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3M working groups set planning, implementation timeline

COTTAGE GROVE — A little over a year from now, east metro residents can expect to see a plan for drinking water free of perfluorochemicals in their communities.

Consultants and staff at the Government and 3M Work Group and the Citizen-Business Work Group — formed after the state of Minnesota and 3M Corp. settled a lawsuit for $850 million to be used to clean from drinking water and groundwater PFCs that were dumped in the east metro by 3M — presented a timeline of water remediation methods Aug. 20 and 21 that shows project implementation beginning as soon as winter 2020.

The groups expect to have a conceptual plan prepared by winter 2019.

"We think that feels about right, although that is conceptual," Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Assistant Commissioner Kirk Koudelka said. "We won't know specifically what are all the components of that ... but we'll have a good understanding of whether we need a big treatment system versus new wells and those type of things."

The timeline reflects a balance between moving quickly toward solutions and racking up staff costs early on, Department of Natural Resources Assistant Commissioner Barb Naramore said.

"We can move along at a reasonable pace that is aspirational, aggressive, but does give you as communities — and does give the citizen-business group — enough time to reflect and provide meaningful input," she said during the Government and 3M Work Group meeting.

There will be a handful of dedicated MPCA, DNR and MDH staff working on solutions, Koudelka said.

The working groups will spend this fall concentrating on developing project selection criteria and recommending projects, before moving into planning in earnest this coming winter.

During the planning stages, some city officials said they want the groundwater piece to have the same importance as city water sources.

"In terms of communities that are off a municipal water system, groundwater really is their drinking water system, so we definitely need to focus on them," Grey Cloud Island Township Supervisor Ray Kaiser said.

Lowell Johnson, Washington County Director of Public Health and Environment, voiced his agreement, saying there's still a significant proportion of residents in the county whose drinking water is from groundwater sources.

The start dates of subgroups are staggered after the working groups move into planning stages.

The first subgroup will begin winter 2019, around the same time the main working groups hope to have conceptual plans worked out. Once the drinking water supply subgroup goes to planning stages, the second workgroup — groundwater protection, sustainability, conservation and recharge — will form.

Koudelka said the working groups would not be disbanded after planning is complete in 2019,

"I think maybe our work will be moving on to groundwater, the natural resources stuff, and I think there is still going to be a role in implementing things," he said. "I think you're gonna pop up as we go along, and this group is going to be able to provide some input and insights as those things continue."