On Point for January 2018: Solving I & I problem, wastewater needs near $5 billion

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On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

January 2018

Success story: Town solves I & I problems through persistence and teamwork

Good Thunder pond system, test 4

Inflow and infiltration were once big problems for the small town of Good Thunder in Blue Earth County in southern Minnesota. By being persistent and working as a team, city councilors and staff were able to take advantage of opportunities and detect major sources of I & I.

The town of 583 people has a pond system designed to treat an average of 50,000 gallons per day (gpd) of wastewater, and up to 85,000 gpd during wet weather. But a large rain event or spring thaw would result in 300,000 gpd going through the system. That meant many discharges to the Maple River during the spring and fall to keep up with the overload. It also meant extra expenses for Good Thunder and a lot of worry for Brian Severns, wastewater operator for the town.

In the last year, Good Thunder has decreased its influent flow by more than half, saving the town money through:

  • Less water flowing through the drinking water and wastewater treatment systems
  • Fewer hours of staff time managing the system
  • Less need for pumping, meaning reduced wear on equipment and lower electrical costs
  • Avoiding the cost of buying land and building a new pond to accommodate the hydraulic overload

 “It saves me a lot of worry at night,” Severns added with a laugh.

The town took a multi-faceted approach to solving the problem.

When the state of Minnesota reconstructed Highway 66 that runs along the eastern edge of Good Thunder, it recommended replacing or lining the town’s sewer main. The town chose lining and that stopped the major source of I & I to the pond system.

Good Thunder also worked with the Minnesota Rural Water Association to look for leaks in its drinking water lines. It found many small and one big residential leaks that, once corrected, dramatically dropped the amount of water being treated and pumped for drinking as well as the water flowing to the wastewater system for treatment.

In addition, the town inspected sump pump systems, contracted a company to inspect the sewer lines with cameras, and educated residents and businesses on I & I issues through newsletters and utility bill messages.

“Even though we got the big stuff, we’re going after the little stuff,” Severns said.

Instead of discharging the ponds twice in the spring and three times in the fall, he is hoping that drops to one per spring and per fall. That’s good news for the river too because a longer retention time means a bigger reduction in phosphorus levels in the discharges.

Severns has sound advice for other cities tackling I & I problems:

  • Provide the city council with a visualization of the data behind the problem. Using an Excel spreadsheet, Severns tracked rainfall, drinking water pumped from the town’s well, and water influent to the wastewater system.  He then provided a bar graph of the data to the city council every month so it could visualize the problem and see progress with each step taken.
  • Educate residents and businesses on the importance of I & I.
  • Use cameras to look for leaks in pipes.
  • Take a team approach with the city council and maintenance staff. Severns credits Good Thunder’s maintenance worker, Brian Beckel, with doing much of the work.
  • Take advantage of Minnesota Rural Water Association resources. Severns called this association “essential” to the problem-solving.

“Patience is a virtue because sometimes it takes a lot of detective work to fix. By doing due diligence, you’ll figure it out,” he said.

Survey: Wastewater infrastructure needs increase to almost $5 billion

Manhole cover for wastewater

The 20-year projected need for wastewater infrastructure throughout Minnesota is almost $5 billion, up from $4.2 billion two years earlier, according to a community survey.

State law requires the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to conduct a community Wastewater Infrastructure Needs Survey (WINS) every 2 years. The agency received responses from 715 communities in June 2017, and the resulting data and full report can be found on the MPCA website.

The $4.99 billion includes:

  • $2.9 billion (58%) to fix aging and inadequate piping and pumping systems
  • $1.3 billion (26%) to maintain and upgrade treatment systems to meet minimum water quality requirements
  • $225 million (5%) to upgrade treatment systems to meet advanced water quality requirements
  • $522 million (10%) for new piping and pumping systems, such as for municipal growth
  • $51.5 million (1%) for undefined projects

Key points from the data include:

    • The need for sewer system rehabilitation and upgrade ($3.43 billion) is much greater than wastewater treatment infrastructure work ($1.57 billion).
    • The age of sewer and wastewater treatment infrastructure continues to be a significant issue. A high percentage of sewer and wastewater treatment systems are near the limit of their expected useful life.
    • In greater Minnesota, 20% of the treatment facilities are more than 40 years old and 32% of the sewer systems are more than 50 years old.
    • Small communities more frequently struggle with affordability of infrastructure improvements. In the most recent survey, 19% of communities with populations less than 1,500 reported unaffordable wastewater costs.

