Morris Water Treatment Plant Needs Legislative Support

The Morris water treatment plant needs legislative support. This means Citizens need to get involved with the process.  We need you to contact House Representative Backer, Senator Westrom and Governor Dayton to ask them to support the needed funding for our project.

As a point of clarification so everyone is on the same sheet of music, the City of Morris does not need a new water treatment plant. That’s right; we don’t need a new water treatment plant.  The one we have is old, but is fine and just needs to be maintained.  It could last us 10 years, it could last us 20 years.  It depends on our maintenance program and how well everything holds up.  The question then is why are we building a new one?

The answer is a mandate from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to reduce the City’s chloride levels (salty discharge) in the Pomme de Terre River by 2020. The mandate is part of our wastewater discharge permit that allows us to discharge into the Pomme de Terre River.  In order to meet this mandate, we looked at building a new sanitary sewer wastewater treatment plant, but the technology isn’t there for this issue, and if it was, the cost would be too expensive.  A lime softening water treatment plant was identified as the most cost effective solution.

Minnesota has a mandate from the Federal Government under the Federal Clean Water Act and needs to start cleaning up impaired waters. The Pomme de Terre River is an impaired water system.  The chloride is coming from the salt that is used in the water softening process that takes place in almost every home, business and public building in Morris. Since we have some of the worst ground water in Minnesota, it has to be softened to use.  If we soften at a new water plant with a lime softening process, we eliminate the salt in our wastewater and meet the chloride restriction.

The surprising part about this mandate is that we are ok with it. Fighting it isn’t the answer.  We are environmentally conscious here and want to see the river cleaned up too.  We recently met with John Stine, Commissioner of the MPCA, in Morris to discuss the poor water quality here, the fact that we didn’t have a water plant on our capital projects list, the MPCA mandate and our solution to meet it.  We told him we just can’t afford it.  We need help from the State with funding.  He asked that we share our story at one of the listening sessions the MPCA was conducting around the state.

I attended a listen session in Willmar. Representatives from the Governor’s Office, the MPCA and the Public Facilities Authority were there to hear our concerns.  I again shared our story and stated we needed help with funding.  There were many cities there sharing the same story.  It is an issue that is affecting many cities in Minnesota, more prominently in western and southern Minnesota where the water quality is bad.

Last legislative session a bill was entered to provide $7 million of funding each for Morris and Breckenridge water treatment plants. Both are in Representative Backer and Senator Westrom’s districts.  However, Breckenridge was already in the process of building a plant and doesn’t have the MPCA mandates that we have driving their project.  This is because they already have a lime softening plant.

The bill was laid over until the 2016 legislative session. We have since learned that the estimate for our project increased to $14 million from the original $11.495 million.  We met on Tuesday with Representative Backer and agreed we needed to write a new bill for Morris that asks for $9 million.  This recognizes the increase in the estimate.

On Thursday an announcement was made that the Governor released his Water Quality & Infrastructure Plan for Minnesota that asks for $219.7 million to modernize Minnesota’s aging water infrastructure. In that plan, the Governor lists specific projects to be funded and one of them is the Morris project with a cost of $11.495 million.  John Stine went on television that night to say that they heard the issues from local government and understand that the State needs to provide funding to help pay for the fixes.  Governor Dayton was on the Almanac program Friday night on Public Television saying the same thing.  Even the Almanac panel suggested there was worth in looking at funding some of these projects, but that there are a lot of big discussions that need to take place in the legislative session.  Education, transportation, jobs, tax relief and many more.

This project affects every water rate payer in Morris. Without additional funding, we will need to borrow money to meet a State mandate and rates will go up considerably.  In addition to Morris users, the City of Alberta is also on our system.  They would be required to pay the increased rates.  Also, the DENCO II ethanol plant has a mandate from the MPCA on their wastewater discharge permit.  Their mandate includes a directive from the State to quit using ground water and to start buying treated water from the City of Morris.  In order to facilitate the sale of water to DENCO II, a new water plant has to be built that is sized large enough for their usage.  The current plant couldn’t handle the capacity.  There is added cost to build and run the plant.

We were successful in the last legislative session to change the language dealing with funding under the Point Source Implementation Grant program to allow wastewater funding to build a water treatment plant. This meant that we were now eligible to receive up to $3 million in grant funding.  We subsequently learned that we made the priority list for funding and basically locked in at least $3 million.  This is partly the reason we only asked for $7 million in legislation.  The funding for any decision on our water plant will be worked out by the State of Minnesota.

In conclusion, we need help from Citizens asking State Representative Jeff Backer, State Senator Torrey Westrom and Governor Mark Dayton for support for the Morris water treatment plant. Tell them the project is a good investment in Minnesota’s future.  It solves an environmental problem with the Pomme de Terre River without overburdening the Citizens of Morris and Alberta in the process.