Drinking Water Protection: Waterline, Summer 2016 - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Waterline: Summer 2016

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Stew Thornley

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Governor's Water Summit

Betty McCollum

U. S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum greeted approximately 800 participants to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s Water Quality Summit in St. Paul on February 27. The governor, in his opening statements, was interrupted by a group protesting the Sandpiper crude-oil pipeline. With signs that included, “Love Water, Not Oil” and the group leader speaking through a bullhorn, the protesters expressed their concerns about the pipeline crossing sensitive lands and wetlands of the Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, asking why the topic was not part of the summit and emphasizing the need for tribal members to be part of the pipeline’s discussion. The group left the stage after the governor said he would meet with them later in the morning.

Governor Dayton noted that at least as many people in attendance had been turned away because of space constraints, calling the “overwhelming response” an indication that his goal “to spotlight this serious problem” was achieved. “Clean, safe water is something we must insist upon,” Dayton said, adding that what is needed are “not more laws and regulations. They are last resorts. What we really need is to establish the ethic of clean water practices.

“I urge you and I ask you is to spend the day establishing our ethic­—that clean water practices are every Minnesotan’s responsibility. Anything less is unacceptable. It is achievable if all of us do our part.”

Protest at Water Summit
After the opening session, participants broke into groups to discuss various topics, which were recorded by staff members for the governor’s consideration.
Breakout group at Water Summit
The summit concluded with Lt. Governor Tina Smith leading a panel of Minnesota business leaders on the role of industry in protecting water.
Panel discussion at Water Summit

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MDH Roots: Still Planted

Keystone Building - Red Wing

The Minnesota State Board of Health (now the Minnesota Department of Health) was established in Red Wing, making Minnesota the third state (after Massachusetts and California) to establish a board of health. The law establishing the board—passed May 4, 1872—had the support of the American Medical Association, the Minnesota State Medical Association, and Governor Horace Austin. The Board of Health moved to the Twin Cities in 1894. The necessity of safe water supplies was an early priority for the board. Typhoid fever, a waterborne disease, was taking a large toll of lives at this time. The original home of the State Board of Health, the Keystone Building, still stands at 409 Main Street in Red Wing (above).

Just two blocks away from the original Board of Health Building, at 216 Dakota Street in Red Wing, is the Dr. Charles N. Hewitt Laboratory, built in 1857 and still in existence (below). Hewitt was an army surgeon during the Civil War, noting the importance of cleanliness to public health. He came to Red Wing in 1867, five years before establishing the State Board of Health and becoming its first executive director, a post he held for nearly a quarter-century. He had studied at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and in 1890, in the building pictured below, he established the first laboratory for producing smallpox vaccine in Minnesota. A show dedicated to Hewitt is on YouTube: APHJ - Dr. Charles Hewitt with Char Henn, Goodhue County Historical Society.

Dr. Charles N. Hewitt Laboratory

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Metro School Moving Back to Earle Brown Heritage Center

The Metro District of American Water Works Association had planned to hold its 2017 three-day operator school at the Ramada Mall of America (formerly the Thunderbird) Hotel next April.

However, the abrupt closing of the hotel has caused the district to select the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center as the site of next year’s training, which will be held from Monday, April 3 to Wednesday, April 5.

The school has normally been held on a Tuesday to Thursday, but because of a lack of available dates, it will be Monday to Wednesday in 2017. The plan is to return to the Tuesday-Thursday format in future years.

The Metro District has used the Earle Brown Heritage Center for the school over the past 15 years. The center can accommodate the group’s size and has good facilities, service, and food. It is more expensive than other venues the district has used and will result in higher registration fees.

The district met recently and set the fees for 2017 at $225 ($275 after March 17).

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Bacteriological Results for CWSs > 1,000 on Weekends

When taking bacteriological samples, it is recommended that regularly scheduled sampling occurs Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday (or Thursday if samples are analyzed the same day). Thursday sampling with overnight shipment is allowed; however, results will then come in on Saturday or Sunday.

If results come in on a weekend, the community water system (CWS) must notify the State Duty Officer at 800-422-0798 of positive results. The State Duty Officer will then notify the on-call Minnesota Department of Health engineer, who will work with the water system on the next steps.

Community water systems serving a population of more than 1,000 (not the laboratory) are required to notify MDH of a positive result on weekdays or weekends.

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Flint: Still a Hot Topic

The issue of lead in water continues to receive a lot of attention as a result of the situation in Flint, Michigan. An Associated Press story in April revealed that nearly 1,400 public water systems nationally exceeded the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency action level for lead in water between 2013 and 2015.

In Minnesota, the news is better. At this time, only one community water system is considered in exceedance of the action level; this situation was caused by a sample in a home that had a leaking water heater. Although the problem has been rectified, the system will be in exceedance until it passes two sampling rounds over the next year, in accordance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. When the federal Lead and Copper Rule began in the early 1990s, initial sampling put a significant number of community systems in exceedance. Through a variety of corrosion-control strategies—adjustment of chemical properties in the water, addition of corrosion inhibitors, replacement of lead service lines—that number has dropped to almost zero in the state.

Public water systems continue to sample for lead in water on regular intervals. In addition, any system switching or adding a source of water must submit plans to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Engineers review the plans and examine corrosion-control methods that could be necessary to ensure that the water does not absorb materials from pipes in the distribution system.

In addition, MDH engineers review water quality reports, which follow each round of sampling by a system. Based on these reports, engineers may issue recommendations related to the possibility that the water has the potential to absorb materials, which could include lead, from water mains, service connections between the water mains and homes, and household plumbing.

