On Point for October 2017: MPCA implementing river standards

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

On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

October 2017

MPCA implementing river eutrophication standards, starting with Minnesota River basin

Several wastewater discharge permit holders in the Minnesota River basin recently received letters announcing the completion of phosphorus limit reviews for their facilities. These reviews, called “phosphorus memos,” include new limits for some facilities, as determined by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) after examining extensive data for the basin.

These reviews are based on river eutrophication water quality standards adopted by Minnesota in 2014. The standards are designed to protect rivers from algal blooms harmful to aquatic life and recreation. In determining effluent limits, the MPCA examines nutrient levels and response variables that indicate algal growth or potential algal growth.

The agency also looks at each major watershed holistically, accounting for all contributors of phosphorus within it. Under this approach, the MPCA sets phosphorous effluent limits for all the watershed's wastewater facilities at one time, rather than one-by-one as permits come up for reissuance. This watershed approach ensures that all contributors are doing their “fair share” of reducing phosphorus. (While the agency sets limits at one time, any new limits do not take effect until a facility’s permit is reissued.)

The phosphorus memos describe this process in detail, explaining how the agency determined limits for wastewater facilities.

New limits for some facilities

Of 269 facilities in the Minnesota River Basin, about 60 will receive new limits, some more restrictive than their current limits and some not. The new limits go into effect when the agency reissues a facility’s permit for discharging wastewater.

The overall impact to mechanical facilities in the basin:

  • 70% can meet new limits
  • 15% are close to meeting proposed new limits
  • 15% need to do something to meet new limits

The overall impact to stabilization ponds in the basin:

  • 75% can meet new limits
  • 4% are close to meeting proposed new limits
  • 21% need to do something to meet new limits

Facilities, most of them owned and operated by cities, have several tools to meet the new limits:

  • Variances to allow time to determine a solution. (More information about variances will be in future On Point newsletters.)
  • Schedules that allow time to complete upgrades in equipment and processes.
  • Water quality trading, though current trading systems will likely change. (More information about trading will be in future On Point newsletters.)

Summary of legal challenges

The MPCA is implementing river standards after several years of hearings and public comments. An administrative law judge approved the rule in 2014 with the MPCA Citizens Board (now defunct) voting twice to recommend adoption. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the standards in 2015. The standards have also survived three court challenges so far. A federal court challenge is still pending, along with a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that is awaiting the federal decision. Given the initial approval and the subsequent state court decisions, the MPCA is confident the standards will prevail in federal court and is proceeding with implementation as allowed by law.

The agency will provide facilities with phosphorus limit reviews as they are completed, along with holding additional regional meetings (see story about Mankato meeting below).

The mission of the MPCA is to protect and improve the environment and enhance human health. Under the federal Clean Water Act, the MPCA is responsible for issuing permits to limit pollutants in wastewater discharged to lakes, rivers and land. 

For more information

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

Online resources:

  • Phosphorus loads and flow volumes: Summaries of annual phosphorus loads and flow volumes discharged from wastewater facilities since 2005. Users may click on individual facilities for details.
  • Wastewater data browser: Provides public access to monthly eDMR records. Application is updated quarterly and allows users to either explore or download monitoring data, permit limits, and details about facilities and stations.

Mankato, MPCA host meeting: ‘What’s coming down the pipe’

Mankato Mayor welcomes wastewater permit holders

The city of Mankato and MPCA hosted a meeting Oct. 18 for wastewater facilities in the Minnesota River Basin. About 105 wastewater operators, community representatives and state agency staff took part in the meeting at Mankato’s government center.

The purpose of the meeting was to share information and ideas. MPCA staff talked about how the agency is implementing the river eutrophication and chloride water quality standards. Agency staff also talked about the future of water quality trading and availability of state financial assistance.

Mark Winson, Mankato public utilities director, provided his city’s perspective on protecting the Minnesota River, noting that implementation of the river eutrophication standards is causing concern among communities. Concerns include proposed new limits, future of water quality trading, and a need for a more comprehensive and collaborative approach to addressing nutrient pollution.

