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Met Council explores treating, reusing wastewater in SE metro

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The Metropolitan Council is asking the public to weigh in on a preliminary proposal to treat wastewater in the southeast Twin Cities metro area so it could be reused by a waste-to-biofuel plant.

If built, it would be the first Met Council project to reclaim wastewater for one of its customers. The project signifies the council's increased interest in wastewater reuse as concerns mount about the long-term sustainability of Minnesota's water resources.

"We think this is an opportunity for the region to have another tool in the regional water management toolbox," said Deborah Manning, assistant manager of plant engineering at the Met Council. 

A Canadian company, Enerkem, plans to build one of the nation's first garbage-to-ethanol plants in Inver Grove Heights. The company has expressed interest in using treated wastewater provided by the Met Council to avoid pumping more than a million gallons of water a day from the ground.

Wastewater that's going to be reclaimed and reused must be treated to a higher standard than if it's discharged into the river, especially if it could come into human contact.

The Met Council's $27 million plan calls for diverting about 2 million gallons a day of wastewater from its Empire treatment plant. The water would be sent to a new treatment facility built on a site the Met Council already owns in Rosemount. The treated water then would be piped to the Enerkem plant.

Enerkem would pay the majority of the cost, Manning said. However, a recent policy change allows the Met Council to share the cost of wastewater reuse projects if it's determined there is a regional benefit, she said.

An Enerkem representative did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Wastewater is already being reused in several Minnesota communities. Mankato provides reclaimed wastewater to a power plant, while the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community uses treated wastewater to irrigate a golf course and around a casino and government center.

Officials and environmental groups see collecting, treating and reusing dirty water as a way to reduce demand on clean, drinkable water sources. 

Manning said the facility only will be built if the Enerkem project goes forward. If it doesn't, the plan would be tabled until another interested user in the Rosemount area steps forward, she said.

If the Enerkem project is built, the reclaimed treatment plant could be online by the end of 2020, Manning said.

Public meetings on the proposal will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday, May 21, at the Rosemount Community Center and from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24, at the Inver Grove Heights Community Center. 

A formal public hearing will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. May 31 at the Rosemount Community Center.