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Rural Revitalization in Donaldson, Minnesota

June 21, 2010 |
Where: Donaldson, Minnesota; located in the northwest portion of the state along the Red River Valley
Problem: Untreated sewage discharged into a municipal storm water system which emptied into a highway ditch and a half-dozen rundown housing structures full of vermin
Solution: An affordable pressurized collection system with an extended aeration system for treatment; treated wastewater would return to the ground via a subsurface, rock-bed drain field
The decline of an agricultural economy and the exodus from small towns has left behind dilapidated houses and empty commercial buildings in Donaldson, Minnesota. With a population of only 57 people and an annual city operating budget of less than $15,000, the city was at a loss to determine how to eliminate two serious public health hazards––untreated sewage that was being discharged to a road ditch, and a half-dozen rundown housing structures full of vermin.
A municipal storm water system, built in 1936, discharged to a highway ditch west of town. Septic systems installed for indoor plumbing in the 1950s and 1960s let the effluent discharge directly into the city storm water system. A high water table and tight clay soils made drain fields a very expensive option, and they typically performed poorly. The existing system, although effective in getting the wastewater out of town, created a public health violation with untreated sewage draining down the highway ditch.
In addition to the costs of constructing a new wastewater system, the city faced penalties and fines from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The city council also identified six properties that were in severe stages of neglect. In the fall of 1997, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Minnesota Rural Development office (RD) asked for assistance from the Midwest Assistance Program (MAP), the RCAP partner in the upper Midwest and Great Plains, to provide technical assistance to the community to correct its wastewater problem.
RCAP’s regional office, Midwest Assistance Program, took several steps to rehabilitate the public health threats caused by the untreated sewage by:
  • Providing technical assistance to the community to correct its wastewater problem
  • Helpingcommunity hire an engineering firm to draft and implement an affordable system
  • Assisting in keeping the project on track and within budget by preparing the environmental review and application materials
  • Indentifying fundng for community revitalization
  • Helping Donaldson apply to the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority for a $74,600 grant to acquire and improve several properties that were a public nuisance
  • Organizing other entities such as the Stephen Fire Department, the Lions Club, and the local 4-H club to work in partnership to clean up the town.