BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN For five years, the Delano Wastewater Treatment Plant had been operating without a permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, though it wasn’t for lack of trying.
“In a nutshell, our permit expired June 30, 2013,” City Administrator Phil Kern said. “We applied for a new permit on time, as we were supposed to. The MPCA was simply delaying the process of issuing a new permit. We had permission to keep operating under old rules.”
Kern indicated pressure from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy affected the MPCA’s decision not to renew Delano’s permit for five years.
“We’ve worked out a solution, and they’ve issued our permit,” Kern said. “That will be good until March 31, 2023, at which time we’ll have to meet more stringent standards for operation of our wastewater treatment plant.”
In 2023, Delano will be required to reduce the amount of phosphorous in water discharged from the plant to .53 milligram per liter, nearly half of the previous 1 milligram-per-liter requirement.
“We don’t have any new mandatory limits until 2023, but they are asking us to try to meet the new threshold each of the next two summers, defined as June 1 to Sept. 30,” Kern said.
During those time periods in 2018 and 2019, staff at the local plant will “push it to its maximum capabilities, both biologically and chemically to see if we can meet the new thresholds without any plant modifications,” according to Kern.
He believes that goal is realistic, as the plant reached a low of .3 milligrams per liter and averaged less than .5 milligrams per liter in 2016.
Ideally, the city would like to meet the new requirement by biological means because they are less expensive.
After the test years in 2018 and 2019, if the city is not meeting the new requirement, city staff will need to submit a plan for modifying the plant before 2023, in order to hit those standards.
“We would prefer to avoid construction, modifying our plant by construction means by 2023,” Kern said. “If it comes back that we can chemically do it but chemicals are astronomically expensive, and a minor plant construction could take care of it, we have to look at all options.”
He added that residents can help reduce the amount of phosphorous that reaches the wastewater treatment plant by using phosphorous-free cleaning supplies and by not disposing of vegetables in garbage disposals.
There is a silver lining for the MPCA’s delay.
“The good news of our delay, that it took five years, and we have another five years to comply, the existing wastewater treatment plant will be paid off in 2022,” Kern said. “The debt service we’re paying right now is roughly a third of our operating cost . . . We’re looking forward to being able to reduce our sewer budget.”
Kern noted that the Delano Wastewater Treatment Plant and operator Chuck Keyes have received multiple accolades in the past, including at the recent Wastewater Operations Conference in Brooklyn Park, where Montrose, Watertown, and Rockford were also recognized.
To be eligible for this recognition, facilities were required to submit all reports to the MPCA correctly and on time, demonstrate consistent compliance through monitoring, operations, and maintenance, and employ staff certified by the MPCA in wastewater operations.