Western Lake Superior Sanitary District

History of WLSSD


In response to citizen demands to clean up the St. Louis River, the Minnesota Legislature created the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) in 1971. WLSSD's initial goal was to improve and protect the waters of the St. Louis River and its tributaries. In 1974, additional legislation was passed, giving WLSSD the added responsibility of solid waste management.

A Dirty Water Past

Historically, area communities used the St. Louis River as a means to dispose of wastewater. Industries discharged their wastewater directly to the River virtually untreated, and most municipalities treated their wastewater only minimally. This severely affected the River by depleting the dissolved oxygen supply. Noxious odors and large fish kills kept most people away.

A Dirty Water Past A Dirty Water Past A Dirty Water Past

Clean Water Act

Beginning in the 1950's, citizens of Minnesota and the nation began to encourage lawmakers to find solutions to water pollution problems. In 1972, the US Congress appropriated funds under the Clean Water Act to build and upgrade wastewater infrastructure around the country. At WLSSD alone, $100 million in federal funding was provided to build wastewater collection and treatment facilities.

River Recreation Returns

The treatment plant came on line in 1978, consolidating 14 old, inadequately treated discharges into one discharge point that met state and federal standards. Water quality in the St. Louis River rapidly improved. By the early 1980's, an increasing number of citizens returned to the river for fishing and recreation. Although the legacy of toxic materials in the river sediments remains, water quality today is dramatically improved.

Sometimes we forget how far we've come since 1978 when the St. Louis River was not much better than a sewer. The cleanup of the St. Louis River basin is an achievement that all residents in this region can be very proud of.