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City studying east metro water solutions

City Council and staff are working on identifying and implementing a solution that will address the east metro’s water supply for generations to come.

Five of the city's 19 municipal wells have levels of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), previously referred to as perfluorochemicals (PFCS), in the water that exceed the health guidance value established by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

Based on everything known today, water delivered to your home from the city’s water system is safe to drink.

The city operates a single water system, meaning water from all 19 wells in the system can and does mix, resulting in a decrease in concentrations of detected parameters in the water system. Additionally, Woodbury has made operational changes limiting the use of the identified five wells. The MDH indicates that by the time Woodbury water is reaching faucets, the amount of PFAS is under the guidance values.

About PFAS
PFAS were made and used by several companies around the world in household and industrial products such as stain repellents, lubricants, fire retardant and suppressants, and more. The 3M Company made PFAS at its Cottage Grove facility from the late 1940s until 2002. PFAS wastes were disposed of in several landfills in Washington County including Lake Elmo, Oakdale and in southern Woodbury near Woodbury Drive (3M Woodbury site). The source of the PFAS in our groundwater has been identified as these landfills.

In 2011, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and 3M completed remediation activities at these sites to reduce the amount of pollutants released from these sites in the future. 3M, under direction from the MPCA, continues active site remediation. For the Woodbury site, remaining contamination is captured by pumping approximately 1.25 billion gallons of water annually to a treatment plant and discharging it to the Mississippi River.

Woodbury’s wells have been tested for PFAS since 2004, when low levels of two different PFAS were detected in private wells in western Lake Elmo. 

Long-term solutions
In February, the State of Minnesota and 3M reached a settlement agreement, with the state receiving a grant from 3M for $720 million (after attorney’s fees). The court-approved agreement specifically outlines providing a clean, sustainable supply of drinking water in several east metro communities – including Woodbury – as a top priority.

Now that the state has been awarded the settlement dollars, the state agencies have formed working groups with representatives from many of the east metro communities (including Woodbury) impacted by PFAS. The groups are charged with studying potential long-term solutions.

While there is a sense of urgency to implement a long-term solution that will remove PFAS from our water system, it will require a lot of work to accomplish this goal the right way. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), with direction from the working groups, aim to develop conceptual plans for addressing the drinking water supply by the end of 2019. The working groups will be providing summary reports of their activities and progress twice each year.

What the city is doing
The regional work with the state will take time, so city staff are simultaneously studying Woodbury’s options independent of the state’s work.

The city is analyzing potential costs that could be covered by the settlement dollars, including potentially extending water service to impacted private water supply well owners currently not on public water; system-wide treatment options; management and engineering; design and construction; long-term operation and maintenance; staff time; and stop-gap actions if they are needed prior to implementation of a local, sub-regional or regional long-term solution.

Staff also are working to identify, develop and select the best project management and engineering team available to assist in evaluating options and represent the community's needs and perspective in the greater State of Minnesota settlement process.

Specific construction plans have not yet been identified, although general concepts and technologies exist to treat water or bring water in from another source. Some east metro municipalities have expended substantial resources as stop-gap measures as a long-term solution is developed. However, due to the city's multiple well fields and low detection levels of PFAS in the system, staff have been able to operate with only some minor adjustments to meet current state and federal guidance and standards.

If circumstances were to ever unexpectedly change (e.g., health standards or detected PFAS levels), work with the project management and engineering team will be far enough along to allow for staff to adjust and implement a stop-gap solution.

Details about the settlement and how the funds could be used are available on the MPCA website. Information about the working groups is available at:

The city will continue to keep the public informed on this topic as staff continues to learn more about potential long-term solutions and their impact on our community.

To learn more about PFAS in Woodbury, where they came from and to see other updates, visit the PFAS page of the website.

Questions about Woodbury water operations should be directed to Jim Westerman, utilities manager, at (651) 714-3719 or jim.westerman@woodburymn.gov.

Please note: this update is an adapted version of the article published in the October 2018 Woodbury Update Newsletter.