Message from the Council Chair

A heron, a duck, and a frog walk into a wastewater treatment plant

June 2021

Chair Charlie ZelleOf all the documents, reports, and information the Met Council has ever produced, nothing has had a wider distribution than a small resource called Wastewater Treatment for Kids. It has become a staple for classroom projects, used by teachers in our local schools and in dozens of countries around the world. Today, it remains the most downloaded individual file on our website.

We’ve been working to update it and bring Wastewater Treatment for Kids into the 21st century as an animated video, which can now be seen on our website and several social media platforms. In the video a heron, a duck, and a frog tell the story, explaining how wastewater is cleaned and returned to the environment. While the topic is serious, especially when we see changes to our environment all around us, it uses humor and a few mild wastewater treatment gags intended to appeal to the 8-year-old in all of us. Like the rest of our wastewater treatment system, it’s imperative that we keep our information about our system current and relevant to today’s generation and ensure it’s adaptable as our region grows.

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about our region’s wastewater treatment system. The fact that we can simply flush and forget means that our system is working well. Built, maintained, and operated by the Met Council’s Environmental Services Division, our system connects 110 communities in the seven-county metro area to nine regional wastewater treatment plants, with more than 640 miles of interceptor pipes. It is one of the cleanest and most cost-effective systems in the nation with rates 40% cheaper than our peer regions. If we had to rebuild it from scratch today, it would cost $7 billion.

Whoa.

It wasn’t always this way

In the late 1960s, the region’s wastewater treatment system was outdated and undersized for the growth the Twin Cities region was experiencing. In many places raw sewage and industrial waste was being dumped directly into rivers and streams. Minnesota legislators took action and created a regional approach to the problem. Instead of leaving it up to each city to handle the best they could, they consolidated the system and began investing for the long term.

Those investments have paid off. One of the places that success is visible is on the Mississippi River where the Metro Plant, our largest treatment facility, empties treated water into the river. The water is cleaner than the river water it’s joining, and because it draws aquatic life, it is a very popular fishing site. A half century ago, no one would have imagined a time when fishing boats would be stacked up outside the wastewater treatment plant.

The work continues

This summer we have more than 50 construction projects to either maintain or expand the wastewater system. Another 18 bids for new projects will be approved by the end of the year. Annually, we invest about $150 million to ensure the system continues to meet our region’s growing needs.

More than any other infrastructure system, wastewater treatment is about the future. As Ardea the heron points out: “We have all the water on earth that’s ever been, and it’s all the water the earth will ever have.”