Drinking Water Protection: Waterline, Summer 2012 - EH: Minnesota Department of Health
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Stew Thornley

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Governor Proclaims Safe Water Week

Lt. Governor Prettner Solon presenting proclamation

Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed May 6-12 as Safe Drinking Water Week in Minnesota, and Lt. Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon posed with Uma Vempati and Carol Blommel Johnson of Minnesota American Water Works Association (on her left) and Ruth Hubbard of Minnesota Rural Water Association and Aggie Leitheiser and Randy Ellingboe of the Minnesota Department of Health (on her right). Four communities also received Source Water Protection Leadership Community certificates from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) for serving as an example to other communities of how local government involvement by land owners, community residents, and government can lead to innovative and effective implementation of source water protection efforts. From left to right in the photo below are Ardith Carr, Verndale; Cara Olmscheid and Jim Rothstein, Saint Martin; Cliff McLain, Moorhead; Todd Osweiler, Rochester, Lt. Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon. During the week MDH released its drinking water annual report.

Source Water Protection Leadership Communities

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I'd Recognize That Guy Anywhere

John Blomme
Minnesota Department of Health engineer John Blomme shows his good side as he was captured in a photo by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) that made MPR’s Photo of the Week website feature. Shawn Nelson of Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water holds up the manhole cover for Blomme, who was conducting a sanitary survey in Round Lake. In other MDH engineer news, David Weum has moved to the St. Paul office to do plan review (he was a district engineer out of the Mankato office), Bassam Banat will be the engineer for the new MDH construction inspection program, which calls for interim and final statewide construction inspections of new drinking water projects, and Todd Johnson has become the Contaminants of Emerging Concern principal engineer. (Photo by Jackson Forderer, Minnesota Public Radio News.)

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10 Jobs Americans Can't Live Without

Number 2 may be the bread and butter of the wastewater industry, and the job of water/wastewater treatment operator was number 2 on a list of 10 jobs Americans can’t live without, compiled by 24/7 Wall Street and published on-line by Reader’s Digest.

Water/wastewater operators finished behind only registered nurses in the necessity of their jobs to society. Charles B. Stockdale of 24/7 Wall Street wrote, “Water and liquid waste treatment plants require near-constant supervision in order to ensure that customers receive safe water. As a result, system operators must either work or be on call at all hours. Plants are highly regulated and can face a number of problems. Storms can cause flooding in sewers, and water can be tainted by chemicals. Plant operators are responsible for all of this.”

Following registered nurses and water/wastewater operators were:

3) Firefighters
4) Railroad conductors and yardmasters
5) Telecommunications equipment installers/repairers
6) Air traffic controllers
7) Nuclear power reactor operators
8) Police and sheriff’s patrol officers
9) Electrical power line repairers
10) Correctional officers and jailers

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Water Causes a Fire?

Yes, the headline on the front page of the Monday, April 25, 1904 Minneapolis Tribune read, “Pure Water Causes Fire.”  The story:

An innocent looking jar of Inglewood spring water was responsible yesterday afternoon for what might have resulted in a bad fire had it not been for the watchfulness of Patrolman A. Wendall.

The jar was one of two that occupy a place in the window of the Glenwood-Inglewood Spring Water company, 313 Hennepin avenue.  The two jars are alike in design and capacity.  They are made of glass in the form of a globe and stand upon a pedestal.  In one is a quantity of yellow malarial looking stuff labeled “City Water.”  In the other is an equal quantity of a pure, crystal liquid bearing the legend “Inglewood Spring Water” and it was this jar the did the mischief and might have been the occasion of an amount of blazing conflagration equal to Mrs. Murphy’s cow.

The office of the company is on the ground floor on the east side of the street.  The globes stand alone in the window, and until yesterday showed no inclination for things different than that for which they were designed—showing the contract between the much debated product of the city’s pumps and the bubbling fluid of the springs.

Yesterday, however, the pure white liquid belied the white purity of its appearance and showed it contained an evil propensity far more malignant than its yellow, colon bacilli laden companion.  Directly behind the two jars is stretched a curtain made of heavy material for the purpose of ornament.  The rays of the afternoon sun falling steadily upon the jar made of it a powerful lens that focused the heat of the sun’s rays upon a spot in the curtain, with the result that when Patrolman Wendall passed at 2 o’clock he was mystified to see the curtain begin to smoke and then break into a blaze before his eyes.

