On Point for September 2016: Listening sessions on permit process

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Success story: Met Council Environmental Services to receive award

Met Council wastewater treatment plant

Metropolitan Council Environmental Services (MCES) will receive a Utility of the Future award later this month for exceptional performance of a wastewater utility. MCES is one of 61 utilities from across the United States, Canada and Denmark selected for the award by a partnership of the National Assoc. of Clean Water Agencies, Water Environment Federation, Water Environment and Reuse Foundation, and WateReuse Assoc.

Utilities were selected based upon the adoption of water reuse, watershed stewardship, beneficial biosolids reuse, community partnering and engagement, energy efficiency, energy generation and recovery, and nutrient and materials recovery.

The Metropolitan Council is the regional policy-making body, planning agency, and provider of essential services for the Twin Cities metropolitan region in Minnesota. The Council's mission is to foster efficient and economic growth for a prosperous region. The Environmental Services division operates and maintains about 640 miles of regional sewers and treats up to 250 million gallons of wastewater daily at eight regional treatment plants. Serving nearly 95% of the seven-county area population, MCES provides cost-effective wastewater service to 108 communities.

MPCA sets listening sessions on permit process for municipal wastewater treatment plants

Wastewater listening sessions

In response to communities asking the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for more communication about how it develops permits for wastewater discharges, the agency will hold listening sessions across the state next month:

  • Marshall: Tuesday, October 11, 1 to 4 p.m., MnDOT – District 8 office, 1800 East College Dr., Marshall, MN
  • Detroit Lakes: Wednesday, October 12, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., MPCA Detroit Lakes Regional Office, 714 Lake Ave. Suite 220, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501
  • Duluth: Monday, October 17, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., MPCA Duluth Regional Office, 525 Lake Ave., S., Suite 400, Duluth MN 55802
  • Brainerd: Tuesday, October 18, 9 a.m. to noon, MPCA Brainerd Regional Office, 7678 College Road, Suite 105, Baxter, MN 56425
  • Rochester: Tuesday, October 25, 1 to 4 p.m., MPCA Rochester Regional Office, 18 Wood Lake Drive S.E., Rochester, MN 55904
  • St. Paul: Wednesday, October 26, 9 a.m. to noon, MPCA St. Paul Offices, 520 Lafayette Rd. N. St. Paul, MN 55155

These sessions will focus on the permitting process for municipal wastewater treatment plants. Please be sure to attend one of these sessions if you are a city administrator, wastewater operator, elected official, or city clerk. MPCA managers and permit writers will be on hand to listen to your concerns and answer your questions. The agency is especially interested in:

  • Do you understand how National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits are developed?
  • How can the MPCA improve the process?

RSVP to Joel Peck, municipal liaison, to reserve your seat at the table. Space is limited.

Agency extends comment period for draft 2016 impaired waters list

At the request of stakeholders, the MPCA is extending the public comment period for the draft 2016 impaired waters list by 30 days.  The MPCA released the list on July 13, followed by a series of public meetings and a public comment period from Aug. 1-31. The extension means the agency will now accept written comments through Sept. 30, 2016.

The list represents an assessment of how well lakes and streams support fishing, swimming and other beneficial uses. Water bodies that fail to meet standards are considered “impaired.” This assessment is mandated by federal law and requires a cleanup study for each impaired water body.

In all, the number of impaired Minnesota waters on the draft 2016 list totals 4,603, with 582 new listings.

Comments, which must be in writing, should be submitted by 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 30 to Miranda Nichols, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd N, St. Paul, MN 55155 (must provide a return address) or miranda.nichols@state.mn.us. After the public comment period, the agency may make changes based on comments and then submit the list, along with comments received and agency responses, to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

For details, visit the MPCA's Impaired Waters List webpage.

City of Willow River working to repair flood-damaged ponds

Willow River WWTF pond inspected after 2016 flood

The rain was heavy, the flooding serious, and the damage to wastewater ponds was the first of its kind in Minnesota.

The City of Willow River, with MPCA assistance, is working to repair its wastewater ponds damaged by flooding in mid-July. MPCA staff suspect flood waters caused a rapid rise in groundwater surrounding the secondary pond, and created a buoyancy force strong enough to push the pond liner up in large bubbles which tore the liner in several places.

Willow River, a city of 400 people in Pine County in northeastern Minnesota, received 10 inches of rain in less than 48 hours July 11-12, flooding the town and breaching the DNR dam on the river.

“This is something we’ve never seen before in Minnesota. The bubbles and tears in the pond liner allowed the wastewater to leak into the groundwater, which flows toward the Kettle River, but away from area drinking water wells,” said Wendy Turri, MPCA municipal wastewater section manager.

