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November 09 2012 15:40

Rare testing opportunity on Minnesota River shows positive results

Contact: Cori Rude-Young, 612-986-1285

St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is releasing results of testing on the Minnesota River that shows significant improvements in pollution levels in the river.

“It’s often difficult to show environmental gains because it can take decades to show significant progress. Therefore, when we have achievements, we need to celebrate them,” MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said. “This happy discovery really emphasizes that environmental advances are long term and the resources dedicated are worth it.”.

For three weeks in August, MPCA staff monitored a 20-mile stretch of the Minnesota River to see if this hot, dry summer caused low levels of dissolved oxygen, which has been a problem under similar conditions in the past. The results pleased MPCA scientists because it shows that dissolved oxygen levels are good and supportive of aquatic life even during stressful environmental conditions, such as low flow and high temperatures.

The testing was important to do because low dissolved oxygen can cause problems for aquatic life when the river is at low flow and the water temperature is higher than normal. These results also point to the effectiveness of a 2004 MPCA plan and a phosphorus reduction permit that affected wastewater treatment plants along the Minnesota River and its tributaries.

According to Glenn Skuta, MPCA water monitoring manager, “During the past several years, wastewater treatment plants along the affected stretch of the river implemented several phosphorus-reduction strategies that are working based on the good dissolved oxygen levels we found in this survey. There were no violations of the dissolved oxygen water quality standard.”

Some of these strategies include:

  • stabilization ponds avoiding discharge from June through September,
  • upgraded wastewater treatment for 12 communities with inadequate sewage treatment, and 
  • Improved phosphorus removal in wastewater treatment that surpassed permitted goals for wastewater phosphorus loading to the basin ahead of schedule.

The permit also established a phosphorus trading program to allow new and existing permitted facilities flexibility in how they comply with wastewater effluent limits.

Skuta is pleased with their efforts: “The wastewater treatment plants covered by the permit collectively achieved the 2015 goal well in advance of the deadline. This is an excellent example of local government collaborating with industrial dischargers to realize an environmental outcome — improved water quality. The cities, businesses and Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, which have all improved their wastewater treatment, deserve credit for their good work in protecting the river.”  

Additionally, work needs to continue on cleaning up things, such as sediment and bacteria in the river at higher flows. This includes agricultural soil and water conservation practices and urban stormwater management.