    The next WINS survey will be sent electronically to communities in the spring of 2019, and the data will be used to complete the 2020 WINS Report. If you have any questions about the WINS Report or data, please contact Cara Omana of the MPCA at cara.omana@state.mn.us or 651-757-2891.

    State now accepting submissions for water infrastructure projects

    State agencies are now accepting submissions to place public wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water infrastructure improvement projects on the 2019 Project Priority Lists (PPL) and Intended Use Plans (IUP) for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. Projects must be listed on the appropriate PPL as the first step to be eligible for funds.

    System owners must request that their projects be placed on the appropriate 2019 IUP if they expect to be ready for construction and are seeking revolving funds for fiscal year 2019 (July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019).

    The two state revolving fund programs are administered by the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority (PFA), with the MPCA and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The PFA provides low-interest loans or grants to local governments for eligible projects based on priorities determined by the MPCA (for wastewater and stormwater projects) and MDH (for drinking water projects).

    For more information and instructions, please see this online document or contact one of the agency staff below.

    Project Priority List – Clean Water Revolving Fund

    • Wastewater and stormwater projects
    • Deadline: March 2 to MPCA
    • PPL application and scoring worksheet (including supporting documentation, as required)
    • Wastewater facilities plans
    • Stormwater project plans
    • Contact: Bill Dunn, MPCA, at 651-757-2324 or bill.dunn@state.mn.us
    • More information: www.pca.state.mn.us/ppl

    Project Priority List – Drinking Water Revolving Fund

    Intended Use Plans – both programs

    • Specify which program on submission
    • Deadline: June 1 to Public Facilities Authority
    • Contact: Becky Sabie, PFA, at 651-259-7470 or rebecca.sabie@state.mn.us
    • More information: mn.gov/deed/pfa

    MRWA offers asset management tools and training for utilities

    Asset management is key to utilities making sound decisions and ensuring the long-term sustainability of their water and wastewater systems. To help utility managers, especially those working for small communities, the Minnesota Rural Water Association (MRWA) has developed asset management tools and training, available at no charge to members.

    As the association explains on its website: Water and wastewater systems are made up of assets. Some of these assets are buried and are "invisible" while others are visible. Wastewater system assets include ponds, mechanical plants, pumps, lift stations, valves, collection lines, force mains, manholes and any other components that are necessary to operate the wastewater system. As a system ages and deteriorates, the assets will lose value over time. As this happens, the level of service that the utility's customers desire may become compromised, operation and maintenance costs can increase and the utility may have extreme costs that it can't afford. Asset management is a method of managing the utility's assets. Asset management will assist the utility with making good decisions on caring for the aging assets.

    The association has developed Excel templates that utilities can download and use at no charge. Visit the MRWA website for the templates and information on how to use them.

    The MRWA also offers hands-on training that includes the core components of asset management and how to use association’s templates. For more information, contact the association at 800-367-6792 or mrwa@mrwa.com.

    MPCA to respond to court ruling rejecting proposed standard to protect wild rice

    Wild rice

    An administrative law judge recently rejected the MPCA’s proposed changes to the standard to protect wild rice. The existing rule (or standard) limits sulfate to 10 milligrams per liter in water used for the production of wild rice. However, the MPCA’s new research indicates that sulfide – converted from sulfate by bacteria -  in the sediment in which wild rice grows is the pollutant of concern. The proposed rules are designed to limit sulfide to 120 micrograms per liter. The proposed changes would have established a process to identify the level of sulfate that would be protective for each wild rice water body. The proposal would have also identified wild rice waters in Minnesota.

    The MPCA is now evaluating all available options following the ruling.

    “While we are disappointed with the ALJ disapprovals in the report, we are pleased that the ALJ agreed the proposed revisions were based on sound scientific evidence,” the agency said in a statement issued to media.

    “At the Legislature’s direction, the MPCA worked diligently for nearly seven years to craft a modern, workable rule that would protect wild rice from the impacts of sulfate pollution. We strongly believe that those efforts delivered a solution that would effectively protect this important resource, while providing a workable standard for businesses and industries that would be impacted by these regulations.

    “Significant input, including 4,500 public comments received through a 93-day open public comment period and six public hearings, informed numerous appropriate adjustments to the proposed rule revision. 

