Cities across Southeast Minnesota see wastewater treatment issues

(ABC 6 News) – It’s a bonding year in the Minnesota legislature — a year to work on projects. Cities across the state are asking for money to upgrade their wastewater treatment plants. If they don’t, human and environmental health could be at risk. Rochester, Austin, and Albert Lea are in that group.

"Water is a — even in Minnesota — is valuable and can be a scarce commodity," said Jayme Klecker, the president of the Minnesota Wastewater Operators Association.

Austin’s wastewater treatment facility has been around since the 1920s. The plant is number four on the state’s list of projects waiting for public funding. They’ve asked for $20 million.

The city council in Albert Lea is asking for $30 million to help with their $60 million improvement project — citing aging infrastructure and failed toxicity testing.

"We don’t ever think about it right but it’s one of the key infrastructure pieces in these small communities," Sen. Gene Dornink (R, Hayfield) said.

Rochester’s plant treats 13 million gallons of wastewater per day. The clean water is then discharged into the Zumbro River. They’re also facing aging infrastructure, but they have some help taking care of it.

Last month the City of Rochester received almost a million dollars to update the plant.

"We’re very thankful for senators Smith and Klobuchar for being able to secure that. Our process will basically be a series of waterfalls to add that dissolved oxygen back into the water," said Aaron Luckstein, deputy public works director with the City of Rochester Environmental Services said.

Aging plants are a widespread issue because many were built and funded at the same time 40 years ago around the Clean Water act of 1970. This means the infrastructure is also starting to fall apart at the same time. Experts say if the equipment is left to age, dirty water could poison fish and other wildlife.

"We need to protect the environment. If you don’t reinvest in your infrastructure, something will break," Klecker said.