City and MPCA inspectors found a tear near the top of the primary pond liner. Earthen dikes surrounding both ponds were also damaged and parts of the interior slopes slid into the ponds. The current water level in the primary pond seems to be holding where the tear was found. This indicates that as wastewater continues to enter the pond, it is leaking into the ground through the visible tear.

As a result, repairs will be made to the primary pond in the coming weeks, with help from State disaster relief funding. To do this, the wastewater in the primary pond will be discharged into the secondary pond so the primary pond can be repaired and operational before winter arrives. The secondary pond will be repaired next summer. Throughout the process, the city and its consultant will monitor ground and surface water to ensure that wastewater is not impacting nearby residential wells and other water bodies.

More information about minimizing flood-related pollution and health risks is available on the MPCA’s Minimizing pollution and health risks from flooding webpage.  The page includes assistance for managing household hazardous materials, preparing heating oil tanks for flooding, drinking water well contamination and what to do after a flood.

Photo above: Inspectors examine damage to the liner of Willow River’s secondary treatment pond. Photo below: Aerial photo showing large bubbles that damaged the pond after flooding last July.

Willow River WWTF pond damaged by 2016 flood

Heavy rains emphasize need to prepare for system overloads

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 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.

Resources to help with wastewater system overloads

  • Toolbox for local units of government recovering from a natural disaster on the MPCA website, including guidelines for wastewater treatment facilities during a flood
  • MnWARN is a mutual aid program whereby water, wastewater and stormwater utilities sustaining physical damage from natural or human-caused disasters in the Minnesota can obtain emergency assistance, in the form of personnel, equipment, materials and other associated services necessary to protect the health and welfare of the utilities' customers. For more information on joining MnWARN, call 1--800-367-6792.

Water reuse increasing in importance, stakeholder meeting Sept. 26

Water reuse will be an increasingly important part of managing our water resources as demands on our water supplies continue to grow due to population increases, urbanization, climate change, and changes in water use. There are scattered examples of reclaiming municipal wastewater, stormwater, and graywater systems in Minnesota. However, those interested in reuse often run into regulatory roadblocks, technical challenges, or lacking and inconsistent regulations and standard practices.

An interagency effort to develop recommendations for best practices and policies for water reuse in Minnesota is underway. Recommendations will include both regulatory and non-regulatory approaches to successful implementation of water reuse. Recommendations will be published early summer of 2017.

The workgroup has been meeting on a monthly basis since January 2016. The Water Reuse Interagency Workgroup: July 2016 Project Update provides a brief update on the workgroup’s progress over the first six months.

The workgroup is convening four meetings with stakeholders. Organizations were invited to participate in the group because of their involvement with water reuse, but anyone can participate in stakeholder meetings. The stakeholder meetings are a unique opportunity for you and your organization to provide valuable input on water reuse as options are being considered.

Upcoming Stakeholder Meeting

Please attend a water reuse stakeholder meeting Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the MPCA Board Room at its St. Paul office. Please see the project website for more information and opportunities to provide input.

Project Sponsors and Partners

The project is funded by the Clean Water Fund. The workgroup is comprised of representatives from Minnesota Departments of Agriculture, Health, Labor and Industry, and Natural Resources; MPCA; Metropolitan Council; Plumbing Board; University of Minnesota Water Resources Center; and Board of Water and Soil Resources. The University of Minnesota will collect and analyze field data to support Minnesota-specific, cold-weather climate health risk assessment.

Questions and input may be directed to project coordinator Anita Anderson at 218-302-6143 or health.water.reuse.mn@state.mn.us.

eDMR tips: Be sure to answer all questions


When completing electronic Discharge Monitoring Reports (eDMRs), be sure to answer all the questions correctly.

“Yes, there is no discharge”

Does the above statement leave you scratching your head? One question on eDMRs that can confuse people is the “No Discharge” question. It may seem like you should answer this question “no” because there is no discharge. Think of the question like this: “Is it correct that there is no discharge to report?”

If there is discharge to report, then you answer “no” and report the applicable data.

The MPCA is working to clarify the question on the form. In the meantime, please do the following:

  • If there is No Flow or No Discharge, the field should say "Yes."
  • If there is flow or a discharge, the field says "No," and data are reported.

Finding report form online

If you need the form for completing a Release Sampling Report, you can find one on the MPCA website: https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/wq-wwtp7-20a.doc

More information

For more information about completing eDMRs, visit the MPCA website at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/how-complete-your-discharge-monitoring-report-dmr or contact your MPCA compliance officer.