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Engineers propose $9.4 million water treatment facility for Morris

MORRIS – An engineering firm is recommending that the city of Morris build a $9.4 million water treatment plant to improve aging infrastructure and help the city of Morris meet nationally mandated levels for water quality.

Kris Swanson, an engineer with Bolton and Menk, presented the findings of a year-long look at the city’s water and wastewater systems to the Morris City Council on Tuesday.

The city hired Bolton and Menk to look at the city’s water and wastewater systems in light of two important issues: the systems are aging and new requirements from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will make them obsolete for the city’s needs by 2020.

It’s been nearly 15 years since any significant improvements were made to the city’s water systems. Morris’ wastewater ponds were built in the 1960s and updated in 1993, while the water treatment plant was built in 1979 and updated in 1999.

A bigger issue, however, is the city’s permit for 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.

“The salt issue is the driving factor for what Morris is facing,” said Swanson.

Salts in water come from many places, but the most significant contributor is salt from water softeners. Once salts are dissolved in water, it’s difficult and expensive to remove them, said Swanson.

“The idea is to keep the salt out of your wastewater stream,” he said. “If we’re able to provide better water to residents, industries and commercial entities in town, they in turn use fewer chlorides.”

The water plan provided by Bolton and Menk suggests a phased approach that Swanson said will help meet the MPCA’s chloride requirements, spread out the project costs, and wait for final regulations before addressing other wastewater issues.

The first phase of the plan suggests a $9.4 million water treatment plant that uses a lime softening process. The operational cost of the plant will also increase, since the city will be putting more chemicals into the water to help soften it.

But the water being provided to residents will be soft enough that residents may not even need a water softener. Today, more than 90 percent of Morris residents use a water softener.

“You have an aging water plant to begin with – it’s in need of an upgrade anyway,” said Swanson. “That’s what makes this a little easier for me to recommend, I’d say.”

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.

Lowering the city’s salt discharge will also require behavior changes from residents.

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.

“We’re going to have to mandate that in homes and businesses so that we can get the salt out of the system,” said City Manager Blaine Hill.

Swanson told the council there are some opportunities for grants and low-interest loans for water improvement projects like this one. If the plans for the project are ready to go, the city will be ready to act in applying for specialized funds, he added.

In about four to seven years, Swanson said he’ll recommend reevaluating the city’s wastewater needs and see what other changes may need to be made.

The council will hold a public hearing on the plan on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 5:20 p.m. at the Morris Senior Center.

Other business

  • The council elected Jeff Miller as mayor pro tem and appointed council members to their ex officio roles on city boards and commissions. Sheldon Giese will serve on the Morris Human Rights Commission and Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission; Jeff Miller will serve on the Park Board, Planning Commission, and West Central Initiative Economic Development District; Bill Storck will serve on the Airport Advisory Board and Rental Housing Commission; Kevin Wohlers will serve on the Tourism Board and the Chamber Board; and Brian Solvie will serve on the Regional Fitness Center Board and Community Education Board.
  • The council approved a pay equity report for 2014. City Manager Blaine Hill said the report indicates that the city is in compliance with with pay equity rules.
  • Hill told the council he will likely bring information about an agreement to sell the old elementary school property to Riley Bros. Properties at a meeting in February.