Rick Wahlen, Eden Prairie’s manager of utility operations, has studied what has happened in Flint and has presented his information at water operator schools around the state. Wahlen provided a detailed analysis of Flint in the Spring 2016 issue of the Breeze, the quarterly publication of the Minnesota Section of American Water Works Association. This issue is available: The Breeze.

MDH compliance engineer Anna Schliep has also been presenting about lead in Minnesota across the state to provide education to operators and the general public about the Lead and Copper Rule. She has presented several times with Jim Bode of St. Paul Regional Water Services and will be presenting with Rick Wahlen at other schools. Questions about lead and copper sampling or the Lead and Copper Rule, may be sent to Anna at anna.schliep@state.mn.us.

Even with a minimum of community water systems in Minnesota exceeding the action level for lead, public education continues to be recommended, particularly when construction or flushing may disrupt lead containing sediments. Due to the continued presence of lead in home plumbing and lead service lines, it is important to realize that lead can still be an issue in some homes even when the distribution system is in compliance. Simple precautions can make a difference in reducing exposure to lead in water. People are advised to flush their faucets any time water hasn’t been used for six to eight hours. Water that has been idle in the pipes can absorb materials from the plumbing system. Letting the water run until it becomes the coldest it will get before using any of it for drinking or cooking is a good idea. Using water from the cold tap, rather than hot tap, is also advised as hot water is more corrosive than cold water. Also, minimizing partial lead service line replacements and working with homeowners to get full lead service line replacements is the ideal way to get lead out of the distribution system. However, there may be a temporary increase in lead concentration in water until the water quality has stabilized. Partial lead service line replacements can cause lead release by disrupting sediments in the remaining portion of the line.

Lead Lines: On the issue of lead, public water systems need to remember that individual addresses where testing has been done for lead and/or copper are not public information and should not be released. Also, people calling MDH to ask if they have a lead service line and, if so, who owns the service line are being referred to the individual water system.

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Lewis & Clark Rumble Along

Ribbon cutting for Lewis & Clark project
A covey of VIPs came to Luverne in March to cut the ribbon for the city’s connection to the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System. “This is a momentous occasion that has been 26 years in the making,” said mayor Pat Baustian. “Having a stable pure water source for our citizens and the growth of our community is a huge deal.” Conceived in 1988 as a way of serving water-challenged areas in South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota, the Lewis & Clark project takes water from beneath the Missouri River at Vermillion, South Dakota, to communities as far as 60 miles away. The project will serve approximately 300,000 people when it is completed. The pipes crossed into Minnesota last May and began serving Rock County Rural Water District, the first project partner in the state to receive water. Luverne became the 13th partner overall to be connected with seven to go (including Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water System and Worthington in Minnesota). Dense fog in the area prevented Minnesota governor Mark Dayton from attending, but he sent a message that said, in part, “I am terribly sorry that air travel conditions have prevented me from being in Luverne today. This project is critically important to the people and businesses in the Luverne area. I congratulate everyone who has worked so hard to make it a reality.” In the photo below, pipe is placed for the segment from Luverne to Magnolia, which is the second of two connections for Rock County Rural Water District and the first of two connections for Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water System.
Pipe laying from Luverne to Magnolia

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MDH Review Prompts Changes to Water Sampling Procedures

A Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) internal review identified procedures associated with the handling of some drinking water samples with a temperature requirement during transport to laboratories that needed to be addressed.

As a result, beginning last February, MDH took a series of steps that included evaluation of past monitoring results to determine which complied with the temperature requirements and retesting of water systems; the resampling was based on factors such as past monitoring results and transport time from a sampling site to a laboratory.

In 2015 MDH took approximately 2,800 drinking water samples for organic chemicals (about 30 percent of the total water samples collected). Federal guidelines call for various compounds, including organic chemicals, to be kept at less than or equal to 6 degrees Celsius (but not frozen); in some cases, however, samples were transported at room temperature. This may have caused some samples to degrade and provide results lower than the true value. In most cases, the data were unlikely to have been off by a large margin, but the inconsistent approach needed to be addressed.

MDH commissioner Ed Ehlinger said, “While the situation as a whole would not suggest an increased risk for most communities, we want to ensure we have the highest level of reliability in our data on drinking water quality. This inconsistency is unacceptable and should not have happened. We’re moving swiftly to correct it.”

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Poster Contest Draws More than 1,600 Entries

Tara Haas with her winning poster
Tara Haas of Wayzata East Middle School (above, at right) received the grand prize in the annual water poster contest sponsored by H2O for Life, the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Section of American Water Works Association, and Bongard Corporation/Elkay, which provided a bottle-filling station to Tara’s school. Also pictured with Haas are Sarah Alexander and Abby Collins of H2O for Life and Mike Smeed of Bongard. The grand-prize poster is below.
Winning poster - Grand prize
Winning Elementary School poster
Other winning posters: From Jenna Ahles, Oxbow Creek Elementary in Champlin (above). From Angela Park, Duluth East High School (below).
Winning High School poster
Winning Middle School poster
From Kelly Kitoski, Jackson Middle School in Champlin (above).

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Words to Live By

Remember, if you can laugh at yourself, no one else ever will.
—Dennis the Menace

The answer to the mystery of life: “Be kind, don’t smoke, be prompt, smile a lot, eat sensibly, avoid cavities, and mark your ballot carefully.”
—Charlie Brown

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression

All the water that will ever be, is right now.
—National Geographic, 1990

The best thing about baseball is that you can do something about yesterday tomorrow.
—Manny Trillo

Die before you get old. Oops, too late.
—Grandpa Simpson

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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.


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

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Updated Wednesday, 27-Mar-2019 11:21:00 CDT