Here’s an interesting question – once water ends up in the wastewater plant, what next? Most of the time, the water is cleaned up and discharged back to the environment. Fresh water is taken from the environment for the next use. Each time the water is used, it’s changed… made dirty and cleaned again, heated and then cooled, contaminated and then disinfected. What would happen if the used water is just… reused? What could it be used for? Are there uses for treated wastewater that will provide economic benefit?
That’s what’s happening in Mankato, Minnesota. In a story on Minnesota Public Radio four years ago (Aug 5, 2014), environmental reporter Elizabeth Dunbar took a look at the south-central Minnesota city of Mankato, and how their treated wastewater is being used as cooling water in a then-new power plant.
Reuse of both wastewater and stormwater for irrigation is growing in use in Minnesota as well – this recent report from the Minnesota Department of Health not only documents current projects but recommends criteria for reuse and how to identify and manage human risk. There is a large section of this report that provides benchmarking with other states’ rules. It is an excellent resource for those looking for resources for projects like this.
A new project now being considered in the Twin Cities would use treated wastewater in a new ethanol plant using garbage as the feed stock for ethanol production. Corn is the most common feed stock for ethanol; according to an article in Scientific American, about 40% of the corn grown in the Midwest goes to ethanol production.
The company proposing the garbage-to-ethanol project is the Canadian firm, Enerkem, in partnership with local firm SKB Environmental, expressed interest in using reclaimed water at its proposed waste-to-biofuel facility in Inver Grove Heights. This innovative project uses a ready resource in the area, garbage, and will convert it to ethanol for use in automotive fuel.
To do this, the plant also requires 1.6 million gallons of water PER DAY, which is a lot of water! They are considering using the water treated in the City of Farmington’s wastewater plant. Additional treatment would be needed, but by using this source they will eliminate the need for drilling wells or using surface water for this plant. This story from the St. Paul Pioneer Press provides a good overview of this project, and this more recent article from the Metropolitan Council gives more detail of the next steps of the project. We will follow this in our blog, follow us for more details as the project progresses.
Many thanks to Britta Dornfeld, Outreach Assistant for the Coon Creek Watershed District in Blaine, Minnesota, for her initial research on this article!
Groundwater is a critical resource for Minnesota - it feeds our streams, fills our lakes and is a (mostly) clean and reliable source of drinking water for about 75% of the population. Many areas have localized problems, some with natural contaminants like arsenic, man-made toxics from unsound disposal of industrial wastes and many areas with nitrate contamination at levels that are of concern. Here's a link to a video from an LWV UMRR meeting last October where Chris Parthun from the Minnesota Department of Health describes the problems with nitrate contamination in our water.
In 1989, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law aimed at increasing protection of Minnesota's groundwater resources. Click here to watch a video detailing Minnesota's 1989 Groundwater Protection Act. This act included a set of tiered actions to be taken to address everyday sources of groundwater contamination not addressed by programs like Superfund or the Leaking Underground Storage Tank program. This Act also established a groundwater protection goal of preventing degradation and reducing pollution where is has already occured.
One area where groundwater protection is particularly thorny is in agricultural areas, where nitrate contamination is affecting both public and private wells, and the levels are rising. As laid out in the Groundwater Protection Act, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is responsible for developing and administering programs and laws to address this. This has not been an easy course, and the twists and turns abound. This link leads to a blog post on the Loon Commons Blog by Matt Doll of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. Here, Matt describes the rule that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture proposed to address the growing problem of nitrate in groundwater.
The Minnesota Legislature introduced bills to stop this rule. LWV UMRR Chair Gretchen Sabel testified in both the House and Senate, on behalf of LWV Minnesota, in opposition to these bills. This link will take you to a copy of her testimony in the House. In the end, the bills were passed and Governor Dayton vetoed it. The Ag Committees in both houses have taken steps to use an administrative procedure to further slow the rule. Here's another blog post from Matt Doll on the topic.
The saga continues... the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is now in the process of finalizing the rule. Public comment will be taken until August 15 - read about it here. And comment! Clean water is important for all of us in the Upper Mississippi - Minnesota is the headwaters state, and this rule is just one part of the solution.
THE FARM BILL IS A major legislative package that deals with U.S. Department of Agriculture programs ranging from food safety, trade, nutrition support and subsidies for farmers. Similar bills have been passed approximately every five years since 1933. The active version of the law, passed in 2014, expires on Sept. 30. (For more information on the content of the Farm Bill, read our blog post here.)
