Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative can increase discharges into County Ditch 45, but not into April

The Renville County Drainage Authority will allow the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative to increase its daily discharges into County Ditch 45 during the processing campaign, but it rejected a request to extend the discharge period into April after hearing landowner concerns.

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This has been a tough year for the sugar beet harvest in west central Minnesota with wet, cold conditions resulting in a crop with less tonnage and less sugar. Crews were busy unloading beets Friday at the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative's piling station just outside of Clara City. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune

OLIVIA — The Renville County Drainage Authority is willing to allow the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative to discharge a greater volume of water into County Ditch 45 during its beet processing campaign.

But the authority, which is composed of the Renville County Board of Commissioners, will not allow the cooperative to extend the discharge period into April. The commissioners voted 3-2 at a virtual public hearing Sept. 22 to defeat a motion that would have allowed the discharge to extend into April.

The commissioners continued the hearing to Oct. 27, at which time they will formally act on the cooperative’s petition for increasing its discharge.

Landowners on the system expressed concerns about the cooperative’s request to extend the allowed discharge period.


Under a 2004 permit, the cooperative is allowed to discharge up to 2.3 million gallons a day from Sept. 1 until the end of March. The cooperative is seeking to increase the daily maximum allowed to 3.6 million gallons, and to extend the discharge period to the end of April, or when the water temperature in the waterway reaches 13 degrees Celsius. The temperature is usually reached anywhere from the first to third week of April, based on recent monitoring.

Shaun Luker, a civil engineer with Bolton & Menk , of Sleepy Eye, told the drainage authority that the requested increase in daily discharge and lengthened discharge period would not adversely affect downstream landowners.

“There will be an increase, but it’s still well within the capacity of the system to handle it,” Luker said. He performed his analysis at the request of the drainage authority.

He said the increase in the daily discharge limit is roughly the equivalent of adding the flow from a 12- to 15-inch tile line to the system.

An increase in the allowed discharges is very important to the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, Sagar Sunkavalli, its manager of environmental affairs, told the drainage authority. It will help the cooperative to efficiently manage wastewater by maximizing its ability to treat it, he explained.

The requested permit would continue the contingencies now in place to prevent the flooding of downstream fields. The cooperative is required to immediately stop its discharges into the system when the level of flow reaches the top of a downstream culvert. It must also stop its discharges when ice jams the waterway.

Landowners said they did not object to the increase in the allowed daily discharges, but were concerned about extending the discharge period into April when crops are planted. They fear that the increased flows in April could impair the efficiency of subsurface drainage systems and adversely affect crop establishment.

Phil Haen, one of the landowners, pointed out that the outlet of his newly improved tile system was recently under one or two inches of water in the ditch channel. The outlet would likely be underwater in April if the cooperative’s discharge is allowed, he said.


“I don't know how my surface and subsurface system is going to work if it’s possibly pushing water into CD 45,” he told the drainage authority.

Other landowners also expressed concerns that increased flows could allow the cooperative’s discharges to flood fields and harm vegetation in the system with wastewater.

Sunkavalli said the cooperative discharges only treated water. It meets stringent and rigorous water quality standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Ongoing monitoring shows that the treated discharge has not adversely affected aquatic life.

Sunkavalli emphasized that, as is the case now, the cooperative would immediately stop its discharges if there were any risk of flooding fields.

“Those contingencies are not changing by any means,” he said of the requirements that trigger a stop to discharges.

The cooperative’s environmental manager also pointed out that the cooperative's discharges to the system help remove ice from the system earlier than is the case in other waterways. The early ice-out helps improve drainage from farm fields. He said the cooperative remains committed to working with landowners to address any issues with ice jams or high flows.

Commissioner and drainage authority member Rick Schmidt said he shared the concerns from landowners about the potential for reduced drainage capacity if the cooperative’s discharges continue in April. He offered a motion to approve the daily increases as requested, but to reject the extension into April.

Commissioner and drainage authority member Randy Kramer said the cooperative has proven itself to be a good neighbor. He pointed to the engineering reports showing the system could handle the added flow without adversely affecting downstream landowners, provided the contingencies remain in place. He offered a motion to allow the April discharges, but it was rejected by the 3-2 vote.


By not allowing the April discharges, the authority is essentially saying there is enough water in the system and no more will be allowed, Kramer said. He asked if the authority is going to take that approach when landowners petition to add outlets in other systems.

“That’s the same thing we’re saying here,” he said.

The commissioners determined that the analysis of benefits for the system needs to be revised. Consequently, they decided to continue the hearing to Oct. 27.

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