Special edition of On Point: What we heard from you and what we're doing

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On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

Special edition: November 2016

Listening sessions: MPCA needs to communicate more, make it easier to comply

More communication, more technology and more user-friendly permits – these were some of the main themes the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) heard from wastewater professionals during listening sessions in October. MPCA staff held sessions for municipal wastewater discharge permit holders in Marshall, Detroit Lakes, Duluth, Brainerd, Rochester, and St. Paul.

What we heard

About 100 people total attended the sessions and the comments fall into these major themes:

Listening session in Detroit Lakes on wastewater permits

MPCA needs to communicate more. For example, permit holders are looking for more information about:

  • How water quality standards are developed, how people can get involved in that process, how they protect resources and uses, etc.
  • The MPCA’s switch to a new database and impact to the format of hard copy permits. One permit holder said, “The look of the new permit was a shock.”
  • Status of permit applications, reviews, and reissuance.
  • Water quality trading.
  • Regulatory certainty program.
  • Chloride water quality standard and impact to cities.

On a related note to communication, permit holders said the agency needs to be more approachable. “That’s like arguing with the state trooper standing outside your car window,” said one permit holder.

MPCA needs to use more current and reliable technology:

  • Allow online permit applications. At least provide a permit holder’s last application that can simply be updated.
  • Provide an online tracking system of the permit application process.
  • Fix problems with eDMRs.

Cities want more time to review and discuss draft permits, among city personnel and elected officials as well as with MPCA staff.

  • Cities want more time even if that means going beyond the 150-day goal to issue permits. Start dialogue with city much earlier in reissuance process. “If 150 days is a target, I’d like to take 180 days and do it right the first time,” said one community representative.
  • Keep in mind cities’ budgeting requirements when setting limits that require major changes in operation and/or facilities.

Make it easier to comply. “Think about the operators. These are the people pushing the buttons, turning the valves and opening the gates. Compliance starts with them,” said one permit holder.

  • Make permits more user-friendly.
  • Permits should have a check-list to help operators keep track of due dates and monitoring requirements.

Point sources feel they are doing the bulk of lake and stream cleanup work. "When is agriculture going to have to do its share? Let’s go to where the problem is,” said one community representative.

  • MPCA needs to do more to highlight the positive impact on water quality from wastewater treatment facilities.

What we’re doing

MPCA staff are meeting to discuss the comments heard and set priorities for the next steps to take. Actions already taken include:

  • Changing some of the confusing questions on eDMRs, such as “Yes, there is no discharge.”
  • Working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to align cropping cycles for reporting purposes.
  • Planning more frequent On Point newsletters.
  • Planning a question and answer session at the annual wastewater conference (see below).

What’s next

  • The MPCA is finishing compiling all the notes from the listening sessions and will email them to participants who provided addresses.
  • The agency is considering a seventh listening session on the Iron Range.
  • The MPCA will continue to communicate about changes made as a result of the sessions via On Point.

Q and A with MPCA at annual wastewater conference

The MPCA is planning an informal question and answer session with wastewater professionals during the annual Wastewater Operations Conference at the Marriott Northwest in Brooklyn Park. This session, planned for noon-2 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, will offer operators and others a chance to meet with their regional compliance staff and permit writers to talk about their permits, DMRs, and other topics.

To better serve our permit holders and be prepared with information, please send your ideas for topics, along with your questions, to Robin Novotny of the MPCA at robin.novotny@state.mn.us or 218-316-3851.

The MPCA looks forward to seeing you at the conference. The 43rd Annual Collection System Operators 2017 Conference will be March 27-29, and the 80th Annual Wastewater Operations 2017 Conference will be March 29-31, both at the Brooklyn Park at Marriott Northwest (formerly the Northland Inn).

Tis the season to remind your customers: Trash the fat

Wipes: Cleaning clog out of pump

With Thanksgiving this week and more holidays approaching, this is a good time to remind your residential customers to place grease and fats from cooking in the trash and not down the drain. As wastewater professionals know, grease and fat can clog pipes and lead to costly repairs, especially when combining with disposable wipes.

Consider placing this message or one similar on your city’s website, social media pages, cable television station, and utility bills as well as in the local media:

Trash the fat

Avoid costly clogs in your pipes and our system by placing fat and grease from cooking in the trash and not down the drain or toilet. Pour liquid fat on newspapers in the garbage or pour it in a disposable container and then dispose of it once it solidifies. It doesn’t matter if you have a garbage disposal – fat still needs to go in the trash.

Fat and grease can clog pipes, especially when combining with disposable wipes.

Speaking of disposable wipes, place them in the trash, too, even if the label says “flushable.” Wipes may flush down your toilet, but they fail to degrade, then clog up the wastewater system, and lead to costly repairs of pumps and other equipment.

For more information: www.pca.state.mn.us/news/wipes-clog-pipes

eDMR news: MPCA website and eServices offline for maintenance Dec. 9-12

The MPCA website will be under maintenance and offline starting Friday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. All web-based services will be unavailable until Monday Dec. 12. If you use the MPCA website, web-based applications or e-Services, these will be unavailable from Dec. 9-12. The MPCA recommends finishing any required business before Dec. 9.

If you have questions, please contact Joel Peck, municipal liaison, at joel.peck@state.mn.us or 651-757-2202.