Resort facilities

Find out more about wastewater treatment plants on the North Shore

Community radio WTIP recently reported how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency handled what it considered a “minor” violation of the Tofte Wastewater Treatment Association’s permit over the discharge of treated sewage into the lake. Superior. This led to questions about other wastewater treatment facilities on the North Shore.
WTIP’s Rhonda Silence followed MPCA spokesperson Stephan Mikkelson to find out more.

Mikkelson told WTIP that there are seven wastewater treatment facilities in Cook County – Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior (which is served by the Tofte Wastewater Treatment Association), Caribou Highlands Lodge, Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission, Heritage at Lutsen, Lutsen Resort, Terrace Point Development and Ullr and Eagle Mountain at Lutsen Mountains Ski Resort.

WTIP asked Mikkelson about the operations of these facilities. Is he aware of any incidents of these MPCA-licensed wastewater treatment plants exceeding MPCA or Environmental Pollution Control Agency (EPA) guidelines? Mikkelson said he can confidently say there were no major problems on the North Shore.

He replied, “I am the primary communicator for our compliance and enforcement. So, I can say that I am quite knowledgeable about our overall application. And none of these facilities that we have listed are currently listed for any type of violation.

Although it seems that the North Shore has only had a history of “minor” exceedances, does the AMLA take into account the cumulative impact of minor events? Mikkelson said “the short answer is yes”.

He added: “Any incident can be considered minor… Whatever happened, the result of what happened, may have had a minor impact on the environment, or no impact on human health, which is good news. But the PCA continually monitors and assesses our waters across the state.

“So to get to the cumulative question, yes, if we see through our sampling, that a body of water, whether it’s a river, stream or lake, does not doesn’t meet water quality standards so we’ll investigate further to find out ok so why is it not up to standard and what are the possible sources we’re doing it this way to try to minimize impacts so that the body of water meets those standards,” explained Mikkelson.

The WTIP requested clarification on how the MPCA determines a minor or major violation for a wastewater treatment facility. Mikkelson said it depends on how the MPCA reviews an incident and what method of enforcement it deems necessary. For example, there might be a problem with record keeping that would be easy to fix. For more serious incidents or violations, he said there were a number of factors to consider.

The MPCA considers whether a violation has a direct impact on the environment or potential harm to human health. The MPCA also looks at whether a business or facility benefited from its non-compliance, meaning it saved money because it did not install the correct equipment. The MPCA also considers whether an event was an accident of some sort in relation to something that the facility reasonably knew might occur. Mikkelson said a facility that knowingly violates its license would face the most onerous enforcement actions of the MPCA.

Data for wastewater treatment facilities and equations for allowable effluent amounts for elements such as mercury, feces, coliforms, and suspended solids can be difficult to understand. WTIP asked Mikkelson if he could give a description of what wastewater that is considered to be returnable to a body of water looks like, in layman’s terms.

Mikkelson replied, “You’re right, it’s hard to answer, but I’ll do my best. It’s kind of on a case-by-case basis, or body of water by body of water. Water quality standards are determined by a couple of things like, what is the beneficial use of this body of water? That is, is it for drinking water? Or is it for swimming and fishing? Or is it just a body of water where there really is no recreation? Is it only for wildlife and aquatic life? »

Mikkelson said the size and type of water body is also taken into account, noting that there is a huge difference between Lake Superior and a smaller inland lake. For facilities that discharge treated wastewater into watercourses, the water bodies to which these watercourses flow are taken into account.

“So all of these factors play into the norm for a given pollutant in a given body of water,” Mikkelson said, but he agreed to attempt to explain how much is allowed, using the analogy of a giant bucket. . He noted that most of the criteria for permitted effluents are based on “parts per million”.

He explained: “That would mean, to simplify, that if you had a bucket that could hold a million drops of water, that body of water could hold three drops of this pollutant and still meet the standard.”

For anyone interested in viewing data from the seven North Shore facilities, information can be found on the AMLA website under What’s in my neighborhood section.