Waterline Fall 2007 - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

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Waterline Fall 2007

Stew Thornley

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Drinking Water Protection Changes at the Minnesota Department of Health

Karla Peterson Is New Supervisor of Community Water Supply Unit

Karla Peterson

Karla Peterson has succeeded Dick Clark, who retired in July, as supervisor of the Community Water Supply Unit in the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Section of Drinking Water Protection (DWP).

Karla came to MDH in June of 1994 after receiving her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota, taking over the duties of plan reviews, certification, and fluoridation. She later got her master’s degree in public administration from Hamline University in St. Paul.

Karla has been the manager for a number of Safe Drinking Water Act rules and is also the chair-elect of the Minnesota Section American Water Works Association (AWWA).

Hailing from a dairy farm in Barron, Wisconsin, Karla shares her August 7 birthday with Garrison Keillor, Grandma Moses, Nathanael Greene, Mata Hari, B. J. Thomas, Alberto Salazar, David Duchovny, Don Larsen, and Carl Switzer (Alfalfa).

Anita Smith Takes Over as Grants Specialist
Anita Smith is the new grants specialist for the DWP Section, succeeding Dennis Maki. Anita was born and raised in St. Paul. Military life then took her from Alaska to Kentucky to Alabama back to Kentucky to Germany to Hawaii and finally back to Minnesota although she is now a Cheesehead as she has just finished a new home in Wisconsin.

Anita Smith

Anita has a daughter, Amanda, who is attending community college, and a son, Joshua, who is married with two children and is in the Army, recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan.

Anita shares her March 13 birthday with Johan Santana, Percival Lowell (the astronomer who predicted the existence of a planet beyond the orbit of Neptune and initiated the search that ended in the discovery of Pluto and also believed in intelligent life on Mars), Fred Berry (Rerun on the television show What’s Happening!), Frank “Home Run” Baker, and Neil Sedaka.

DWP Update: With Ike Bradlich on military leave, David Rindal will be the primary contact for the Metro-West district until January 15. Inquiries or emergency situations should be directed to David at 651-201-4660.

Full House for Drinking Water Institute

Drinking Water Institute 2007
Twenty-four middle-school science teachers attended the Water Works! A Drinking Water Institute for Educators three-day workshop at the Outdoor Learning Center near Ely, Minnesota. Sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota AWWA and conducted by the Hamline University Center for Global Environmental Education, Water Works! Institutes have been held annually since 2001. Teachers learn about drinking water and then develop an action plan for incorporating inquiry-based activities on drinking water into their curriculum. As a result of these Institutes, approximately 20,000 students each year in Minnesota are now receiving comprehensive education about drinking water. The next Water Works! Institute will be held in the Twin Cities from Monday, August 4 to Wednesday, August 6, 2008.

Drinking Water Institute 2007 Drinking Water Institute 2007

Blame It on the Water

From The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, New York: Riverhead Books, 2006:

“The search for unpolluted drinking water is as old as civilization itself. As soon as there were mass human settlements, waterborne diseases like dysentery became a crucial population bottleneck. For much of human history, the solution to this chronic public-health issue was not purifying the water supply. The solution was to drink alcohol . . . Dying of cirrhosis of the liver in your forties was better than dying of dysentery in your twenties . . . Over generations, the gene pool of the first farmers became increasingly dominated by individuals who could drink beer on a regular basis. Most of the world’s population today is made up of descendents of those early beer drinkers.”

In addition to showing how we evolved into a civilization with a proclivity for alcohol, The Ghost Map is a fascinating narrative of how London’s 1854 cholera epidemic led to the discovery that germs, often transmitted through contaminated water, were responsible for disease, not noxious air as had been the theory.

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Red Wing Residents Learn Job Skills while Maintaining Water System

The Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF) in Red Wing has been described as a “placement of last resort for kids” by associate warden John Handy. On an average day, the prison has 130 male juvenile offenders, most of whom have already been in county institutions. Though they are juveniles, the average age of the resident is 17.9 years.

Minnesota Correctional Facility at Red Wing

In addition to the juvenile residents, the facility has one unit of 30 adult male minimum-security prisoners (housed separately from the juvenile residents) and 160 staff members. All are served by the water system on site. But in addition to providing drinking water to residents and staff as well as the other water needs (the laundry is the largest user), the water system is providing a way for juvenile residents to learn job skills before being released.

Mike Priem, a master plumber with a quarter-century of experience in the profession, oversees the water supply at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Red Wing, about 50 miles southeast of the Twin Cities. He says the young residents have good attitudes. “They are very eager. They want to learn.”

