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Uniform phosphorus rule is in the making

WILLMAR -- A governor's signature is still needed, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is ready to adopt a rule that will require all new and expanded wastewater treatment plants to limit their discharge of phosphorus to no more than 1 mil...

WILLMAR -- A governor's signature is still needed, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is ready to adopt a rule that will require all new and expanded wastewater treatment plants to limit their discharge of phosphorus to no more than 1 milligram per liter of water.

The uniform standard would replace the current system that sets a wide range of restrictions, depending on where a wastewater treatment facility discharges its effluent. If the discharge is into a lake or water body considered impaired, then it is likely to be required to meet the standard of 1 milligram per liter, according to Dennis Wasley, a scientist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in St. Paul.

In most other cases, the wastewater treatment plant does not need to meet the standard.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities opposes the uniform 1 mg/L standard, and is preparing a lawsuit to challenge it. Joe Sullivan, an attorney with the coalition, calls the standard "arbitrary'' and not based on science.

If the city of Moorhead were to limit its phosphorus discharge to the 1 mg/L limit, "it would not do one twit of good for the Red River,'' said John Sundvor of the coalition.

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Sullivan and Sundvor charge that communities in the state will spend a lot of money to meet the standard with little good to show for it.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities puts the cost to Minnesota communities of meeting the standard at $130 million, according to Sullivan.

He said the coalition wants to see the current "effects-based'' standard kept in place.

The MPCA disputes the contention that the uniform standard will not improve water quality. Wasley said phosphorus reductions will greatly benefit the state's waters. The improvements will be more noticeable in lakes and smaller water bodies, he said.

Phosphorus feeds algae blooms, and that directly affects everything from recreational opportunities to fish populations as large algae blooms can lead to fish kills.

The uniform standard would also include three different "off-ramps'' or exclusions for communities. The exemptions would include situations where the environmental costs are greater than the gains, Wasley said.

Sundvor said 15 communities have donated funds to mount a legal challenge to the rule. The lawsuit could be filed within a month, but he said discussions between the coalition and MPCA could bring about a resolution.

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