Private property sewer repairs protect public health and water quality

Date: Monday, July 25, 2022

While the 2021-2022 Minnesota legislative session ended with business left on the table, the region’s wastewater system did get a helping hand. Private property owners will soon have access to funding to repair sewer pipes that come out of their property and ultimately connect to the regional wastewater system.

The legislature approved a bill, and Governor Tim Walz signed it, to allow the Metropolitan Council, in partnership with local governments, to make financial assistance available to private property owners for these repairs. This will be in addition to a program the Met Council already has to help cities and townships with aging or broken public pipes.

Where this fits in the wastewater system

Wastewater is generated when people take showers, wash dishes, use toilets, operate water-using industrial processes, or otherwise use water indoors. In developed areas of the seven-county metro area, that used water goes down a drain and through a pipe away from the property to a sewer pipe maintained by a city or township. That pipe then connects to the Met Council’s regional sewer system at an interceptor pipe that brings the used water to a wastewater treatment plant.

When all parts of a system are working as they should, the system and the people served by that system benefit. When pipes in the local and private wastewater collection system experience the cracks and deterioration that come with age, or when roots break through the pipes, that system breaks down, allowing stormwater and groundwater into the system.

That water is called inflow and infiltration. And it costs everyone when it overloads the system causing costly sewer backups into homes and buildings, or sewer overflows into rivers and lakes. The goals for the inflow and infiltration program are to:

  • Protect public health by avoiding backup of sewage into basements
  • Protect water quality by avoiding sewage entering lakes, rivers, and groundwater
  • Maintain economic efficiency by avoiding unnecessary expansion of sewers and treatment plants

Investing in inflow and infiltration repairs

Since 2004, the Met Council’s inflow and infiltration program has benefited from local, regional, and state investments to reduce the impact of inflow and infiltration on the system. Many of those dollars have gone to improvements in the pipes maintained by a city or township, or to the regional sewer interceptor system.

According to Kyle Colvin, from the Environmental Services Wastewater Planning and Community Programs team, the results from these investments have:

  • Deferred an estimated $1 billion in capacity improvements.
  • Allowed the existing system to have enough capacity for the 12% population growth between 2015 and 2019.
  • Helped keep the Met Council’s wastewater rates competitive at about 35% below the national average of peer agencies.

Task force will help shape the private property grant program

“To continue to make headway in lessening the system impacts of inflow and infiltration, this new private property program is imperative,” said Colvin. These grants will allow the Met Council to use currently available funds, pass them through local governments, to help both commercial and residential property owners make necessary repairs to their part of the wastewater system. That means residents will not see a change in rates because of inflow and infiltration.

To underscore the impact this program can have, the publicly owned part of the system is about 2,500 miles of pipe. The private part of the system is almost double that at about 5,000 miles of pipe.

As with the initial inflow and infiltration program, Environmental Services plans on convening a task force this fall to develop the basics of what this private property grant program would look like for cities and townships. This work will likely carry through 2023, with grants available in January 2024.

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