The Woodbury City Council has declared a local emergency in an attempt to speed up water treatment efforts and avoid water restrictions this summer.
In addition to the declaration, the council voted at its Jan. 8 meeting to accept funding reimbursement to build a temporary water treatment facility. The reimbursement comes from a 2007 consent order between the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and 3M addressing temporary water treatment solutions related to PFAS.
"By declaring the emergency, it allows the organization to expeditiously move forward with this project, so we can get it completed in a timeline to avoid potential issues that could come up should we not have enough water to meet demands," city utilities manager Jim Westerman said.
Westerman said it was the first time in his memory the city had made such a declaration, though Cottage Grove also declared a local emergency in 2017 to get two water treatment facilities built more quickly.
The city received partial approval Dec. 6 from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency promising reimbursement of $825,000 to design the facility, as well as $2.1 million from 3M for treatment vessels. The facility, which will be built just west of Tamarack Nature Preserve and north of Valley Creek Road, will combine granular activated carbon (GAC) filtering treatment and the mixing of water from three of Woodbury's affected wells.
The remainder of the funding, an estimated $4.9 million, was approved Jan. 8 by the MPCA and will go in front of the council to be voted on at a later date, engineering director Chris Hartzell said at the meeting. Hartzell said he hopes construction will begin in the first quarter of 2020.
The newly-approved facility is meant to hold the city's water supply over until 2025, when a more permanent treatment solution is expected to be in place. The Conceptual Drinking Water Supply Plan, which will lay out long-term uses for the 2018 settlement money, is expected in March at the earliest, an MPCA spokesperson said.
In October, the city's sixth well was taken offline after routine testing showed it exceeded PFAS health parameters set by the Minnesota Department of Health, and city documents indicate a seventh well is also nearing a level that would require it to be taken offline. The city has 19 wells in total.
Municipal wells are tested regularly to ensure they meet health-based guidelines issued by the MDH, which are continuously decreasing.
"This is our number one priority in the city of Woodbury, and the city water delivered to its customers continues to meet all state and federal water quality standards, even through the process that we're going through right now," Westerman said.
Cottage Grove announced Dec. 3 the city would build a third "interim" treatment plant funded through the 2007 consent order to avoid implementing a watering ban when temperatures rise this summer. A Facebook post detailing the news said the facility "will look and operate much like the two facilities constructed in 2017" and will be located in Foothill Park, near Foothill Road and Innsdale Avenue.
Cottage Grove, Lake Elmo, Oakdale, St. Paul Park and Woodbury all currently have at least one city well with an amount of PFAS above MDH guidance levels, according to the department's website.
The state of Minnesota and 3M Corp. settled an $850 million lawsuit in February 2018, saying PFAS dumped by 3M for decades at disposal sites — in Cottage Grove, Oakdale, Woodbury and the former Washington County Landfill in Lake Elmo — then contaminated nearby groundwater and drinking water wells.
After legal fees, $720 million was made available to the east metro for long-term solutions in two areas: clean and sustainable drinking water, and the restoration and enhancement of natural resources. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources are co-trustees of the money.
PFAS, sometimes referred to as PFCs, is a group of chemicals used in products like stain repellents, non-stick coatings and firefighting foam beginning in the 1950s that have since been phased out in the United States. Referred to as a "forever chemical," PFAS can persist in the environment for a long time and can build up slowly in the bodies of continuously-exposed people. Some — though not all — studies have shown adverse health effects in lab animals, but more research is needed to determine the effect of chronic exposure in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.