    “In light of the ALJ report, MPCA now intends to proceed with the rule revision process, as prescribed by Minnesota state law. We will first submit a comprehensive written response to the ALJ report. The Chief ALJ will then review our response and determine if the modified proposal is acceptable. We believe this exchange can lead all parties to a workable solution, and we remain strongly committed to achieving that ideal outcome.

    “The Minnesota Legislature shares a keen interest in this matter and we look forward to working with legislators and the public as we continue to refine an improved rule proposal.”

    Related media coverage:

    MPCA names new municipal wastewater manager

    Aaron Luckstein, MPCA

    The MPCA is pleased to announce that Aaron Luckstein has accepted the position of municipal wastewater section manager, previously held by Wendy Turri, who is now the wastewater superintendent for the Rochester (Minn.) Water Reclamation Plant.

    Luckstein has served many roles within the MPCA wastewater program since 2006, including wastewater inspector, permit writer, assistant pretreatment coordinator, and supervisor. From 2012 to 2016, he served as the southeast regional unit supervisor and most recently as the supervisor for the Industrial Wastewater Quality Compliance and Enforcement Unit.

    In his roles, Luckstein has become known as a consistently calm and visionary leader with a commitment to staff development and program growth by using continuous improvement strategies that create a solid foundation; establishing Strategic, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely goals and objectives; developing clear implementation strategies, and providing motivational support for the team.

    He also places an emphasis on developing effective professional relationships between the state, federal and local governments, permit holders, public interest groups and Minnesotans.

    In his free time, Luckstein enjoys spending time with family and friends, fishing, and playing basketball. Like many parents, he stays busy chauffeuring his kids to and from sporting events and cheering them on in their sports.

    He can be reached at aaron.luckstein@state.mn.us or 507-206-2606.

    eDMR tip: Each staff submitting eDMRs should have an individual account


    All municipal and industrial staff who are responsible for submitting eDMRs for their wastewater facility should have his or her own eServices account. The MPCA recommends not sharing account numbers for liability purposes. See the “How to complete your discharge monitoring report” webpage for “eDMR signup and submittal” information.

    Additionally, if previously authorized individuals need to be removed from an account, please submit the "Request to Remove Account Holder" form on the MPCA website.

    If you have other questions about eDMRs, please consult your compliance officer.

    Check your permit for annual reports due, including stormwater for some facilities

    Annual report due dates should be on the radar of wastewater treatment facilities. The MPCA requires permit holders to submit many types of annual reports this time of year, including the following:

    • Biosolids
    • Pretreatment
    • Industrial by-product
    • Spray irrigation (municipal and industrial)
    • Industrial stormwater (more information below)

    Some wastewater treatment facilities must submit an annual stormwater report. Check your wastewater discharge permit for a stormwater chapter that includes requirements for industrial stormwater. Part of those requirements may include filling out an industrial stormwater annual report. Along with publishing this reminder in On Point, the MPCA is emailing a notice to facilities with this requirement.

    If you need to submit a report, you can download and use the following forms:

    Please send your completed annual report via the U.S. Postal Service to: 

    WQ Submittal Center

    Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

    520 Lafayette Road

    St. Paul, Minnesota 55155-4194

    The due date for stormwater reports varies by facility and can be found in permits.

    If you have questions about any annual reports, please check your permit or contact your compliance officer.

    Take 2 on Annual Compliance Summary: Delivery of 'Big Report' drafts still in the works

    NPDES/SDS permit holders should be receiving the draft version of the Annual Compliance Summary Report, also known as the “Big Report.” Due to issues with the MPCA’s database system, not all draft reports were emailed to permit holders in December, so the agency will continue mailing them through Jan. 26. The drafts are going to the authorized signers for eDMRs. If you do not receive a draft by Jan. 29, please contact the MPCA for a draft via an email to npdes.pca@state.mn.us.

    The system glitch also means some permit holders may receive multiple copies by email. They should all contain the same data so you can delete the duplicates.

    The drafts provide permit holders the opportunity to review the information in the MPCA’s database regarding their NPDES/SDS permit for Oct. 1, 2016 through Sept. 30, 2017.  If prompt corrections are sent to MPCA after receipt of the draft version, the updates should be reflected in the final version of the Big Report that is sent to the authorized signer(s) and the responsible official for the facility. The MPCA plans to send the final version in spring 2018.

    To ensure delivery of the Annual Compliance Summary Report and avoid diversion to the junk mail folder, please add npdes.pca@state.mn.us to your address book now.

