Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships

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Project description

Minnesota Sea Grant seeks to help to build the capacity of Duluth Urban Area communities to develop a framework that allows for and promotes the adoption and installation of green infrastructure (GI) that can address water-quality impairments and coastal flooding impacts resulting from extreme storm events through review of local codes and ordinances.

Green infrastructure (GI) including built practices such as green roofs, rain gardens, and tree wells and natural systems such as forests and wetlands can help improve water quality and reduce flooding, but specific language in local land-use codes and ordinances can unintentionally prohibit or discourage the implementation of many of these practices. Adoption of codes and ordinances promoting green infrastructure implementation can contribute to healthier ecosystems, protect infrastructure, and minimize the economic impacts of poor water quality.

For example, language found in the landscaping section of codes and ordinances may require landscaped areas, such as parking lot islands, to be surrounded by raised curbs and gutters, covered with turfgrass, or to include trees.

Some examples of practices that inhibit the use of these landscaped areas for stormwater management include:

  • A raised curb and gutter impedes runoff from entering the planted area inside the curb.
  • Turfgrass requirements prevent planting of bioretention plantings.
  • Trees may not be compatible with location in a bioretention system.

Another example is code language that requires all paved areas to be asphalt or concrete, or to be sealcoated every “x” number of years. This language prohibits the use of pervious (or permeable) pavement, even though that was likely not the intention. If written appropriately, ordinances can promote instead of discourage the use of green infrastructure practices.

10 Duluth Urban Area Watershed Communities

  1. City of Duluth
  2. City of Proctor
  3. City of Hermantown
  4. City of Rice Lake
  5. Township of Midway
  6. Township of Thomson
  7. Township of Gnesen
  8. Township of Normanna
  9. Township of Lakewood
  10. Saint Louis County
Map of Duluth showing watersheds, cities, and townships.
Map showing the Duluth Urban Area Watershed communities where this project will take place. Most of the effort will be in the City of Duluth and Midway Township.

    Duluth Urban Watershed Advisory Committee (DUWAC)

    Updating ordinances is also one of the areas of agreement within the Duluth Urban Watershed Advisory Committee (DUWAC). Minnesota Sea Grant partnered with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to create and facilitate DUWAC, which consists of the nine communities within the Duluth Urban Area Watershed (Figure 2) as well as the broader St. Louis County and interested agency and organizational partners.

    In 2018, this group of communities finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). One of the areas of agreement in the MOU is to "Identify potential options to update our local codes and ordinances affecting water resources and associated ecosystems, as desired by each stakeholder." Adoption of codes and ordinances promoting green infrastructure implementation can contribute to healthier ecosystems, protect infrastructure, and minimize the economic impacts of poor water quality and flooding for all communities.

    Why Minnesota Sea Grant?

    The green infrastructure code and ordinance project supports Sea Grant's mission to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources by addressing barriers to using green infrastructure in the western Lake Superior region. Specifically, this project primarily supports our national and state focus area of resilient communities and economies. The project also builds on prior Wisconsin Sea Grant work described in the Tackling Barriers to Green Infrastructure: an Audit of Local Codes and Ordinances Workbook.

    What have we done lately?

    In early 2023, Minnesota Sea Grant has established a relationship with a skilled consultant, Birchline Planning LLC, to lead the code audit process, hosted initial meetings with the City of Duluth and Midway township staff and completed a search for the hiring of a new resilience extension associate staff member who will support the code audit effort.

    Participants & audience

    Project audiences:

    1. Duluth Urban Watershed Advisory Committee (DUWAC)
    2. Primary Duluth Urban Area Watershed project communities:
      1. City of Duluth
      2. Township of Midway
    3. Additional Duluth Urban Area Watershed communities:
      1. City of Proctor
      2. City of Hermantown
      3. City of Rice Lake
      4. Township of Thomson
      5. Township of Gnesen
      6. Township of Normanna
      7. Township of Lakewood
      8. Saint Louis County

    Project team:

    • Madison Rodman, Resilience Extension Educator, University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota Sea Grant. 
    • Tiffany Sprague, Organizational Development Manager, University of Minnesota Duluth, Natural Resources Research Institute.  
    • Juli Beth Hinds, Principle, Birchline Planning LLC.


    The Minnesota Sea Grant-led Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships project is funded by the National Sea Grant Office, FY22 Coastal Adaptation and Resilience Opportunity. Award #NA22OAR4170098, Amendment 5, $125,000. The project started 8/1/22 and ends 1/31/24. 

    Program Staff

    Madison Rodman headshot
    Resilience Extension Educator