He turned in an alarm and Capt. H. L. Berwin of hook and ladder No. 1 entered the store, tore the curtain from its hangings and extinguished the blaze.

It is considered fortunate that the office was located upon the ground floor in the full view of the patrolman and passers by.  A fire originating in such an innocent manner in a great office building on Sunday would have acquired headway before discovery.

Meanwhile, municipal water continues to be used to put out fires, not start them.

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Eden Prairie Grows with Its System

Eden Prairie Water TowerEden Prairie has grown from a small farming village to a thriving regional center 12 miles southwest of Minneapolis.  Its 36 square miles feature hills, lakes and wetlands, trails, prairie, and forests with the Minnesota River as its southern boundary.  Eden Prairie Shopping Center, Flying Cloud Airport, the headquarters of the Minnesota Vikings, Hennepin County Technical College, the Southwest transit hub, and a growing number of high-tech businesses are in the city, which has become the place to live for many athletes from the state’s major league sports teams.

From 2,000 residents in 1960 to more than 60,000 a half-century later, Eden Prairie can trace its success to many factors.  One is the public water system, which began in the early 1970s.  A pair of wells first served the citizens as the city looked at options for a treatment plant.  The city council had a long-term vision in mind, looking to meet residential and commercial needs for the coming decades, and decided to have lime softening as part of the process.  Its neighbor to the east, Bloomington, was softening its water, and the Eden Prairie council wanted to be competitive and flexible with its water supply.

Rick Wahlen, who has been the manager of utility operations for the city since 2006, says he gets questions from other cities on how to be attractive to industry with their water systems.  Often, businesses considering a property site in Eden Prairie ask about the water supply, wanting to make sure their water needs will be met if they move to the city.  “Much of the development [in Eden Prairie] goes back to the council looking at a good water treatment plant.”

Rick Wahlen
Above: Rick Wahlen in the water treatment plant’s laboratory. Below: A basin added as part of the 1998 expansion.
Residuals thickening basin

The split-treatment facility, which opened in 1974, had a capacity of 4 million gallons a day (MGD) with two-stage clarification: lime softening and coagulation with ferric sulfate (now ferric chloride) followed by dual media filtration.  The treatment plant has been expanded three times—in 1978, 1988, and 1998—to bring its capacity to 28 MGD.  The utility averages about 6 MGD in the winter and up to 23 MGD in the summer.

At the time of the first treatment plant expansion, in 1978, the city added another well and has been installing wells periodically since 1982.  Fifteen wells, approximately 400 feet deep and each with a pumping capacity of 1 to 2 MGD, extend into the Prairie du Chien and Jordan aquifers.  The hardness of the raw water is around 320 parts per million (ppm) and is 90 ppm after treatment.

The original treatment plant had built-in storage of approximately 1 million gallons.  In 1981 a 2 million gallon tank on a hill at the north end of town, off Baker Road, was added and followed by two towers: the 1-million-gallon Hidden Ponds tower in 1988 and the 2-million-gallon Market Center tower in 1996.  The Market Center tower is notable for its attractive design, which includes 18-foot-diameter clocks on all sides and an arch design with a masonry pattern on its concrete pedestal.  The tower is also famous for having caught on fire three times, once during construction when the curing concrete generated enough heat to set fire to the foam forms, and twice because of the neon lighting within the clock melting plastic and creating flames.

The three above-ground tanks surround the city in such a manner to aid firefighting.  Dale Folen, then a project manager at the Minnetonka firm of Rieke Carroll Muller Associates, Inc. when the tower was built, explained, “The ability to fight a fire from multiple directions optimizes the watermain sizing.  If you can cause water to flow from two different directions in fighting a fire, you cut the velocity in half and double the available water going to it.”

In addition to its tank and towers, Eden Prairie has three underground tanks on the north side of the treatment plant for another 3.5 million gallons of storage.

