On Point for October 2018: Rule change open for comment, city solves 'rags' problem

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On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

October 2018

Open for comment: Rules on beneficial uses

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is requesting comment on amendments to Minnesota Rules chapter 7050 which establish designated uses for rivers, streams, and lakes. The request for comments was published in the Sept. 24 State Register, and the public comment period is open through 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 8.

The notice of request for comments in on the MPCA Public Notice Webpage (scroll down to the Sept. 24 date). Information about the MPCA’s proposed amendments is available on the rulemaking webpage.

What the rule amendments are about:

The proposed amendments affect Class 2 (Aquatic Life) and Class 7 (Limited Resource Value Waters) designations. Minnesota’s surface waters are currently assigned, or designated, a number of possible beneficial uses, such as drinking water, aquatic life, and recreation like fishing and swimming. These designations are the current or expected beneficial uses that should be attained in those waters. Different physical and chemical criteria – for water quality standards – apply depending on the beneficial uses that need to be protected in each water.

The MPCA routinely reviews use designations to ensure that assigned beneficial uses are protective and attainable as defined by the Clean Water Act and Minnesota Rule. As the result of routine monitoring and stakeholder requests, the MPCA has identified waters where the current designated beneficial use does not accurately reflect an attainable use. The designated beneficial use for each water body must be correct and appropriate because the designated use affects many water quality protection and restoration efforts such as assessment, stressor identification, National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permitting, and Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies.

Success story: Western Lake Superior Sanitary District marks 40 years of cleaner water

Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth

The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) in Duluth will hold its 40th anniversary party from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, in conjunction with the Lincoln Park Business District open house event. The WLSSD will offer walking and bus tours of the main campus at 27th Avenue West as well as activities, games, prizes and refreshments.

When the plant opened in 1978, it consolidated 17 facilities into one, treating wastewater from the surrounding area and discharging it according to water quality standards into the Duluth harbor. With great reductions in pollution from other point sources, the St. Louis River rebounded with cleaner water and more desirable fish species.

To quote a recent Duluth New Tribune story: “The cleaner water allowed fish to live, reproduce and thrive in the St. Louis River estuary and harbor for the first time in decades. The walleye population skyrocketed. Sturgeon were reintroduced, as were musky. Catfish, smallmouth bass and northern pike also flourished, along with minnows, amphibians, mayflies and other small creatures that form the backbone of the food chain.”

Read more about the tremendous impact of the WLSSD in the Duluth News Tribune: WLSSD marks 40 years of cleaner St. Louis River.

Related stories:

Big Lake resolving expensive ‘rags’ problem with different pumps, finer screens

In the absence of any legislative- or industry-driven change, “flushable” wipes continue to plague municipal wastewater infrastructure. Municipalities have been forced to find solutions to the damage caused by the fibers of these products, as well as other “rags” that bind up pump impellers, clog screens, and coagulate other fats, oils, and grease into fatbergs.

The city of Big Lake, in Sherburne County, has resolved to take action to address the problem of wipes and rags in the city’s 14 lift stations. The damage to pumps and the resulting repair call-outs were a cost that was simply too great, according to Charlie Gammon, water and sewer foreman for Big Lake. The city is moving away from the more conventional pumps in lift stations and installing vortex pumps that allow only 15% contact with impellers.

Vortex pumps have proven to be able to eliminate much of the need for call-outs and damage to pumps from wipe and rag fibers. But, it hasn’t come cheap. Gammon said that a 5 horsepower vortex pump can run $8,500; and a 15 to 20 horsepower vortex pump can cost as much as $25,000. Given the 14 lift stations in Big Lake’s collection system, this is a major investment to deal with wipes and rags. In the long run, though, Big Lake will save money in call-outs and pump repairs.

“I’m fortunate that Big Lake has given me a lot of flexibility to address these issues,” Gammon said.

The downside to installing vortex pumps is that wipe and rag fibers pass on to the head works where the current screens are not fine enough to catch them all. As part of a phased reconditioning project, Big Lake will be spending about $600,000 to retrofit new finer screens to the head works, which will prevent fibers from passing through and into more sensitive treatment processes.

Gammon recommends that municipalities that have trouble in collection systems from wipes and rags establish good relationships with their pump representatives.

“Pump reps want your business, so they will work with you,” said Gammon. “Demo their pumps. They have loaner pumps that they will let you use for a while to try it. See how they work before you invest. I always keep in mind that the rate payer is who I'm watching out for, and while I know a lot of reps and really like them, I’m not their friend at work. Every dollar counts to the rate payer.”

Coming soon: Draft Annual Compliance Summary

Water quality signatories on NPDES/SDS permits can start to look for an email from the MPCA with their draft Annual Compliance Summary Report in November.

This draft report provides permittees the opportunity to review the information in the MPCA database regarding their NPDES/SDS permit for the period of Oct. 1, 2017 through Sept. 30, 2018. They can then send corrections to the MPCA, which if done promptly, should be reflected in the final version of the report that is sent to both the water quality signatory and the responsible official for the facility in early 2019.

In addition, the updates and corrections help make sure MPCA staff have good data as they review facilities for the Operational Awards presented at the MPCA Annual Wastewater Operation Conference in March 2019 (see story below).

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

And the winners are … agency reviewing compliance to determine 2019 Operational Awards

MPCA staff will soon be completing compliance reviews to determine permittees’ eligibility for the Wastewater Facility Operational Awards, which will cover the 2018 review period. Awards will be granted to permittees who demonstrate exceptional compliance with their permits. Again this year, permittees will not have to apply for the award, which will be presented during the annual Wastewater Operations Conference held in Brooklyn Park in March 2019.

