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West Fargo water plant may cost $61 million

The recommended option for a West Fargo water treatment plant could cost more than $61 million, the final master plan recently released shows. That cost is roughly double what West Fargo officials expected, so the plan's conclusions came as a sur...

Graphic: Potential locations

The recommended option for a West Fargo water treatment plant could cost more than $61 million, the final master plan recently released shows.

That cost is roughly double what West Fargo officials expected, so the plan's conclusions came as a surprise.

"We had to sit down when we saw that," Public Works Director Barry Johnson said. "That really took us aback."

But with a better idea of the challenges, West Fargo officials now look toward additional feasibility studies to determine their best option for a treatment plant.

The unexpectedly large price tag, among other factors, makes a regional approach more attractive to West Fargo leaders.


Either way, a new facility would still be years away.

The recommendation

West Fargo draws most of its water supply from two underground aquifers, which are being depleted because of heavier use from the city's growing population.

In contrast, the water treatment facility would draw mostly from the Sheyenne River, which is now used only as a backup source.

West Fargo officials have been considering a new water treatment plant for several years, and the master plan provides a more definite picture of the best treatment processes and the likely costs.

Moorhead-based Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services Inc., which drafted the plan, recommended two options.

Each facility uses a different treatment process, but both could move up to 8 million gallons per day and could be expanded to accommodate up to 12 million gallons per day.

The recommended $61.7 million option would include more extensive and more costly treatment technologies, such as reverse osmosis.


But the facility could then overcome water quality issues from higher sulfate levels in the Sheyenne River, which is a concern because of increased water flows from the Devils Lake outlet.

Not included in the construction cost are the additional recommend feasibility studies: one to evaluate the city's current well-and-aquifer system, and another to pilot test the facility for a period of time to ensure it works as designed, Johnson said.

The pilot study alone would cost between $970,000 and $1.26 million, according to the plan.

A regional approach?

For several months, West Fargo officials have actively pursued the possibility of a regional water treatment facility, which could include partnering with Fargo and the Cass Rural Water Resource District.

Johnson and Mayor Rich Mattern said the $61 million price tag for a West Fargo plant makes the regional alternative even more appealing.

"I think we have always been, in the back of our minds, looking at a regional approach, but I think the costs will now intensify looking at it," Mattern said. "We do a lot of stuff together with Fargo and we try to work with the other communities, and I think this would be a win-win situation, if we could get it to work.

"Getting it to work is going to be the battle" because of the cost involved, Mattern added.


Fargo officials recently voiced support for considering a regional facility because of the high cost the city faces if it upgrades its own plant.

Fargo pulls water from the Red and Sheyenne rivers and, like West Fargo, has concerns about increased sulfate levels in the Sheyenne River.

Enterprise Director Bruce Grubb testified in February at a local U.S. Senate field hearing that Fargo would need $45 million to equip its treatment plant with the reverse-osmosis technology necessary to treat increased sulfate concentrations and maintain the city's current water quality.

"There's a possibility we could treat water to serve the city of West Fargo and have maybe a process where we could together benefit both cities," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said at the February hearing. "That seems to be very important to us and very important to them, because the cost of building their part of the process is extremely expensive and basically redundant."

The Cass Rural Water District buys about 10 percent of its water from Fargo.

But General Manager Jerry Blomeke said he hasn't talked with West Fargo for at least a couple of years about collaborating for a regional facility.

"We haven't had any conversations for quite some time, but I don't have any reason to believe that we wouldn't be interested," Blomeke said.

To help pay for a treatment facility, West Fargo officials were considering a 1-cent sales tax increase, but Mattern said it's extremely likely that won't be put to the voters for at least a year.


"If you're going to do this, you have to do it right and you might as well take your time," Mattern said. "You don't want to rush into any decisions."

Johnson agreed, saying the numerous factors and contingencies that complicate the decision-making process are worth taking the time to weigh.

"It's not like our aquifer is drying up today. We're early enough in the game," Johnson said. "We had enough future knowledge of what we're going to want and what the size of the city will be, that we have the luxury of taking our time, looking at everything and not making a rash decision."

Weighing West Fargo's options

  • A master plan released last week offers two alternatives for West Fargo to consider in constructing a water treatment facility.
  • Each can treat up to 8 million gallons per day and can be expanded to up to 12 million gallons per day.
  • Based on growth projections, West Fargo could have a population of 30,000 by 2030, with an average daily water demand of 3 million gallons. The current estimated population hovers around 26,800, with an average daily demand of 2.44 million gallons.
  • Alternative one comes with a cost of $47.1 million and calls for a system comparable to the kind Fargo uses in its water treatment plant.
  • Alternative two, which is the recommended option, costs about $61.7 million and includes enhanced treatment technologies such as reverse osmosis that could cope with anticipated increases in sulfate levels in the Sheyenne River because of the Devils Lake outlet.
  • West Fargo officials also are discussing the option of a regional treatment facility, which could lessen the financial obstacle.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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