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Published May 16, 2012, 12:00 AM

Sugar beet co-op in Renville, Minn., talks of progress with water standards

OLIVIA — Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative completed its 2011 season without any surface water discharge violations, while showing continued improvements in the quality of its treated water discharges into Sacred Heart Creek.

By: Tom Cherveny, Associated Press

OLIVIA — Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative completed its 2011 season without any surface water discharge violations, while showing continued improvements in the quality of its treated water discharges into Sacred Heart Creek.

Louis Knieper, environmental director for the cooperative, attributed the success to on-going efforts toward water quality compliance, as well as a smaller crop to process. Knieper presented the cooperative’s annual report Tuesday to the Renville County Board of Commissioners. It’s required as part of an agreement allowing it to discharge into County Ditch 45, which is the headwaters of Sacred Heart Creek.

Last year the cooperative sliced 1.96 million tons of sugar beets at its Renville facility. It typically slices closer to 2.6 million tons a season.

The company’s discharges into County Ditch 45 exceed water quality standards and consequently the company operates under a variance.

Knieper said the company has been able to achieve a steady reduction since 2004 in the salinity and dissolved solids in the treated effluent discharged into the ditch. “We’ve made significant progress, about a 25 percent reduction if my math is correct,’’ Knieper said.

Future progress will be much more difficult and costly to achieve. “I don’t know that we will continue to see the same decrease that we have seen so far. We’ve made the adjustments, modifications and changes that we can afford to make,’’ he said.

The company’s discharge permit with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency expired in 2009. It has not heard anything on its revised application for a new permit, according to the environmental director. It is also in the process of complying with an administrative order from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The cooperative also reported success in its cover crop program that reduces phosphorus run off to the Minnesota River. Last year, participation increased to 80 percent, or 105,351 acres. The cover crop kept 18,000 pounds of phosphorus from the river, he said.

The cover crop is raised while the sugar beets are in the two- and four-leaf stage. The program is popular with growers since it has been demonstrated that yields improve by protecting the sugar beet plants during this stage of development, he said.

Pipeline to river less likely

OLIVIA — The Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative company has been exploring the possibility of a developing a pipeline directly to the Minnesota River, which would eliminate the need to meet County Ditch 45 water quality standards.

The costly project now appears unlikely to go forward, based on information presented to the Renville County board of commissioners on Tuesday.

An analysis showed that the plant’s treated effluent piped directly to the river would exceed the water quality standards for the river as well.

The problem is that the sugar cooperative’s discharge occurs through the winter when flows on the river are low, Knieper said. The salinity level in the effluent is not sufficiently diluted in the river.

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