Bushmills Ethanol, Inc. has paid an $800,000 civil penalty for wastewater treatment violations for discharging wastewater containing unpermitted levels of dissolved minerals (salts) and other pollutants and then providing inaccurate information about the discharges at the company’s ethanol production facility in Atwater (Kandiyohi County). The discharges were not authorized in its wastewater permit.
The violations, occurring from 2008 to 2011, were discovered through on-site inspections by MPCA enforcement staff and through analysis of monitoring data the company is required to submit under its wastewater discharge permit.
The penalty was part of an enforcement agreement the company and the MPCA signed on March 28, 2012. Although the agreement covers a number of violations, the primary ones, and the reason the penalty was so high, related to misleading information provided by the company filed in regard to the operation of its wastewater treatment plant.
The MPCA issued the facility a wastewater discharge permit on April 3, 2007, which contained a requirement for the company to install a wastewater treatment system and have it operating in compliance with water quality standards by August 15, 2008. The company certified in several later submissions to the MPCA that system installation was on schedule and the discharges were meeting standards, when in fact the system had not been operating properly since startup and continued to be out of compliance through 2009.
The Bushmills facility discharges wastewater to Judicial Ditch number 17, which flows about 10 miles to the middle Fork of the Crow River. The potential environmental impacts of the illegal discharges could be to harm fish and other aquatic organisms, not only in the ditch but potentially in the Crow River and other waters downstream. According to an MPCA investigator involved with the case, “the receiving water that the regulated party discharges to is a very low-flow/headwaters type stream, with very little and at times no dilution; therefore, the relative sensitivity of the receiving water is relatively high.”
The illegal discharges occurred from August 2008 through December 2009.
In addition to paying the civil penalty, the company agreed to a compliance schedule for completing corrective actions, including specific plans on how it will ensure compliance with the facility’s environmental permit limits and prevent reoccurrence of the violations in the future.