MCF Red Wing’s water comes from two multi-aquifer wells that go back to around the time the facility opened in 1889. One is 560 feet deep and produces 280 gallons per minute (gpm). The other is 400 feet deep and produces 70 gpm.

The facility turns over only about 20,000 gallons a day out of a 250,000-gallon ground-storage reservoir. This, along with dead ends on the system, has resulted in some aesthetic problems in the water.

In recent years, the system has also addressed exceedances in the standards for copper and radium. In the 1990s, a polyphosphate was added to the existing treatment of chlorine and fluoride for the purpose of iron suspension and corrosion control to deal with the copper exceedance.

The radium issue surfaced in the early 2000s. With the wells drawing from both the Franconia and Mount Simon aquifers, the monitoring results were indicating both high and low levels of radium. “It was difficult to predict what the water quality would be with it drawing from different aquifers,” said Minnesota Department of Health engineer Karla Peterson, who worked with the facility on finding a remedy. Peterson also noted that the size of one of the wells—it has a 20-inch diameter—factored into the unpredictability of the results.

To deal with the radium, the system added six ion-exchange units for softening, two on each well and two on the water heater. In addition to reducing the radium levels, the softeners have helped with the aesthetic qualities of the water.

Working with Priem on the water system are two other full-time operators, Elmer Sylvester and Allen Gullickson, in addition to the residents, who can enter the work program after they receive their high-school diploma or general educational development (GED) equivalent.

Approximately 50 percent of the juvenile residents graduate or get their GED while at Red Wing. Maginnis High School, which is on-site, provides classes. Residents who complete the course work can receive their diploma from their home high school or Maginnis High, which is accredited.

Upon entering the work program, the residents work with maintenance staff on various jobs. Priem, Sylvester, and Gullickson oversee the residents, who do testing of the water and other jobs under staff supervision. They often obtain their Class E operator license. “They [the operators] do a great job of working with residents as far as work skills go,” says associate warden Steve Hammer.

Administration Building
Volunteer Center
Clockwise from above left: The administration building, constructed in 1889; the volunteer center, which used to be the warden’s home; Maginnis High School; operators Elmer Sylvester (left) and Mike Priem (right) in front of the small well.
Maginnis High School
Elmer Sylvester and Mike Priem

Handy points out that, along with the specific skills they acquire, the residents learn the overall traits needed to stay employed. “The absence of employment is a high-risk factor,” Handy says. “A big problem outside [for them] is maintaining employment.”

But learning basic skills, such as being reliable and punctual, helps the residents maintain employment when they get out. “They see the world differently,” Handy says. “At Red Wing, they learn to manage their emotions, solve problems.

“They learn to make the right choices after a history of not making right choices.”

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Filter Backwash Permits from MPCA

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is issuing permits for filter backwash waste discharge to any system/structure other than a sanitary sewer. They are also reviewing whether sewer extensions are needed for treatment plants that discharge to a sanitary sewer system. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will be notifying the project owners or agents that they need to contact the MPCA whenever a new, renovated, or addition to a drinking water treatment facility is proposed for construction. MDH will issue a comment/requirement on plan review letters that are sent to project owners and project submitters, directing them to contact the MPCA regarding the disposal of the filter backwash waste. MDH will also be notifying the MPCA about all new, renovated, and additions to water treatment plants that are submitted for review. Questions about this new permitting program may be directed to Emily Schnick, 651-757-2699, or Charly Wojtysiak, 651-757-2831.

MnWARN Moves Forward

By Jon Groethe, Minnesota Department of Health
The recent flooding in southeastern Minnesota serves as a reminder of how suddenly emergencies of critical scope and magnitude can occur and how dependent we are as communities on one another’s assistance. During those times, restoring a safe supply of water also allows fire departments, hospitals, responding agencies, and other services to operate. The ability for a community to quickly get back on its feet reduces the impact to the local economy, and clean water keeps public-health dangers to a minimum. In the wake of these experiences, many mutual aid agreements have been formed during the last decade.

MnWARN (Minnesota Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network) is a new statewide mutual aid system with an interactive web site to facilitate it. MnWARN is modeled after similar programs developed in Florida, California, and Texas and is geared specifically to utilities. It recognizes that utilities are highly specialized and must be self-sufficient to fill the gap until help from larger agencies arrives. Through this mutual aid system, utilities can help each other with personal resources during natural and man-made emergencies, ranging from broken water mains or loss of power to large-scale disasters.

The MnWARN website will serve as an information base, allowing members to quickly contact other members, conveying specific needs and providing situational updates. The web site will also have valuable information and links displayed. But it’s not the web site that’s key; it’s the streamlining of mutual assistance and resources that need to be obtained in short order, through a direct utility-to-utility network. Most states are now in one stage or another of implementing these systems.

