Water pressure reached a breaking point Monday in St. Louis Park, as the City Council met citizen demands to expedite upgrades at a water treatment plant that recorded higher-than-comfortable levels of contaminants.
The council voted to shut down the plant in 2017 and upgrade it starting next summer. Renovations are estimated at $4.5 million and expected to be finished by the summer of 2018, City Manager Tom Harmening said.
Although the water is considered safe to drink, the plant caught the attention of the state and concerned residents, who in the past few weeks have pushed elected officials to enact a permanent solution to lower contaminant levels.
“The number one priority of any municipality should be clean drinking water, the cleanest water possible,” said Ryan Edstrom, the founder of Safe Water for St. Louis Park, an ad hoc advocacy group.
Edstrom launched the group this fall after the Minnesota Department of Health warned the city about contaminants at the plant, on the city’s southeast side.
Some group members worried that the water could affect children in the future if the plant wasn’t upgraded soon.
Before Monday’s meeting, Harmening said he sympathized with the group and that the city wanted to fix the plant as quickly as possible.
The Health Department issued a health-risk advisory in March regarding contaminants found in the treatment plant, one of six in the city.
Water samples showed that levels of two volatile organic compounds — vinyl chloride and 1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE), a toxic cleaning solvent — exceeded limits set by the state. Trichloroethylene (TCE), a compound that breaks down to form those chemicals, also was found.
An expanded report released by the state in October showed amounts of vinyl chloride at times exceeded the levels set by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.
In the late 1970s, the city shut down six wells that were contaminated by waste disposal from Reilly Tar and Chemical Corp., a creosote plant that closed in 1972.
The contaminants this time do not stem from the Reilly Tar site, but from solvents used by a variety of industries in the past, said David Jones with the Health Department.
“We didn’t cause this problem. The problem was caused by a polluter somewhere decades ago,” Harmening said.
In 2004, contamination near Hwy. 7 and W. Lake Street led to an increase in vinyl chloride in two wells in Edina. The city shut down those wells, and with the help of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, or MPCA, opened a $6.7 million treatment facility in 2012. It features an air-stripper feature that removes the vinyl chloride and other chemicals, according to Brian Olson, Edina’s public works director.
St. Louis Park is working with the MPCA to design plant upgrades that include the same air-stripping technology, Harmening said. The council approved funding for the air-stripper mechanism in its 2017 capital improvements budget.
Residents shouldn’t feel an impact in water supply or pressure as a result of the closure, officials say. If necessary, the city can pay for water from nearby communities.
Members of Safe Water for St. Louis Park are happy with the decision to close the plant, but said the city should have acted when Edina shut off its wells in 2004. “The city has had water issues going back to the ’70s or before,” Tom Cremons said. “I thought it had been taken care of.”