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Construction continues on long-awaited water project

Jill Schramm/MDN Construction on the Northwest Area Water Supply treatment plant at Max has advanced above ground with interior walls. The project is expected to finish at the end of 2023.

About $125 million in construction has been occurring on the Northwest Area Water Supply project, bringing the project closer to the time when Missouri River water will flow to the Minot region.

About $64 million is going into Phase I of the biota treatment plant that has been rising from the prairie at Max since March. Much of the work isn’t apparent because it is underground.

“You can only see about half of what’s already been built,” Tim Frieje, NAWS manager in the North Dakota Department of Water Resources, said during a Wednesday tour hosted by the North Dakota Water Education Foundation. The currently visible portion consists of interior walls, which eventually will be enclosed.

“In a couple of months, it’s just going to look like a building because they’re bringing in the precast panels from South Dakota. Their crews are mobilizing up here next week and they’re going to start erecting the precast concrete, and then that goes pretty quickly,” Freije said.

The initial plant capacity will be 12.25 million gallons per day. The plant is designed for an expansion to 24.5 MGD. 

Jill Schramm/MDN A 4.5-million gallon reservoir at Lansford is completed and is expected to become operational in about a month. A contractor works to place recycled asphalt around the area.

Substantial completion of the current work on the plant won’t come until the end of 2023. The start of operations will depend on pieces falling into place with the intake structure at the Snake Creek Pumping Plant on Lake Sakakawea.

The state continues to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to obtain the necessary permits, which has been a slow process, Freije said.

“We are planning on getting the Snake Creek modifications going, hopefully, yet this fall,” he said. The state will be advertising the work shortly. 

Freije said one of the three huge pumps at Snake Creek will be removed and replaced with four smaller,1,000-horsepower pumps that will provide the greater pressure necessary to move water to the biota treatment plant.

The state also is waiting for a permit from the Corps to install a discharge pipe through the embankment.

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot Water Treatment Plant Superintendent Mark Paddock, left, describes the new plant expansion during a tour hosted by the North Dakota Water Education Foundation Wednesday. At right is Alan Kemmet of Houston Engineering, who helped guide the tour.

“We are about a year behind where we wanted to be on that,” Freije said.

The project also is now dealing with extended lead times in getting materials, especially custom-built pumping equipment, added Alan Kemmet, an engineer with Houston Engineering, which is the contracted firm for NAWS.

The 36-inch pipeline to the biota treatment plant already is in place and has been tested to ensure it retains its integrity, having been installed about 15 years ago.

The first stage of biota treatment at the plant will include the addition of chemicals such as chlorine for disinfection and coagulants that help separate particles. Air then will be bubbled through the water to float out sediment. 

Four filters are being installed initially in the plant. From the filters, the water will enter an ultraviolet disinfection process. The UV treatment will be delivered with a 26-kilowatt reactor unit. A second, similar unit also will be installed to offer redundancy in backing up the first unit. Each reactor is about 12 feet long and seven feet high. 

Jill Schramm/MDN Some members of a tour group look over the pumps and pipes at the Northwest Area Water Supply pumping station in Minot Wednesday.

The disinfection is required in the 2019 settlement of a Manitoba lawsuit. NAWS was initiated in 1987 and authorized by the Legislature in 1991. Construction started in 2002, following an environmental study, but Manitoba sued over potential biota transfer from the Missouri River into the Souris River Basin that drains into the Hudson Bay in Canada.

“The purpose of this facility is Boundary Waters treaty compliance,” Freije said. “And that’s a federal responsibility. It’s covered under the Dakota Water Resources Act so 100 percent of the capital and operations and maintenance are on the federal government’s dime.”

The plant is expected to require about five operators. Freije said the plant is incorporating as much automation as possible, but operators are needed to manage those systems and perform operations that can’t easily be automated.

To the north of the plant are two sludge lagoons, where waste product from the treatment will be held long-term. Water that separates from the sludge over time will be recycled back to the plant.

“We should have, other than evaporation, very little water loss in this plant,” Kemmet said.

 As the sludge dries over a period of years, it will be removed to a landfill.

The site has a second building with laboratory operations, electrical and technology rooms and chemical storage.

The water leaving the plant will meet drinking water standards, although the state will not certify it as potable water until it is softened and further treated at the Minot Water Treatment Plant.

Water will be pumped from the biota treatment plant to the continental divide, where gravity flow will carry it the rest of the way to Minot.

Along U.S. Highway 83 between the biota plant and Minot are two NAWS structures. One is a building with equipment to control pipeline pressure and the other is a 10.5 million-gallon water reservoir that is under construction.

The Minot Water Treatment Plant recently was expanded to further process the NAWS water. The original water plant was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, so the expansion provides updated equipment for the city’s treatment processes.

Under a contract with NAWS, the city has been using its treatment facilities to produce NAWS water for area communities from its groundwater sources. Once the NAWS water supply arrives, the city’s plant will have the ability to blend groundwater with the surface water if additional water capacity is needed. 

The NAWS system delivers to towns and rural water systems, which then distribute to individual customers. NAWS lines extend from north of Kenmare to Bottineau, serving Minot, Minot Air Force Base, three rural water districts and multiple communities. The project is designed to serve about 81,000 residents.

The pipeline that will bring water from Lake Sakakawea to treatment facilities was built between 2002 and 2008. The idle pipelines have been tested in recent years and a few repairs have been made, Kemmet said.

Seven miles of the oldest pipeline, near Minot, have been in use since the reroute of the Sundre Aquifer pipeline in 2017.

A NAWS pump station across 16th Street from the Minot Water Treatment Plant went into operation in December 2009. Water from the treatment plant flows into an underground 2-million-gallon storage tank, and nine pumps move the water from storage into the distribution system.

Another piece of NAWS construction that is finishing up is a 4.5-million-gallon reservoir at Lansford. Construction started last summer, and the tank is expected to be in operation in about a month, Freije said.

A pump station also has been built to distribute the water from the Lansford facility through the NAWS pipeline system.

“There’s a separate turnout for Lansford. The rest of it goes in the main line and then there’s turnouts for cities and rural water systems all the way up to Bottineau,” Kemmet said.

A 3-million-gallon reservoir and pump station still needs to be built at Bottineau, Freije said. Eventually, with the second phase of work at the biota plant, a third phase at the Minot plant and another pump station at the Souris corner, it will be possible to get 3 million gallons a day to that eastern reach of the NAWS project, he said.

The only remaining distribution pipe to be laid consists of several thousand feet near Westhope. 

The state forecasts overall completion of the NAWS project will happen in 2029.

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