(Photo from Minneapolis Star Tribune Dec 17, 2017.
The 2018 Farm Bill is in the works. LWV UMRR is following this progress, and has signed on to letters urging Congress to improve the conservation titles in the Bill. This bill is at a pivotal stage now - read about it here on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's blog. It's a good read, detailed and with clear explanations.
Timing is critical - conference committee members have been assigned and it is expected that they will meet before the August recess, with a goal of getting a bill to the President for signature before the end of the Federal fiscal year on September 30.
Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwanese manufacturer of LED-screens, is coming to Wisconsin, with jobs, economic development and lots of questions.
Foxconn is building its major manufacturing facility near Racine, in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. The company’s North American headquarters will be in Milwaukee and a research facility will be built in Eau Claire. The state of Wisconsin, under the leadership of Governor Scott Walker, has given significant incentives to land this development. Unfortunately, many of these incentives have been reduction of environmental permitting requirements, which is another story; click here for an interview with Dr. Peter Adriaens from the University of Michigan.
The facility in Mount Pleasant will need lots of water. For this, the City of Racine has requested permission from Wisconsin DNR to take 7 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. Since Mount Pleasant is a ‘straddling community’ – part in the Lake Michigan watershed and part in the Upper Mississippi watershed – their request must conform to the standards set out in the Great Lakes Compact – see more information here. WI DNR decided that the standards were met and granted the withdrawal. An appeal to this permit was filed and an additional process of public comment and review gone through. On April 25, 2018, the WI DNR again approved the withdrawal.
Is this a bad thing? Inter-basin transfer of water (taking water from one major water basin, in this case the Lake Michigan basin, and sending it to another, in this case the Upper Mississippi) is troubling. Water shortages abound across the world, and many look longingly at the vast freshwater resources of the Great Lakes. The purpose of the Compact is to ensure that the water in the Great Lakes is not mined and that Great Lakes ecosystems are protected. Learn more about the Great Lakes Compact here.
WI DNR’s approval of the City of Racine’s application violates the Compact requirement that any water diverted out of the Basin must be used solely for “Public Water Supply Purposes.” The purpose of the City of Racine’s diversion, as identified in the City’s application, is exclusively to supply water to industrial and commercial customers in a newly-designated “electronics and information technology manufacturing zone” in the Village of Mt. Pleasant. The in the out-of-basin portion of Mt. Pleasant subject to the diversion request.
LWV has a position (here) that inter-basin transfer should not be allowed unless:
LWV Wisconsin has lead efforts to oppose the withdrawal. LWV Lake Michigan is party to the Petition seeking reconsideration by WI DNR. LWV Upper Mississippi has made a resolution in opposition, and will continue to find ways to work against this transfer. You can read the resolution here.
According to the Great Lakes Compact, the 8 states and 2 provinces that border the Great Lakes have a right to question decisions. LWV UMRR so far has undertaken these actions:
Addition: Minnesota Public Radio looked at who comes out ahead in the Foxconn deal on July 31 - you can read more about it and listen to the conversation here. - LWV UMRR Blogger, Gretchen Sabel
The League of Women Voters has worked on water issues for nearly as long as there has been a League of Women Voters. In “Impact on Issues 2016-2018 - Natural Resources”, this rich history is documented in detail. The role of League leaders in supporting thoughtful approaches to protecting water resources across the country is balanced by the role that water issues have played in building League membership and influence. As stated in “Impact”, “Water issues, from groundwater protection to agricultural runoff to the Safe Drinking Water Act, have energized League leaders, especially at the local level, for decades.”
How many Leagues are involved in work on water issues? Which water resources are the target of these efforts? What has been learned, and what can be shared to help others succeed? To learn the answers to these questions, LWV Upper Mississippi River Region sought information through a survey, sent to all Leagues in the United States. A detailed summary of the survey results is in this .pdf .
Based on the survey, Leagues in 26 states are active in water issues. The water resources that are being addressed include oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. Ocean pollution is a concern in Oregon and Washington, and California Leagues work to prevent degradation of estuaries where freshwater streams meet the saltwater. LWV Benecia, near San Francisco, is very active in working on water use and conservation - click here for more detail. Sea level rise is a concern in Florida, where Leagues across the state work to support efforts to prepare for the impacts of rising coastal water levels.
