Water project two years in the making “The time is now”

The City of Langdon and Northeast Regional Water District (NRWD) held the first of two informational meetings on April 21 concerning the proposed joint venture of procuring water from the City of Devils Lake.

water meeting

Posted on 4/30/16

By Melissa Anderson

The meetings are being held to inform the residents of Langdon about the options that the city has in regards to water supply. The residents will be asked to vote on the issue in the June 14 primary.

The meeting was well attended by members of the community the project will affect to hear the presentations and ask questions.

Langdon City Commission Chair Chuck Downs gave the first presentation and explained the city’s stance on the project and the secondary options should the measure be voted down on the June ballot.

The questions that the city posed to those present were if the citizens of Langdon wanted to enter into a 40 year contract of purchasing water from NRWD, what are the city’s options in regards to water, and the pros and cons of those options.

Downs explained that the City of Langdon has three options to consider. The city can connect with NRWD and source water from Devils Lake using the 75 percent grant that has been given to the project by the North Dakota State Water Commission. The city’s share of the $22 million project would be $3.927 million after the grant’s application.

The second option that the city has is to construct a new water treatment plant at a estimated cost of a little over $11.6  million. The city has been working on receiving grant funding for this project. Down’s stated that the city is likely only to receive about 43 percent grant funding for this particular project should it be pursued, leaving the city with an estimated project cost of $6.623 million.

An eventual option with this plan for the future would be to have a new source of water for the city from the Munich Aquifer. This would be an additional project later on.

It was asked if the 43 percent grant funding was secured and Downs stated that it was not but was what the city could qualify for. Downs explained that it is highly unlikely that the city would receive anymore and quite possible the city would receive less than 43 percent.

The third option that was asked by Rob Gilseth was if the city had to do anything about the water. Gilseth reasoned that with decreased demand resulting in a slow down of production that may increase the quality of the water. Downs stated that not doing anything and continuing as is was an option.

The first two options cost comparison is quite telling. The estimated increase users can expect, should the ordinance be approved in June and the city joins NRWD for water, would be about $17 to water bills. Should the ordinance be voted down and the city pursue building a new water treatment plant, users can expect to see about a $25 increase to their water bills.

Downs then went over the pros and cons of the two options. The city considers the following to be pros for a new water treatment plant option:

• Own the facility and equipment.

• Have control over rate increases.

• Control the quality of the water.

• Only pay for the water treated.

• Maintains jobs and tax dollars within the City of Langdon.

The city considers the following to be cons for building a new water treatment plant:

• Have to continue to operating a water treatment plant.

• Have to train staff on operating new equipment.

• Have to secure grant funding.

The pros for the city to connect with NRWD are as follows:

• It’s fully funded.

• It’s easier.

• It’s less maintenance for the city staff.

• There will be sufficient water supply and fire protection.

The cons of joining NRWD according to the City of Langdon are as follows:

• Not be in control of rate increases.

• Not in control of water quality.

• Not in control of future capital costs.

• City staffing needs may need to be reduced.

NRWD General Manager Gordon Johnson spoke on behalf of NRWD and began his presentation by addressing the reason why the citizens of Langdon need to vote on the ordinance. According to North Dakota Century Code Section 40-33-16, a purchase agreement for water cannot be more than 40 years and must be by ordinance submitted to the voters and approved by simple majority.

Just as Downs did, Johnson went briefly over the history of the joint effort by the City of Langdon and NRWD to find a suitable water source for both entities’ needs. Johnson went one step further going over why each preceding option was rejected by NRWD until the option for the Devils Lake buy-in was accepted and pursued in 2014.

Johnson explained that the reason NRWD felt the option of the new water treatment plant for Langdon and the future use of water from the Munich aquifer was not suitable was because of the unknowns related to the concentrate brine removal and dispersal after the water had been treated and the permitting concerns for said concentrate brine removal and disposal.

Johnson also stated that there was probability for high costs related to membrane replacement, maintaining concentrate storage lagoons, and the ability to permit for concentrate removal lagoons.

