Drinking Water Protection: Waterline, Summer 2014 - EH: Minnesota Department of Health
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Stew Thornley

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Safe Drinking Water Week Proclaimed: MDH Celebrates Anniversary of Safe Drinking Water Act

Lt. Governor Prettner Solon presenting proclamation
Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed May 4-10, 2014 as Safe Drinking Water Week in Minnesota, and representatives of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the Minnesota Section of American Water Works Association, and the Minnesota Rural Water Association met with Yvonne Prettner Solon, the lieutenant governor (holding plaque). Chatfield, Paynesville, and Glenwood also received awards for their source water protection efforts. During the week MDH released its annual drinking water report, which notes the 40th anniversary of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. MDH also produced a video on the anniversary that includes former governor Al Quie and former vice president Walter Mondale, both members of Congress when the act was passed, as well as Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Steve Schneider of St. Paul Regional Water Services.
Photo of Steve Schneider from video

The Minnesota Department of Health released its annual drinking water report with a theme of the 40th anniversary of the passage of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The also covers results of monitoring done in the past year and is online: Minnesota Department of Health Drinking Water Protection Annual Report for 2013.

Cover of 2014 drinking water annual report

As part of the SDWA anniversary, MDH produced a short video on the significance of this landmark federal legislation.

Video: YouTube - Safe Drinking Water Act 40th Anniversary

It can also be accessed with a QR reader by scanning the image below.

QR code for video

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St. Louis Park Water Supply Remains Reliable Despite Challenges

Fire at Republic Creosoting - May 1964
A May 1964 fire in the yards of Republic Creosoting produced more smoke than flames, but it lured many curious residents to the site. It was reported that the black smoke could be seen as far away as St. Paul, more than 10 miles to the east.

Incorporated as a village in 1886 and taking the status of a city 68 years later, St. Louis Park is a suburb to the west of Minneapolis.  It has been home to sports announcer and writer Halsey Hall, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, senator and comedian Al Franken, football coach Marc Trestman, and New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman.

St. Louis Park Water TowerWell drillers and plumbers who also made St. Louis Park their home and center of business operations played a major role in the development of a public water system that now serves 49,000 residents.  McAlpine Well Company was formed in 1922 and located at 1333 Kentucky Avenue, near Wayzata Boulevard (now Interstate 394).  Plumber Gust Hoglund began operations from his home in St. Louis Park in 1924, and within 10 years the village passed its first plumbing ordinance and had its first connection, by the Church of Holy Name, to the municipal water main.  The Motzko family, now in its third generation of operation in St. Louis Park, was responsible for many of the early connections to the water supply.

E. H. Renner & Sons, currently located in Elk River, Minnesota, was started in St. Louis Park.  The well-drilling company’s current president and chief executive officer, Roger Renner, was born into the firm in 1949, along with his twin brother, Ray, who is now the firm’s vice president.  The family home and company headquarters then co-existed at 5800 Goodrich Avenue as the company was heading into its third generation of family leadership at the time and was already prominent in providing water to the rapidly growing area.

Today, St. Louis Park supplies water to residents from nine active wells, ranging in depth from 286 to 1,095 feet and drawing from the Prairie du Chien-Jordan, Mt. Simon-Hinckley, Jordan-St. Lawrence, Platteville, and St. Peter aquifers.  The city used sand filters to reduce iron and manganese levels, but over time it became apparent that more effort was needed to keep the water safe.

Republic Creosoting
Beginning in 1917, the plant and yard of Republic Creosoting Company, a division of Reilly Tar and Chemical Corporation, covered 80 acres to the southwest of 32nd Street and Louisiana Avenue.  Republic Creosoting distilled coal tar and made a variety of products, including creosote that was used to treat rail ties and other lumber at the site.  The area was sparsely populated initially, but as the community grew following World War II, the appearance and odors of the site became a cause of increasing concern to residents as well as city and state officials. 