Eden Prairie water treatment plant
Above: The Eden Prairie water treatment plant, originally built in 1974, was last expanded in 1998. Below: Bob Peterson explains the utility’s SCADA system, which, along with the utility’s process control and chemical feed systems, is undergoing major upgrades. In May 2012 the city learned it had won the “Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation” for the Midwest Region for cities in the 30,001 to 100,000 population category.
Bob Peterson

The 1998 plant expansion added an environmental education center.  The utility brings in students and others to raise awareness about water.  The center has also hosted the Drinking Water Institute, an annual three-day seminar for science teachers to learn about ways to add drinking water to their curriculum, and is the metro home for the Water Environment Technologies course conducted by St. Cloud Community and Technical College.

Wahlen says he knows the importance of communication and education about water.  Responsible use of water by residents helps to keep their summer peaks at manageable levels.  The city had a decline in water consumption the last two years, a result of conservation although Wahlen says it may have been affected by a pair of wet summers and that they’ll get a better idea of how people steward their water use as they come into a dry spring and summer.

In 2011 Eden Prairie went from a two-tiered to a five-tiered residential rate structure.  “We kept the rates reasonable for reasonable users,” said Wahlen, with the lowest rate being $1.85 per thousand gallons and the highest at $4.35 per thousand gallons.  Wahlen said most of their commercial customers use a more consistent amount of water year-round although those who need irrigation as part of their business have a separate irrigation meter billed at $2.85 per thousand gallons at the lowest tier, up to a maximum of $4.85 per thousand gallons for use above 26,000 gallons per month.

The 1998 expansion also focused on the grounds as a public example of water-conserving landscapes, providing a pleasant appearance and using flora that needs little water. 

A pleasing appearance is part of the other utility facilities away from the plant, conforming with the city’s “brick or better” standard for commercial property.  Well 7 is housed in a split-level structure designed to blend in with adjacent houses, and another wellhouse was built with two-tone gray rusticated stone to match an office building behind it.  The wellhouse by the entrance to City Hall includes an electric signboard with messages about city business and community events.

Although Eden Prairie is built out to its limits on all sides, the city anticipates some redevelopment as well as potential for more multi-family dwellings, especially with the coming of the Southwest Light Rail Transit line.  The comprehensive plan estimates a population of 77,000 by 2030. 

Wahlen said they’re in a position to meet the demand and ready for anything else that comes along, adding, “It’s always changing.”

Eden Prairie wellhouse
The city’s well houses were designed to blend in with residential and commercial buildings.
Eden Prairie wellhouse at city hall

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Safety Spotlight: Walk Like a Cop

Body-language expert Janine Driver included a link in her Lyin’ Tamer Gazette newsletter to an article by Lori Houck on how to develop street-cop body language, a skill that could keep away the bad guys when water operators, engineers, regulators, and anyone else are out working or doing anything else.

“When a predator or criminal is scoping out potential victims, body language often holds the key to whether we are put on the prey list or not,” writes Houck. “This means we have a good chance at NOT making their radar light
up by using body language as a piece of armor in self defense.”

Some ways street cops look confident and in control include standing with head high, back straight, feet wide; walking with a purposeful stride; and looking people in the eye and speaking with a strong voice.

Awareness, self-control, competence, readiness, and awareness, Houck says, won’t attract thugs as much as body language that is timid, insecure, uncertain, and clueless. “We don’t all have to walk the cop walk or put on their body language daily. It’s something you put on when the need arises.”

The complete article is available on-line.

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High-hazard Cross Connections as Significant Deficiencies—Part 3

What Does a Good Cross Connection Control Program Look Like?

Third in a series by MDH engineer David Rindal

From the perspective of the Minnesota Department of Health, a cross connection control (CCC) program is beneficial because it helps a public water supply (PWS) identify inadequately protected high-hazard cross connections through a logical, systematic process.  Obviously, the size, complexity, and comprehensiveness of such a program depend on available resources.  But what minimal features should a CCC program include?  A comprehensive CCC program will normally include the following elements:

  • Authority to implement the program, e.g., powers granted through city ordinance
  • Authority to enforce the program, e.g., powers granted through city ordinance
  • Reporting and recordkeeping
  • Certification of backflow assembly testers (Minnesota Statute 326B.437[b])
  • Public notification of backflow events

As a cross connection control program grows and matures, a municipality might find it useful to add other functions:

  • Approval of specific backflow prevention devices
  • Specification of backflow prevention device testing requirements
  • Backflow protection requirements based on premise type
  • Public education campaigns, e.g., backflow education pamphlets with utility bills

