On Point for March 2019: Comments requested on proposed changes to standards

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On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

March 2019

Comments wanted: MPCA looking at changes in standards to ease regulatory hurdles while still protecting waters

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is working to revise outdated water quality standards that could affect more than 150 wastewater treatment facilities. The challenge is to update the standards to ease regulatory hurdles while still protecting the state’s water resources.

What are the standards?

Class 3 and 4 water quality standards address industrial uses, irrigation, livestock and wildlife. The standards generally concern salty parameters:

  • Sulfate
  • Chloride
  • Bicarbonate
  • Total dissolved salts
  • Boron
  • Hardness
  • Specific conductance (a measure of how water conducts electrical current)

What are the issues?

Industrial use of water

Minnesota first adopted Class 3 and 4 water quality standards in 1967, and the standards need updating to reflect modern science.

The standards are complex to implement because salty parameters in lakes, streams and groundwater vary widely with location, natural features, discharges, runoff and other factors.

At the same time, industries and irrigators need varying conditions of water for their uses. For example, an industry using high-pressure boilers needs water with no hardness at all while other industrial uses can tolerate some salty parameters.

Given the range of salty parameters and water needs across the state, the MPCA has been studying changes to the Class 3 and 4 standards since 2016, including a request for comments. Now the agency is again requesting comments, this time on the following proposed changes.

What are the proposed changes?

Class 3: Industrial water consumption water quality standards

  • Replace numeric standards with single narrative standard
  • Use a “narrative translator” process to protect water quality for industrial consumers
  • Consolidate multiple sub-classes into a single general class.

Class 4A: Irrigation water quality standards

  • Replace numeric standards with single narrative standard
  • Use a “narrative translator” process to protect water quality for irrigators based on site-specific factors such as crops, soil type, seasonality, soil drainage, and local water quality

Class 4B: Livestock and wildlife water quality standards

  • Revise salinity standard based on current science and common water usage for livestock and wildlife
  • Add a sulfate and nitrate standard that will protect livestock and wildlife

Who is affected?

More than 150 municipal wastewater treatment plants and some industrial plants that discharge treated wastewater could face unaffordable costs if the current standard is applied.

What are the concerns?

Many organizations and individuals have submitted comments to the MPCA on revising these standards. Some favor revisions, while others fear that changes will worsen Minnesota’s water quality and harm drinking water, recreational uses, or aquatic life and plants. In the draft technical document, the agency proposes a robust implementation process to ensure water quality is protected.

How to get involved?

Provide comment on the draft technical document to:

Katie Izzo


520 Lafayette Road North

St. Paul, MN, 55155-4194

She is also available by phone at 651-757-2595 or 800-657-3864 to answer questions.

Comments are due by 4:30 p.m. on April 22.

Other resources online:

What is the timeline?

The MPCA is in the initial phase of revising the Class 3 and 4 water quality standards. No final decisions have been made about the rule revisions. Also note that these proposed changes do not apply to the Class 4A wild rice sulfate standard.

After it receives public comments, the MPCA will conduct a formal peer-review process on the science underlying the proposal. The agency will then develop the rulemaking proposal and documents, incorporating public and peer-review comments, and begin the formal notice, comment, and hearing process. The agency anticipates that the rule revisions will be finalized in 2020.

Who makes the final decision?

The revisions must receive approval from both a Minnesota administrative law judge and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be adopted into Minnesota rule.

Collection System Conference March 25-27

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 are 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 26: Type V Refresher seminar

The Type V (Spray Irrigation) Refresher will be held on March 26, 2019 at the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest (7025 Northland Drive, Brooklyn Park, Minn.) This course will be offered during the Collection System Annual Conference, but a separate registration will be required and is on the MPCA Wastewater Training webpage. Six Type V or wastewater contact hours will be offered for the course.

Wastewater Operations Conference March 27-29

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 open house

Other topics include new plants 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 are 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.

Congratulations to facilities with exceptional compliance!

The MPCA is pleased to announced that 332 wastewater treatment facilities have qualified for Excellence in Operations awards by maintaining a perfect record of compliance from Oct. 1, 2017 through Sept. 30, 2018. To be eligible, facilities were required to submit all monitoring reports to the MPCA correctly and on time, demonstrate consistent compliance through monitoring or surveys, and employ staff certified by the MPCA in wastewater operations.

Facility representatives may pick up their certificates at the awards open house March 27 from 2-4 p.m. at the 2019 Wastewater Operations Conference at the Marriott Minneapolis Northwest in Brooklyn Park. Also in attendance will be Peter Tester, the new MPCA deputy commissioner. The MPCA encourages facility staff to stop by, meet the deputy commissioner, and socialize with their peers.