NRWD also cited concerns with the water quality of the Munich aquifer as why they didn’t view that option favorably. The raw water quality of the Munich aquifer has high sodium and sulfates, high arsenic, and high iron and manganese which would require extensive treatment to be removed.

Johnson addressed why the Devils Lake option was the most attractive for NRWD and stated that the water chemistry of Devils Lake was so similar to a plant currently operated by NRWD, the Akra Plant, that the two waters could successfully be mixed providing two sources for NRWD customers and the City of Langdon.

Johnson addressed why the Akra plant could not be used as a source for both entities by stating that the plant did not have permit to produce the amount of water that would be needed by both entities and that there is no back-up protection should there be a failure either at the plant or along the line. The plant’s production would be for NRWD and, in case of an emergency, a back up source for Langdon.

Johnson then went over the raw water and treated water quality of the Devils Lake water treatment plant, the water usage rates of City of Langdon and NRWD, and how the water would be brought to City of Langdon. Johnson stated that the City of Langdon would not be charged for the usage of existing infrastructure, much of which recently underwent a $5 million upgrade, that would be used to bring the Devils Lake water to Langdon.

Johnson addressed concerns raised that the proposed plan does not leave adequate room for growth. Johnson explained that the proposed dual source pipeline and pump station capacity allows for up to 1,350 gallons per minute (gpm), or up to 700 million gallons a year, to the region. This is four times the current usage. Should that not be enough, there is the possibility of adding a pumping station east of Cando that would increase the capacity to 1,825 gpm. This would require additional negotiations with Devils Lake to increase capacity.

Johnson also discussed the buy-in agreement with the City of Devils Lake. The agreement’s estimates were figured based on the percentage of water the proposed project would require for the two entities. These figures were about 21 percent for finished water and about 29 percent for transmission of raw water. The buy-in reserves the requested NRWD/City of Langdon capacity now and into the future and also allows the two entities to purchase the water at a whole sale price. The total cost for buy-in is about $3.5 million, but there is about $700,000 of the grant going towards that cost bringing the amount down to about $1.4 million share for NRWD and the City of Langdon. These figures are included in the total cost of the project.

Johnson spent a good portion of the meeting answering questions from the crowd.

Kathy Downs asked numerous questions regarding the agreements, rate increases, and the figures presented.

Johnson explained that the agreements would limit the rate increases, most of which would be dependent on the operation and maintenance costs of the pipeline itself. NRWD would be acting as the agent in bringing the water from Devils Lake to the City of Langdon and each year the spreadsheets would be reviewed. The entire relationship would be much like the one that the City and NRWD had when NRWD was purchasing water from the City, only the roles would be reversed.

Johnson continued by explaining that the cost of getting the water to Langdon would be the key to rate increases, specifically the cost of power. The elevation difference between Devils Lake and the City of Langdon is 150 feet, a difference that must be surmounted with pumps. Overall, NRWD does not foresee dramatic increases but relatively flat and stable.

Downs asked what would happen if there was water loss somewhere along the line, who would pay for it? Johnson said that the cost would be shared by both NRWD and Langdon. In that situation, rates would not be affected, but the operation and maintenance costs would fluctuate accordingly. Additionally, should there be a break in the line, Langdon has a little over a million gallons in storage. Should a break occur between the well fields and Devils Lake, Devils Lake has about 3 million gallons of storage capacity so supply demands along with the emergency back-up of Akra water treatment plant to supply Langdon.

Downs also asked if a special position on the NRWD board would be made for someone from Langdon. Johnson stated that there would not be a position added. Langdon would be classified as a bulk user and that when positions opened on the NRWD board, someone from Langdon could run and be voted upon prior to the annual meeting. Johnson stated that currently there are three board members from the Langdon district on the seven member board.

Another question was asked that should the ordinance be voted down, could a joint venture be revisited later on. Johnson stated that it was unlikely to be available in the future as the time is now for a project of this size.

Johnson explained that the grant funding that has been approved by the North Dakota State Water Commission is unlikely to be seen ever again. Should the residents of Langdon vote down the project, NRWD will have to go back to the State Water Commission and renegotiate grant funding for a downsized project, closing any leeway for the City of Langdon to try and join in the future.