Water supply essential for ag businesses

Elisa Sand esand@aberdeennews.com
Farm Forum

New growth and development could push Aberdeen’s municipal water system close to its capacity in the not-too-distant future.

Average daily demand is expected to exceed 4 million gallons this year — close to a 20 percent increase from just a year ago. And greater demand, especially from agriculture-related businesses, is expected. But even so, there’s no reason residents should fret. There are no big water plant expansion projects planned that will affect tax bills or water fees. Nor are there plans for more water restrictions or a moratorium on service like the one WEB Water has had to impose.

About 30 percent of Aberdeen’s current daily water use — close to 1 million gallons — now goes to DemKota Ranch Beef on the south side of town, according to city data.

And City Manager Lynn Lander said demand is going to continue to increase with the opening of a new soybean processing plant in 2019. Ag Processing Inc. is under construction on the northeast edge of town and is expected to use 500,000 gallons per year to start, with the potential for more.

Lander said things have changed considerably from just three years ago, when the highest demand from a single industrial company was 300,000 per day.

“We’ve entered a new era,” Lander said. “Not that industrial demand exceeds residential use, but industrial demand is a recognizable percentage (of total daily use).”

The water plant has the capacity to treat between 11 million and 11.5 million gallons a day. Given that, it looks like there’s plenty of room to spare. But that could change quickly.

“We now easily hit 7.5 (million gallons) for a peak day in the summer,” said Janel Ellingson, superintendent of the water treatment plant.

The largest amount of water treated in a day in June 2016 was 7.78 million gallons. But like Lander, Ellingson expects demand to increase.

Lander said he recently talked with a company interested in moving to town. He declined to name the company or what type of work it does, but said that if it selects Aberdeen, it would need about 500,000 gallons of water a day to start, and the company has plans for expansion.

Between the prospect of that company and ag businesses increasing the amount of water they use, three companies could eventually account for as much as 4.5 million gallons of water a day, Lander said.

Given all of that, Ellingson said peak demand could easily jump above 9 million gallons per day in the next few years.

Demand discussions

City officials recently discussed current demands on the water system when Councilman Todd Campbell asked if Aberdeen could help alleviate some of WEB’s capacity issues by hooking up one of WEB’s large water users — a nearby ethanol plant, for instance — to the city’s system.

WEB officials have not approached the city or discussed that idea, Lander said.

Campbell’s question came after WEB General Manager Angie Hammrich told the Brown County Commission in March that the rural water system was placing a moratorium on new hookups for bulk users. That decision had to do with WEB’s system approaching capacity. It means no new industrial and commercial hookups, no new housing development hookups and no new community hookups. Individual hookups, she said, will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Calls to Hammrich were not returned.

City officials were uncertain about hooking up to the ethanol plant. Not only would it require infrastructure to the facility, but it was also unknown whether connecting to the plant would benefit WEB.

“We don’t know if that’s an area where we could make a difference and if it would help their system,” said Robin Bobzien, Aberdeen’s public works director. “There’s some engineering models where you’d need to know if it would help the right part of their system. Without that discussion, we wouldn’t know where to start.”

Regardless, it’s an about-face from a previous offer by WEB to provide the city with a portion of its water supply. That was in 2001. And when WEB was being built, Aberdeen declined an opportunity to be served by the rural water system, a decision that some residents bemoaned for years.

Looking ahead

Meeting future demand, should it continue to increase, isn’t as simple as expanding treatment capacity, Bobzien said. The city would also need to consider the carrying capacity of the water system and the amount of raw water available for treatment.

Bobzien said that while the system’s carrying capacity is much higher than its treatment capacity, evaluation is always needed to make sure all parts of the system are sized to meet demand.

The city’s current water supply comes from a combination of well water and water drawn from the Elm River. Ellingson has said that as much as 25 percent is well water.

In addition to ensuring there’s capacity for high-use days, Bobzien said, the city also has to plan for unexpected use.

