On Point newsletter for September 2014

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

On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

Spotlight on inflow and infiltration

Long-term approach, short-term results for City of Adams

City of Adams wastewater treatment plant

Despite almost 9 inches of rain in June – 4 inches on one day alone – the City of Adams treated all its wastewater with no emergency releases. That’s a much different story from the previous year when 3.1 inches of rain over 4 days led to an emergency release of untreated wastewater to an unnamed stream that feeds the Little Cedar River. Without the release, raw sewage would have backed up into people’s basements.

Because inflow and infiltration of stormwater was resulting in more emergency releases, this town of 800 people decided to take a steady and long-term approach to redirecting sump pump drainage and repairing leaky manholes.

“Politically it was uncomfortable, but it was the right thing to do,” said John Kiefer, wastewater supervisor for Adams. “This is how we approached the town – we said this is the easiest way to make a difference.”

Known as the “Pride of the Prairie,” Adams is located south of Austin in Mower County along the southern border of Minnesota. The Shooting Star Trail runs through town, where small businesses line Main Street, which is also State Highway 56.

In September 2012, Adams sent notices to all 331 properties within town limits, including homes, businesses and schools. The notices explained that properties would be inspected in 30 days to detect any sump pumps illegally connected to the sanitary sewer system. If the inspections found illegal hookups, then property owners would need to pay $30 for a follow-up inspection. They would also be charged an extra $50 a month on their water and sewer bills until in compliance.

As a result, several property owners redirected their sump pumps to the storm sewer system on their own. The inspection found a total of 123 sump pumps in town. John and assistant wastewater supervisor Craig Hegge figure that a sump pump discharges 40 to 60 gallons of water per minute. For only five pumps, that’s 2,400 to 3,600 gallons per hour, adding up 57,600 to 86,400 gallons per day. A few sump pumps can make a big impact on Adams’ wastewater system, which is designed to treat a maximum of 278,000 gallons a day.

The city hired an engineering firm, I & S Group, to do the inspections, costing about $14,000. Adams has budgeted $10,000 a year in the long-term for repairing and sealing manholes, along with replacing sewer and water lines when roads are reconstructed. By tapping into reserves and funds from a water line insurance program, the city has implemented its program without increases in water and sewer fees.

“The MPCA appreciates Adams’ effort to keep pollutants from washing into the Little Cedar River. As a headwaters state, it’s important for Minnesota to protect the water quality of rivers and streams for people here and downstream,” said Aaron Luckstein, supervisor of the southeast region for the agency's municipal wastewater section. 

For other small towns taking on big I & I problems, John recommends hiring an outside engineering firm to make it more comfortable dealing with friends and neighbors. He also recommends getting the word out more about emergency releases and what causes them. The most important advice is to get started and think long-term.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Craig said.

John added half-jokingly,” He might be retired by the time we finish.”

Photo above: John Kiefer at left and Craig Hegge.

City of Adams by the numbers:

  • Population: 800
  • Number of sump pumps: 123
  • Manholes repaired in last year: 13
  • Design flow: 278,000 gallons a day
  • Water and sewer combined rate:  $16 for the first 1,000 gallons used and $10 per 1,000 gallons after that
  • Number of emergency releases from March 2011 to June 2013: 11
  • Number this year: None
  • Number of towns around Adams with emergency releases this past summer: 14

Changes in water quality standards may mean changes in effluent limits

Cannon-Wolf confluence

To further protect rivers and streams from excess algal growth, the MPCA Citizens Board recently adopted river eutrophication standards. These standards follow the state’s adoption of the phosphorus rule in 2000 and the adoption of lake eutrophication standards in 2008.

Eutrophication occurs when nutrients like phosphorus can choke a river or lake with excessive growth of rooted plants and floating algal scum. (Photo at right, courtesy of the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, shows algal growth in the Cannon River in southeast Minnesota.)

The river eutrophication standards set numeric levels for phosphorus and also “response variables” for chlorophyll-a, dissolved oxygen flux, and five-day biochemical oxygen demand. A polluted condition exists when the phosphorus value and any one of the response variables are exceeded. In recognition of ecoregion differences throughout the state, the numeric standards are different depending on the area and specific water bodies.

So what does this mean for treatment facilities? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. In general this means more restrictive phosphorus limits may be necessary for some facilities discharging to, or upstream of, rivers with high algae concentrations. When setting a phosphorus limit, the MPCA effluent limit review staff will determine whether to apply phosphorus limits required by state rule or to apply the eutrophication levels. The goal is to prevent excess algal growth in rivers.