Face to face: Visit the MPCA booth at Wastewater Operations Conference

Have a question about your permit? Having trouble with eDMRs? Then be sure to stop at the "Ask MPCA" booth March 26 during the Collection System Conference and all three days of the 82nd annual Wastewater Operations Conference March 27-29. Regional staff and data managers will be on hand to answer your questions. Staff will be available to answer questions on the following topics:

  • Industrial byproducts
  • Trading
  • Pond management
  • Mechanical facility management
  • Biosolids
  • Variances and chlorides
  • River Eutrophication Standards
  • Toxics, mercury and priority pollutants
  • Pretreatment
  • Data management – Discharge Monitoring Reports and WQ Submittals
  • Biological nutrient removal
  • Lab and analytical

The MPCA will hold a “meet and greet” during the vendor show March 27 with staff from each regional office, the industrial division and data management available to ask questions. Be sure to stop by!

Upcoming training seminars: Biosolids and stabilization ponds

The Type IV (Biosolids) Basic Course will be held April 16-18 at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Owatonna. This course, and 6 months of experience, is a prerequisite to take the Type IV exam. Topics covered include:

  • Site selection
  • Application rates
  • Nitrogen management
  • Soil suitability
  • Hands-on experience using the Web Soil Survey

Exams will be offered on the final day.

The Stabilization Pond Seminar will be held on May 7-9 at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Owatonna.

This seminar covers:

  • Pond design
  • Theory and concepts
  • Operation and maintenance
  • Discharge procedures and calculation
  • Practice problems
  • How to calibrate pumps
  • Best practices and much more

Exams will be offered on the last day.

Seminar registration forms and exam applications can be found on the MPCA website. Please contact Annaliza Heesch at 651-757-2591 or annaliza.heesch@state.mn.us if you have any questions.

On its way: Final Annual Compliance Summary

Starting this week, the MPCA will begin emailing the final version of the Annual Compliance Summary for wastewater discharge permits to all online subscribers, responsible officials and owners of NPDES/SDS permit holders. This report is a summary of data submitted to the MPCA between October 2017 and September 2018. Last December online subscribers at each facility had the opportunity to review, correct or update the data. The final report should reflect updates in respect to DMR amendments, submittal dates and contact updates. The agency appreciates everyone’s assistance in maintaining data quality.

If you have not received the report by the end of March and believe you should have, first check with your online subscriber and your junk email box. If no MPCA email with the report as an attachment, contact npdes.pca@state.mn.us to request a copy of your final report.

eDMR help available online

If looking for help with eDMRs, consult your MPCA compliance officer or these online resources:


Help wanted: MPCA hiring Wastewater Training Specialist

The MPCA Certification and Training Unit is hiring a Wastewater Training Specialist at its St. Paul office. This position coordinates, develops, and implements certification training and continuing education for wastewater treatment facility and collection system operators. This position provides training to enhance regulatory compliance and operational technical assistance for agency-permitted wastewater treatment and collection facilities. Visit the job posting (ID 31144), or conduct a job search using the term “Wastewater Training Specialist” at this website: https://mn.gov/mmb/careers/search-for-jobs/. Applications will be accepted through April 3, 2019.

Prepare for spring, also known as flood season

Impact of heavy rains and flooding on wastewater systems

Spring is known as flood season for many wastewater treatment facilities, and based on current conditions the predicted spring flood looks significant. Make sure you are prepared by having spare pumps, generators, sand bags, and other equipment on hand, along with spare sample bottles in case of an unplanned release. Every wastewater permit issued by the MPCA includes requirements to maintain appropriate backup equipment and to collect representative samples of an unplanned release of wastewater. Based on Minnesota’s spring flood outlook, current conditions and forecast trends through March and April, the risk for flooding is above to well above the normal flood risk. 


Many wastewater facilities receive sample bottles from contract laboratories which in turn are shipped back to the lab for analysis. Wastewater facilities should make sure they have enough spare sample bottles on hand, which may require contacting the lab to make arrangements. Please note that some sample bottles and/or preservatives may have expiration dates. So check bottle expiration dates at least twice per year and ask the lab how to store the bottles to maximize their use time.

Facilities should be prepared to analyze a release minimally for total suspended solids and fecal coliform. Consult your facility’s specific permit for additional sampling requirements.

If you must bypass/release

If a bypass or release is the only alternative, remember that you are obligated to:

  • Immediately contact the Minnesota Duty Officer at 800-422-0798 or 651-649-5451. If you need assistance or advice from the MPCA, you can inform the Minnesota Duty Officer or contact the MPCA directly. WWTF staff is often required to perform many tasks upon discovery of a release so it may be useful to designate a person to make a preliminary Duty Officer notification for the bypass/release. A final notification, with supplemental information, could then be made to the Duty Officer once all bypass/release details are obtained.
  • Discontinue the bypass/release as soon as possible. If a bypass/release is expected to last for more than a day or two, contact your MPCA representative to keep them informed of your status and to discuss sampling requirements.
  • Recover all substances and materials. In a flood situation this may not be possible, but a reasonable effort should be made to recover substances and materials to minimize human health and environmental impacts.
  • Collect representative sample(s) of the bypass/release. WWTFs should have sampling kits available to perform sampling requirements.

Resources on flooding preparation and response

Wastewater discharge sign 2017

In the news and online: Minnesota River bill withdrawn, Morris working on salty problem