Water Quality

The water WLSSD discharges meets, and regularly performs above, strict standards for bacteria, heavy metals, and other contaminants. Regular testing assures that state and federal water quality standards are achieved, and the water returned to the St. Louis River is suitable for swimming, fishing, and all types of recreation.

Eliminating Sanitary Sewer Overflows

For decades, excess water from rain and snow melt (inflow & infiltration) has entered the sanitary sewer system through

  • illegal drainage systems in homes and businesses
  • cracks and leaks in privately-owned sewer connections
  • cracks and leaks in large pipes owned by municipalities or WLSSD.

Like many communities in the nation, the tremendous amount of extra water would often overwhelm the sewer system and cause sewer pipes to overflow onto streets and into our waterways.  WLSSD and area communities were making investments in their sewer systems for decades to eliminate the problem.

After a series of unprecedented overflows in 2003, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepped in, indicating the problem was not being resolved quickly enough. This eventually led to the signing of the consent decree in 2009.The Consent Decree jointly signed by WLSSD and the City of Duluth as co-defendants in 2009 required the two entities to

  • cease all wet-weather related sanitary sewer overflows by 2016, and
  • resolve 18 separate overflow points within that timeline.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice were also signers of the consent decree. Failure to meet the prescribed timelines would result in severe financial penalties and development restrictions in the region.

To eliminate overflows both the City of Duluth and WLSSD:

  • reduced sources of clear water by working with residents to install sump pumps and fix leaking home connections to the sewer system
  • cleaned and repaired large interceptors and trunk sewers
  • upgraded pumps and pumping stations
  • installed backup generators
  • constructed a total of 8 large storage basins to hold excess sewage until the system can catch up.

To resolve overflow at the specified locations, WLSSD spent about $60 million and the City of Duluth spent $80 million. While much of the cost of these infrastructure improvements were shouldered locally, a portion of the funding came from state and federal sources.


The Consent Decree was terminated after successful completion of improvements in June of 2015, nearly two years ahead of deadline.  WLSSD and the City of Duluth have not experienced a wet weather related overflows since 2012.

Local Resources for Current Water Quality Data

Lake Superior Streams

The Minnesota Lake Superior Beach Monitoring Program

Park Point Beach weather and beach conditions