Audience members asked about variances to standards, impact of agriculture and other nonpoint sources on water quality, and how the MPCA is determining new effluent limits in permits. They also had a chance to visit with MPCA staff individually or in small groups about issues specific to their permits.

If your community would like to host a similar meeting, please contact Joel Peck, MPCA municipal liaison, at 651-757-2202 or joel.peck@state.mn.us.

The MPCA thanks all those who attended for their time and comments.

Photo above: Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson welcomes participants to the Oct. 18 meeting on wastewater permits

Survey for Minnesota wastewater treatment facilities on inspection follow-up reports

survey clip art

Based on suggestions from wastewater treatment facilities, the MPCA is considering expanding its wastewater inspection follow-up reports. The agency has used a narrative inspection report for several years. Other options include a checklist or a hybrid of the checklist and narrative report. The agency would also like to know when and how you prefer to receive the inspection reports. Your input will help decide how to update the process.

Please visit the MPCA website for examples of follow-up reports: www.pca.state.mn.us/wastewater-inspection-reports-survey

To take the survey, visit this webpage: http://survey.mn.gov/s.asp?k=150816628775

The deadline for taking the survey is Nov. 17. The MPCA will let facilities know the results and how the MPCA will move forward with inspection reports via On Point.

 If you have questions or comments, please contact Justin Barrick, MPCA wastewater compliance and enforcement, at 218-316-3858 or justin.barrick@state.mn.us.

Wastewater manager leaves MPCA after 30 years of successful programs

Wendy Turri

“I was destined to work in wastewater,” says Wendy Turri with a laugh.

When she was a teen-ager, her father, Arden DeBoer, served as mayor of her hometown, Lafayette in southcentral Minnesota. The small town’s wastewater treatment facility was experiencing problems and people called the DeBoer home to complain about the odors. Mayor DeBoer had his daughter answer those calls and even visit the wastewater facility with him to see the problem first-hand.

Little did she know then that wastewater would be her career. The 30-year MPCA employee recently left the MPCA to take up the reins as manager of Rochester’s municipal water reclamation plant.

A love of math led Turri to earn a degree in chemistry from Mankato State University. She then worked for the city of Rochester in its wastewater lab and as pre-treatment coordinator. Five years later, Turri took a job with the MPCA as a wastewater inspector covering 20 southeast Minnesota counties. She was the first woman to work in a technical position in the agency’s regional offices. Over the years she was promoted to a supervisor, and then 14 years ago to manager of the agency’s municipal wastewater program.

She recalled many proud moments over her years with the agency.

“I loved everything I did at the MPCA. And the people,” Turri said. The people included inside and outside the MPCA. “I loved being an inspector because of the people. Both the communities and the industries care about what they’re doing.”

Having a fondness for small towns, Turri liked helping un-sewered communities find a way to implement wastewater treatment. Water monitoring shows these sewer fixes have helped decrease bacteria counts in many regional rivers that drain to the Mississippi. She was also proud of the agency’s work to help southeast Minnesota recover from a devastating flood in 2007. Other standout programs include working with cities to make the most of grant money and helping canneries figure out better wastewater treatment.

“One of my not so-fond memories is falling into a silage pond at a cannery,” she said with her trademark laugh.

Turri has also been part of the agency embracing new technology, along with navigating political and legal challenges. And she liked how the MPCA has progressed from TMDL studies that focus on one lake and one stream section at a time to looking at entire watersheds in a holistic way.

As she moves on, Turri’s parting thoughts for her staff and colleagues are to continue talking with people to figure out problems, treating all people with respect, and setting a good example. For the MPCA, she set a great example of innovation, problem-solving, and leadership.

eDMR tips: No discharge field, how to cancel a report


'No discharge' field changes

Recently the “No Discharge” field changed, requiring permit holders to mark an X if “No discharge/no flow occurred at this station.” The “X” is not case dependent, meaning it can be upper or lower case. If there was discharge, then the permit holder leaves it blank. If you have flow and/or data to report for the station, leave the box blank. 

