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Morris' water treatment plan heads to the MPCA for review

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MORRIS – A proposal to build a $9.4 water treatment facility in Morris is on the way to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for review.

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On Tuesday, the Morris City Council approved the report prepared by engineering firm Bolton and Menk and authorized City Manager Blaine Hill to send it to the MPCA.

Once the plan is approved by the MPCA, the city will be able to apply for grant funding to help offset the cost of the project, said Kris Swanson, an engineer with Bolton and Menk.

The city of Morris hired Bolton and Menk about a year ago to look at the city’s aging water and wastewater facilities and develop a capital improvement plan for the infrastructure.

The plan Swanson presented at a public hearing on Tuesday suggests a phased approach, first building a $9.4 million water treatment plan in 2015 followed by a $9.5 million wastewater treatment facility in 2017 to 2021.

The driving factor in the project is the city’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, which covers wastewater discharge. Under new regulations, the city will be required to lower the chloride (salt) content of the city’s water from about 700 milligrams per liter to 406 milligrams per liter by 2020. The city is required to have a plan in place for reducing salt by 2016, explained Swanson.

Swanson recommended keeping the city’s wastewater treatment ponds in place for the next five years to focus on the water treatment plant first because wastewater treatment will not address the issue of chlorides.

The city’s water treatment facility is also aging and will likely need to be replaced regardless of the MPCA requirements, Swanson said.

The best way to treat chlorides is to keep it out of the wastewater in the first place. Salts in water come from many places, but the most significant contributor is salt from water softeners.

To address this issue, Swanson recommended a water treatment plant with a lime softening system that will soften the water without salt before it is provided to residents and industries. The water could be soft enough that residents may not even need a water softener, depending on their preferences.

Lime softening is a more expensive system, but Swanson said he recommends it because it also removes other chemicals from the water – calcium, magnesium, manganese and iron – that the MPCA may regulate in the future.

The total cost of a lime softening facility will be about $9.4 million. Swanson said there are several state grants available that could lower the project cost by about $3 million. However, the operational cost of the plant will also increase, since the city will be putting more chemicals into the water to help soften it.

The cost impact to residents could be significant. Swanson estimated that the cost for water could double, from about $24 per month for 700 cubic feet (3,500 gallons) of water to between $42 and $52 per month. However, Swanson estimated residents would save between $10 and $35 on the cost of salt each month, as well as realize other savings as a result of having better water in their homes and businesses.

The project will also require a public education component to let residents know that they can use less salt for softening water.

Even with the treatment plant, the city will likely need to do some kind of ordinance that would require residents to have up-to-date water softeners that will cut back on the amount of salt that’s used.

While members of the council balked at the cost of the project, they acknowledge that MPCA requirements and the threat of fines could make it necessary.

“There is a repercussion to not doing anything,” said council member Brian Solvie. “Nobody wants their water bill to be doubled, if we didn’t have to do it we wouldn’t do it, we’d just keep on going. If we have to meet these requirements we have to meet these requirements.”

“There are so many more regulations on all of it. It’s an evil but we have to deal with it,” said council member Jeff Miller. “We’re not the only community that will have to do it … Things have changed.”

Once the project is approved, Bolton and Menk will help get the project prepared to ask for grant funding. Funding lists are typically approved in September, so the final vote to authorize the project and finalize a project design will likely come this fall.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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