Minneapolis Stinks

You and your date are cruising down Washington Avenue after a nice dinner at Nochee or dancing at the Bolt Underground or maybe your headed to Sex World to spice things up a little. You pass the corner of Portland and Washington, and all of a sudden your car fills with the scent of rotten eggs. Your date cracks the window as you desparately attempt to convince them that it wasn’t you, it was the combined sewer overflow (CSO)!

Minneapolis’ sewer systems started at Washington Avenue in the 1870s. Back then, the only notion city planners had of a ‘wastewater treatment plant’ was that the Mississippi River would carry the city’s sewage downriver quickly enough that it wouldn’t stink that bad. The first sewers were brick and they leaked. In the 1930s, Minneapolis began upgrading the sewer and stormwater runoff systems. These are known as combined sewer overflow (CSO) and any time there is substantial rainfall, the sewer and stormwater systems combine to take on the extra load. In the process, sewage gets into the stormwater ducts, and even to this day, it runs into the river.

Since 1960, Minneapolis, with the help of the Metropolitan Council, has been undertaking the long and expensive process of separating the sewer and stormwater systems. They’ve accomplished separating 95% of the systems. All that remain are the older and more built up areas of the city. They include: 39th Avenue South and Minnehaha Pkwy, 38th Street East and 26th Avenue South, 26th Street East & Seabury Avenue, Oak Street & 5th Street SE, and of course, the stinkiest of them all, Portland and Washington Avenue. In fact, the intersection is so stinky, that in 2002, the Metropolitan council issued money to correct the CSO in the area, and mitigate the stench wafting up from underground. Judging from the amount of contruction currently underway at the intersection, I’d guess the stink will soon be gone.

Minneapolis has been looked at as a leader in CSO elimination, as virtually every large, older city in the nation has combined sewer and stormwater systems. At only 5% combined systems, the city is leaps and bounds ahead of others in mitigating this environmental and olfactory hazard.

Over the years folks have blamed each other, the Gay 90s, the Depot, and even the Old Spaghetti Factory for the stench that pervades much of downtown near the river. This is one time, however, that ‘smelt it’ doesn’t necessarily mean that you ‘dealt it.’

5 Comments so far

  1. Urgewyrm (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 2:23 am

    Ah, so that’s what that horrid smell is. I just assumed the construction guys had screwed something up had broken something.

    Very nice with the history lesson, thanks!

  2. Heather K (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 6:25 am

    This reminds me of the stinky Gopher State ethanol plant in St. Paul. The EPA finally forced them to install about $2 mil worth of pollution control equipment because the neighborhoods complained to their city councilmembers about the terrible smell.

    A stench really gets things done around the cities, doesn’t it?

    Interesting post!

  3. Dave Dash (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 6:57 am


    That’s what we were smelling at Sawatdee.

  4. jake (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 9:09 am

    Excellent post…

  5. Erica (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 11:12 am

    I guess I didn’t realize that they wouldn’t have already been separated. I mean, duh. I guess if we haven’t already fixed the problem completely it makes me feel good about our city that we’re close to being done and way ahead of other cities. But… ewww.

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