On Point for December 2015: Strategic planning, new liaison, and sulfate standard

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On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

December 2015

Success story

Strategic planning helps sewer district go above and beyond in northern Minnesota

Central Iron Range Sanitary Sewer District after construction

Strategic planning and investing in wastewater infrastructure is helping a sanitary sewer district in northern Minnesota go above and beyond for water quality. By pooling their resources, the four communities in the Central Iron Range Sanitary Sewer District (CIRSSD) have managed to afford the high capital costs of constructing, operating, and maintaining a new wastewater treatment facility (photo at right) that meets environmental standards and reaps several other benefits.

The district is based in Chisholm and also serves Buhl and Kinney with Great Scott Township in the works.

This partnership is a great example of how working together can benefit communities and water resources. A typical household generates 160 to 250 gallons of wastewater per day with additional volumes from industries. In Minnesota, about 75% of that wastewater goes to a municipally owned sanitary sewer collection system for treatment and then release into the environment, usually by discharge to a lake or stream.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) works to support communities in treating wastewater to ensure Minnesota’s waterways support aquatic ecosystems, healthy communities, and a strong economy. These are also the goals of CIRSSD which discharges treated wastewater to the St. Louis River and Lake Superior downstream.

Before combining to one facility serving a broader area, the Central Iron Range was previously serviced by two wastewater treatment facilities in Chisholm and Buhl-Kinney.

Central Iron Range Sanitary Sewer District


Phase 1 of the project included construction of sanitary sewer and lift stations as well as replacement and rehabilitation projects to the existing collection system, including lift stations. (Photo at right is construction of the project.)

Phase 2 included building preliminary, primary and secondary treatment and disinfection systems with the new facility starting operation in spring 2014.

Phase 3 will include construction of advanced treatment systems that are expected to be online by February 2017.

In addition, CIRSSD staff are identifying and eliminating sources of inflow and infiltration (I & I) within each service community’s collection system. For example, Chisholm is planning for a significant collection system rehab project to occur in 2016 while the Buhl and Kinney collection systems are being evaluated for sources of I & I.

The CIRSSD is reaping many benefits from regional planning and investment:

  • Economies of scale during construction
  • Better treatment performance
  • Increased environmental protection
  • Lower operating and administrative costs
  • Affordable sewer rates
  • Leverages funding availability
  • Greater consistency for meeting water standards
  • Enhances quality of life for citizens
  • Supports new economic development

The district leveraged funding from a number of sources, including:

  • 2005 Minnesota Bonding Bill – $1.7 million design grant
  • Minnesota Public Facilities Authority – $12 million construction grant, an $8.1 million low-interest loan plus about $4.8 million for I & I removal projects
  • Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Funds – $5.5 million construction grants

Funding and planning are critical to keeping Minnesota’s waters swimmable, fishable and drinkable. A 2014 MPCA Wastewater Infrastructure Needs Survey identified more than 1,500 infrastructure improvement projects across the state that would cost nearly $4 billion dollars during the next 20 years.

For more information on financing, see the Wastewater and stormwater financial assistance on the MPCA website.

For more information on  comprehensive sanitary sewer maintenance programs:

Municipal liaison looking forward to meeting with local government reps

Joel Peck, MPCA municipal liaison

Joel Peck, the new municipal liaison with the MPCA (in photo at right), looks forward to meeting with representatives of local government units. He will work statewide, visiting with municipalities about their concerns with wastewater permits and operations.

“Any message they would like me to carry back to the agency, I’m there to represent interests of local units of government,” Peck said.

He brings a great deal of experience and expertise to the MPCA, having worked for city governments, the Minnesota House of Representatives, and the Minnesota League of Cities. Peck most recently served as the city administrator for St. Croix Falls, Wis., from 2011-2015 and as city administrator for Crosby, Minn., from 2008-2011.

As a former city administrator, Peck has experience in infrastructure projects from the design phase to construction, including the financing and political aspects.

“I look forward to connecting with municipalities and bringing back their messages,” he said.

You can reach Peck at 651-757-2202 or joel.peck@state.mn.us.

This new position was funded by the 2015 Minnesota Legislature.

New sulfate standard to protect wild rice may affect some wastewater treatment plants

Wild rice on Little Round Lake

Wild rice is an annual plant that grows in lakes, streams, rivers and wetlands across Minnesota. It is an important resource because of its economic, cultural, and ecosystem benefits.  In 1973 Minnesota adopted a 10 mg/L sulfate water quality standard to protect wild rice. MPCA received funding from the Minnesota Legislature in 2011 for a study to better understand the effects of sulfate on wild rice and to inform an evaluation of the current sulfate standard. Researchers at the University of Minnesota under contract with the MPCA completed the study in December 2013. 

After reviewing study findings and additional data analysis, MPCA has decided to propose a change to the current sulfate standard to better reflect the interaction of sulfate and the environment where wild rice grows. MPCA is in the process of developing the new proposal for sulfate to protect for wild rice in Minnesota. This process, which includes various opportunities for public input, proposes a new equation-based standard as an alternative to the current statewide 10 mg/L standard. The equation would take into account the specific sediment chemistry conditions, like the amount of iron or organic matter, to determine a protective sulfate concentration for a given wild rice water.

As part of the new proposed standard, MPCA will also compile a draft list of waters to be included in rule as wild rice waters where the standard will apply. More information on this can be found on the MPCA’s sulfate and wild rice webpage.

You may be wondering, “What does all of this mean to me and my city’s wastewater treatment operation?” Unfortunately, there’s not a quick answer at this point. Ultimately, some wastewater treatment facilities will have no change to their permits while others may be required to do the following:

  • Conduct sulfate effluent monitoring;
  • Reduce sulfate in their wastewater treatment process where practicable and feasible; and/or
  • Eventually receive a water-quality-based effluent limit (WQBEL) for sulfate.

MPCA will need to complete the rulemaking for the new sulfate standard by January 2018 and collect more water and sediment information across the state before any potential new sulfate WQBELs would be placed in a permit. In the meantime, some facilities may be required to start or continue monitoring sulfate in their effluent upon a future permit issuance.

Stay tuned for updates in future On Point newsletters. For additional information, please refer to the MPCA’s sulfate and wild rice webpage or contact Pat Engelking at Pat.Engelking@state.mn.us. If interested in receiving updates on the rulemaking process via GovDelivery, sign up here.

Photo above:  MPCA staff harvest wild rice seeds from Little Round Lake in Becker County for growth experiments on the effect of sulfate on wild rice.

eDMR news

Agency appreciates patience during transition to new e-Services

Thanks for your continued patience during the new online e-Services transition. Here are a couple tips for submitting your DMR data.

If you have questions about the eDMR process, please contact your assigned MPCA Compliance Staff person. You can identify that person by visiting this webpage.                 


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