On Point for February 2016: Success, rules, 'flushable' wipes and more

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On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

February 2016

Success story

Legacy funds helping cities reduce phosphorus in wastewater

Money generated by the Legacy Amendment is helping reduce algae-causing phosphorus in Minnesota waters via grants to improve wastewater treatment. Since 2010, $20 million in Clean Water Fund grants have helped 30 municipalities finance upgrades to their wastewater treatment facilities. Through these upgrades, the facilities were able to meet state-mandated reductions in phosphorus discharges.

Altogether, these plants have reduced phosphorus in wastewater discharges by 120,000 pounds a year. That means 2.4 million pounds total of phosphorus removed over the plants’ life expectancy of 20 years.

The Clean Water Fund grants leveraged an additional $56 million in other funding for these infrastructure improvements.

Cambridge wastewater treatment plant

One example of this effort is the city of Cambridge that used a Clean Water Fund to upgrade its wastewater treatment facility (photo at right). This city of 8,200 in Isanti County discharges its treated wastewater to the Rum River, which is designated as an Outstanding Resource Value and needs protection because of its exceptional water quality. The facility was overloaded hydraulically and organically, and faced site restrictions because of its location on the river. In addition, the MPCA set tighter limits on phosphorus discharges.

The city of Cambridge designed a new facility to improve wastewater treatment and developed a system to work with existing equipment to increase operator control, process flexibility, and resource conservation at a reasonable cost. The treatment upgrades resulted in a 92-percent reduction – 10, 451 pounds per year – in phosphorus discharged to the Rum River.

The entire project costs about $15 million. The phosphorus reduction portion costs about $2.7 million, of which state funding provided $1.37 million.

Statewide, municipal wastewater phosphorus discharges have decreased by 70% over the past 15 years. Overall, efforts have led to a steady decline of phosphorus pollution and major improvements in water quality. Implementation of newly adopted river nutrient standards is expected to drive further reductions in wastewater phosphorus loads in coming years.

See more information about Clean Water funding for wastewater treatment in the 2016 Performance Report.

While wastewater plays an important role in reducing nutrient pollution, achieving and maintaining healthy waters will require action from all sources, including farmland, rural areas and urban centers.

MPCA proposing new antidegradation rules

Scenic photo of Minnesota lake

Preventing lakes and streams from degrading in water quality is one of the three key components of Minnesota standards: antidegradation policy, designated beneficial uses and criteria necessary to meet those uses. Antidegradation policy is generally implemented through MPCA-issued control documents such as National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

The MPCA is proposing new rules to replace existing “nondegradation” rules (Minn. R. parts 7050.0180 and 7050.0185) with new “antidegradation” rules. 

The proposed rules:

  • Align with federal antidegradation regulatory policy and EPA guidance.
  • Contain two sets of standards to address the differences between individual and general permits.
  • Identify the information needed and the factors considered by the MPCA to make decisions.
  • Establish a process for determining the water quality baseline.
  • Provide limited exemptions from antidegradation procedures.
  • Provide for compensatory mitigation for the loss of existing uses resulting from physical alterations.

The proposed rules do not:

  • Contain exemptions from antidegradation procedures for de minimis (i.e., non-significant) discharges.
  • Create additional regulatory authority over currently unregulated activities.
  • Alter, other than housekeeping changes, nondegradation provisions found in Minn. rules (chapters 7052, Lake Superior Basin Water Standards, or 7060, Underground Waters).

The MPCA will hold two hearings on the proposed rules March 31, at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., at the MPCA St. Paul office, with videoconference links also available at the MPCA Duluth and Mankato offices. Addresses and directions are available on the MPCA website.

Interested parties may submit comments now, at the hearings, or for a period of at least 5 days following the hearings. (A longer post-hearing comment period may be announced at the hearing.) 

Send comments or questions about the proposed rules to minnrule7050.pca@state.mn.us or Carol Nankivel, MPCA/RMAD, 520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4194.

 Additional information is available:

Collection System Conference set for March 21-23

Duluth manhole cover

The MPCA will hold the 42nd annual Collection System Conference March 21-23 at the Marriott Northwest in Brooklyn Park (7025 Northland Drive North, Brooklyn Park, MN).

