Fairmont plant plans 17-mile pipeline for water discharge

By Holly Jessen | February 03, 2011

After finding it would be unable to continue discharging cooling water into the creek it is currently using, Buffalo Lake Energy, a BioFuel Energy Corp. ethanol plant, is embarking on a project to build a 17-mile pipeline to send its water into the Blue Earth River in southern Minnesota.

The company plans to start and complete construction of the pipeline in 2012, said Rick Yabroff, director of environmental health and safety for BioFuel Energy. An 8 inch plastic pipe installed about 6 or 10 feet below ground would discharge about 500,000 gallons of water daily. The water is mostly cooling water blowdown as well as boiler blowdown and some salts from the plant’s water treatment plant. The initial capital cost of the project is estimated to be $5 or $6 million, he told EPM.

Currently, the 110 MMgy plant in Fairmont, Minn., discharges its cooling water into Center Creek, which has several designated uses including irrigation and industrial cooling. In the past, the plant has had variances from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for these two designated uses because Center Creek dries up periodically and is too small to be used for irrigation and industrial cooling. The MPCA has decided not to allow those variances in the future so the facility must either treat their water to much lower mineral levels or find another stream to discharge into, he said. Although the MPCA variances will expire in July, the plant will continue operating under a compliance schedule until the pipeline is completed.

The company did explore other options, such as asking the Minnesota legislature to determine designated uses for the creek that would allow the plant to continue discharging its cooling water there. Since Center Creek is currently an unclassified stream all designated uses apply, even though some of those uses aren’t workable. However, the company determined that taking its problem to legislators would simply take too long, he said.

Some area residents oppose the ethanol plant’s plan to discharge into the Blue Earth River. Plant officials met Feb. 1 with Faribault County commissioners to present their side of the story. “They clearly had some questions and some concerns about the project, but I think we addressed those,” he said.

The Blue Earth River has had impairment problems related to sewage discharge in the past and many people have worked hard to clean it up, Yabroff explained. Faribault County has required many people to upgrade their septic systems, for example, so the idea of a new discharge going into the river had a lot of people very concerned.

The ethanol plant’s discharge water  will not actually be new to the Blue Earth River, however. Center Creek leads to the river and the new pipeline would discharge water close to where the creek intersects with the river, having little change to its impact. “That was really our main message yesterday,” Yabroff said, adding that the ethanol plant discharge water meets all MPCA water quality standards. 

There are some out there that are “against everything,” Yabroff said, adding that once the facts are laid out, the opposition should die down. “We firmly believe that once people understand what we are doing that they will be more comfortable about this project,” he said.