Promoting Sustainability

A bumblebee visiting flowers on the green roof at the Empire wastewater treatment plant.Our role in protecting public health and the environment goes beyond cleaning wastewater and water resource planning — we work to minimize our environmental impact by managing our operations in a sustainable way. We invest in renewable energy resources, conserve and reuse water, recover nutrients from biosolids, and adapt our work continuously as we plan for climate change impacts.

Turfgrass irrigation efficiency project helps communities meet drought challenges

“By helping local communities become more efficient with their outdoor irrigation practices, we can help reduce the need for more infrastructure — such as new wells — in the future.”

— Brian Davis, principal engineer

In a recent survey we conducted about irrigation practices in the Twin Cities metro area, 40% of respondents reported that they irrigate their lawn every other day during the warmer months, regardless of weather. This use of water is excessive — particularly during a drought — and generally hurts turfgrass more than it helps.

To help increase the efficiency of water use for home lawns and landscapes, we are funding a multi-year project in cooperation with the University of Minnesota Turfgrass Science Program. The project includes site assessments, research, and demonstration projects focused on smart irrigation practices.

Our staff conducted education and outreach at the Minnesota State Fair, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and via a mobile educational trailer to showcase technologies that can help residents reduce their water usage. These community-based education efforts were well received by residents who were seeking practical ways to save water during the drought.

While water efficiency is particularly important during droughts, these practices can also help communities save money as they plan for growth. “By helping local communities become more efficient with their outdoor irrigation practices, we can help reduce the need for more infrastructure — such as new wells — in the future,” said Brian Davis, principal engineer.

The turfgrass irrigation efficiency project was one of the initiatives recognized by the 2021 WaterSense Excellence Award, presented to MCES by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A child fishes in the Mississippi River below the Ford Dam.

2050 Water Resources Policy Plan development in progress

We have begun work to update the 2040 Water Resources Policy Plan, which is focused on ensuring sustainable water resources in the region. Integrating planning for wastewater services, water supply, and surface water management, the plan balances the demands of growth with the protection and management of our lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and groundwater.

We formed and began working with an advisory group in 2021 that includes watershed administrators, public works directors, city engineers, and others involved in water resource management. The advisory group’s goal is to identify key issues and develop potential policy directions for the plan update.

2021 study confirms existing local limits are protective of treatment plant processes

Every five years, MCES is required by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a study to ensure that our "local limits" on pollutants in wastewater coming from commercial, residential, and industrial facilities are protective of our wastewater treatment plant processes, sludge handling, and effluent discharges.

We used several years of data to calculate loadings from industrial users to each of our nine wastewater treatment plants to find out if there was potential for any pollutant to inhibit our processes or cause a permit violation. Our 2021 study concluded that the existing local limits are protective of all our plants and that no additional local limits need to be adopted.