Highlights include:

  • SA & SB exam refresher
  • SC & SD exam refresher
  • Certification examinations and
  • Vendor and professional organization displays

Other topics include leadership, pipe and manhole rehab, asset management, pumps and lift station tour, sewer toolkit, traffic and confined space safety, infiltration and inflow, flushable wipes (see details below), stormwater, sewer cleaning and televising, and much more.

See the full conference brochure and registration packet under Wastewater Training on the MPCA Training Events Calendar webpage. Exam refreshers require pre-registration, contact Tracy Finch at 651-757-2103, 1-800-657-3864 or tracy.finch@state.mn.us.

Wastewater Operations Conference set for March 23-25

Wastewater operations

The MPCA will hold the 79th annual Wastewater Operations Conference March 23-25 at the Marriott Northwest in Brooklyn Park (7025 Northland Drive North, Brooklyn Park, MN).

Highlights include:

  • A & B exam refresher
  • C & D exam refresher
  • Type IV (Biosolids) refresher
  • Certification examinations and
  • Vendor and professional organization displays

This year the MPCA is pleased to announce that 286 Permitted Wastewater Treatment Facilities will be receiving an Operational Award. The Facility Operational Awards Ceremony will be held Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m.

Other topics include new plants/upgrades, eDMRs, FBI cyber security and SCADA systems, emerging issues, energy efficiency, industrial wastewater, new plant operator, stabilization ponds, safety, LSTS/small plants, and much more.

See the full conference brochure and registration packet under Wastewater Training on the MPCA Training Events Calendar webpage. Exam refreshers require pre-registration, contact Tracy Finch at 651-757-2103, 1-800-657-3864 or tracy.finch@state.mn.us.

State listens to communities’ concerns for water resources

Water listening session in 2015

Minnesota communities need an estimated $11 billion over the next 20 years for new water infrastructure projects to replace aging wastewater and drinking water systems, upgrade treatment facilities to meet higher standards, and expand systems to accommodate growth.

Managing wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water supplies is important for Minnesota’s health and safety. It also critical for ensuring the economic vitality and future competitiveness of a community. Minnesota communities -- both rural and metro – face serious challenges to making these improvements to their water infrastructures.

To better understand these challenges, state representatives from the Governor’s Office, MPCA, Minnesota Dept. of Health and Public Facilities Authority held listening sessions last fall in eight communities across Minnesota. More than 80 communities spoke up on their concerns, which can be grouped into four main categories:

Cost-related problems

  • Debt service and tax base issue make grants, not loans, the best option for many communities.
  • The local tax base is limited or declining.
  • Operations and maintenance of existing systems is expensive.

Workforce issues

  • Many communities can't recruit or retain qualified water professionals.
  • Older water professionals are retiring.
  • The job of operating these facilities has become highly technical.

 Creativity/flexibility needed

  • Communities want to add trading to their toolbox of options.
  • Cities need help creating asset management plans for future work.
  • Comprehensive approach to include drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater.

Policy changes

  • Look at nonpoint sources.
  • Reconsider the reuse of wastewater.
  • Ban “flushable” personal care wipes in Minnesota.
  • Public education is needed about the relationship between water bills and water service, water supply, water conservation, etc.
  • Allow municipalities to raise rates slowly, in ongoing incremental basis.

Based on community concerns, the MPCA will be seeking policy changes and taking other action this legislative session (see the example below). More details are available on the agency’s legislative fact sheets webpage.

Related information:

Flushable? Not for their systems, communities say

Not-so-flushable wipes

The MPCA is seeking a ban on “flushable” labeling for disposable wipes after dozens of communities spoke on how the wipes cause costly problems for their wastewater systems.

The MPCA will ask the 2016 Minnesota Legislature to ban “flushable,” “septic safe,” or “sewer safe” labeling from nonwoven disposable products (wipes) sold in Minnesota.

It would also require the packaging to include a “Do not flush” message.

Changing the labeling on disposable wipes packaging would help change public behavior and over time reduce the amount of such wipes being flushed. Fewer wipes flushed would reduce operation and maintenance costs for municipalities across the state.