Need to cancel an ‘In Progress DMR’?

If you have downloaded a Sample Values Spreadsheet or DMR by mistake and would like to start over, you can cancel it by:

  • Clicking on the “MyWorkspace Tab,” under the “My Services – In Progress” section
  • Select the red cancel button on the right side of the page
  • Make sure you are canceling out a DMR and not your facility

Sample values submittal

If a DMR is submitted without the sample values spreadsheet being submitted first, the sample values spreadsheet will no longer be available to complete and submit. Please remember to complete and submit the sample values spreadsheet for the monitoring period before completing and submitting the DMRs for the same monitoring period. If you accidently submit the DMR first, please contact your compliance staff person for guidance about getting sample values data submitted

No chlorine during the winter? Leave boxes blank if no chlorine used

When entering data into spreadsheets: If chlorine is not used, leave the Total Residual Chlorine boxes blank on both the sample values and DMR spreadsheets, and enter “Chlorine Not Used” on the DMR comment line. Zero is a value and should not be used unless there is an actual test result of zero.

More information on DMRs

Additional information is available on the MPCA DMR webpage.

We heard you and what we’re doing: Letters now go to both the mayor and wastewater operator

At listening sessions held in recent years, the MPCA heard from wastewater operators that official correspondence from the agency never made it to their desks. MPCA staff explained that they send letters to the name and address listed on a facility’s permit, usually a community’s mayor. To fix that miscommunication, the MPCA now sends letters to both the mayor and the wastewater operator. Still not getting the mail? Make sure your compliance and enforcement officer has your correct contact information.

MPCA welcomes new municipal permit writer

Amanda Wilkens

Amanda Wilken joined the MPCA municipal permit writer team in September. She works out of the agency’s Brainerd office and is assigned to counties in the northwest part of the state. As a result, statewide permitting assignments have adjusted slightly. See the current assignments on the updated Municipal Wastewater Permit Assignment map on the MPCA website.

If you have any questions regarding the assignment changes, please contact the permit writer assigned to your county.

Pump workshop moves from New Prague to Vadnais Heights

The location for the Nov. 2 Pump Workshop, for wastewater and collection system operators, has changed from Quality Flow Systems in New Prague. It will now be held at General Repair, 3535 International Drive, Vadnais Heights, 55110. Check-in will still be at 7:30 a.m. with the workshop starting at 8 a.m. Please contact Annaliza Heesch at 651-757-2591 or annaliza.heesch@state.mn.us if you have any questions.

MPCA holding Collection System Basic Seminar Nov. 7-9

The Collection System Basic Seminar will take place Nov. 7-9 at the Embassy Suites in St. Paul. This seminar is for collection system and wastewater operators who run and maintain collection systems. The seminar covers pumps, control panels, traffic control, collection system math, along with operation and maintenance of collection systems. Exams will be offered on the last day. The seminar registration form and exam application are on the MPCA website. Contact Annaliza Heesch at 651-757-2591 or annaliza.heesch@state.mn.us with questions.  

Wastewater Treatment Technology Seminar set for Dec. 12-14

The Wastewater Treatment Technology Seminar will be held Dec. 12–14, at the Embassy Suites in St. Paul. This seminar is recommended for entry-level operators or as a review for experienced operators. The seminar covers wastewater terminology, treatment types, phases, wastewater math, sampling, reporting and safety. Exams will be offered on the last day.  If you wish to take an exam, you must submit a separate exam application by Nov. 29. The seminar registration form and exam application are on the MPCA website.  Contact Annaliza Heesch at 651-757-2591 or annaliza.heesch@state.mn.us with questions.  

Coming soon: 2018 wastewater training calendar

The 2018 MPCA Wastewater Training Calendar will soon be posted on the MPCA Wastewater Training website: www.pca.state.mn.us/water/training-wastewater-operators. 