The main components of the WARN system are

  1. a steering committee composed of a cross-section of our state’s water and wastewater industry,
  2. a mutual aid agreement that provides clear legal and procedural framework for aid to occur,
  3. regional divisions providing a “neighbor-helping-neighbor” environment,
  4. the website, where critical contact information is stored for viewing.

Most importantly, the MnWARN mutual aid system is a utility-driven networking tool that will be built on the experience and proven resourcefulness of its greatest asset, the utility professionals themselves. Once the website is up and running, details can be explored by logging on to http://MnWARN.org.

Free Emergency Preparedness Tabletop Exercises
Related to emergency planning, the Minnesota Department of Health will be facilitating free emergency preparedness tabletop exercises throughout the state. The exercises are approximately three hours in length and will aid in the preparation and recovery of a real-world emergency; train in expected roles; exercise responsibilities and procedures; test emergency response plans; and identify gaps, needed resources, and improvements.

There will be an informational table on these exercises on Wednesday, September 19 at the Minnesota AWWA conference in Duluth. You may also contact me at 320-233-7339 or via e-mail at jon.groethe@state.mn.us for more information.

A Welcome Water Source

Water fountain in Welcome, Minnesota
The city of Welcome, in southern Minnesota, provides a welcome haven for humans and horses with its 1914 fountain, still in operation on its main street.

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Initial Distribution System Evaluations and Disinfection Byproduct Sampling

Several Minnesota community water supplies (CWSs) have begun conducting Initial Distribution System Evaluations (IDSEs), as required by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Stage 2 Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 2 DBP Rule), since July 1, 2007. The sample frequency required by IDSE has revealed some issues that had not been encountered during routine Stage 1 DBP Rule monitoring. Initially, the logistics of sample material handling posed a challenge. More recently, questions about sample procedure and consistency have come to light. Utilities conducting IDSE Standard Monitoring will find it very helpful to review details of sample collection as early as possible.

Generally, the increases in total trihalomethane (TTHM) and haloacetic acid (HAA5) sample volumes have added to the risks of sample material delivery. The MDH laboratory has modified its packaging practices to improve supply conditions. However, water utility staff should carefully inspect TTHM vials and HAA5 bottles upon receipt. Broken containers are more likely to occur within the large supply shipments shipped to larger utilities (serving more than 10,000 people). Moreover, HAA5 bottles deserve special attention because their breakage rate has been much higher than the rate of TTHM vial fractures. Similarly, utilities should assure that boxed packing of bottles, vials, freeze packs, and packing adequately protects samples from impact and temperature hazards.

More importantly, sample collection must consistently follow the appropriate Minnesota Department of Health instructions. First, the large numbers of IDSE sites may force some utilities to assign new, untrained, or less experienced employees to sample collection tasks. It is necessary to assure a uniform sampling procedure and to refresh everyone’s memory of those procedures. For example, the presence of even a pea-sized air bubble will result in rejection of a TTHM sample vial. Diligent shaking, tapping, and inspection of the filled vial will prevent almost all bubble-related rejections (Figure 1, below) and, at minimum, reduce the total gas volume present after transit and temperature variations occur. Secondly, while the number of drops 1:1 hydrochloric acid (HCl) added to TTHM vials is fairly flexible, they must be added before the vial is filled (Figure 2). As of September 2007, samplers are instructed to add at least three drops of HCl solution during TTHM vial filling. The MDH laboratory is currently recommending three drops. No more than four drops are needed, as that is the number specified by EPA Method 524.2. Finally, care must be taken not to overfill or rinse any of the containers as all include preservative agents that must mix with the sample during collection and shaking.

Inverted Vial Adding Drops to Vial
Figure 1. Invert and tap vial to see bubbles.

Figure 2. Add at least 3 drops 1:1 HCl.

The development of a consistent sample preparation, collection, and delivery process will enable the MDH laboratory to generate the most informative TTHM and HAA5 analysis results. When utilities begin construction of their IDSE reports and selection of Stage 2 DBP Rule compliance sites, they will save themselves the trouble of questioning the legitimacy of results based on easily preventable errors.


Operator training sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota AWWA will be held in several locations this fall, including Collegeville, Red Wing, Truman, and Crookston.

The planning committee for the Metro District School met in August. Their next school will be held Monday, April 14 to Wednesday, April 16, 2008 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center. The 2009 Metro School will be back at the Ramada Mall of America (formerly the Thunderbird Hotel) on Wednesday, April 1 to Friday, April 3.

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Updated Friday, February 12, 2016 at 06:36AM