Working together for cleaner water

MPCA Commissioner reaches out to city officials in Marshall, Luverne

MARSHALL — It was something new for Marshall — or at least, it was a first within his 27 years as mayor, Bob Byrnes said. The Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency visited Marshall last week to talk water quality with city officials and employees.

And both state and local officials said the meeting was a productive one.

“They were very engaged in our conversation, and listened to our input,” Byrnes said.

Being able to build closer relationships with Minnesota cities, and hear their concerns, were important goals for MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop, and Assistant Commissioner for Water Policy and Agriculture Katrina Kessler.

“Governor Walz has really said he wants us out of St. Paul,” Bishop said Friday. Bishop and Kessler’s visit to the cities of Marshall and Luverne was a part of that outreach, to work more closely with area communities.

Bishop said having a good level of transparency and flow in the state permit process was one priority she had as MPCA commissioner. Having good communication with stakeholders like cities was another. She and Kessler said they were also looking at how changes in climate and weather were impacting Minnesota, and how best to help affected communities.

Both Marshall and Luverne have faced questions about water quality and state regulations in recent years. Earlier this year, when construction of a planned tru Shrimp production facility in Luverne moved to South Dakota instead, company spokespeople cited potential issues with the Minnesota state permitting process for the project. This year Luverne is also the site of a processing facility expansion for Premium Iowa Pork.

The permit process for PIP was part of the conversation in Luverne, Bishop said.

“We wanted to see how they were working with Premium Iowa Pork,” she said.

In Marshall, the conversation included discussions about important updates coming to the municipal water and sewage treatment plants. Marshall Municipal Utilities is moving forward with a project to pre-soften city water, with the goal of keeping high levels of water softener salt out of the Redwood River. Marshall will need to comply with stricter limits on chlorides in its wastewater starting in 2024.

“Marshall really is a leader in this issue,” and in recognizing that water softener salt is a major source of excess chlorides in water, Kessler said. And in a region with hard water, Marshall isn’t alone in struggling with that problem. But, she said, Marshall’s plan to pre-treat its water, instead of removing the salt through reverse osmosis at the wastewater plant, was “innovative” in Minnesota.

Bishop said she and Kessler appreciated getting the chance to learn more about local concerns from water and wastewater operators.

“They are in that business because they are proud of clean water,” Bishop said.

Byrnes and Marshall City Administrator Sharon Hanson said the city had wanted to connect with Bishop to talk about topics related to water quality, as well as the upcoming water projects.

“We also talked about reasonable regulation, and the cost of unreasonable regulations,” Byrnes said.

Byrnes and Hanson said Marshall shares the MPCA’s goal of clean water and protecting natural resources. Having a quality, reliable water source is vital for economic development in Marshall.

“We are a community that processes agricultural products,” Byrnes said.

However, there are infrastructure costs that go with pursuing the goal of cleaner water. The cost of meeting potential future limits on pollutants in wastewater could put Marshall at an economic disadvantage, Hanson said. She said city officials spoke with Bishop and Kessler about the need to make sure there are funding sources to help cities improve water quality. For example, Marshall’s water softening project is being funded with the help of a state grant.

“We’re in a fortunate situation, that while treatment is costly, we do have an infrastructure that’s well set,” Byrnes said. Many Minnesota communities face bigger hurdles in improving their water and wastewater infrastructure.

Byrnes said it was good to see how engaged MPCA officials were in their meeting.

“What was very striking to me was the level of respect the commissioner and her staff had for our staff,” including wastewater superintendent Bob VanMoer and assistant superintendent Scott Truedson.

Byrnes said Bishop’s commitment to getting out and engaging with Minnesota communities also made an impression on him.

“I think that’s significant,” and seems to be indicative of Governor Walz’s administration, Byrnes said.