Drinking Water Protection: Waterline, Summer 2020 - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Waterline: Summer 2020

Waterline newsletter logo.

Stew Thornley

Subscribe to The Waterline newsletter. An e-mail notice is sent out each quarter when a new edition is posted to the web site.

On this page:

Coping and Continuing with COVID

Through floods, tornadoes, and other national disasters that shut down businesses and other operations, public water systems have been remarkably consistent in maintaining a safe supply of water for their customers. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a challenge like never before, but the drinking water profession continues to come through.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has been communicating regularly with public water systems and working with regulations and sampling protocol to ensure their operations can continue with the highest degree of safety for utility employees and customers.

The public water systems themselves are adjusting and finding ways to provide critical services while keeping health and safety as the highest priority.

Jay Hall, the utilities superintendent in St. Louis Park, says administrative staff are working from home while utility crews have been split into alternating 12-hour shifts. “We have been cross-training distribution with plant crew to back each other up in case people get sick,” Hall said. “We’ve done some training with street staff as well to help fill in as needed, especially on excavating work.” The utility limits one person to a vehicle, keeps all interior doors (except bathrooms) propped open, and wipes down equipment and buildings regularly.

St. Louis Park water treatment plant

The city of St. Louis Park is continuing utility operations while keeping employees and customers safe from COVID-19.

Hall said the pandemic emerged as they were in the middle of a SCADA replacement project. “We designated one staff to only work with contractors on SCADA projects or work from home. He does not come to our facility at all and uses his own vehicle and has been removed from on-call.” The city schedules customer service only for emergencies and, in those cases, makes sure the staff have proper personal protective equipment.

Kyle Hinrichs in Mankato says they have developed schedules for sanitizing work spaces, separating the common work area so that all employees have designated work areas. The utility has also staggered the starting times for employees. Mankato has also followed a plan based on the “40 Percent Drill,” which MDH promoted more than 10 years ago during the H1N1 influenza outbreak (see below).

Hinrichs said, “I have created a work schedule to plan on losing two-thirds of the work force. This would put us to a critical work components until returned to a full staff. Creating the schedule with a limited number of employees and maintaining 24-hour operations has been difficult. Trying to find the balance of time at work and a break from work for everyone has been extremely difficult.”

Emma Larson, the assistant director for St. Cloud Public Utilities, says they are in a strong position for dealing the pandemic because of their long-time commitment to department cross-training.  Precautions and practices St. Cloud has implemented include not allowing visitors and contactors into facilities, having employees work from home as much as possible and limiting staff contact for those in facilities or in the field, ensuring adequate chemicals and creating a list of alternative chemical suppliers, postponing their meter replacement program, distributing available personal protective equipment and ensuring compliance, cleaning of surfaces and door handles on a regular schedule, and installing hand-free devices (toilets, urinals, taps, and paper towel dispensers).

On-line resources about COVID-19 are listed below.

The article below is reprinted from the Fall 2009 Waterline. The 40 Percent Drill is still relevant.

An Easy, No-Cost Pandemic Drill for Utilities

By Jon Groethe, Minnesota Department of Health Engineer

There’s a lot talk about pandemics nowadays. The H1N1 novel influenza, formerly known as the Swine Flu, remains a concern as our seasons shift. What can utilities do to prepare for a pandemic? Utilities may train with other first responders to prepare for general emergencies, but, relative to their own internal operations, they often function more as an island. Mutual aid agreements can help with neighborly assistance in the short run, but what if a pandemic was protracted?

Planning and conducting exercises and drills often require time and capital. There is, however, a simple exercise that could be coined the “40 Percent Drill.” Utilities with more complex treatment and diverse operations may find it the most useful. By using a completely random selection process, eliminate 40 percent of your utility staff—without pre-grouping them. This could be done by running a random-sort program on your computer or simply drawing names out of a box. Then sit down and tabletop (or actually drill for a day) how your utility would function under these new circumstances. Further, project that you were required to sustain operations with that same 40 percent loss for several weeks. How will the full scope of the normally required tasks get done? What gaps will emerge? What cross-training is needed?