Mississippi River headwaters

By applying both lake and river eutrophication standard analyses along with state rule, permitted phosphorus limits will protect aquatic life and recreation in Minnesota waters. (Photo at right shows the headwaters of the Mississippi River.)


Since 2000, phosphorus concentrations have significantly decreased in Minnesota streams and rivers. These decreases are mainly the result of phosphorus reductions in wastewater discharges from permitted facilities. The decreases came after the state adopted the phosphorus rule (Minnesota Rule 7053.0255), which established a strategy to set phosphorus limits in wastewater permits or require phosphorus management plans.

In 2008 Minnesota adopted lake eutrophication standards which set phosphorus and algae goals for Minnesota’s lakes resulting in additional or lower phosphorus limits for many permitted wastewater facilities.

For more information, visit the following webpages:

eDMR news

Update: e-Services updates moved to February 2015


The MPCA recently changed its effective date for e-Service updates from Nov. 7, 2014 to Feb. 23, 2015. Because of this delay, testing dates also changed. MPCA staff will test the updates in November and December 2014. Some permittees will be asked to test the service in December 2014 or January 2015. MPCA will use test results to de-bug the updates before February 2015.

The MPCA has already started making e-Service guidance revisions. They will be available on the MPCA Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMR) webpage after December 2014. The agency will continue to provide information about e-Service updates in future On Point newsletters and possibly in emails to eDMR submitters.

Sample Values still need to electronically submitted by Jan. 21

The MPCA is requiring wastewater facilities to electronically submit their Sample Values with eDMRs by Jan. 21, 2015. You should start submitting Sample Values as soon as possible to ensure you are on track by this deadline. Sample Values are all the results of the monitoring required by your permit.

For more information, contact your assigned MPCA compliance staff person or visit the Discharge Monitoring Reports webpage.

Coming to a screen near you: Tutorial programs

The MPCA has tutorial videos available, via YouTube, for wastewater facility operators on completing and submitting their:

The MPCA has several video programs available on its YouTube channel, TheMnPCA, including “Water Stories: Willmar Wastewater Treatment Plant” and “Clean Water Act: Better at 40.” Be sure to tune in today.

Is it time to ask for a reduction in monitoring related to salty discharges?

When the MPCA added monitoring for “salty” parameters to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits in 2009 it built in the option for permittees to request a reduction in monitoring. To make a request, permittees must obtain two years of data (or 10 data points for controlled discharges at ponds) that show a reasonable potential to meet a water quality standard.

The agency also encourages permittees to use the two- year mark as a check-in point to determine if current practices are effective in meeting water quality standards or if pollution prevention efforts are needed.

It is the permittees’ responsibility to make the initial determination if pollution prevention techniques are needed to reduce the concentration of particular pollutants in the discharge or if current practices are sufficient. The MPCA has developed the guidance document, “Assessing Salty Discharge Monitoring Data to Determine Pollution Prevention Needs and Submit a Monitoring Reduction Request” to help permittees:

The Salty Discharge Strategy and applicable guidance document are available in the Forms and Factsheets section of the MPCA Wastewater Permits webpage.

Salty discharges include wastewater with high concentrations of chlorides, sulfates, salinity and dissolved minerals. Salty discharges can be harmful to plants and fish in lakes and rivers.

Survey coming soon on chemical additive review process

Chemical additive for wastewater treatment

NPDES/SDS permits require that you receive MPCA approval prior to use of any chemical additives to treat your discharges which are received by surface waters or groundwater. Many of these chemicals, and their residues, can find their way into the environment, especially in your facility wastewater discharges. An important part of effective water management is ensuring that chemical additives do not harm Minnesota’s water resources. This is why MPCA oversees chemical additive use. 

The MPCA is currently working on improving its chemical additive review process. To gain a better understanding on how the process can be enhanced from your perspective, MPCA will be sending out a survey to gather your input. Expect an electronic survey in an email sometime in September. MPCA staff look forward to hearing your feedback on how the chemical additive process can be improved.    

Also, MPCA staff are developing electronic forms to help walk you through the chemical additive approval process. MPCA staff hope that these forms will better inform you of how an additive is approved so that the process is more efficient and transparent. Stay tuned for more updates as they develop.