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Target Field Toured

Tour of Target Field
Students at the Metro District Water Operators School had the chance to tour the ultrafiltration water system at Target Field in April. The system captures rainwater, treats it, and uses the water for irrigation and cleaning. Below, Mike Sandor of Pentair explains the treatment system.
Filters at Target Field

Other Water Operator School Highlights

Meter Madness at the Southeast District School
Above: Meter Madness was a feature of the Southeast District School. Below: Don Shelby was the keynote speaker at the Metro School.
Don Shelby

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Clean Water Fund Performance Report Now Available

The Minnesota Department of Health participated with seven other government partners in the development of a tracking framework and performance report targeted at measuring the difference that money from the Clean Water Fund makes in protecting and restoring Minnesota’s waters.

The Clean Water Fund performance report contains a summary of 18 measures with status and trend information in a report-card format, including measures of technical
assistance for wellhead protection planning, new health-based guidelines for contaminants of emerging concern, changes in source water quality, and new wells with elevated nitrate concentrations. MDH Clean Water Fund initiatives are also included in the financial investments section.

The report is designed to help Minnesotans understand the connections between Clean Water funds invested, actions taken, and outcomes achieved. The 18 measures in the report provide a snapshot of how Clean Water Fund dollars are being spent and the progress that’s been made. The measures are organized into three sections: investment, surface water quality, and drinking water protection. These measures are part of a larger set that will be used to consistently track and report clean water outcomes over the 25 year life of the amendment.

Each measure has a status ranking and trend information. Of the 18 measures, status and trends vary; 6 measures showed improving trends, 11 showed no trend or were too early to assess, and 1 showed a slightly declining trend.

Money in the Clean Water Fund comes from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that Minnesotans passed in 2008. The Legacy Amendment increased the state sales tax by three-eighths of one percent beginning on July 1, 2009 and continuing until 2034. One-third of the revenue is distributed to the Clean Water Fund, and five percent of that amount is set aside for drinking water protection.

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Change in Fluoride Optimal Level Proposed

In 2011 the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) proposed an adjustment to the recommended optimal fluoride level in drinking water for dental health. The proposed recommendation was a single national fluoride level of 0.7 parts per million (ppm) for community public water supplies. If approved, this would replace an optimal fluoride range of 0.7 to 1.2 ppm, which was used by the state of Minnesota when it developed its fluoridation laws.

To promote public health through the prevention of tooth decay, Minnesota requires municipal water supplies to maintain an average distribution system fluoride concentration of 1.2 ppm while remaining between 0.9 ppm and 1.5 ppm. That requirement remains in effect. The newly proposed HHS optimal level of 0.7 ppm was subject to a 30-day public comment period with a final recommendation expected at the beginning of 2012. Once the HHS recommendations are finalized, MDH will investigate changes in policies and/or laws that will continue to promote and protect the dental health of all Minnesotans.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency also announced in 2011 that it intends to reevaluate the existing fluoride maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 4.0 ppm. A secondary (non-enforceable guideline) standard for fluoride is 2.0 ppm to protect against moderate dental fluorosis, a cosmetic effect. Some areas of Minnesota have naturally occurring fluoride in the ground water. All systems are in compliance with the MCL although a small number have levels of fluoride above 2 ppm in their water.

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Bayport Receives Fluoride Grant

Fluoride award recipients
David Rindal of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Drinking Water Protection Section and Patti Ulrich of the MDH Oral Health Program visited Bayport water operator Tim Gardner (right) after the Bayport municipal water system received a grant to upgrade its fluoridation equipment. The grant program was developed by MDH and funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Municipal water suppliers monitor system performance, collect daily samples, and submit reports and results to MDH on a monthly basis. They also collect and submit quarterly duplicate samples to the MDH Public Health Laboratory. Samples are collected from distribution system locations that are representative of the entire drinking water system. At optimal levels, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that community water fluoridation reduces childhood cavities by approximately 18 to 40 percent.

