On Point for September: Looking to repeat success for MN River

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On Point - News and updates for wastewater discharge permit holders

September 2019

Reducing phosphorus in the Minnesota River: Can past success be repeated?

Efforts of 40 WWTFs lead to 60-70% decrease in phosphorus discharges

Minnesota River at St. Peter, MN

Recent MPCA reports highlight current water quality problems in the Minnesota River Basin. The river and its tributaries suffer from excess sediment, bacteria, and nutrients, but these are not new issues. The water quality in the Minnesota River Basin has been a concern for many years. 

In the late 1980s, low dissolved oxygen levels in the lower Minnesota River caused severe fish kills. Low dissolved oxygen was a problem in the river well into the 2000s. To address the low dissolved oxygen problem, the MPCA restricted the discharges of phosphorus for the largest municipal and industrial wastewater facilities in the basin. The facilities then worked to meet the new limits, through process changes, infrastructure upgrades and water quality trading.

Since 2005, the efforts of 40 wastewater facilities have led to a 60% to 70% reduction in the phosphorus discharged by permitted wastewater plants in the Minnesota River Basin!

Despite the impressive progress that’s been made, the MPCA’s more recent water quality monitoring indicates that Minnesota still has a long way to go. Phosphorus is still a major problem in the river, primarily due to sediment. Phosphorus binds to sediment, so more sediment means more phosphorus. The MPCA’s research shows sediment levels in the river needs to decrease by 50% to achieve healthy water quality. Erosion of fields, ravines, bluffs and streambanks – caused by more severe storms, increased artificial drainage, fewer wetlands to store water on the land, and lack of perennial vegetation – sends sediment into the water.

Widespread implementation of conservation practices – such as conservation tillage, restoring wetlands, planting cover crops or perennial crops, and using best practices for applying commercial fertilizer and manure – will be necessary to achieve water quality goals in the river basin. Many of the strategies that the MPCA recommends for improving water quality focus on agriculture because it’s the dominant land use in the basin. Eighty percent of the basin’s 10 million acres are devoted to row crops.

Achieving appropriate phosphorus levels in the Minnesota River will also require tighter discharge limits for some wastewater treatment plants. However, at least 70% of the treatment facilities in the basin can meet future permit requirements now.  

See the full story on the MPCA website.

In the works: Changes to rules on designating uses for some lakes and streams

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is proposing to change its use designation rules for some Class 2 (aquatic life and recreation) and Class 7 (limited value) waters. The agency has published the proposed rule amendments in the Sept. 23 State Register. It will also hold a public information meeting about the proposed changes to Minnesota Rule 7050 on Oct. 29 (details below). The MPCA will accept comments on the proposed changes through 4:30 p.m. Nov. 7.

The overall purpose of the rule amendments is to update the use designations for 124 stream reaches and four lakes across Minnesota. See the draft list in the in the Amendments to Aquatic Life (Class 2) Use Designations document. The “designated use” is a component of water quality standards that defines how the water is used.

The beneficial uses for Class 2 waters are designated as aquatic life and recreation, such as fish and swimming. Class 7 waters are designated as Limited Resource Value Waters, usually low-flow ditches and streams where the goals of fishable and swimmable are likely not achievable.

Under the federal Clean Water Act and Minnesota rules, the state assigns, or designates, a number of possible beneficial uses, such as drinking water or recreation, to lakes and streams. Those uses then determine the physical and chemical criteria that the waters must meet. For example, if a lake is designated as Class 2 – aquatic life and recreation – then it must meet certain criteria to be fishable and swimmable.

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 rules. 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 – determining whether lakes and streams meet water quality standards
  • National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for wastewater and stormwater discharges
  • Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies to bring impaired waters back to standards and protect waters in healthy conditions

The proposed rules focus on assigning appropriate use designations to individual waterbodies. They do not change numeric or narrative water quality standards. The proposed rules make updates and corrections to Class 2 and Class 7 beneficial use designations or classifications for streams and lakes. These updates fall into two groups:

  1. Reviewing streams and lakes for appropriate classification as cold or warm water habitats.
  2. Reviewing streams under the Tiered Aquatic Life Use (TALU) framework. The TALU rules are a framework for classifying streams based on the aquatic life each supports or has the potential to support, and builds upon existing water quality standards.

The MPCA will hold a public information meeting on the proposed changes on Oct. 29, from 3-5:30 p.m. at its St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road North, and by WebEx.

For more information, including how to access the Web Ex and how to submit comments, visit the Amendments to Water Quality Standards webpage.