Conducting the “40 Percent Drill” at your utility could be an easy first step to identifying and addressing internal staffing vulnerabilities that may affect you during a future pandemic.

COVID precautions

On-Line COVID Resources

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus

Association of State Drinking Water Administrators

Environmental Protection Agency

MDH Coronavirus Disease

MDH Situation Update for Coronavirus Disease

State of Minnesota - Coronavirus Disease in Minnesota Dashboard

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many buildings are experiencing periods of little to no water usage due to shutdowns or a reduction in business activities. Water quality problems can arise as water sits in building plumbing systems.

Go to top

Lead Service Lines: Where the Are They?

Lead service lines (LSL) remain a major source of lead in drinking water. Even cities with effective corrosion control and low drinking water lead levels can have problems if LSLs exist. LSLs can contribute to unpredictable and variable sources of exposure. For homes with LSLs, the service line typically contributes the greatest percentage of lead to the tap. With the reduction of lead in new plumbing material, the next large opportunity for reducing the risk of exposure to lead in drinking water is the removal of LSLs.

The cost of replacing such service lines typically ranges from $3,500 to $7,000 with the cost split between the city and the customer. Some cities have worked with homeowners on replacing service lines.

Survey Results
The challenges in replacing lead service lines include determining if they exist in a community. Minnesota Rural Water Association has completed a survey of Minnesota cities and compiled these results from the 184 respondents:

  • 22 percent have some lead service lines.
  • 26 percent have lead goosenecks.
  • 24 percent don’t know if they have lead service lines.
  • 32 percent don’t know if they have lead goosenecks.

No Safe Levels
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no safe level of lead exposure, which can cause serious health problems. Babies, children under six years, and pregnant women are at the highest risk. Coming in contact with too much lead can damage the brain, kidneys, and nervous system. In children, lead can also slow development or cause learning, behavior, and hearing problems.

Lead exposure is the result of many sources, including paint, dust, and soil. While water is not the largest source of lead exposure, it is significant and may add to a person’s overall exposure.

Benefits in Getting the Lead Out
In 2018, the Minnesota Department and Health and University of Minnesota issued a report that estimated the cost of removing the two most significant sources of lead in water (lead service lines and indoor plumbing) to be between $1.52 billion and $4.12 billion over 20 years.

Benefits associated with removing lead from water include improvements in mental acuity and IQ (and resulting increases in lifetime productivity, earnings, and taxes paid). The projected range of benefits is $4.24 billion to $8.47 billion over 20 years, although there are a number of reasons to believe these benefits may be underestimated. Therefore, resources allocated to reducing lead in drinking water would be expected to yield a return on investment of at least twofold.

The Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative, an organization with a goal to accelerate LSL replacement, has more information at https://www.lslr-collaborative.org.

A 2019 report issued by the Minnesota Department of Health and University of Minnesota on eliminating lead in drinking water is available:

Lead in Minnesota: Assessment of Eliminating Lead in Minnesota Drinking Water (PDF)

Help Possible for Lead Service Line Replacements

Watch for information on how to apply for such funding on the Drinking Water Revolving Fund Project Priority List.

Contact Chad Kolstad, chad.kolstad@state.mn.us, 651-201-3972, for more information.

Go to top

Freeport: Have a Nice Day

Freeport water towerNot that cities encourage vandalism, but Freeport has made the work of a midnight climber part of its identity. The town of 630 people in central Minnesota has a century-old water tower that is seen by thousands of motorists traveling along Interstate 94 between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud. At some point in the tower’s history, it got a smiley face painted on by someone who scaled it in the middle of the night. Rather than remove the smile and eye dots, the city put an image of the annotated tower in the middle of its city seal. Already notable for inspiring Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, Freeport is better known for its smile.