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Legionella and Water Supplies

Legionellosis is a collection of infections that emerged in the second half of the 20th century and are caused by Legionella pneumophila and related Legionella bacteria. The severity of legionellosis varies from mild febrile illness (Pontiac fever) to a potentially fatal form of pneumonia (Legionnaires’ disease) that can affect anyone, but it principally affects those who are susceptible due to age, illness, immunosuppression, or other risk factors, such as smoking. Water is the major natural reservoir for legionellae, and the bacteria are found worldwide in many different natural and artificial aquatic environments.

Illness occurs when contaminated aerosolized water from cooling towers, whirlpool baths, nebulizers, faucets, and showerheads becomes airborne. When a susceptible host inhales the contaminated aerosol, legionellosis can occur. Aspiration of the contaminated water can also cause the disease.
Legionella thrive in a warm humid environment and are somewhat resistant to chlorine disinfection. Monitoring for Legionella bacteria in public water supplies is not routinely conducted. Proper operation and maintenance of a public water system, including disinfection of the distribution system, can control any bacterium that may be present and reduce the risk of illness occurring.  It is only when optimal conditions that allow the bacteria to multiply rapidly are present and there is a loss in a protective barrier that illness occurs.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, cases of Legionnaires’ disease have nearly tripled over the last decade.  This apparent increase may be due in part to improvements in the detection of the disease but can also be attributed to warm climates and extreme weather events. In any case, water consumers and providers need to take preventative measures to protect against this disease.

Last summer there was one reported case of illness in Minnesota that may have been linked to a temporary water service line.  This work was not unusual for a watermain replacement project. The hot weather, the dark color of the plastic piping, and low water use, in part due to summer vacations, all provided the conditions needed to allow bacteria to grow rapidly.  The following recommendations apply when installing temporary lines above ground:

  • Make sure piping used for temporary watermain meets the requirements of the Minnesota Department of Health.
  • Disinfect the temporary line before installation.
  • Keep the temporary water service line in place for the shortest time possible.
  • Test the watermain and service lines or bacteriological quality prior to use in accordance with American Water Works Association Standard C-651.
  • Make sure a chlorine residual is always present in the water line.
  • If possible, provide insulation to maintain a lower temperature in the line.
  • Flush the water line regularly.
  • Notify residents prior to connection with a recommendation to flush their pipes before using the water if the water has been idle for several hours.

Other water sources that provide optimal conditions for growth of the organisms include domestic hot-water heaters that operate below 140º F and deliver water to taps below 122º F; humidifiers and decorative fountains that create a water spray; dental water lines, which are frequently maintained at a temperature range of 68º F to 98º F; stagnant water in fire sprinkler systems; and warm water for eye washes and safety showers. 

There are several guidelines and standards available for maintaining water quality in buildings.  The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers is developing a Legionella Standard: Standard 188 P, Prevention of Legionellosis Associated with Building Water Systems. The purpose of this standard is to present practices for the prevention of legionellosis associated with centralized building water systems. 

Those with questions about legionella and their water system may contact their district engineer or look for more information on legionella at upcoming water operator schools.

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AWWA Issues Report on Infrastructure Challenges

American Water Works Association has issued a report, Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge, described as a “call to action to utilities, consumers, and policy makers” that “recognizes that the need to replace pipe in the ground puts a growing stress on communities that will continue to increase for decades to come.”

Among the findings in Buried No Longer are that the needs are large, household water bills will go up, important differences exist based on system size and region, and that postponing investments will only make the problems worse.

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Words to Live By: Wisdom to Carry You through Life

When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.
—Henry J. Kaiser

Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.
—Eddie Rickenbacker

I feel sorry for someone who has to win at everything.

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Life is a pile of maybes.
—Stew Thornley

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Reminder to All Water Operators

When submitting water samples for analyses, remember to do the following:

  • Take coliform samples on the distribution system, not at the wells or entry points.
  • Write the Date Collected, Time Collected, and Collector’s Name on the lab form.
  • Write the Sample Point on lab forms for bacteriological and fluoride samples.
  • Attach the label to each bottle (do not attach labels to the lab form).
  • Include lab forms with submitted samples.
  • Do not use a rollerball or gel pen; the ink may run.

If you have questions, call the Minnesota Department of Health contact on the back of all sample instruction forms.

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Operator training sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota AWWA will be held in several locations this spring.

Upcoming water training schedule


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Updated Friday, February 10, 2017 at 08:10AM