St. Thomas grounds stay hydrated during historic drought

Even though the rest of the state is suffering a historic drought, the campus groundskeeping crew continues to keep the grass green with the help of two wells.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, more than 70 percent of the state continues to be in a severe to extreme drought. Government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that this year’s drought is one of the worst in Minnesota’s history.

Grounds and Landscape Manager Bob Reed said the university has faced many of the same problems people all around the state have experienced.

“We do irrigate, but even with the amount of watering we do, we’ve had a hard time keeping up ourselves,” Reed said.

Despite the drought, the university relies on its own personal oasis for irrigation.

While a few of the buildings on campus use water from the City of St. Paul, the majority of the university depends on two on-campus wells for its irrigation system.

The well on North Campus is located by O’Shaughnessy Stadium and was updated in 2010 to be 100 feet deep. The South Campus well, located near the soccer field, is not as deep but provides more than adequate water pressure.

Reed said both wells perform exceptionally well and show no signs of slowing down.

Senior Will Bailey said he was surprised to learn about St. Thomas’ water situation.

“I’m really surprised the school is able to maintain wells in the middle of the city,” Bailey said.

This is good news for the university, which does not have to pay St. Paul for what would be a hefty water utility bill. However, that does not mean the university hasn’t needed to adjust its water usage.

“We have cut back a lot from what we normally do, but nobody’s expected this to last as long as it has,” Reed said.

Reed said the university understands the necessity for water conservation, but it recently had to fully apply the extensive irrigation system in an effort to save plant life on campus before it’s too late.

“We did have to bump things up again because I didn’t want to lose good, mature trees,” Reed said. “They can’t go into the fall this dry.”

Junior Maria Harrington said she thinks the school should water the grounds, but sometimes it is not necessary.

“I appreciate the school’s effort, but it seems redundant to water the grass when it is raining outside and have many of the sprinklers positioned to go on the sidewalk,” Harrington said.

While the university has to continue irrigating to prepare for the winter, the grounds crew has found alternative ways to conserve water while making campus look beautiful.

Reed explained that the groundskeeping crew is using different types of mulch around trees that help retain water longer than the popular “rock theme” on campus. Also, the crew began landscaping with plants that can handle a drier climate.

“We’re turning over to more grasses and perennials that can handle more dry conditions,” Reed said.

Overall, Reed said he was very pleased with how his four-man staff has stayed eco-conscious despite the drought.

“We really have come a long way when it comes to sustainability,” Reed said.

Alex Goering can be reached at

3 Replies to “St. Thomas grounds stay hydrated during historic drought”

  1. I would like to point out a correction to this story. The University uses 2 wells on campus for irrigation only. All our drinking water comes from the city system. I also want to make a comment on the watering the sidewalks. Our system is very old and many of the sidewalks were not in their current places when the system was installed. We make every effort to make sure we are not watering sidewalks on any new installs. Rain is another story. When the irrigation clocks are set up, most have rain sensors. When a turf area is in need of extra water we often bypass the sensor to help that area recover.

  2. The drinking water on campus is purchased from the City of St. Paul and comes from their reservoirs. Water coming from these facilities is designated as potable water. Potable water is water that has been treated in a ulitilty treatment facility and is deemed safe to drink. Water from the irrigation wells on campus is non -treated water and is designated as Non-potable water, that is water that has not be tested and certified as safe for human

  3. “While a few of the buildings on campus use water from the City of St. Paul, the majority of the university depends on two on-campus wells for it’s irrigation system.”
    Please note: it’s = its is; the possessive is its.

Comments are closed.