The MPCA recently issued new discharge permits to the wastewater treatment plants in Moorhead, Thief River Falls, Breckenridge, Warroad, and Roseau. The permits reflect an innovative approach, allowing for collaboration and flexibility with stakeholder groups in the Red River Basin that are striving to reduce phosphorus in the Red River and in Lake Winnipeg in Canada. Phosphorous pollution carried to Lake Winnipeg via the Red River is fueling massive algae blooms in the lake — so large they can be seen from space.
Making meaningful reductions in phosphorous levels and achieving water quality goals in the Red River will require changes by regulated sources, such as wastewater treatment plants, and reductions from unregulated sources, such as runoff from farm fields. The Red River Basin Commission (RRBC), a not-for-profit organization, has a 40-year history of bringing cooperative approaches to water management within the basin and finding solutions to crossboundary issues.
The RRBC is leading development of a Red River Basin management plan to reduce phosphorous in the Red River using goal-setting and collaboration among regulated and unregulated stakeholders. The aim is to create more meaningful impacts on water quality at less cost and with broader-based involvement. The recently issued wastewater permits provide the five cities with time and flexibility to partner in this effort, with the management plan informing how they will comply with their permit requirements. “All of our diverse stakeholders are concerned about water quality,” says Ted Preister, RRBC Executive Director. “But actions taken by individual stakeholder groups alone is not enough to meet our water quality challenges. Combined they can have a measurable impact.”
MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler said the agency supports this approach. “I commend these five Cities and the RRBC for stepping up and leading this collective effort to work beyond the normal regulated and unregulated implementation silos and seek out innovative and cost effective solutions to achieving our water quality goals within the Red River Basin and for Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. Their commitment to collaboration will be a model for future ag/urban partnerships.”
The Red River Basin management plan will identify regulated and unregulated sources of phosphorus, estimate or calculate known phosphorus loads from each source, and then allocate reductions for each. The plan seeks to reduce phosphorus in the Red River from Minnesota sources by 700 metric tons, a goal set by the International Red River Board. The management plan will also use existing information from MPCA watershed restoration and protection strategies and the One Watershed One Plan planning process by watershed districts and soil and water conservation districts.
Planning and implementation work will include the various stakeholders. Phosphorus reduction work will be supported by the Clean Water Fund and could include conservation projects on farmland, water quality trading in permits, and wastewater treatment plant optimization or upgrades.
“This new approach involved coordination and development of a permit schedule across multiple cities and with the RRBC,” says Nicole Blasing, MPCA Municipal Division manager. “By working together and collectively identifying phosphorous load allocations for permitted facilities and best management practices for unregulated sources, we can begin to achieve our long-term goals of significantly reducing phosphorous loading to the Red River and, ultimately, make a real difference in the water quality in Lake Winnipeg.”
Photo courtesy of NextGen Environmental Research