The Great Lakes were mentioned by six Leagues. Key issues here are nutrient pollution, and cleanup of toxic contamination. Funding for the Great Lakes Initiative, a US EPA program, is seen as critical for ensuring that clean ups continue. For example, LWV Glen Ellyn (IL) reported that in March 2017 they joined with other organizations at U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam's office to protest major cuts in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). In April 2017, three LWV Glen Ellyn members met with Rep. Roskam's staffer. Among items discussed were proposed cuts to environmental protections; asked that Rep. Roskam to protect our water in the Great Lakes Basin by keeping full funding for the GLRI. This advocacy lead to full funding for the GLI in 2018. One League, LWV of Steuben County (New York) sits in both the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay watersheds, and reports working on water issues on both sides of the continental divide.
Focusing specifically on Lake Michigan, the LWV Lake Michigan Region ILO brings together 45 Leagues from the four states that border the Lake. This ILO has taken on a major project of stormwater education in their watershed, and is now working on developing watershed factsheets for the rivers and streams that discharge to Lake Michigan. Ohio Leagues are working to reduce nutrients, and the algae that results, in Lake Erie and the public water sources that flow into it.
Seven Leagues reported that they focus their efforts on the Upper Mississippi. All of these Leagues are members of the LWV Upper Mississippi River Region ILO. In this ILO, individual Leagues work on local water issues and the ILO brings additional emphasis to issues like the impacts of the US Farm Bill. LWV Galena (Illinois) has been leading local efforts in northwestern Illinois to monitor water resources and educate decision makers on the need for protection. Leaders in this League were instrumental in the formation of the LWV Upper Mississippi River Region in 2015, building this tool as way that Leagues in the basin can join their voices to advocate for river protection.
Water scarcity was reported as a concern by western US Leagues in Arizona, California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Montana and Kansas. LWV Grand County (Utah) outlined work they’ve done, including holding a Water Conservation Open House, doing a presentation on water source protection, water scarcity, and groundwater protection - more detail can be found - click here. Some California Leagues are looking at water reuse as a way to stretch water supplies. LWV Oregon is involved w/the regional Columbia River Treaty w/Canada. They report that they have published two studies on water quality/quantity (http://lwvor.org/study-archives/lwvorstudyarchivelibrary/#water ) culminating in new positions on which to advocate at the state and local level. Water scarcity is an issue not only in the west and southwest United States but in water-rich places like Florida and Massachusetts, where aquifer protection is a major concern for drinking water protection.
At the LWV Water Advocacy Workshop on June 27, seven Leagues will make presentations on their water work. This document will be updated at that time, to include more detail on the work that’s being done by Leagues to protect and enhance our water resources. We will post videos from this session on this blog in early July, so check back!
Final stats are in on Minnesota Water Action Day 2018. More than 700 people came to the State Capitol for this event. These citizen lobbyists took the message of water protection to their legislators through 145 legislative meetings, touching about 70% of the legislature. 75 youth attended a Youth Summit that was part of this event Overall, participants were highly motivated, especially on the issue of protecting wild rice.
Register now at this link so meetings with your legislators can be set up! Bus transportation provided from multiple sites outside the Twin Cities! The threats to Minnesota's waters are real this session - make your voice heard!
What are the threats? Read this from US News and World Reports: Bills on Wild Rice, Pipeline, Nitrates Advance at Capitol .)
What: Water Action Day 2018
Where: Christ Lutheran Church - 105 University Ave W, St. Paul, MN 55103 and the Capitol
When: Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Schedule: (Greater MN buses arrive throughout the morning)
- Complimentary breakfast: 8:00 – 10:00 am
- Citizen lobbying 101 (repeating sessions) 8:30, 9:25, 10:20 am
- Drop-in policy briefings (multiple topics): 9:00 - Noon
- Meetings with your representatives: throughout the day*
- Complimentary lunch: 11:00 – 1:00 pm
- Rally in the Rotunda at 2:00 pm
- Youth Summit with Governor Dayton: TBD
Why: Because now is the time to #ProtectOurWater!
* Our team will schedule small group constituent meetings with each legislator (House and Senate) to occur during the day. Participation in these meetings is highly encouraged for all Water Action Day attendees.
Bus transportation: Buses are being coordinated from multiple locations across Greater Minnesota, including Houston, Austin, Duluth, Detroit Lakes and more! Please reserve your spot on your preferred bus route when you register.
Parking: Parking information (both free and low cost) and transit information is included in your registration confirmation email.
Donations: Donations are gladly accepted to help offset the cost of this event. You may donate online by selecting the 'Donation Ticket' as you register, or day-of at the registration table.
Additional Information: Organizers will distribute additional information, including schedules, transportation options, policy highlights and more, to all participants in advance of Water Action Day.
