Moose Horn River sewage issue resolved
After two and a half weeks of raw sewage flowing into the Moose Horn River, Moose Lake's sewage treatment plant is back up and running this week.
But nearby Barnum's plant wasn't expected to be back online until July 12.
The Moose Lake plant's main lift station, which pumps all of the city's sewage into the treatment plant, was down after pumps and electrical equipment were ruined by the June 19-20 flood, said Jaramie Logelin of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's wastewater treatment office in Duluth.
That pump shutdown allowed city sewage to bypass the plant and flow into the Moose Horn River system with the permission of the MPCA.
The same thing happened upstream in Barnum, where the main pumping station flooded, but it took even longer to get parts for their pumping station.
Brett Collier, Barnum's public works supervisor, agreed but noted that part of the problem is the old age of the pumping
"They couldn't even get impellers for that pump anymore," he said Monday. "They don't make them."
Untreated sewage contains E. coli and other fecal bacteria that, in high numbers, can affect human health and cause flu-like symptoms if water is swallowed. But because there was so much rainwater moving down the rivers, and so much rainwater mixed in with the sewage, Logelin expects the bacteria levels to drop quickly once the sewage plants are operating. He expects no long-term environmental or public health issues and said he expects no violation notices or fines for the cities because the scope of the flooding could not have been predicted or prevented.
The MPCA had been testing water along the Moose Horn River system at eight locations since June 28 and on two occasions found elevated levels at three locations: Moosehead Lake in Moose Lake, a private beach on Hanging Horn Lake and along the Moose Horn River near Sturgeon Lake.
However, the MPCA announced Wednesday, July 11, that testing Tuesday revealed bacteria levels have dropped to acceptable levels at public access points along the Moose Horn River and several Carlton County lakes after elevated levels were detected in recent weeks.
MPCA spokesperson Anne Moore said now that the levels have dropped for two consecutive tests at all sites on the Moose Horn River, the agency will stop testing. A previous MPCA recommendation that no one swim throughout the entire Moose Horn system is also no longer in effect because Barnum was expected to be back up and running Thursday, Moore said, adding that the discharge from Barnum appears to have been minimal.
Barnum was sending about 28,000 gallons per day of untreated sewage into the river, down from the city's usual flow of about 50,000 gallons per day thanks to water conservation efforts in the community. Moose Lake was sending about 600,000 gallons of combined sewage and rainwater into the river per day until the pumps were running, Logelin said.
Randy Myhre, who owns property on both the Moose Horn River and Big Hanging Horn Lake, said the sewage issue ruined the July 4 holiday for many residents because no one could swim or play in the water just downstream from Barnum's discharge.
"It's ridiculous in this day and age that we have to wait this long to get a part. Are they sending it by covered wagon?" Myhre said. "Barnum is doing what they can. But they aren't getting any help. ... Someone should have put some pressure on that supplier to get this done sooner."
Duluth and the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District also reported major sewage/rainwater discharges during the June deluge, but the WLSSD plant was not affected. Kettle River, Willow River and Cromwell also had unplanned releases from their wastewater stabilizing ponds, which store already treated sewage, after the flood. Water from those ponds usually is released to coincide with high flows in local rivers "so it wasn't necessarily a bad time for that to happen," Logelin said, considering river flows were at or above all-time record flow levels.
Pine Journal Editor Jana Peterson contributed to this story.