Conservation Minnesota

A Good Use for Wastewater

Paynesville, like many towns in Minnesota, is proud of its beautiful local waters and is very protective of them. The city government maintains several programs to safeguard its lakes, rivers and sewers from hazardous materials. Recently the Clean Water Fund, part of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, began supporting a plan to use wastewater in effective new ways that should satisfy the needs of large local farms as well as the general population of the City of Paynesville.

Paynesville sits atop an aquifer that serves both city and agricultural needs in the area. Unfortunately, this aquifer is not large and has been increasingly strained both by a growing population and an increased need for irrigation. Paynesville is looking to address the depletion of their water supply by limiting the need for local farmers to draw upon it for irrigation.

With the help from the Clean Water Fund, recycling has become a solution to this issue of sustainability and will expand the city’s water supply. A natural process called Aerobic Wastewater Treatment will open up new sources of water that were previously ignored.

The process used for treatment harnesses the natural ability of bacteria to decompose and consume waste. Air is pumped into the wastewater to stimulate the growth of bacteria. The water is then placed in large ponds for 210 days as the bacteria rid the water of its contaminants. When the process is finished, the water will be pumped into a distribution system that feeds approximately 1,200 acres and will be used to supplement spray irrigation on local crops. By treating wastewater to make it usable again, the city’s available water supply is expanded without the need of additional water sources.

Wastewater treatment has a double benefit; while it cannot remove all the nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorus from the water and thus is harmful to the health of rivers and lakes, when managed correctly these nutrients can be beneficial to crops and even reduce the need for new fertilization of soils. The water itself acts like fertilizer by providing nutrients that have most likely already gotten into the water through agriculture runoff. This recycling of resources is ultimately another way to reduce the cost of production to farmers while also managing our water more effectively.

This treatment of wastewater allows local farmers to continue to spray irrigate for approximately the next 20 years. It is not a permanent solution, but it shows that conservation can aid the local environment without harming the interest of agriculture. It is a compromise on the road towards sustainability.

About Alex Atmore

Alex Atmore is a resident of Minnetonka and a political science major at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is former Conservation Minnesota intern.
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