Water quality follow-up

The AP report on caffeine and drugs in water supplies has been water cooler (sorry) talk today. For a follow-up, I sent an e-mail over to John Blackstone, who heads St. Paul Regional Water Services, to get his take on things. He was kind enough to send the following information:

I am familiar with the story you referred to. Saint Paul Regional Water Services tests for compliance with Safe Drinking Water Standards. Which you can view at http://www.ci.stpaul.mn.us/depts/water/WaterQuality.htm The AP Story reflects the common sense that Too Slim from Riders in the Sky has been recommending for years, “Don’t drink downstream of the herd.”

Testing capabilities are becoming more sophisticated. What couldn’t be measured several years ago in parts per million can be measured now in parts per billion or trillion. Both ground water and surface water sources are being infiltrated by undesirable compounds. Saint Paul Regional Water Services recently upgraded to granulated activated carbon filters. This is similar to the filters found in devices like BRITA. The granulated activated carbon removes organic compounds such as pharmaceuticals.

The quality of treated water is directly related to the quality of source water and not everything can be removed. SPRWS has been actively working since the early 1980s to improve source water quality. We have worked with the Vadnais Area Water Management Organization to reduce the inflow of phosphorous to Vadnais Lake so that the phosphorous levels in Lake Vadnais are less than 25 parts per million.

This is important work because phosphorous and other undesirable compounds are transported by suspended solids. Reducing phosphorous levels tends to reduce other contaminants of concern. The Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Cloud and the Board of Water Commissioners of the City of Saint Paul formed the Upper Mississippi River Source Water Protection Project. The Cities and the Board have developed source water protection plans. One component of the source water protection plan is contaminants of concern. We have been working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to move forward with Total Maximum Daily Loads for impaired waters in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

Again the removal of phosphorous and suspended solids to improve water quality is the goal. The purpose of Total Maximum Daily Loads is to meet Federal Clean Water Standards of swimmable and fishable. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has Mississippi River basin plans which identify water quality and goals for improving water quality. Bottom line is the better the water quality the better the finished water. Improved surface water quality benefits everyone.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has rated much of the nation’s infrastructure substandard or failing. The collapse of the I35W bridge in Minneapolis is but one example. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently reported on the storm water systems in Saint Paul and Minneapolis. It is not a pretty situation. Infrastructure for providing potable drinking water is aging. The McCarrons water treatment plant was initially constructed in 1922. It has been upgraded many times the latest being the addition of granulated activated carbon filters.

The cities of Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Saint Cloud are serviced by water that is treated. The rest of the metropolitan area is served by untreated ground water. Fluoride is added to most and chlorine might be added to some but that is not treating.Of note here is that many communities probably a population of 1.5 million of the metro area 2.5 million prefer ground water which may be more susceptible and generally is not treated to treated surface water. Saint Paul and Minneapolis serve approximately 1.5 million with treated surface water. The proposed clean water legacy would go a long way towards improving surface water quality in Minnesota if it is approved by voters.

Minnesota citizens are under the illusion that we have more than enough water. But if you look at the impaired water bodies identified by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency it tells a different story. We have been hesitant to invest in water quality and in parts of the state the water quality and supply is at risk.

  • c

    Thanks for following up Bob.

    Its great to know that in some places in the Twin Cities our drinking water is basically toilet water quality.

    Hey, don’t you live out in Woodbury within the parameters of the toxic mutant scotch tape water due to chemical spills from the 3M plant?

  • MikeS

    C, your posts of late show a pretty big chip on your shoulder. What’s up?

  • c

    no chips on my shoulder. why would you say something like that?

    if you read from the beginning, you get the idea that our tap water isn’t all that clean. i always thought that the tap water came from the water shed (the chain lakes and underground springs). to now know that in some places of the city it comes from the Mississippi, even after being recycled-yuk, leaves me hesitant to drink from any fountain in schools and other public places. i drink tap water and i rarely buy bottle. to me buying water is like buying wood for your fireplace….its just wrong. but back to the story. after all that posting and research i remembered that woodbury and oakdale have some seriously poisoned water from 3M and i thought that this would be/should be? a concern to Bob since he lives there.

    so please enlighten me on where the chips are. if you ar refering to my direct way of speaking-well this is who i am. i tell it like it is and sometimes i am kidding but maybe you are not catching that. sorry .

  • Bob Collins

    Regarding me and Woodbury water: My youngest son didn’t drink milk and drank only water. He’s 19 now but for most of his life he drank Woodbury water and, presumably, a fair amount of 3M chemicals.

    There’s nothing I can do about it now other than lament there was a time when taking barrels of chemicals and throwing them in the ground was considered the right of business.

    But, keep in mind, I grew up in a time when we thought nothing of pitching our litter out the window of the car.

    We use 5 gallon water dispensers at our house and a Brita pitcher. We started using the former when the 3M chemical problem surfaced. We started using the latter quite long ago when we realized that the water in Woodbury (like most other places in the Midwest) doesn’t taste all that great.

    Bottom line: What’s done is done. But I share the concerns of the civil engineer over the crumbling state of our infrastructure for public services.