On Point newsletter for June 2015

Having trouble reading this message? View it as a webpage.

On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

June 2015

Agencies, cities get creative to protect lakes and streams

Reducing phosphorus that causes algae in lakes and rivers is the goal of innovative approaches proposed in wastewater permits for the city of Princeton and Metropolitan Council Environmental Services. Phosphorus “trading” provisions in the Princeton permit and a watershed approach to Met Council permits will allow them to achieve water quality goals more efficiently and economically.

“Our ultimate goal is always clean water. This is just an easier, more cost-effective route for permitted operations as small as the city of Princeton, or as large at the Metropolitan Council,” said Katrina Kessler, water assessment section manager for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the agency responsible for issuing the permits.

Streambank restoration

North of Minneapolis, the city of Princeton, population 4,700, discharges its treated wastewater to the Rum River, a tributary to the Mississippi River upstream of Lake Pepin. To offset the phosphorus in the discharge to the rivers and lake, the city is restoring and maintaining streambanks on the Rum River in five areas (photo at right). These efforts have reduced the amount of soil — and phosphorus attached to it — released into the river. The city’s draft permit gives it credit for the reduction that serves as an offset for the phosphorous load discharged from the wastewater facility.

This is the first trade of this kind involving a municipal wastewater facility in Minnesota, using unregulated pollution (nonpoint source) to make up for regulated pollution (point source). Nonpoint source refers to indirect sources of pollution such as stormwater runoff, whereas point source refers to a specific origin such as discharge from an industrial plant. MPCA officials are hopeful that this will serve as a successful example for other communities around the state looking to meet low phosphorus discharge limits without installing additional treatments at wastewater facilities.

The Princeton permit includes a trade ratio that requires the city to remove 2.6 times the amount of phosphorus through the restoration projects than the discharge amount permitted from its facility. The five streambank restoration projects are preventing sediment, containing about 10,700 pounds of phosphorus per year, from entering the Rum River. This innovation reflects statutory changes made by the 2014 Legislature to support pollutant offsets between permitted and non-permitted sources.

“The amount of phosphorus added to a watershed from a wastewater treatment plant can border on insignificant when compared to the amounts contributed from nonpoint sources. Therefore, if a city is going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for phosphorus reduction, it only makes sense to use those funds to address phosphorus from non-point sources,” said Mark Karnowski, Princeton’s city administrator. “The city of Princeton truly appreciates the MPCA’s willingness to try a new approach to improve the quality of Minnesota watersheds.”

Water quality goals for Lake Pepin — and the Mississippi River — require significant reductions of phosphorus from many upstream wastewater facilities. In addition to the trading provisions for Princeton, a pending permit establishes one phosphorous limit for five Met Council facilities, allowing the council to manage its phosphorous load among the five facilities. This flexible permitting approach is designed to achieve the overall water quality goals for the Mississippi and Lake Pepin, while allowing the Met Council to optimize its investments and accommodate future needs in a growing metropolitan area.

Concept of allocating phosphorus loads

To understand the concept, think of the limit in the permit as a pie that represents the total amount of phosphorus that the five facilities can discharge to the Mississippi. This permit allows the Met Council to decide which facilities get the bigger pieces — more of the phosphorus pie — and which get smaller pieces — less of the phosphorus pie. The end result — the total phosphorus level discharged from the five plants combined — is the same but Met Council has the ability to decide how they will manage their phosphorous treatment to achieve the required reductions (graphic at right).

“The Metropolitan Council appreciates the work MPCA has put into developing and implementing this umbrella approach to phosphorus management,” said Leisa Thompson, general manager of Metropolitan Council Environmental Services. “This approach will maximize our flexibility to meet water quality standards, and in the process will save money that we can use to further improve wastewater treatment, and thus water quality, in the region.”

Citizens Board approves sewage project, then adjourns for last time

At its last meeting June 23, the MPCA Citizens Board approved a disputed wastewater treatment project for the village of Afton on the St. Croix River. The 2015 Minnesota Legislature voted to disband the Citizens Board, created with the MPCA in 1967, effective July 1. Typical of its proceedings for the last 48 years, the board spent several hours Tuesday considering the testimony of residents, scientists and other interested parties about a controversial project.

The board’s last meeting was marked by protestors rallying outside to keep the board and speakers inside opposing or favoring the Afton project. The board adjourned at 7:02 p.m. after accepting MPCA staff recommendations and approving the wastewater project for Afton in Washington County. Neighboring communities opposed the project and wanted further study. The wastewater treatment project will serve 70 houses.

Related news stories:

Heavy rains emphasize need to prepare for system overloads

Bypasses and releases: what you need to know

Recent heavy rains in parts of Minnesota emphasize the need to prepare for system overloads. Wastewater happens and continues to happen regardless of the status of its collection and treatment system. Unfortunately, spills, overflows, unauthorized discharges and bypasses also happen. The steps you take if your system experiences any of these situations will make a big difference in protecting human health, the environment and your facility.

