Messages from the Council Chair

Helping home and business owners invest in clean water

July 2022

Aerial view of a wastewater treatment facility.When it comes to homeowner nightmares, an aging, cracked pipe connecting your home to the city sewer line is right at the top of the list. Tree roots grow into the cracks, which can restrict the flow of sewage from your home, even causing backups in your basement. It’s an expensive, messy problem.

However, a new law passed by the Minnesota Legislature is making it possible to help homeowners and businesses address this problem.

Leaking sewer lines cost everyone money and endanger public health. Cracked pipes allow rainwater and groundwater to get into the sewer system, which requires the Metropolitan Council to treat water that doesn’t need to be treated. Once it’s in the pipes, it can’t be separated out. Severe storms can overload the wastewater system, causing costly backups or sewer overflows into rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

Protecting a $7 billion investment

We operate the wastewater treatment system for the seven-county metro area. In the 1990s, in partnership with Saint Paul and Minneapolis, we successfully completed separation of the vast majority of stormwater and wastewater pipe connections. For the last two decades, we have been working with cities to find leaks and repair aging public sewer lines underneath our streets.

Those investments have paid big dividends. Our regional system is keeping up with recent population growth without costly capacity upgrades. That has helped keep our wastewater treatment rates 35% lower than the national average for comparable wastewater systems.

As a region, we’ve invested more than $7 billion in our wastewater treatment system. To keep that investment working effectively, we have to make sure all the pipes that feed our nine wastewater treatment plants are in good condition. From the moment you flush, to the time it gets to one of our plants, it’s important to keep outside water from getting in.

As much as 80% of the clear water that leaks into our wastewater treatment system is from aging private sewer pipes, and improperly connected sump pumps, downspouts, and foundation drains. That’s why the new law is so important. It will allow us to create a grant program to assist private property owners with sewer repairs. It’s a big deal, because in the past we weren’t allowed to spend public money for private property repairs. In this legislation, lawmakers have concluded there is a compelling regional argument for ensuring our wastewater system remains efficient.

Chair Charlie Zelle

Local officials will help design the grant program

We’re forming a community task force to design and implement a grant program. City and township officials will help us determine how best to set up the program so that they, in turn, can develop local programs to get the funds to homeowners and businesses.

Making the right investments in our homes, businesses, and the important clean water infrastructure we have in place will ensure that our region has clean water for generations to come.

– Chair Charlie Zelle