More information is available in this fact sheet.

Speaking of ‘flushable’ wipes …

“Flushable” wipes will be a main topic of the “Clearing Up Communications” session at the Collection System Conference March 22 from 12:30-4:30 p.m. at the Marriott Northwest in Brooklyn Park.

This communications session for conference participants will focus on how to reach customers with messages on “flushable” wipes and other matters.

Representatives from Reinhardt, Wendorf & Blanchfield law firm, MPCA and Met Council will present on the following topics:

  • An update on the Litigation against the Manufacturers of “Flushable” Wipes
  • Communications Toolkit on What Not to Flush
  • How to communicate about wastewater spills

  • How to set up social media accounts, put documents in plain language, and other questions

You can help with this presentation, and other MPCA efforts, by submitting your photos and examples of problems with “flushable” wipes to Cathy Rofshus, public information officer for the MPCA, at catherine.rofshus@state.mn.us. Your photos may become part of the public service announcements being developed by the agency and educational materials for legislators.

eDMR news

Organization is key to managing DMR data


Here are some quick tips to assist you in the management and submittal of your DMR data:

Please make sure you are have your User ID, Password, PIN, and answer to your challenge questions handy. This will help in the successful submittal of your DMRs.

Make sure to click the “Continue” button on the Certification Screen (after you’ve answered your challenge question and PIN) to successfully submit your DMR. Your DMR is not officially submitted until that button is clicked!

Need to start over on your sample values? To Cancel an “In Progress Sample Values/DMR,” do the following:

  • Click on “My Workspace”
  • Under the heading “My Services – In Progress” -Click the red Cancel button to the right on your screen for the DMR in progress
  • This will make the Sample Values/DMR accessible under “Available Sample Values” and “Available DMR” sections on the Manage DMR Services Screen

Being organized is key to successful submittal and management of your DMRs. Please create folders on your computer to save your information to and for easy access to your files:

eDMR folders

Additional information is available on the MPCA DMR webpage.

Comments being accepted on changes to Water Quality Variance rules

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is amending its rules for water quality variance procedures to achieve consistency in state rules. A public hearing on the proposed rules was held Feb. 4. The public may submit comments on the proposed rule amendments during the rebuttal comment period Feb.25 through 4:30 p.m. on March 2. Comments may be submitted to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The MPCA plans to publish notice of adoption of the rules in summer 2016. Information on these rules and the hearing documents is available on the MPCA’s Water Quality Variance Rulemaking webpage.  

MPCA hosts technical seminar on river eutrophication standards

MPCA hosted a technical seminar, “New standards. New process. New limits?” on the watershed approach to setting total phosphorus effluent limits to meet river standards on Feb. 11. Managing phosphorus is essential for protecting Minnesota’s surface waters. Excess nutrients, primarily phosphorus, can ultimately lead to nuisance algal blooms in our surface waters, or eutrophication.

Surface waters in Minnesota are diverse and complex systems and require a tailored approach to protect from excess phosphorus loading. Since 2000, there has been a noticeable decrease in the total phosphorus concentrations of some streams and rivers that can be attributed to point source reductions and the adoption of the phosphorus rule (Minn. R. 7053.0255).

In 2008, Minnesota adopted lake eutrophication standards (LES, 2008), which set defined phosphorus, algae, and clarity goals for Minnesota’s lakes. As a complement to the lake standards, Minnesota adopted river eutrophication standards (RES, 2015) to set phosphorus and algae goals for rivers and streams.

The recent seminar focused on total phosphorus effluent limits in NPDES wastewater permits as a result of the recently adopted river standards. It covered some of the main review concepts, as defined in the recently published document “Procedures for implementing eutrophication standards in NPDES wastewater permits in Minnesota,” hereafter called RES Procedures. Most individual limit reviews are being conducted on a watershed scale.

MPCA staff gave a brief overview of the river standards procedures, provided examples of watershed limit reviews, and allowed time for questions and answers at the end. Given the data-intensive process used for these limit reviews, participants did not receive limits for specific facilities.

For more information about the standards and implementation process, email phosphoruseffluentlimits.pca@state.mn.us.