Sewage treatment plants in Minnesota not required to notify downstream neighbors

Releases can threaten downstream drinking water, MPCA says

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The lower portion of a post at the Whiskey Lake public access has a sign that says water in the area may be contaminated by a temporary overflow of a wastewater facility treatment pond.
Jody Hanson / Alexandria Echo Press

BRANDON โ€” When Brandon's sewage treatment plant discharged millions of gallons of mostly treated wastewater that went into wetlands and eventually into Whiskey Lake earlier this month, city officials posted a notice at the public access and hand-delivered flyers to nearby residents.

But they didn't have to. There is no state law requiring wastewater treatment plants to notify people living or working downstream that they have released wastewater before it is properly treated.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is trying to change that. For the second time, it has introduced legislation to require treatment plants to notify those downstream.

The agency says that aging infrastructure leads to hundreds of releases of untreated or partially treated wastewater to Minnesota lakes, streams, public spaces and/or private properties each year, worsened by more frequent and severe rainstorms.

Each year in Minnesota, there are about releases of untreated or partially treated wastewater with around 150 due to wet weather, the agency says.


That affects drinking water downstream.

"The public should be aware of these releases as it can carry bacteria and other harmful substances that pose a threat to human health," the agency says.

The City of Brandon released millions of gallons after its system was overwhelmed by rain and snow melt. Much of what was released was considered "clean water" that first filtered through a series of wetlands before reaching the lake. Still, under ordinary circumstances, all wastewater from the plant is spread on farm fields and is not supposed to reach the lake.

Even though Brandon was not required to notify residents, City Clerk Deb Grommesh said they did so out of courtesy.

"It's the right thing to do," she said.

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994. Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn about the United States, Karen Tolkkinen has covered local news from Idaho to New Hampshire to Alabama and landing at the Echo Press in Alexandria in 2017.
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