Groups team up to tackle Alexandria's salty lake situation
A Sept. 3 public meeting will discuss sanitary district's effort to meet chloride limits
Those trying to protect Alexandria area lakes from salt pollution say one thing is true: It’s cheaper and easier to stop using chloride than to try to remove it from sewer plants or lakes.
But trying to stop using chloride poses an immense challenge, one that leaders say will require cooperation from many parties, including the sanitary district, the city water utility, elected officials and the public. And one big part of a possible solution — building a lime softening plant in Alexandria — has not been endorsed by elected officials.
“It’s not that it’s not on the table, it’s just not something we’re moving forward with at this point,” said Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson.
On Thursday, Sept. 3, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will hold an online public meeting at 5 p.m. to talk about how the Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District, or ALASD, could meet state chloride limits. In order to get its operating permit renewed, ALASD has to meet strict chloride limits, and it is requesting a temporary break from having to meet those limits while it figures out a solution.
Bobbie Osterberg, chair of the Board of Public Works for Alexandria Light and Power, urged customers and anyone served by the sewer district to join the meeting.
“That is where the future course is going to be determined,” said Osterberg.
If a lime softening plant is built, the utility she oversees would likely run it. Locals would also likely end up paying more for their water or sewer bills, and may no longer need water softeners in their homes.
The dilemma is that a lime softening plant would only reduce chloride within the Alexandria city limits, since another 4,500 sanitary customers live outside the city and get their drinking water from private wells. They, too, use chloride-based water softeners and would continue to discharge chloride in their wastewater. In fact, a softening plant, which would likely cost well above $10 million, might not even reduce chloride levels enough to help ALASD meet state requirements.
Everyone agrees that chloride is a thorny issue that isn’t limited to Alexandria.
A state study found that 100 or more utilities could be facing chloride limits in their state operating permits, said Elizabeth Wefel, environmental lobbyist for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.
“It’s more on the south and western side of the state, but it is a statewide issue,” she said.
The state chloride level was set at 230 milligrams per liter in 1991, based on the EPA national standard, said Daniel Olson, spokesperson for the state pollution agency.
Chloride didn’t become a known problem until in recent years, when the state began to monitor chloride levels in wastewater and in lakes and streams, he said.
“We found that chloride concentrations are high in wastewater effluent and in some lakes and rivers,” he said.
For instance, Lake Winona, which receives ALASD’s wastewater, has about 400 milligrams of chloride per liter, and chloride levels are also elevated in the downstream lakes of Agnes and Henry.
ALASD officials have said that a system to remove salt after it’s in the water would cost as much as $107 million.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the state needs to balance affordability with cost. But he also said he would do what he could to help the Alexandria lakes area pay for a solution.
“If it’s required, you can count on myself and Sen. (Torrey) Westrom’s support on that,” he said.
ALP doesn’t have to get involved in ALASD’s struggle to meet chloride limits. However, ALP water superintendent Brian Dahl said they will, if necessary, because they share customers.
“They’re still taking care of the city and so are we and it’s a cheaper way of getting rid of chloride through the drinking water side than the waste water side,” he said.
Carlson said the Alexandria area depends on its lakes and that all parties want to collaborate.
“These issues are not going away,” she said. “If we want healthy lakes, we’ll have to keep working on those. But the good news is we’re working on it together.”
If you go
What: Public informational meeting on the Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District's request for a chloride variance.
When: 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3
Where: Online at Webex . The meeting number (access code): 146 815 0914; password: 6QcTuFAc7d3. The public can also join by phone: 415-655-0003; Access code: 146 815 0914.