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Published December 09, 2013, 08:15 PM

Grand Forks city staff considers design for water plant

City staff members are recommending Grand Forks’ new water treatment plant be a hybrid, encompassing new technology and an updated version of the current plant’s technology.

By: Charley Haley, Grand Forks Herald

City staff members are recommending Grand Forks’ new water treatment plant be a hybrid, encompassing new technology and an updated version of the current plant’s technology.

The new water treatment plant, which is still in planning stages and estimated to cost about $130 million, would have new membrane filtration technology to handle the Red River’s increasing level of sulfate from Devils Lake. If the City Council agrees with the staff recommendation, the new facility will be built on the west end of Grand Forks.

The city has already received a $5 million match grant from the North Dakota State Water Commission for planning, and City Administrator Todd Feland said he hopes to receive 50 percent funding from the state throughout the project, bringing Grand Forks’ estimated total cost down to about $65 million.

Building a hybrid facility will be more costly than building a new facility with only either the conventional or new technology, according to the agenda packet for tonight’s city Service/Safety Committee meeting. Just the conventional technology would cost an estimated $117 million and just a membrane technology facility would cost about $122 million.

The project is years away from being completed, and the city still has a lot of research planned, said Feland, who is also Grand Forks’ interim public works director.

“It’s a huge investment for the city of Grand Forks,” Feland said, “and we want to make sure we make the right investment.”

He plans to have the facility’s design 20 percent complete by the end of 2014 and the project should be ready for bids at the end of 2016.

Construction would be from 2016 to June 2019, Feland said.

Although the current water treatment plant is across town from the planned site for the new plant, at 55th Street and DeMers Avenue, the project won’t require the city to build new pipelines across town — the current pipes already go from the water intake site on the river to the site of the future site of the new plant, where other water operations are already located nearby.

Two technologies

The hybrid facility’s new membrane technology will be able to treat water coming into the Red River from Devils Lake, but it also will include conventional technology that the city currently uses and is familiar with.

“That way we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket,” Feland said. If something went wrong with one treatment process, the city would have the other available.

Eventually, the city’s current technology alone would not be enough to process the increasing levels of sulfate from Devils Lake, Feland said. At this time, though, the sulfate levels are safe because the water treatment plant dilutes the Red River’s water by blending it with the Red Lake River’s water, he said.

City staff researched several water treatment plants including those in the Fargo, Minneapolis and Denver metro areas, Feland said. There were cities that had both membrane and conventional technology, but none had both under same roof in a hybrid facility, he said.

Fargo is considering building a separate membrane water treatment plant in addition to its conventional treatment facility, Feland said.

In the hybrid facility, the two treatments could be alternated, and Grand Forks would have the capability to treat Red River water and Red Lake River water separately if needed, Feland said.

“We want to be able to treat both rivers if something happens to one,” he said.

Research on the two technologies has been a collaborative effort between the city, a consulting firm and UND, Feland said. The city is hiring a UND Ph.D. student to help with continuing research on the membrane technology, he said.


The project has received its $5 million from the state so far because it has regional benefits, Feland said.

Devils Lake water is coming into the Red River through state-implemented outlets to the Sheyenne River, to reduce the Devils Lake’s water levels, he said.

Grand Forks’ new water treatment plant would also help the Red River Valley Water Supply Project, which would send water from the Missouri River to the Red River Valley, he said.

Feland said the city will continue to apply for state funding to cover half of the project’s entire cost.

Utility bills in Grand Forks have already increased about 7 percent this year, much of which is to fund the water treatment project.