    2018 training calendar now up for wastewater operators

    The 2018 MPCA Wastewater Operator Training Calendar and registration form is now available on the MPCA Wastewater Training website: www.pca.state.mn.us/water/training-wastewater-operators.

    March 19-21: MPCA to hold annual Collection System Conference

    The MPCA will hold the 44th annual Collection System Conference March 19-21 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 is available on the MPCA wastewater training webpage. 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.

    March 21-23: MPCA to hold Wastewater Operations Conference

    The MPCA will hold the 81st annual Wastewater Operations Conference March 21-23 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 plants and upgrades, aging infrastructure and asset management, flooding challenges and response, emerging issues, facility optimization, industrial wastewater and pretreatment, treatment approaches for small wastewater utilities, stabilization ponds, safety, new large subsurface treatment system policies and procedures, and much more. The conference brochure and registration packet is available on the MPCA wastewater training webpage. 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.

    Agency reviewing compliance for 2017 wastewater operations awards

    The MPCA is reviewing the compliance status of all eligible wastewater facilities to determine Wastewater Facility Operations Award recipients for 2017. There is no longer an application form to submit. You will be contacted in February 2018 if your facility has qualified for an award. The awards ceremony will be held during the annual Wastewater Operations Conference March 21-23 at the Marriott Northwest in Brooklyn Park. Please contact your assigned compliance staff, or Kaitlin Jamieson (kaitlin.jamieson@state.mn.us or 651-757-2306) with any questions.

    PFA approves $5.3 million for East Grand Forks project

    The Minnesota Public Facilities Authority (PFA) recently awarded a $5.3 million grant for wastewater system improvements in East Grand Forks. The funding, which was approved by the Minnesota Legislature in the 2017 bonding bill, will enable East Grand Forks to connect its wastewater system with neighboring Grand Forks, N.D., and to decommission its wastewater stabilization ponds. The PFA previously awarded the project a $6.9 million loan.

    Read more on the PFA website.

    Water quality trading: Future trades different under new standards, conditions

    (Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on water quality trading. The first part, in the December 2017 On Point, explained water quality trading and how it’s worked in Minnesota so far. This second part explains how water quality trading in Minnesota will be different under new standards and conditions.)

    To date, Minnesota’s demand for water quality trading credits has been driven by dissolved oxygen and excess nutrient water quality objectives in the wastewater sector. But new standards and conditions will bring changes to water quality trading in Minnesota, as outlined below.

    City of Princeton streambank project as part of water quality trading

    Stormwater trading

    Regulated stormwater sources, such as cities with municipal permits, may also seeking trading because urban best management practices (BMPs) can be much more expensive than farming or other BMPs. Cities may be able to meet TMDL requirements through non-point trades or offsets to reduce sediment, phosphorus or even bacteria. (Photo at right shows a streambank restoration project for wastewater treatment credit.)

    Anti-degradation trading

    Pollutant reduction credits may be used to offset increased pollutant loads resulting from the construction and operation of new or expanded wastewater or stormwater discharges. Minnesota’s antidegradation regulations specifically allow for a “loading offset” as a prudent and feasible alternative to avoid net increases in loading or other cause of degradation (Minn. R. Ch. 7050.028 Subp. 2).

    Impact of River Eutrophication Standards (RES)

    All trading activity must occur upstream of the waterbody of concern in order to achieve water quality objectives. Existing trading relationships that have been developed to address remote water quality concerns may be disrupted if new water quality assessments result in the designation of relevant water quality targets between an upstream buyer and a downstream seller. Impacted relationships may include Lake Pepin’s excess nutrients or the Lower Minnesota River low dissolved oxygen impairments. An example of this situation is the current Minnesota River Basin General Phosphorus permit trading relationship between a buyer in the Redwood River watershed and a seller in the Middle Minnesota River watershed. The longstanding trading relationship is intended to benefit the dissolved oxygen impairment of the Lower Minnesota River. However, the MPCA listed the outlet reach of the Redwood River in 2016 as impaired for excess nutrients. So now the buyer will need to reduce phosphorus loading within the Redwood River watershed, either by reducing effluent loading or through trading or a combination of the two. Because the phosphorus reductions required within the Redwood River watershed are sufficient to satisfy the reductions requirements for the Lower Minnesota River, it is unlikely that the existing trading relationship will continue in the future.


    For more information about water quality trading, contact Marco Graziani at the MPCA at 651-757- 2398 or marco.graziani@state.mn.us.

    In the news and online: Governor seeks $1.5 billion bonding bill