NAWS looks to expand water treatment capacity

An expansion of the Minot Water Treatment Plant has become a priority of the Northwest Area Water Supply project as the city of Minot continues to grow.

However, whether any work gets started this year will depend on the decision of the federal judge presiding over litigation that’s been slowing the NAWS project.

NAWS project manager Tim Freije with the State Water Commission in Bismarck said the state may request permission from the court to begin design work for additional improvements at the Minot Water Treatment Plant once a draft supplement to an Environmental Impact Statement is released, possibly in May or June.

Freije said the hope is that the judge will allow design work to go forward on an expansion if satisfactory progress on the EIS supplement is shown. That design work would take about a year.

It could take a couple of years to construct a project that is needed now, said Dan Jonasson, Minot public works director.

The plant currently can produce 18 million gallons of treated water a day. NAWS proposes increasing the capacity to 28 million gallons a day.

Jonasson said the plant typically only needs to produce 12 million to 14 million gallons a day in the summer, so the aspect of total capacity isn’t an issue. The problem arises during the winter, when lower water usage allows plant operators to temporarily shut down treatment basins for maintenance. In the past, the plant has been able to shut down a 12-million-gallon treatment basin and meet the water needs using a second basin capable of producing six million gallons a day.

“Our flows during the winter are getting high enough that we can’t take the 12-million-gallon (basin) down and run on just the six-million (basin), because it can’t keep up,” Jonasson said. “That means that we can’t shut the 12-million-gallon down and do maintenance on it. This year we did, but we are at the maximum on what we can produce for water in the winter in that six-million-gallon basin.”

Running at capacity can lower the quality of the water, he said. An inability to clean and maintain the larger basin also would affect the quality of the water.

Looking at Minot’s projected growth, Jonasson sees the potential for future troubles.

In addition to meeting the city’s water needs, the Minot plant has been supplying water to NAWS to serve area communities as pipelines are completed. The plant also supplies Minot Air Force Base and treats water used in much of North Prairie Rural Water District’s system.

Freije said the improvements at the plant are necessary regardless of whether the water source is existing aquifers or the Missouri River as proposed in the NAWS plan.

“It’s more about the capacity of the plant being able to meet the needs in the region,” Freije said. “With the population growth and just the increase in water use there, things picked up quite a bit in the last few years. So we need to be proactive on that.”

With only design work planned for the water plant, this year could be mostly quiet on the construction front for NAWS.

NAWS contractors are substantially complete on those contracts still active. They include the Mohall and Upper Souris Rural Water/Glenburn pipelines and filter rehabilitation and computer upgrades at the Minot Water Treatment Plant.

Once the draft EIS supplement is released this spring or summer, a comment period will open. Freije said the period must be at least 45 days and likely will be longer. Comments then will be incorporated into the EIS before it is finalized. There will be a 30-day waiting period before a record of decision can be filed, after which time the document can be presented to the court.

Freije said there’s been pressure to get the EIS done, but the state and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is in charge of the study, have taken the time necessary to ensure the research and analysis are done correctly and the final product is thorough.

“It has to be scientifically, technically sound and procedurally correct,” he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation concluded in an Environmental Impact Statement for NAWS at the end of 2008 that transfer of organisms from the Missouri River Basin to the Hudson Bay Basin is unlikely. The bureau recommended only pre-treatment of water before crossing the continental divide rather than full treatment at the source as the Canadian province of Manitoba sued to get.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington, D.C., decided that the EIS didn’t go far enough after Manitoba raised more questions and the state of Missouri sued over potential water depletion from the river that it uses for navigation. She ruled in early 2010 that the bureau needed to also study the effect of any organism transfer on Canadian waters and investigate the depletion of water from the river that might affect downstream states.

Until just over a year ago, the judge allowed construction of all but intake structures to continue. During the past year, new pipeline construction came to a halt.

Much of the NAWS pipeline already is in place. The formation of the Western Area Water Supply project, which draws on the Missouri River, is providing an alternative supply for communities to the west. NAWS still looks to extend more pipeline into the Bottineau area.