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) issued a report on the site as far back as 1938, noting pollution at the site from the creosote operations.  By this time, problems were evident as St. Louis Park had already closed its first municipal well because of odor problems and a coal-tar taste. 

In 1970 the newly created Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) sued Reilly Tar and Chemical; two years later, St. Louis Park purchased the land and took over responsibility for the cleanup.  The site was deeded to the city’s housing and redevelopment authority and portions of the site later sold to private parties, who constructed a tavern, condominiums, and townhouses.

As the property became one of the first Superfund sites in the country in the early 1980s, the MPCA amended its original lawsuit against Reilly Tar and Chemical; in addition, city, state, and federal agencies pursued legal and administrative actions.

Reilly hired a consulting firm in Pittsburgh to help it deal with the lawsuits, and a young geologist named Bill Gregg got his first exposure to the issue.  More than 30 years later, Gregg is still working on it.  “This is my career project,” he said.  The parties to the lawsuit reached a consent decree/remedial action plan in 1986, prompting Gregg to move to the Twin Cities, and he has continued to work with the company and St. Louis Park even while changing employers.  For the past three years, Gregg has worked for Summit Envirosolutions, Inc. of St. Paul. 

For decades the wood treating process left lumber dripping with creosote that percolated into the water table.   On-site waste disposal was through ditches that flowed to an adjacent wetland.  Beyond that was the discovery on the site of an abandoned production well from 1917 that Gregg characterizes as “a poster child for the well code.”  A down-hole camera in the well detected openings in the casing that allowed for contaminants to enter the Prairie du Chien aquifer.  “If not for this well,” Gregg said, “a lot of the problems wouldn’t exist.”

Initial sampling was performed by MDH on St. Louis Park water in 1978, and several wells exceeded the guideline limit established by the World Health Organization.  As a result, the city shut down six wells over the next three years, causing supply issues and resulting in water restrictions in St. Louis Park.

In 1979 MDH found a significant increase in breast cancer in women in St. Louis Park but concluded in a report to the Minnesota legislature six years later that it was unlikely that it was related to water contamination.  “Neither the 1978 testing by MDH nor the subsequent testing that continues to this day has detected cancer-causing chemicals in the city’s water supply wells above safe levels,” Gregg emphasized.

However, one recommendation of the report was the creation of a statewide cancer surveillance system “to enable the systematic collection and analysis of cancer incidence data.”  The Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System was established on January 1, 1988, and all cancers in Minnesota residents are reported to the Minnesota Department of Health.  

MDH engineer Bassam Banat taking a sample at St. Louis Park
MDH engineer Bassam Banat sampled the water at one of St. Louis Park’s wells in the 1990s.

Dealing with supply issues and eventually treating the water to remove creosote chemicals was a major task for longtime water superintendent Scott Anderson, who recently retired; it is an ongoing one for Anderson’s successor, Jay Hall, and others in the utility, such as supervisors Bruce Berthiaume and John Laumann.

The city has added two water treatment plants with granular activated carbon (GAC).  One, constructed in 1985, is located in the well field by Bronx Park, off Minnetonka Boulevard and Jersey Avenue.  Hall said that water from two of the wells on the site passes through the sand and carbon filters.  The other GAC plant, built in 1991, is in the southern part of the city, at 41st Street and Natchez Avenue, near the border with Edina.

GAC plant at Bronx Park in St. Louis Park
St. Louis Park added granular activated carbon treatment to its plant in Bronx Park and to another plant in the southern part of the city.

Carrying On

With the consent decree nearing its 30-year anniversary, some objectives have been achieved, but the creosote remains buried at the site.  “St. Louis Park groundwater will probably continue to require testing long into the future,” says Gregg.

