Building Strong Partnerships

A planner studying a large map on a wall.Water is an essential resource that transcends community and watershed boundaries. Our surface and groundwaters in the Twin Cities area move between cities, counties, and states. And some projects — from wastewater collection and treatment to regional water planning management activities — are too complex for most communities to handle alone. That’s why MCES exists — and the partnerships we foster are at the heart of everything we do.

We work closely with local communities to improve quality of life, including water quality monitoring and odor control initiatives. We are committed to transparency with our customers, making important information easily accessible. And through our wide-ranging involvement in surface water and water supply planning and assessment, we are in a unique position to provide a regional perspective on water issues.

Customer cities shape SAC approach when policies don’t fit a pandemic

“Within hours of learning the challenges, MCES gathered their employees and invited a multitude of stakeholders from municipalities. MCES listened to the concerns and potential solutions from the municipal representatives.”

— Dale Schoeppner, chief building official, City of Eagan

During the pandemic, we partnered with our customer cities who help administer the Sewer Availability Charge (SAC) Program and deferred some fees normally charged to restaurants. Our SAC policies — for when a business makes a change that creates more demand on the wastewater system, such as the addition of outdoor seating — weren’t written with a pandemic in mind.

"Within hours of learning the challenges, MCES gathered their employees and invited a multitude of stakeholders from municipalities. MCES listened to the concerns and potential solutions from the municipal representatives,” said Dale Schoeppner, chief building official, City of Eagan.

Many restaurants added outdoor seating in response to limits on indoor dining. We deferred SAC multiple times and will only assess the fee if their additional seats become permanent after the pandemic ends. The current deferral runs through 2022.

The Mississippi River with the Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant in the background.

Staff build and sustain interagency group addressing shared water quality concerns

Four years after it began, a regional partnership of water quality experts grew stronger in 2021 — despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic — thanks to leadership and commitment to a collaborative process by our Water Resources Planning staff.

The Twin Cities Water Monitoring and Data Assessment Group helps coordinate and share information about regional water-quality issues facing cities, counties, townships, and watershed groups, as well as state and federal agencies. The group collaborates to establish and promote standard practices for water monitoring, analysis, and data stewardship in the metro area. Drawing together professionals who address similar water problems across the region, the group shares a like-minded focus on finding practical solutions.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been trying to target our webinar topics to be of interest to everyone within the group,” said Jen Kostrzewski, environmental analyst and co-leader of the group. “Our topics have covered how the DNR measures water usage, water contamination from pesticides and other chemicals of concern, how to use art to inspire water outreach, and more.”

Learn more about TC-Wa-Mo-DaG.

Plant and maintenance operators applying biosolids to a field in Dakota County.

Empire Plant biosolids land application program: partnering with farmers to increase yields

For almost 40 years, the Empire Plant has been processing biosolids that local farmers can use to improve soil health and promote plant growth. Biosolids, resulting from wastewater solids processing, are a renewable resource containing carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other key nutrients that plants need for growth. Land application services are free to farmers.

To continuously improve the program, the Environmental Services land application team works closely with farmers to learn how we can better meet their needs. In 2021, the team learned from farmers in the program that biosolids application in the spring tends to exacerbate soil compaction. Shifting application from twice a year to only once in the fall would help reduce compaction. Additional biosolids storage recently constructed at the plant will make this possible.

Farmer feedback about the program is overwhelmingly positive, citing increased yields, reduced costs, and increased efficiency. “I consider your product to be highly recyclable,” said Mike Conzemuis, a Dakota County farmer. “I think it’s a good product that should be utilized for the greater good of society — it just makes total sense for me.”

Learn more about the land application program.

Managing chemical supply chain challenges

We experienced a significant increase in the delivery time for our chemical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to transportation and supply chain constraints, we used varying delivery methods on many occasions to maintain our inventory. For example, when bulk tanker deliveries were unavailable, polymers — essential for separating solids from liquid during the wastewater treatment process — were delivered in totes. We kept in close communication with our chemical suppliers, partnering with them to ensure our chemicals were never exhausted and our operations could continue without interruption.

Screengrab of a map in the customer portal.

More than 85% of customer communities registered to use improved portal  

The MCES customer portal is an online resource where municipal staff can easily access important information such as metered flow data, Sewer Availability Charge (SAC) program support, and more. The portal was created as a “one-stop shop” source of information designed to improve our communication and engagement with the cities and townships we serve.

We made a variety of improvements to the portal in 2021 to make the customer experience even better. For example, we now accept applications for inflow and infiltration grants through the portal. 61 eligible communities took advantage of this new feature — the highest number of applications ever received.

The updated portal also features an interactive map where users can learn more about the MCES wastewater system and MCES-permitted industries. Useful links provide easy access to commonly requested information, such as waste discharge rules, budget workshop details, community-specific construction project updates, and waterbody information.

Learn more about the customer portal and set up an account.

Monitoring water quality in the region

“The data produced as a result of the program is invaluable, as it provides a way to share scientific data on the health of our waterbodies with the public, in a way that is relatable to those not in the water resources field.”

— Krista Spreiter, natural resources coordinator in Mendota Heights

The Citizen-Assisted Monitoring Program (CAMP) is a partnership to monitor and assess the water quality of lakes in the seven-county Twin Cities region. CAMP sponsors, including counties, cities, watershed districts, and other local governments, recruit “citizen scientist” volunteers to track water quality in local lakes.

Each volunteer monitors a specific site on a lake on a regular basis from mid-April through mid-October. Volunteers collect surface water samples, measure water temperature and clarity, and report weather and lake conditions. MCES analyzes the samples, reviews and analyzes data, and assesses and reports on current lake conditions.

CAMP sponsors stress the value of the program. “The data produced as a result of the program is invaluable, as it provides a way to share scientific data on the health of our waterbodies with the public, in a way that is relatable to those not in the water resources field,” said Krista Spreiter, natural resources coordinator in Mendota Heights. “It is also useful, as a water resources professional, to be able to see trends and how land use or single events may affect a waterbody.”

We launched a pilot program in 2021 that allowed volunteers to electronically enter their field data, instead of manually logging their findings on paper. The program was a success, streamlining the data collection process and reducing errors and lost paperwork. In 2022, we plan to expand the program to further improve the reliability of the data collection process.

Learn more about how we engage with residents to monitor and address water quality issues.