First, a vocabulary refresher:

  • A bypass is the intentional diversion of a waste stream from any portion of your treatment facility. Examples of a bypass include diverting the flow of wastewater around a clarifier or dechlorination system. Bypass wastewater must enter waters of the state from outfalls specifically authorized by the facility’s permit and cannot, by law, cause an effluent limit exceedance. Bypasses are prohibited except in rare circumstances. State Rules and Federal Regulations provide some protection for permit holders in the event of a bypass. Additional information is available on the MPCA website’s Scheduled Maintenance Bypassing Review page.
  • A release is any overflow or spill of wastewater or materials to the environment. A release is an unauthorized discharge and is prohibited. Examples include sanitary sewer overflows from a plugged collection system or pumping untreated wastewater out of a manhole to a nearby ditch. Unauthorized releases, such as sanitary sewer overflows, are the most common type of event when wastewater systems are inundated with rain/snow melt or from pump or electrical failures.

Regardless of the situation, MPCA does not approve any release or bypass. Your response to a release or bypass of any type of wastewater or its byproducts is outlined in your permit and summarized below:

  • Take all reasonable steps to immediately end the release
  • Immediately upon discovery of the a release: notify the Minnesota Duty Officer: 1-800-422-0798; 651-649-5451 (metro area only)
  • Recover, as quickly and thoroughly as possible, all substances released and/or take immediate action to minimize/abate pollution to waters of the state or potential impacts to human health
  • Sample the release for parameters of concern, or those listed on your permit, immediately following discovery of the release; permit holders should consult with MPCA on additional sampling requirements
  • Submit sampling results by electronically attaching to your eDMR the Release Sampling Report
  • Plan ahead, keep clean water out of the system and complete proper maintenance to reduce the likelihood of a bypass or release occurring within your system

For more specific information regarding bypasses and releases, consult your permit or contact your MPCA compliance and enforcement representative.

Financial aid available for wastewater, stormwater projects

Sewer Squad project in Olmsted County

Managing wastewater and stormwater is important for the health and safety of any community. It can also make a difference to a community’s growth potential and environmental value, in terms of attracting new businesses, new residents, and additional visitors.

Minnesota offers several programs to public entities for financing wastewater and stormwater projects. This fact sheet, Community options for wastewater financing (wq-wwtp2-42), offers a guide for researching financial options. Examine the requirements for each program and see if your entity qualifies. If so, contact the funding agency as the first step toward an affordable solution that protects health and safety while enhancing your community.

For more information visit the MPCA’s financial assistance webpage.

Asset management program can help preserve sewer systems

Sanitary sewer collection systems are usually out of sight and out of mind. However, a sanitary sewer collection system is a vital asset of any community’s infrastructure and a critical component of the wastewater treatment process that protects and improves the environment and enhances human health.

Minnesota, like the rest of the United States, has an aging collection system that was constructed over the last 100 years using a variety of materials, design standards, installation techniques, and maintenance practices. Taking an inventory of a collection system can help a community identify and prioritize preventative maintenance and plan for future wastewater infrastructure needs.

An asset management program offers these benefits:

  • Shifts maintenance from reactive to preventative;
  • Eliminates sanitary sewer overflows, basement backups and other unauthorized releases; and
  • Preserves the collection system’s capacity, value and lifespan.

Although not required by Minnesota, the MPCA strongly recommends communities implement an asset management program that meets the utility’s needs. A good first step is to take inventory of collection systems using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Capacity, Management, Operations and Maintenance (CMOM) Program Self-Assessment Checklist. The CMOM planning framework covers operation and maintenance planning, capacity assessment and assurance, capital improvement planning, and financial management planning. A community’s better understanding of these framework areas leads to cost savings, improved communications, and better compliance with regulations.   

For more information visit the EPA and/ or Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources webpages and search for “CMOM.”

Nonmetallic mining permit holders need to start submitting inventory forms to new location

Entities with MNG49 Nonmetallic Mining and Associated Activities permits should immediately start submitting Site Inventory Report Forms (SIRF), the form used to add or remove sites from their coverage, via email to MNG49.pca@state.mn.us.

The SIRF submittal instructions and Nonmetallic Mining website will be updated shortly. Permit applications or any other document with a fee should continue to be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to the MPCA office in St. Paul: 520 Lafayette Road N., St. Paul, MN 55155-4194. Please contact Theresa Haugen at Theresa.haugen@state.mn.us or 218-316-3920 with any questions.

Congratulations to wastewater operator award winners!

The MPCA congratulates the 116 wastewater treatment facilities that received Wastewater Operator Awards for outstanding operation, maintenance and management practices at their facilities in 2014.. The complete list is now posted on the MPCA website.

In the news and online