The St. Louis Park Historical Society, which in 2001 produced a book on the city’s history titled Something in the Water, wrote:

Having a creosote plant in our town has been a mixed blessing.  Of course there was the smell in the air, the taste in the water, and the fear of a health risk.  On the other hand, the plant provided much-needed employment for many people over a period of some 65 years and produced valuable building products instrumental to the early growth of St. Louis Park and area railroads.  It’s gone now, cleaned up and decontaminated—in fact, St. Louis Park has some of the most tested water in the state.  But there are still some who wonder if there is “something in the water.”

St. Louis Park flooding in the spring of 1965
A retention pond at 32nd Street and Oregon Avenue frequently overflowed and flooded adjacent homes. In the spring of 1965, the water also overwhelmed a lift station and drew a pair of nearby residents. (The smaller of the two lads in the above photo is now the editor of the Waterline.) The city pumped the water to higher ground through a 12-inch pipe and found that the system wasn’t child-proof. A local miscreant (not one of the two shown in the photo) unscrewed one of the caps on the pipe, resulting in a geyser, shown in the picture below with Republic Creosoting in the background.
Geyser from pipe in front of Republic Creosting - Spring 1965

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Drinking Water Tops List of Best Inventions; Bottled Water Makes Different List

The Institution of Chemical Engineers published a survey of chemical engineers who voted for the most important chemically engineered inventions and solutions of the modern era:

1. Drinking water
2. Petrol or gasoline (and other fuels, including diesel)
3. Antibiotics
4. Electricity generation (from fossil fuels)
5. Vaccines
6. Plastics
7. Fertilizer
8. Sanitation
9. Electricity generation (from non-fossil fuels)
10. Dosed medications

Other notable inventions include biofuels, contraceptives, batteries, the catalytic converter, adhesives, and photographic film.

Bottled Water on Lifehacker's “Things You Should Never Pay For” List

The Lifehacker website (devoted to “tips, tricks, and downloads for getting things done”) included bottled water in its list of “Ten Things You Should Never Pay For.” Along with late fees, audiobooks, and disposable lunch bags, the website had this reasoning for not paying for bottled water:

If you want to save a buck here and there, get into the habit of carrying around a water bottle. As long as the water is potable and safe, you can fill up at drinking fountains and save the expense of buying a disposable water bottle. Most gas station convenience stores don’t mind if you politely ask to fill up with filtered water from their soda machine.

Lifehacker Ten Things You Should Never Pay For

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Minnesota Department of Health Implements Virus Study

By Anita Anderson and Lih-In Rezania
Minnesota Department of Health

In response to a request by the Minnesota legislature, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has implemented a study of viruses in groundwater by conducting virus monitoring on a set of representative public water supply wells. This study is currently funded for two years through the Clean Water Fund.

Waterborne viral illness outbreaks have been associated with groundwater sources. In addition, it is unknown whether these viral contaminants are responsible for a significant portion of endemic (non-outbreak) illnesses or if they are responsible for outbreaks with no known cause. National surveys have shown that approximately 30 percent of drinking water wells may be contaminated with human pathogenic viruses. MDH would like to determine if this national occurrence rate is a good estimate of virus contamination in Minnesota or if the following factors might lead to a different incidence rate in our state:

  • requirements of the Minnesota Well Code
  • management practices for contaminant sources
  • unique climatologic or geologic factors

Some of you may remember participating in a virus study in the late 1990s. The current study will cover a wider range of well characteristics and use improved virus detection techniques.

The first year of the study will involve bi-monthly sampling at approximately 75 public water systems. These public water systems were randomly selected from a list that represents year-round, non-disinfecting, groundwater public water systems in Minnesota. This sampling should allow MDH to get the big picture of virus occurrence in Minnesota and will help determine what sources should be sampled in the second year of the study.