Chicago, really? Is Chicago in the Mississippi River Watershed? Yes, at least in part. As a member of LWV Deerfield/Lincolnshire told me, the people of Chicago who get their drinking water from and rely on Lake Michigan in so many ways are also in the Mississippi River watershed because of the reversal of the Chicago River... drinking water comes from Lake Michigan and treated wastewater travels west to the Mississippi. Other rivers in Chicagoland, like the Des Plaines or Fox watersheds also flow to the Mississippi. Many Leagues in the Chicago area are members of both LWV Upper Mississippi River Region and LWV Lake Michigan Region. To these Leagues, we apologize for what I'm about to say...
The LWV Upper Mississippi River Region and LWV Lake Michigan Region are working together to sponsor an LWV water forum on June 27, the day before"the LWV US convention begins. This event, to be held at the Standard Club, is "Water: Advocating for Protection - Put your League on the Map!" . Click this link and learn more about this event, and register. And since we were all going to be together in the place where our watersheds overlap, we thought it would be a great time to have our Annual Meetings. And, as the schedules worked out, the two Annual Meetings will be held at the same time - 11:30 to 1:30 on June 27, with a buffet lunch.
Register for the event here. LWV UMRR member Leagues will be eligible for a $15 rebate per League at the door - our way to help defray costs. An email with more information will be sent to member Leagues - watch for it!
The people of Wisconsin are concerned about what’s happening to their water. This concern was shown Monday night in Stevens Point, where more than 90 people packed the Pinery Room at the Portage County Library to hear Dr. George Kraft talk about the science and policy debate around high capacity wells – read more about this event here. Dr. Kraft’s presentation was captured in an informal video on Facebook live, visit the LWV UMRR Facebook page and look under”Videos”.
Dr. Kraft is Professor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. His work has focused on groundwater resource sustainability, particularly about profitable agriculture and water impacts, and is involved in work to modernize Wisconsin’s groundwater pumping management policy and laws. Wisconsin’s Central Sands region is where Dr. Kraft has spent much of his career, and was the focus of his remarks Monday night.
In his talk, Dr. Kraft first talked about groundwater hydrology; explaining the connection between ground- and surface waters. When groundwater levels drop, whether from lack of recharge in dry times or from pumping from wells, surface water resources are also affected. (If the water table drops eight feet, for example, spring-fed streams that intersect the water table will also go down to the same elevation as the water table. The actual amount of drop in surface water levels depends on their normal water level elevation.) Shallower streams like minor tributaries are often dried up, and deeper water bodies will drop in water level. When the amount of cold groundwater entering a stream diminishes, the water warms. Warmer streams longer support trout and other cold-water species, meaning that groundwater depletion leads to ecological change as well.
Dr. Kraft talked about the continued expansion of farm irrigation in Wisconsin’s Central Sands. The number of high-capacity irrigation wells in this area has grown significantly, and resultant drops in the water table level have been recorded.
What is the effect of this? Dr. Kraft showed pictures of lakes and streams where water levels have dropped, which is especially dramatic in dry years. This isn’t just happening in Wisconsin – Minnesota has similar geologic terrains and similar problems. Dr. Kraft talked about the approach that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is taking in the Straight River Groundwater Management Area- read about that here. A second project in Minnesota relating to water use and depletion was reported on in this blog earlier – the Little Rock Creek study.
So, will the irrigation wells run out of water, too? Dr. Kraft said that there’s probably plenty of water for irrigation wells for years to come. Central Wisconsin is a water-rich area, receiving more than 30 inches of rain a year. Groundwater is recharged by the rain, and the aquifers here are deep. The groundwater resource will sustain heavy pumping for the foreseeable future, but the impacts on surface water will continue. It is up to the people of Wisconsin to balance theses competing values.
While Dr. Kraft’s talk focused on water quantity, water quality is also an issue in central Wisconsin. Both are addressed by the Center for Watershed Science and Management at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Dr. Paul McGinley is the Director of this Center, Dr. Kraft is an emeritus member and Kevin Masarik, a doctoral student at UW Madison, is also part of the team. Another hydrologist will soon be hired to round out the team. Support for the Center’s staff comes primarily from UW Extension, so outreach to citizens, lake associations and others is a major part of their work.
Nitrate contamination is a real problem in Wisconsin, affecting more than 25% of all private wells. Here’s a video presentation where Kevin Masarik explains what nitrate is and explores the effects of nitrate on the environment, drinking water and groundwater. In this video, Masarik discusses data found in Wisconsin’s Well Water Viewer, which can be found at this link.