“You’re going to want to make sure you’re able to take care of the basic things now as a system before you hit a point where you’re at a maximum or you end up with a fire concurrent with maximum-use days,” he said.

As demand continues to increase, Ellingson, Lander and Bobzien agree that city leaders will eventually need to discuss expansion of the water treatment plant to allow for additional capacity.

“For the next couple years, we’d not get close enough to that maximum,” Ellingson said. “You have to look at that inevitability.”

Lander said the use of gray water might also be discussed as the city gets closer to its treatment capacity. Gray water is treated water that’s discharged from the city’s wastewater treatment plant. It could be used, for instance, for the irrigation of city parks.

Bobzien said before it could be used, the city would need to invest in the infrastructure to pipe the water from the treatment plant.

The last upgrades to the water treatment plant, at a cost of $16 million, were completed in mid-2006. At the same time, the city also tapped a half-dozen wells. Bobzien said the improvements were made to update the equipment used in the treatment process. They were made with expansion in mind, Ellingson said, but it would take an engineering study to determine options for expansion and the estimated cost.

A talk about expanding the plant is needed, Bobzien said, but the potential cost has yet to be explored.

The last upgrades were paid for through a loan from the state’s drinking water revolving loan fund, scheduled for repayment through April 2026.

Ellingson said hooking up one of WEB Water’s larger users is something the city could do, but it would come with consequences.

“That would speed up those (plant expansion) discussions quite rapidly,” she said.

It may also spark discussion about expanded water restrictions, she said. Now, the only restriction in place prohibits watering from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. City officials first discussed water restrictions in 2006 as a way to conserve water. Ellingson said current policy encourages watering when it’s most beneficial. Watering during the hottest part of the day means more water will evaporate.

Study ongoing

The U.S. Geological Survey has been working on a study aimed at identifying the best source of water for a new city well. Results are expected later this year.

The study won’t pinpoint an exact drilling site, but will give city officials a more accurate picture of the Elm Aquifer.

Once a site for a well is determined, Lander said, the next question would be how much pipe it would take to connect it to the city’s system.

Officials are also looking at funding options for a fourth water tower. It would be in the northeast part of Aberdeen. Lander said the estimated cost is $2 million. The infrastructure to the tower would be another $1.3 million. The tower will help equalize water pressure in that part of town. It would also increase above-ground storage capacity to better meet demand, he said.

“We have to be cautious and we have to pre-plan,” Lander said.

That planning, he said, includes evaluating expansion options for the water treatment plant.

WEB not alone in water service struggles

WEB Water isn’t the first rural water system to grapple with meeting the needs of its customers.

WEB Water’s system is at capacity, WEB General Manager Angie Hammrich said, and the infrastructure to expand service would cost $150 million to $200 million.

Brown County Commission Chairwoman Rachel Kippley said an expense that large requires federal resources.

“It’s a bigger problem than we can handle statewide or regionally,” Kippley said.

Talk of a moratorium on new hookups is a concern, she said, because it can hinder economic development.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” Kippley said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ll work with them on what we can do.”

Calls to Hammrich to discuss WEB’s future were not returned.

Managers of other rural water systems in the region say they have already faced capacity issues.

Kurt Pfeifle, manager of the Miller-based Mid-Dakota Rural Water System, said it had a moratorium in place from 2006 until 2010. Mid-Dakota draws water from the Missouri River.

“I can sympathize with the folks from WEB,” Pfeifle said. “Our issue was a little different. Their issue is more regionalized — not enough facilities in the ground. Ours was capacity at the treatment plant, so we embarked on a (project) to increase capacity, then lifted the moratorium.”

Now, he said, Mid-Dakota is studying ways to take the extra capacity and push it east toward Huron. That work will take a significant investment in infrastructure that will cost millions.

“We’re talking big pipe and water storage tanks and booster stations,” he said.

Construction of Mid-Dakota began in 1995 and finished in 2006. The system’s 13-county service area is south of WEB’s, which includes 14 counties in South Dakota and three in North Dakota.

