Lake Elmo city officials are warning residents of a potential watering ban next summer if they don’t find a fix to reduce pressure on the city’s two remaining uncontaminated wells.
“We were lucky to sneak by this summer, but given some of the issues we saw, we expect that it will be worse next year,” said City Administrator Kristina Handt.
Long-term solutions for Lake Elmo and other east metro area communities with groundwater contaminated by perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, still may be years off. In the meantime, the priority for the state is short-term fixes, said Kirk Koudelka, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
More permanent solutions — which would be funded by the $850 million court settlement reached in February between Minnesota and 3M Co. over contaminated groundwater — aren’t likely to launch before 2020, Koudelka said.
PFCs were developed and manufactured by Maplewood-based 3M, which dumped factory waste into Washington County landfills. Research shows that exposure to the chemicals in drinking water has been linked to certain types of cancers, liver and thyroid issues and human developmental problems.
Handt said many Lake Elmo residents assumed the settlement had already resolved the city’s water quality concerns. The city has filed its own litigation in federal court against 3M, with a trial date set for September 2019.
“Folks just expected that money has been flowing into the city and that’s not the case,” Handt said. “We want to get the word out that it’s not all done and over with, and we are still experiencing challenges.”
An ongoing feasibility study will determine whether a watering ban in Lake Elmo will be enough or if the city needs a new well or water treatment system. By the time the city completes that state-requested study, however, Handt worries winter weather will cause further delay on any surveying or construction.
“The city has been dealing with the PFC issue since 2004,” she said. “We know what our options are and we are frustrated that this sets the project back again.”
Lake Elmo shut down one of its wells and a water tower this spring after the state Health Department found excessive levels of PFCs.
During peak demand this summer, the city’s other two well pumps ran for three days straight, which can tax systems and make them more susceptible to breakdown.
The city hopes to avoid blending contaminated water with noncontaminated water, as communities like St. Paul Park have done.
“We aren’t asking anything of Lake Elmo that we haven’t asked of these other communities,” Koudelka said. “We just want them to spend some time to look at the details and find what fits the needs the best.”
As short-term solutions are identified and implemented, working groups continue to discuss how to use the funds from the $850 million settlement most effectively, Koudelka said.
Residents can stay updated at 3msettlement.state.mn.us.
“That planning isn’t exciting, it isn’t sexy, but it does end up with better results at the end,” Koudelka said.