Minnesota water infrastructure projects garner EPA’s top awards

Pipestone wastewater clarifier

The cities of St. Cloud and Pipestone have received special recognition for water infrastructure projects which the EPA says demonstrate the highest levels of innovation and excellence in capturing nutrients, generating renewable energy, and reducing nutrients and chloride in our lakes, rivers and streams.

The projects were nominated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Minnesota Public Facilities Authority (PFA).

St. Cloud project nets EPA PISCES award

Minnesota and 32 other states nominated projects for the EPA’s PISCES award for “performance and Innovation in creating environmental success” in projects funded through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. Only five received special recognition, including the St. Cloud project in the category of Innovative Financing.

“Nominating the City of St. Cloud for the PISCES award was a no-brainer for the state,” says the MPCA’s Aaron Luckstein, assistant division director for Remediation/Resource Management and Assistance. “Their model for success starts with a change in traditional thinking. Instead of viewing pollutants like nutrients as a waste, they view them as a resource and strive to determine innovative ways to not only use the resource but to maximize the use of it… Their systems thinking approach allows the City to enhance their infrastructure, and protect our land and water, all while keeping user rates low for residents and businesses.”

The St. Cloud Nutrient, Energy and Water Recovery Facility converts wastewater into valuable resources — nutrients (for fertilizer), energy (biogas into electricity) and clean water from wastewater (which is returned to the Mississippi). In 2017 the city applied for and received a combination of federal and state funding totaling $22.3 million (a $16.7 million Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan and $6.6 Point Source Implementation Grant from the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority [PFA]) for a project to enhance performance in all of these areas.

Pipestone chloride treatment project gets AQUARIUS award

The AQUARIUS award nationally recognizes projects funded through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) that focus on sustainability and protection of public health. Twenty-five projects from across the nation were submitted for recognition with five receiving special recognition, including Pipestone in the category of “excellence in problem solving.” Nominated by the Minnesota Department of Health, they received funding to build a centralized water softening treatment system that also removes high levels of naturally occurring radiation.

The $15.4 million project received an $8.4 million DWSRF loan and a $7 million Point Source Implementation Grant from the PFA. Centralized water softening eliminated the need for residents to have water softeners in their homes and reduced the amount of chloride (salt) reaching surface and groundwater from the wastewater treatment facility. According to Chad Kolstad of the MDH DWSRF program, the project is one of the first in Minnesota to address a wastewater issue by treating the drinking water supply. Minnesota surface waters face an increasing threat from chloride pollution that can harm fish and other aquatic animals.

“We knew, even with all the great financing that we got and grants, that it was going to put a financial burden on our residents and so we weighed all those things very carefully and decided to go ahead with this project, knowing that in a 20-year time frame this would be the right decision for the city,” said Pipestone Mayor Myron Koets.