League of MN Cities develops new inflow and infiltration model ordinance

The League of Minnesota Cities recently released a new model ordinance to help cities keep clean water out of their sanitary sewer systems. Download the new ordinance on the League’s website.

Minnesota cities spend a great deal of money treating wastewater. Increased costs result when clean stormwater enters the sanitary sewer system through roof drains, foundation drains, defective sewer service laterals, or sump pump systems. Excess clean stormwater can also overload the sanitary sewer system during periods of heavy rainfall, causing basement flooding or bypassing of raw wastewater to local streams and lakes.

The new Inflow and Infiltration Model Ordinance was designed to help cities address this problem. The ordinance prohibits the discharge of clean water into the sanitary sewer system from sump pump connections, defective plumbing, and defective sewer service laterals.

The ordinance also allows cities to develop an inspection program (citywide or at point of sale only), require corrections by property owners, and assess penalties for violations. Upon compliance, the city issues a certificate of compliance to the property owner.

eDMR tip: Beware of possible incorrect values in calculator tool

Please be aware that the MPCA’s calculator tool is possibly auto-populating incorrect effluent phosphorus 12 Month Moving Average and phosphorus 12 Month Moving Total values. Therefore, you should:

  • Double check the values calculated, and if they are incorrect, manually calculate those values. For help with calculations, please go to: www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/wq-wwprm3-51.pdf.
  • Review and amend any previously submitted data that is incorrect with the aforementioned effluent limit types.
  • Please note that it is important to review any auto-populated data prior to submitting. Auto-populated values can be edited by clicking on the value and re-entering the correct value.

Contact MPCA compliance staff if you have questions.


MPCA appoints new Municipal Division Director

Dana Vanderbosch, MPCA municipal division director (2019)

The MPCA recently appointed Dana Vanderbosch as director of its Municipal Division, which consists of municipal wastewater, sub-surface sewage treatment, and stormwater sections. She succeeds Mark Schmitt who has retired.  

Vanderbosch, in photo at right, has worked for the MPCA for many years in various roles. As the Assistant Division Director for the Environmental Analysis and Outcomes (EAO) and Watershed divisions, she provided strategic and operational direction, managed multi-million-dollar budgets, and advised on program and policy matters related to watersheds, feedlots, and surface water and air monitoring programs. She has been instrumental in aligning watershed activities with water monitoring activities for more efficient program operations.  

Vanderbosch has wide-ranging experience in water programs, including environmental review, permitting, supporting regulatory and water standards activities, and compliance.

Her leadership experience includes serving as a manager in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Parks and Trails program. While at DNR, Vanderbosch managed the $30 million state park, trail acquisition and construction program, which included wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. She prioritized infrastructure and acquisitions investments and served on DNR’s Facilities and Bonding Committee. Her considerable experience and leadership will serve the Municipal Division and the MPCA well.

She holds a B.S. in Ecology and an M.S. in Water Resources Science from the University of Minnesota.

Have an idea for next year’s wastewater conferences? Come to the planning meeting

The planning meeting for the 2020 Annual Collection System and Wastewater Conferences will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 10 at the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest in Brooklyn Park. The 46th Annual Collection System Operators Conference and 83rd Annual Wastewater Operations Conference are set for March 23-27, 2020. Contact Annaliza Heesch at annaliza.heesch@state.mn.us or 651-757-2591 if you would like to be part of the planning committee or for more information. Planning members attend the planning meeting, develop session topics and scope, and coordinate speakers for their sessions. Lunch is included. The MPCA looks forward to seeing you there.

Upcoming MPCA seminars for operator training

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

  • Stabilization Pond, Oct. 1-3, Arrowwood Lodge, Baxter. This seminar covers pond design, operation and maintenance, discharge procedures and calculations, pump calibration, dissolved oxygen and pH meter demonstrations, troubleshooting, and a field trip. Exam session is Oct. 3 at 12:45 p.m. (16 contact hours)
  • Type IV Refresher, Oct. 22-23, Holiday Inn and Suites, Austin. This will be the last opportunity for renewal hours until March 2020. (9 credit hours)
  • Pump Workshop, Oct. 24, Minnesota Pump Works, Menahga. The workshop will include pump theory, maintenance, troubleshooting, and hands-on training. (6 credit hours)
  • Collection Systems Basic, Nov. 19-21, Jimmy’s Conference Center, Vadnais Heights. Exam session is Nov. 21 at 12:45 p.m. (16 credit hours)

For seminar registration forms and exam applications, visit the MPCA website. Please contact Annaliza Heesch at annaliza.heesch@state.mn.us or 651-757-2591 if you have any questions.

In the news and online: Long list for public works projects