A new tower was erected in 2003, but the old one continues as the face of the city. However, the tower is deteriorating, and its future is uncertain. The city is inspecting the tower to determine the extent of rust and hazardous paint. From there it will make a decision on whether or not to invest in repairing the tower and removing or encapsulating lead and chromium-based paint. The cost could be between $50,000 and $150,000.

Mayor Mike Eveslage hopes the tower can be saved, possible through a fundraising campaign. The Star Tribune of Minneapolis even got into the act with a February 17 editorial: “Please don’t tear it down,” the newspaper urged, calling on all who get their day brightened when they pass the tower.

Launch a Fundraiser to Save 'Smiley Water Tower' in Freeport, Minn.

Go to top

WUTT Is Happening

WUTT advisory team

The WUTT advisory team at St. Paul College February 12 (counterclockwise from left): Stew Thornley, Dave Stiftler, Rick Wahlen, Bert Tracy, Joe Wokson (standing), Jen Huston (St. Paul College), Bill Spain, George Kraynick, Carol Kaszynski, Dolly Ludden, Jerry Ludden. Not pictured: Marc Weikert, Paul Christensen, Dave Lemke, Chris Kleist, Joe Hansen, Drew Hamilton (St. Paul College).

In the spring of 2019 St. Cloud Technical College ended a satellite program for water environment technologies that had been held at the Eden Prairie water plant for approximately 20 years. The closing brought concerns about how to recruit and educate potential employees for water systems in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Committee of the Minnesota Section of American Water Works Association formed an advisory team to find a way to fill the need and is developing a non-credit series of modules with St. Paul College. The Water Utilities Treatment and Technology (WUTT) program is similar to other water programs in the state, along with features to meet the needs of students, according to WUTT leader Carol Kaszynski. “The WUTT advisory team used the opportunity to create some program enhancements that were identified through a gap analysis,” Kaszynski explained, “especially with ways to serve underrepresented students.” She added that having a school such as St. Paul College, which is accessible by public transportation, was an important component.

St. Paul College hopes to have its first classes in the fall of 2020. Students who complete the program and pass a water and/or wastewater exam will become certified operators. “Cities will have their employment needs addressed and fulfilled, once again,” said Kaszynski. “We are turning those lemons into refreshing lemonade. We can now reach people in ways we were unable to reach them in the past.”

Go to top

Anna Schliep Is New Lead in Drinking Water Coordinator

Anna Schliep, who started at the Minnesota Department of Health in November 2013 as the compliance engineer for lead, copper, arsenic, and radium, has taken over as the Lead in Drinking Water coordinator. The purpose of this new position is to perform advanced professional program administration work in coordinating drinking water protection efforts addressing lead in drinking water, with a special emphasis on analyzing lead hazards and developing a comprehensive hazard reduction program. Her duties include chairing a Drinking Water Protection lead coordination group, maintaining an understanding of procedural and technical aspects of lead in drinking water, representing drinking water issues and concerns at general lead poisoning prevention meetings, managing the implementation of grants and policies as they relate to lead in schools and daycares, and coordinating implementation of certain aspects of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The position will act as a single point of contact for issues related to lead in water to facilitate a consistent public health approach to lead hazard reduction and mitigation of environmental health threats. The position will also assist in DWP Section efforts to implement a continuous improvement culture using results-based accountability methods.

Go to top

Permanent Rules Governing Fluoridation of Municipal Water Supplies Adopted

The Minnesota Department of Health Drinking Water Protection Section has completed its revision of Minnesota Rules 4720.0030, subpart 2. The adopted rules are identical to those proposed and published at State Register, Volume 44, Number 16, pages 483-485, October 14, 2019 (44 SR 483):

[For text of subpart 1, see Minnesota Rules]
Subp. 2. Fluoride content. The fluoride content of the water shall be controlled to maintain an average concentration of 1.2 0.7 milligrams per liter; the concentration shall be neither less than 0.9 0.5 milligrams per liter nor more than 1.5 0.9 milligrams per liter.