If MDH discovers that viruses are a problem in Minnesota, it would need to be able to predict which sources are most likely to be subject to contamination. Viruses behave differently from bacteria, so the coliform bacteria sampling that is currently conducted is often not a good indicator of virus occurrence. Existing regulations do not require continuous disinfection of all public water supplies, but groundwater supplies that are subject to contamination need to provide treatment to protect public health. Virus analysis is expensive; therefore, MDH would need to be able to use other tools to predict virus occurrence. Additional data will be collected on the wells being sampled in order to refine MDH’s methodology for identifying wells that are at risk to pathogen contamination. The data will help by linking the presence of viruses in a groundwater source to factors such as well construction, geologic sensitivity, and chemical and biological water quality parameters.

Year Two
A parallel study starting in May of 2015 will evaluate the association between source water virus concentration and community acute gastrointestinal illness incidence rate. Community illness will be tracked in study communities and related to the presence and type of viruses in source water.

The project will provide information critical to determining if virus contamination presents a human health risk in Minnesota groundwater. The data generated will be used to identify key factors that contribute to the protection of drinking water sources and to reduce the public health risk should pathogens be present.

Working on the Virus Study and New to Drinking Water Protection

Photo of Dane Huber and Jared Schmaedeke

The Drinking Water Protection Section of the Minnesota Department of Health welcomes two public health sanitarians who are working on the virus monitoring pilot study.

Dane Huber (on the left) is from Northfield and graduated from St. Olaf College in 2006 with a degree in biology and environmental studies. He has worked in the Inorganic Chemistry Unit in the MDH Public Health Laboratory as an environmental analyst. Dane’s other work experiences include an internship with Ramsey County as an environmental resource technical intern and two seasons as a fly-fishing guide at a remote Alaskan lodge near Bristol Bay.

Jared Schmaedeke is from Matteson, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago. He worked as a hazardous materials technician for Environmental Restoration LLC, transferring chemicals and cleaning up a variety of spills from semi-trucks being destroyed by trains. He has also inventoried storage tanks (above-ground and underground) and worked with hazardous materials for a Fortune 500 company.

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Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Combines Beauty and Brainpower

Apples at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is known for gardens, tree collections, sculptures, prairies, woods, and trails.  Covering more than 1,200 acres in Chanhassen, Chaska, and Victoria, the arboretum is one of the top visitor attractions in the area.  It continues its heritage as a research center and also plays a role in protecting and maintaining water resources through environmental stewardship.

The arboretum’s roots go back to 1908 with the establishment of the Horticultural Research Center to develop crops and plants that can tolerate and thrive in a northern climate.  Plant breeders from the University of Minnesota developed hardy cultivars of many types of  fruits, with apples being the largest project.  Only the hardiest survive, and an extremely cold winter in 1917 to 1918 helped pick out the survivors.

Peter Moe, who has been with the arboretum for 37 years and is now its director of operations and research, said, “It just takes one night of 32 below in January or February; any plant that is not hardy to that temperature could have injury.”  Flower buds on azaleas are the most vulnerable part of the plant, and one cold night could damage the buds.  “It wouldn’t kill the plant, but it wouldn’t bloom, so you lose the main reason for growing that plant.”

Extreme cold can cause a trunk injury or xylem damage within the trunk that can shorten the life of a tree.  Beyond the issue of temperature, Moe said plants need the ability to mature during season in this area, typically from May to October.

Pumpkin display at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

The arboretum’s apple-breeding program has developed a number of renowned varieties.  The Haralson apple in 1922 was the first to catch on with the orchard industry, according to Moe. “What we call the modern breeding program started with Honeycrisp, introduced in 1991 with the original cross done in mid-1960s.”

Honeycrisp trees thrive in a climate with cool nights and moderate daytime temperatures leading up to the harvest season.  The development of the Honeycrisp apple was honored as one of the top 25 innovations of the decade by the Association of University Technology Managers, which recognizes significant academic research and technology transfer.

“Apples are really heterozygous [having alternative forms of the same gene],” said Moe.  An F1 apple cross [a term used in breeding] has all sorts of genes that aren’t expressed in either one of the parents and might show up in the progeny.  The seedling apples can be very different from either parent  because you’re combining two different parents with different DNA—getting a lot of variation showing up with apples.”