Wisconsin’s groundwater has been the subject of other posts on this blog. See “Protecting Wisconsin Well Owners and Providing Safe Water” at https://www.lwvumrr.org/blog/protecting-wisconsin-well-owners-and-providing-safe-water and “When it Hits the Fan – Groundwater Quality and Public Health” at https://www.lwvumrr.org/blog/when-it-hits-the-fan-groundwater-quality-and-public-health .
On Thursday, March 8, League of Women Voters of Brainerd (Minnesota) hosted Anna Bosch of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in a discussion of water quality on the Upper Mississippi. (The Mississippi River headwaters are in northern Minnesota and the river travels nearly a third of its length inside Minnesota. When Minnesotans talk about the “Upper Mississippi”, they mean the stretch of the river that flows from the Headwaters to just north of the Twin Cities.) Anna talked about work the MPCA is doing to identify water quality problems and threats in the Upper Mississippi, and to work with local governments to protect and improve water quality. Click here for the document that Anna used as the basis for her talk.
The first 350 miles of the river flow through forests and wetlands. Only 4% of the land is developed in this part of the basin, and 13% is in crop and pasture. Water quality in this area is very good, and the focus of the efforts here are on protecting water quality. Not only is there significant protection to the river offered by the surrounding forests but the river is spring-fed; these groundwater contributions sustain both flow and water quality in the river.
In a previous blog post, we discussed problems with groundwater depletion, stream warming and stream flow loss as well as increasing levels of nitrate in both surface and groundwater. When Anna spoke, she pointed out similar issues in the Crow Wing River Watershed. Here, lands that had been in tree plantations are being cleared and replaced by crops, primarily irrigated potatoes. This conversion removes protection for the river. Cultivating the land can increase sedimentation; fertilizers used on the crops can increase nitrate in surface and groundwater, and irrigation lowers groundwater levels which impacts the flow of groundwater into the river. This combination of changes has significant impacts on the river, and those downstream who rely on it for drinking water. According to MPCA, “for every 10% decrease in forest cover … the cost of water treatment for downstream communities increases by 20%.”
The Upper Upper Mississippi is a river with excellent water quality in the river and most of the lakes in its watershed. It flows through the land of cabins and resorts; recreational fishing and water recreation in winter and summer is a major industry. Land uses here are changing which will result in changes in this river. Numerous challenges face Minnesotans as they balance growth and development with recreational uses and drinking water needs.
Text following from USEPA Press Release Dated March 7, 2018
CHICAGO (March 7, 2018) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the release of the United States’ domestic action plan for reducing phosphorus, a major contributor to harmful algal blooms, in Lake Erie. The plan outlines federal and state efforts to achieve the binational phosphorus reduction targets adopted by the United States and Canada in 2016 under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
"Today’s action plan is a significant step in fulfilling our commitment to protecting the health of Lake Erie,” said Great Lakes National Program Manager and Region 5 Administrator Cathy Stepp. “EPA is working with federal and state partners to ensure local communities and economies continue to benefit from this vital resource.”
The United States committed to reduce phosphorus nutrient sources by 40 percent, a reduction of 7.3 million pounds. Today’s action plan summarizes the actions federal agencies and states are taking across the Lake Erie basin and provides a mechanism for tracking progress.
While the bulk of the phosphorus reductions will come from sources in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, all five states in the basin are committed to taking action to reduce nutrient loadings and minimize problems of excessive algal growth. The U.S. plan presents a coordinated approach to link and expand the efforts across the states to achieve the nutrient goals in the basin. Additionally, the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania each submitted individual action plans that describe specific phosphorus reduction measures in more detail.
Excessive algal growth poses substantial threats to both Lake Erie’s ecosystem and human health. More than 10 million people rely on the lake for clean drinking water, swimming and fishing opportunities. In the last decade, harmful and nuisance algal growth in the lake has increased significantly due to storms that deliver high levels of nutrients from major rivers. Recurring algal blooms and associated “dead zones” (oxygen-depleted areas created when algae die and decompose) threaten drinking water quality and Lake Erie’s critical $12.9 billion tourism industry and world class fishery.
EPA engaged stakeholders in the development of the domestic action plan in August and September 2017 through in-person engagement sessions with targeted stakeholder groups.
The U.S. Action Plan can be accessed here: www.epa.gov/glwqa/
The full suite of U.S., state and Canada-Ontario domestic action plans can be accessed here: https://binational.net/annexes/a4/
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||