphorus out of nearby Bald Eagle Lake. Minnesota Clean Water Fund provided $497,100 in funding support for the project.

Now, Bear hopes that stormwater reuse will become the new norm in his city. At Beaver Ponds Park, the city installed a stormwater reuse system to irrigate the soccer fields. At Water’s Edge, existing stormwater ponds were retrofitted to provide water for irrigation as well. When the Clearwater Cove neighborhood was built, developers worked with the city ahead of time to incorporate stormwater reuse from the get-go. 

“The developers are beginning to use this as a strategy for meeting the watershed district’s stormwater permit requirements,” Bear said, “but it also helps to reduce the city’s peak water demand.”

In 2018, stormwater reuse projects in Hugo reduced the city’s total water usage by 6 percent (20 million gallons). Looking to the future, the city expects to see big cost savings there as well. Previously, in its Comprehensive Plan, Hugo had planned to operate 11 wells and four water towers by the year 2030. Now, the city has revised its comp plan and only expects to need seven wells and three water towers by the year 2040.

Though stormwater reuse seems to be a win-win strategy, there are some differences for residents that can take some getting used to. In most of the metro area, cities are asking residents to minimize their lawn watering. In neighborhoods with stormwater reuse systems, however, Hugo wants people to keep the sprinklers running. 

“It’s actually a good thing if people are watering their lawns a lot,” explained Bear, “because it helps to keep their neighborhood stormwater ponds from overflowing during larger rain events.” 

Overall, Bear feels like stormwater reuse is a winning strategy and he hopes to see more cities following Hugo’s lead. “We hope to see more of this happening,” he said. “It just makes so much sense.”


Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water. Contact her at 651-330-8220 x.35 or

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