Collection System Conference set for March 19-21

The MPCA will hold the 44th annual Collection System Conference March 19-21, 2018 at the Marriott Northwest in Brooklyn Park (7025 Northland Drive North, Brooklyn Park, Minn.).

Highlights include:

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

Other topics include inspection techniques and tools, pipe and manhole rehab, asset management, pumps and lift station tour, electrical generation and controls, infiltration and inflow, condition assessment, odor control and biofilters, working alongside your coworkers, and much more. The conference brochure and registration packet will be available on the MPCA Wastewater Training webpage in January 2018. Exam refreshers require pre-registration (see the registration page of the brochure for details). For more information, contact Annaliza Heesch at 651-757-2591 or annaliza.heesch@state.mn.us.

Wastewater Operations Conference set for March 21-23

The MPCA will hold the 81st annual Wastewater Operations Conference March 21-23, 2018 at the Marriott Northwest in Brooklyn Park (7025 Northland Drive North, Brooklyn Park, Minn.).

Highlights include:

  • A & B exam refresher
  • C & D exam refresher
  • Type IV (biosolids) refresher
  • Certification examinations
  • Vendor and professional organization displays
  • Facility Operational Awards ceremony

Other topics include new plant and/upgrades, aging infrastructure/asset management, flooding challenges and response, emerging issues, facility optimization, industrial wastewater and pretreatment, strategies for optimizing operations, stabilization ponds, safety, LSTS new policies and procedures, and much more. The conference brochure and registration packet will be available on the MPCA Wastewater Training webpage in January 2018. Exam refreshers require pre-registration (see the registration page of the brochure for details). For more information, contact Annaliza Heesch at 651-757-2591 or annaliza.heesch@state.mn.us.  

2018 Impaired waters list: Success stories surfacing for Minnesota lakes, streams

Poplar River

As Minnesota continues its statewide checkup of waters and lists those failing to meet standards, some good examples of protective and restorative work are starting to surface.

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

Success stories

For the first time, the MPCA is proposing to remove an impairment listing for PCBs. Fish sampled in the Red River of the North now have PCB levels low enough to meet the standard for consumption, though some impairments like mercury remain.

Additionally, the MPCA is proposing to remove 9 water bodies from the list, including the Poplar River in the photo above, because of restorative actions to improve water quality. Some common restoration actions include stabilizing streambanks, holding back water long enough to let sediment settle out, and better management of fertilizer.

New lakes, streams added to impaired waters list

There are of course new impairments proposed for the 2018 list. Highlights include:

  • 201 streams and 23 lakes that cannot fully support aquatic life
  • 100 streams with elevated bacteria levels
  • 55 lakes and streams with high levels of nutrients
  • 32 water bodies with mercury levels in fish tissue that are too high to meet standards
  • 3 streams that fail to meet the chloride standard designed to protect aquatic life.

Summary of numbers

In all, the number of impaired Minnesota waters on the draft 2018 impaired waters list totals 5,101 impairments, with 618 new listings, covering a total of 2,669 water bodies across the state (many water bodies are impaired by several pollutants). Minnesota is detecting more waters in trouble because of its 10-year plan to study all 80 major watersheds in the state, funded by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. The MPCA has started this study in all but a few watersheds.

While scientists find more impairments, the overall percentage of impaired waters in Minnesota remains at 40%. The other 60% are in good condition and need protective strategies to stay healthy.

Public meetings

The MPCA will hold four public meetings in November on the draft 2018 impaired waters list, including the delistings and impairments proposed. You may attend in person or participate live online by following the WebEx links below. A public comment period will follow later this year.

For more information about the list, public meetings, or comment period, contact Miranda Nichols, MPCA research scientist, at miranda.nichols@state.mn.us.

In the news and online: Illegal discharges, thumbs up to WWTFs in MN River report, wild rice hearings begin