After 50 years of fruit research, the arboretum was established in 1958 as part of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Sculpture Garden at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

The Arboretum Today
With a recent acquisition of 78 acres of land in Victoria, the arboretum now has 1,225 acres, more than five times the size of the initial research center. 

“The arboretum initially did some of the same breeding work with landscape plants,” Moe said, “such as the hardiest azaleas that could be found and then did some crosses and developed hybrids that could survive in extreme cold.”

The arboretum still has generic collections, but Moe said most visitors go through the display gardens and landscape plantings “where we take the best plants for Minnesota, which have been evaluated in our generic collections—the best shade trees, best flowering shrubs—and combine them with best perennials and annuals and other plants to make attractive landscapes.”

The University of Minnesota has also become recognized as one of the top wine-grape research programs in the country, developing cold-hardy and disease resistant wine-grape cultivars.

Water and the Environment
The arboretum researches methods to preserve water quality and restore wetlands.  In wetland demonstration sites, researchers are investigating whether 1) short-lived perennials can be used to suppress reed canary grass that invades damaged wetlands, and 2) whether nutrients increase the likelihood of weedy plant invasion.

Rainwater gardens of hardy plants sited in low-lying areas trap and absorb runoff from roofs and streets.  Runoff from parking lots is channeled into beds to support a variety of plants.

As for the facility's own water needs, municipal water from Chanhassen serves the northern part of the arboretum, including its visitors and learning center.  A research center and greenhouse, to the west in Victoria, uses a noncommunity public well with softening and deionizing performed on the water.  “In the conservatory, we don’t want spotting on the leaves from minerals,” Moe said.  “In the research center is a wine lab that needs pure water.

“We don’t want the water to be a variable in the work they’re doing.”

Much of the irrigation throughout the arboretum is done with surface water from Lake Tamarack, to the north, and Green Heron Pond within the grounds.  Moe said drip irrigation requires pure water, and they have three filters with sand media on the shore of the lake.

Memberships and private donations are part of the funding for the arboretum.  Grants from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources and the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment of 2008 made possible the most recent acquisition of land.

However, royalties from the plants developed remain a major part of keeping the research center and arboretum going.  Ornamental plants and trees are patented or trademarked.  The University of Minnesota supplies nurseries and other growers with other propagation materials.  Moe said that from the twigs of an apple tree, a nursery may make as many as 10,000 trees and pay the University a royalty for each one.

The market is competitive, Moe says, adding that a large grocery store may contain produce from as many as 50 different countries.  “We’re competing in a global market.  We need a variety that is better than any other variety.

“As the standards get higher, consumers benefit.”

Flowers at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

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2014 Drinking Water Institute to be Held in St. Paul

Water Works! A Drinking Water Institute for Educators, held at the Cascade Meadow Environmental Learning Center Rochester in 2013, will be conducted at MINNCOR Industries this summer from Monday, August 4 to Wednesday, August 6. Each year Minnesota science teachers attend the three-day Institute, learning about drinking water and ways to develop inquiry-based activities that can be incorporated into their
existing science curriculum.

The program is free to interested teachers, who will receive college credit for their participation.

Water Works! is sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Section of AWWA and is conducted through a partnership with Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education.

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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.
  • Consult your monitoring plan(s) prior to collecting required compliance samples.

Notify your Minnesota Department of Health district engineer of any e-mail changes for contact people.

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

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Hollywood Squares Favorites

Q. If you’re going to make a parachute jump, at least how high should you be?
A. Charley Weaver: Three days of steady drinking should do it.

Q. You’ve been having trouble going to sleep. Are you probably a man or a woman?
A. Don Knotts: That’s what’s been keeping me awake.

Q. When you pat a dog on its head he will wag his tail. What will a goose do?
A. Paul Lynde: Make him bark?

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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.

Minnesota Water Operators Training Schedule


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Updated Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 08:03AM