[For text of subparts 3 to 6, see Minnesota Rules]
The notice of rule adoption was published in the State Register (PDF) on March 16, 2020. Because adopted rules are effective five working days after rule publication in the State Register, these rules became effective March 23, 2020.

KEY: Bolding indicates additions to existing rule language. Strikeouts indicate deletions from existing rule language.

Minnesota State Register, Volume 44, Number 16 (PDF)

These revisions were finalized during the 75th anniversary year of the first municipal installation of community fluoridation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the 50th anniversary year of state-legislated community fluoridation in Minnesota. The new rule language will better protect the oral health of Minnesotans by regulating community fluoridation in a way that is compatible with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, including its 2015 community fluoridation recommended optimal target concentration of 0.7 mg/L.

Go to top

School and Training Update

Spring water operator schools and other training were postponed or canceled because of the coronavirus disease. The Drinking Water Institute for Educators, scheduled for August 3-5, 2020 in Red Wing, has also canceled. It will be held Monday, August 2 to Wednesday, August 4, 2021 in Red Wing.

Upcoming schools are still in limbo. Watch the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Rural Water Association training pages for the latest updates.

Go to top

CREAT Is Coming

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Resilience Evaluation & Awareness Tool (CREAT) is a method for water utilities to assess long-term impacts of threats from natural disasters by better understanding current and long-term weather conditions in relation to infrastructure and source water vulnerability.

CREAT is designed to help utilities assess vulnerabilities to extreme weather events that may pose the greatest challenges and determine their potential impact, identify critical assets and actions that can protect them, and share the costs and benefits of risk-reduction strategies with interested parties.

Minnesota Department of Health district engineers will be working to promote the use of CREAT with water systems to find ways to use CREAT in assessing long-term impacts of threats from extreme weather events. Some cities have been using CREAT and have found it useful in assessing impacts and helping them plan and reduce potential impacts from possible disasters, such as tornadoes and floods, from climate change and methods such as watershed planning and green infrastructure to address them.

The city Faribault, 50 miles south of Minneapolis, dealt with a flood in 2010 that knocked out its water reclamation facility for two weeks. It has been using CREAT to prepare for events that may happen in the future. The city’s story with CREAT is featured in a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhka0Xm-hNw&feature=youtu.be. In addition, Moorhead has used CREAT to assess and plan for potential threats related to climate change and extreme weather.

CREAT Risk Assessment Application for Water Utilities

Go to top

New Addresses for Minnesota Department of Health Water Websites

The Minnesota Department of Health has moved its web files to a new server. Be sure to update your bookmarks. The main MDH drinking water page is at:

Drinking Water Protection

Go to top

MDH to Reduce Printed Copies of Waterline

The Minnesota Department of Health will be reducing the number of printed copies of the Waterline. In addition to the printed copies, the Waterline is on-line.

The archives on this site include links to newsletters from the previous three years.

Many subscribers have opted out of print versions and read it on-line after getting an email notification and link when a new one is issued.

If you would like to receive the Waterline in this manner, sign up here:

Minnesota Department of Health Email Updates: Waterline

Past Newsletters Archived at wateroperator.org

The Minnesota Department of Health is archiving past issues of the Waterline for only the previous three years. However, wateroperator.org is hosting past issues back to 1997.

To access these, go to Search for Documents. Select the following filter criteria: HOST – Minnesota Department of Health; TYPE – Newsletters/Magazines; STATE – Minnesota. Click the “Retrieve Documents” button.

Go to top

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.
  • Attach the label to each bottle (do not attach labels to the lab form).
  • Include laboratory request 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 changes to your systems.

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.

Register for schools and pay on-line:

Go to top

Updated Wednesday, 27-Jul-2022 10:37:41 CDT