Environmental groups wants MPCA to clean up straight-pipe septicsMinnesota’s legal environ-mental watchdog, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, petitioned federal authorities on October 5 to order the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to do a better job issuing permits required by the federal Clean Water Act.
Minnesota’s legal environ-mental watchdog, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, petitioned federal authorities on October 5 to order the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to do a better job issuing permits required by the federal Clean Water Act.
The petition to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson states that the Pollution Control Agency has failed to take action against straight-pipe septic systems, which dump raw sewage directly into Minnesota’s rivers and lakes.
The agency also has repeatedly issued weaker permits than required by federal law to governments and businesses discharging phosphorus into rivers and lakes, resulting in excessive algae and slime growth, the petition states.
“We are asking EPA to exercise its oversight duties because the state has not been responsive to our repeated attempts to address these causes of water pollution on its own,” said MCEA Water Quality Director Kris Sigford. “Essentially, we are asking the referees to throw the flag on the Pollution Control Agency.”
mncenter.org/Issues/Water/ProtectingandRestoringMinnesotasWaters/tabid/133/Default.aspx, then click on petition in right column) raises concerns about the state’s failure to deal with straight-pipe septics.
Straight pipes have been illegal under both state and federal law for decades and are considered “imminent threats to public health or safety.” According to the state’s own estimates, there are at least 55,000 straight-pipe systems dumping directly into Minnesota waters. At the rate the agency is dealing with these systems, it will take more than 1,000 years to finish the task.
“Taking a millennium to conquer an immediate health threat seems a tad inefficient,” Sigford said. “We want to see these sources cleaned up now.”
The petition also takes the Pollution Control Agency to task for not implementing federal laws that require permitted discharges from wastewater treatment plants to remove phosphorus from treated sewage to a level to protect the immediate and downstream receiving waters from violating water quality standards.
Those discharges, particularly from municipal sewage treatment plants, are key sources of phosphorus in rivers and lakes. Excess phosphorus causes algae blooms, including toxic blue-green cyanobacteria, which has been responsible for dog deaths in recent summers. Phosphorus is the main cause of Minnesota’s 428 nutrient-impaired lakes and rivers.
The agency has the authority and the legal obligation to require more stringent phosphorus controls on treatment plants but has failed to do so, according to the petition.
Petitioners are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to require the Pollution Control Agency to take corrective actions to fix the problem, or it should take away the agency’s authority to issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System water permits, the cornerstone of the Clean Water Act, the petition states.
Specific problems with phosphorus permits detailed in MCEA’s petition include:
•The Pollution Control Agency has failed to establish water-quality based discharge limits for phosphorus.
•The agency issues permits without first determining whether a discharge will cause or contribute to an existing pollution problem in the water.
•The agency has authorized a pollutant trading scheme that violates the Clean Water Act and does not improve water quality.
The petition and exhibits provide considerable detail about the extent of these problems. The illegal straight pipes are repeatedly demonstrated to be major causes of bacterial pollution, making streams and lakes unsafe for swimming. (Minnesota has listed 193 waters with unsafe levels of bacterial contamination.) Phosphorus is discharged by nearly 500 permit holders to the Lake Pepin watershed, a key factor in Lake Pepin’s serious phosphorus impairment. The state’s permitting practices allow even more phosphorus to be added while Lake Pepin awaits a clean-up plan.
The result, MCEA wrote in the petition is “continued issuance of permits that are contributing to worsening water quality conditions. This is exactly what the Clean Water Act and this regulation were intended to prevent.”
If the EPA acts on the petition, the Pollution Control Agency would have 90 days to correct its shortcomings. If the agency failed to do so, the EPA would be required to take back the authority from the agency and issue the permits itself through the EPA’s Chicago regional office.
The Sierra Club and Friends of the Mississippi River endorse MCEA’s petition.
For more than 30 years, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy has been the legal and scientific voice protecting and defending Minnesota’s environment. As a statewide environmental advocacy group, they work in the courts, the Legislature and state agencies to develop and implement environmental change. Their website is www.mncenter.org.