Communities expressing concerns about Minnesota dealing with contaminated drinking water

Some communities in the east metro are expressing concern about the state’s options for dealing with drinking water contamination.

More than 170,000 Minnesotans in 14 communities, from Maplewood to Cottage Grove, are impacted by groundwater that was contaminated by hazardous chemicals. The pollutants, known as PFAs, originated with chemicals used by 3M to manufacture products such as nonstick cookware. The state reported that when the company disposed of waste, those contaminants leaked into the groundwater.

There are temporary fixes already in place to provide clean drinking water in these communities.

In 2018, the State of Minnesota settled a lawsuit with 3M, which included an $850 million grant to create long-term solutions for safe and sustainable groundwater in the east metro and restore the area’s natural resources.

The state laid out three options for those settlement funds in September.

The first option, which is the preferred option of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources, would create a water treatment system for public and private wells. It would provide construction, operating and maintenance costs for about 40 years using granular activated carbon filters. This option requires drinking water to be treated for PFAS at a health index value of .5 or greater.

A second option would clean the water at a higher standard (a health index of .3 or greater) but for a shorter period of time (35 years, as opposed to the 40 years presented in option one).

The third option would provide operation and maintenance funding for about 21 years and would connect Oakdale and Lake Elmo to St. Paul Regional Water Services. This option also requires drinking water to be treated for PFAS at a health index value of .5 or greater.

Cities in the contamination zone are divided on how to proceed.

"We don’t support any one option provided by the state," said Jim Westerman, utility manager with the City of Woodbury, the largest community impacted. "We believe there is room for improvement on these options."

Westerman said the city has multiple concerns, which it laid out in this five-page letter to the state, here.

"We really support the efforts the State of Minnesota has been going through, but we’ve got some concerns if there is enough funding there to implement the treatment options they have put out," Westerman explained.

Westerman said the city is also advocating for a plan that would treat chemicals found in lower concentrations in the water.

"We want to do this right the first time and make sure that that water we currently provide, meeting state and federal standards, that we will be able to meet those state and federal standards in the future," Westerman said.

You can learn more about the City of Woodbury’s response here.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke with several other impacted communities as well.

The Lake Elmo city administrator said the city is "disappointed and greatly concerned" with the state’s proposed drinking water supply plan because it upends the millions of dollars they have already invested into drinking water solutions and does not provide adequate, cost-effective solutions for all residents in Lake Elmo. The city plans to submit a comprehensive review to the state in several weeks.

A spokesperson for Cottage Grove said the city "strongly supports" option #2 presented by the state.

The Oakdale city administrator said, "While we do support the options offered, we do need more information in order to make a good decision regarding what is in the best interest for Oakdale and the citizens of Oakdale. The city is doing our due diligence and will need a response and more information before one of the options can be specifically supported by the City of Oakdale."

Public comment surrounding the state’s three options is open through December 10. You can submit a response here.

To find more details on the options, click here.

If you have questions on the plans, you can reach out to the state directly here via email, pfcinfo.pca@state.mn.us