Mid-Dakota and WEB are two of 33 rural water systems in South Dakota. Dennis Davis, executive director for the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems, said the systems don’t have fixed boundaries.

If there’s a company on a border interested in rural water, Pfeifle said, the two water systems talk about who will provide service.

“We talk to WEB a lot and (other) neighboring systems,” he said. “We come to an understanding on who is going to serve who.”

Davis said when rural water systems were established, their capacity was based on projected growth of existing customers, anticipated rural economic development and the federal funding allocated.

He said if there’s a large town served by a system, pipes can be upsized in anticipation of future community growth.

“Sometimes you have to look back in history to see why there are challenges today,” Davis said.

Aberdeen was approached about connecting to WEB when the system first got started, but community leaders said no. Talk about WEB providing treated Missouri River water to north-central and northeast South Dakota started in 1975. The system started operating in 1986.

WEB stands for Walworth, Edmunds and Brown, abutting counties east of the river. Now, 27 towns are connected to WEB and another 35 towns receive bulk water service.

WEB approached Aberdeen again in 2001 asking if there was interest in water service. Again, city officials declined.

Talk of limitations within WEB’s system have come up before. According to American News archives, in 2006, WEB looked at expanding its 7.7-million-gallon-per-day water treatment plant by 6 million or 8 million gallons.

When Glacial Lakes Energy in Mina asked to hook up a fourth ethanol plant to the system, WEB agreed, provided Glacial Lakes pay for an expansion of the WEB treatment plant at Mobridge and the installation of pipe between Bowdle and Mina. WEB also pitched the idea that Aberdeen provide the water.

By September, WEB had received a $4.8 million loan from the U.S Department of Agriculture to expand treatment capacity to 12 million gallons per day, with the intent of providing 1 million gallons a day to the Mina ethanol plant.

When rural water systems planned ahead for possible rural economic development, Pfeifle said, they envisioned things like large cattle confinement operations, not ethanol plants. That’s one reason for some of the recent system capacity issues.

In a statement issued last week responding to questions about WEB Water’s moratorium and infrastructure needs, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said, “I’m aware of the issues facing rural water systems and I have consistently supported robust funding for programs that will benefit South Dakota communities that rely on rural water systems.”

Rounds is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which focuses on rural community issues.

“I will work to make certain that rural areas are treated fairly in any future infrastructure legislation,” Rounds said.

Since WEB announced its moratorium, Pfeifle said, Mid-Dakota has had hookup inquiries from people in the Redfield area, which is WEB’s service territory.

“Generally, these people are 6 to 8 miles away from our pipeline,” he said. “It would cost them $50,000 to $100,000 to get a hookup from us. The other problem is, if there’s just one (customer) on the end of the line, you run into issues with keeping the water fresh.”

Rodney Kappes, general manager for BDM Rural Water System, said a struggle for the Britton-based system is dealing with temporary spikes in demand.

“The No. 1 demand segment is agricultural spraying (of herbicides) because it’s a huge demand that hits our system probably for four to six weeks,” Kappes said.

When farmers are spraying, he said, water demand goes up by 50 percent.

That has led to conversations about how to deal with the spikes. New infrastructure is one option, Kappes said, but with it, the additional capacity would go unused the majority of the year.

He said other options involve installing water main loops or talking with farmers to see if they can set up onsite storage containers so they can draw from those containers first.

In the next year, Kappes said, BDM will be developing a model that accurately reflects the demand on its system.

BDM serves four counties in the northeast corner of South Dakota and one county in North Dakota. It’s been operating for more than three decades. Upgrades in 2008 and 2009 added capacity at the water treatment plant and added Hecla to the BDM system.

BDM water is pulled from the Middle James Aquifer.

Kappes said that even though rural water systems have been serving the area for 25 to 30 years, it’s a business in its infancy.

“In my mind, when these systems were built, that was phase one,” he said. “Now, we’re in phase two. How do we handle those peak demands? It’s a challenge that we’re all looking at.”

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