MPCA staff will send a notification email to permittees qualifying for the awards. The agency will also post a list of award recipients on its website.

If planning to attend the 2019 conference and receiving an award, be sure to attend the awards ceremony. The MPCA has established a new format for the ceremony based on feedback from permittees.  The 2019 ceremony will be an open house format where operators can be recognized for their efforts, meet MPCA leadership and staff, and receive certificates of commendation.

MPCA welcomes new wastewater compliance officer

Taylor Olson, MPCA wastewater compliance officer

The MPCA welcomes Taylor Olson as its new compliance and enforcement officer for wastewater discharge permit holders in the southwest region. Olson holds a degree in Environmental Science from Southwest State University, and worked as an environmental specialist for a wind farm construction project before coming to the agency. Originally from Granite Falls, Minn., Olson is quite familiar with the southwest region. He enjoys fishing, hunting and golfing during his free time. Olson looks forward to meeting wastewater professionals in the surrounding community and helping them solve compliance issues. He will work out of the Marshall office and can be reached at 507-476-4274 or taylor.l.olson@state.mn.

eDMR tip: If no chlorine used, then leave boxes blank on sample values


Reporting that no chlorine was used or that chlorine monitoring was not done can be confusing on eDMRs. Leave the boxes blank on the sample values and DMR forms, and add a note to the DMR indicating that you did not chlorinate or that monitoring wasn't done. Do not put "0" (zero) or "NA" in the parameter boxes.

See other tips on the MPCA Discharge Monitoring Reports webpage. For help with eDMRs and other compliance issues, you may also contact your MPCA compliance officer.

State approves fudning for greater Minnesota water projects

The Minnesota Public Facilities Authority (PFA) recently approved the following grants and loans for water and sewer projects:

  • Willmar in Kandiyohi, $1.82 million. The city will replace the fairgrounds, Gorton Avenue and Armory wastewater lift stations. The project is being funded with a 20-year Clean Water Revolving Fund loan.
  • Two Harbors in Lake County, $1.91 million. This project will rehabilitate the city’s main lift station. The $382,930, 20-year loan comes from the Clean Water Revolving Fund. The rest of the funding comes from the Water Infrastructure Fund in the form of a $1.5 million grant.
  • Hoyt Lakes in St. Louis County, $1.40 million. Hoyt Lakes will use these funds to rehabilitate the city’s wastewater treatment plant. It is funded completely by a $1.4 million loan.
  • Erskine in Polk County, $376,294. This project will rehabilitate the city’s sewer collection system and wastewater treatment facility. It is fully funded by a Clean Water Revolving Fund loan.

The PFA helps communities build and maintain infrastructure to protect public health, the environment and promote economic growth. The PFA has financed $4.5 billion in public infrastructure projects throughout Minnesota since its inception in 1987. Read more at the PFA’s website.

Upcoming MPCA seminars for operator training

Below is a list of upcoming MPCA seminars for wastewater operator training.

  • Type IV Refresher, Oct. 23-24, Mankato Country Inn & Suites. This will be the last opportunity for renewal hours until March 2019. (9 credit hours)
  • Collection Systems Basic, Nov. 13-15, Jimmy’s Conference Center, Vadnais Heights. Exam session on Nov. 15 at 12:45 p.m. (16 credit hours)
  • Pump Workshop, Nov. 28, Electric Pump, New Prague. The workshop will include pump theory, maintenance, troubleshooting, and hands-on training. (6 credit hours)
  • Wastewater Treatment Basic, Dec. 11-13, Jimmy’s Conference Center, Vadnais Heights. Exam session on Dec. 13 at 12:45 p.m.  (16 credit hours)

Seminar registration forms and exam applications can be found on the MPCA website (www.pca.state.mn.us/water/wastewater-operators-training-and-certification). Please contact Annaliza Heesch at 651-757-2591 or annaliza.heesch@state.mn.us if you have any questions.

Collection System Conference set for March 25-27, 2019

The MPCA will hold the 45th annual Collection System Conference March 25-27, 2019 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 pipe and manhole rehab, asset management, pumps and lift station tour, SCADA & electrical generation, infiltration and inflow, condition assessment, FOG, cybersecurity, and much more. The conference brochure and registration packet will be available on the MPCA Wastewater Training webpage in January 2019. 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 27-29, 2019

The MPCA will hold the 82nd annual Wastewater Operations Conference March 27-29, 2019 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, new technologies, emergency response, facility optimization, industrial wastewater and pretreatment, emerging issues, activated sludge operations, stabilization ponds, safety, LSTS, and much more. The conference brochure and registration packet will be available on the MPCA Wastewater Training webpage in January 2019.  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.  

Exhibit explores water through stories and science

We Are Water MN

The “We Are Water MN” program runs through Nov. 26 at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, 1954 Buford Ave., St. Paul. We Are Water MN explores the connections between the humanities and water through an exhibit, public events and educator resources. The 2018-‘19 tour will feature the stories of two Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program certified producers and how they manage water quality on their farms.

As part of the exhibit, the Institute on the Environment and the River Life Program will offer:

  • Weekly Wednesday River Walks, through Nov. 14 at noon
  • Phalen Creek Nibi Walk, Oct. 27
  • Seminars and presentations open to the public

Visit the U of M website for full program details. School groups and walk-in visitors are welcome during open hours.

Also nearby

Pair a visit to We Are Water MN and the newly renovated Bell Museum just blocks away. Check out their new digital planetarium, famous wildlife dioramas, and this fall’s visiting exhibit: Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture. Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

In the news and online: Fighting the fat in sewers

Upcoming events, U of M conference, Minnesota River Congress