2020 Co-Winners

Congratulations to Kurt and Renee Knutson & First Congregational Church

For the first time in Soak it Up! Award history, we are honoring both a commercial AND a residential property. Our two 2020 award recipients resolved persistent water issues on their land, minimized runoff to keep polluted water out of rivers and lakes around us, and went above and beyond to add natural beauty and create new habitat for pollinators.

Kurt & Renee Knutson are truly inspiring. After years watching a river of runoff flow through their yard and listening to neighbors complain about water in basements, Kurt and Renee took action. In 2017, they purchased a flat, barren piece of land in the middle of their neighborhood and began to turn it into a sustainable oasis that absorbs runoff naturally.

“We were wowed by the change in the property and the final results,” said Renee. “It was exciting to see the field morph from a flat, uncared for space to a beautiful, thoughtful “green” space with dimension.”


What started as a project to control runoff and create an area where the dogs can run, became a naturalized property with three rain gardens, multiple berms and swales, hundreds of native plants, natural rock features and dry creek beds.

The stream of stormwater runoff that once flowed through the Knutson’s yard is gone. Water in neighboring basements is no longer an issue. They also upped their commitment and added solar panels to the property to further reduce their environmental footprint.

“With all of the environmental issues we are facing as a world, we believe it’s important for each of us to step up and do what we can. We hope that all property and business owners will recognize the benefits of these efforts. Big and small, they all make a difference. We live in a unique area of rivers and bluffs and it needs to be protected and cared for. We are truly in this together!”

Read the full interview with Kurt & Renee Knutson HERE.


First Congregational Church knows sustainable solutions are not just the right thing to do, but a cost-effective way to work in the long run. As many other buildings in our area do, the church relied on a sump pump to control excess stormwater on the property. But the pump wasn’t enough and if it failed, damage could be extreme. During heavy rains runoff came through door thresholds, seeped into the boiler room, and created a pond on the lawn. Staff and members of the church saw that extreme weather events are occurring more often than in the past, and expected more frequent, bigger water problems.

The congregation’s 2020 construction project began with work on an existing depression in the lawn. A biofilter rain garden was built around an existing drain to help runoff naturally soak in and filter pollutants. Native forbs and grasses were planted to improve soil and increase absorption with deep root systems that absorb more water than the grass that was there. They also did some regrading and built a concrete diversion curb to keep water from flowing down a wall directly to the boiler room.


The congregation took on this sustainable solution to enhance the building’s efficiency, lower operating costs and enhance the community. They hope to lead by example and have a positive effect on downstream water quality while avoiding chemical use and reducing energy consumption.

“This is one of the sustainability efforts our building and grounds crew is implementing to “green” our environmental footprint, enhance our building’s efficiency and lower our operating costs. We did this because it was the right thing to do. We are a progressive congregation and good stewardship of God’s creation is an obligation and it begins at our church home.

Read the full interview with First Congregational Church HERE.