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Replacing an Aging Water Treatment Plant in the Red River Valley of Minnesota

March 18, 2021

Breckenridge, Minnesota – Where the Otter Tail River and the Bois de Sioux River meet, along the border between Minnesota and North Dakota, are the headwaters of the Red River of the North. It’s the longest North-flowing river in the United States, flowing 549 miles to Lake Winnipeg, Ontario, Canada.

And it’s here that the small town of Breckenridge, Minnesota, population 3,205, and its North Dakota neighbor across the river, Wahpeton, population 7,802, serve as a center of commerce and culture for the area’s sugar beet, corn, soybean and sunflower farmers.

In a place that is so revered for its confluence of rivers, it might come as a shock to some that the City of Breckenridge’s 79-year-old water treatment plant was in such disrepair that the national TV program, “CBS Sunday Morning,” did a story about the crumbling infrastructure.

After rejecting one design that came in millions of dollars over budget, the City of Breckenridge hired Ulteig to value-engineer a new, more reliable water treatment plant to provide potable water for Breckenridge residents and businesses. The 1,000-gallon-per-minute water treatment plant needed to incorporate advanced lime-softening technology and gravity filtration to remove iron, manganese and other hardening elements from the city’s primary 300-foot wells, which draw water from the Wahpeton Buried Valley Aquifer.

Overcoming Challenges

Ulteig took the original design for the new water treatment plant, built on a new location within the city limits, and worked toward creating the necessary improvements to lower the cost of the project.

“We also had to meet a number of other goals, including increasing the plant’s efficiency, using less chemicals to treat raw water, improving water quality and lowering electricity costs to operate the new plant,” said Brian Hiles, a senior engineer with Ulteig’s Water and Wastewater team. “In addition to design, we served as the owner’s representative, observing all steps during the construction of the new plant and reporting on progress to the city and, ultimately, the residents of Breckenridge.”

A huge aspect of engineering the water plant was managing the seasonal spring and fall purchase of water by nearby farmers. With the old plant, local farmers could purchase water from the city but because of the aging infrastructure, the city increasingly had difficulty meeting that demand.

“The city realized it needed to act with urgency on this project,” Hiles said. “They were only one catastrophe away from a situation that would not only disrupt the drinking water supply to their residents, but the water that their local farmers and businesses need to maintain the economic life blood of the area.”

“By working closely with Neil Crocker, Breckenridge’s director of public works, we created a collaborative process that allowed us to streamline design and engineering and get the city the water treatment plant it needs,” said Hiles.

“The City of Breckenridge finally has the new water treatment plant that we truly needed. It was a pleasure working with the staff at Ulteig,” said Crocker. “They always had our best interest in mind throughout the entire project.”

Reliability You Can Count On

“This is a straight-forward, minimalistic water treatment plant that is entirely focused on getting the job-at-hand done as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible,” said Hiles.

The new water treatment plant may be lacking in style points, but it more than makes up for that in functionality.

According to Hiles, the City’s storage capacity is 1,300,000 gallons. Of that, 1,000,000 gallons comes through the clear well at the water plant and 300,000 gallons is located in the water tower. The city has two days of water capacity in the summer and three to five days in the winter.

The maximum daily treatment capacity is 1,440,000 gallons per day (gpd). The average daily use for the city of Breckenridge is 280,000 gpd in the winter and 550,000 gpd in the summer. Sixty percent of daily usage is for residential use, and 40 percent is for institutional, commercial, agricultural and industrial use.

“This plant has been built solid to work for 50 years,” said Hiles. “The folks in this town will be able to count on this plant for a long, long time.”

Bottom-Line Results

In contrast to the original design, Ulteig applied its extensive experience, expertise and process efficiency to stay under the city’s budget. As part of the Drinking Water Revolving Fund Program, Breckenridge received $5 million in Principal Forgiveness Grants. The new water treatment plant was fully operational by August 2019.

“I believe the key to this project’s success,” said Hiles, “boils down to three key points—we listened very carefully to our client; we kept things simple, such as using gravity flow instead of pumping to keep electrical costs down; and from the onset, we sought to minimize the disruption of the work on the town.”

“One big lesson for other small towns throughout the country—Don’t wait until your infrastructure is crumbling away. It doesn’t get cheaper to wait,” said Hiles.

Learn More About Ulteig’s Water and Wastewater Services

Across the world and in a town near you, the need for clean water is everywhere. At Ulteig, our water and wastewater treatment engineers offer decades of experience designing projects that help create clean water for drinking and treat used water for return to the natural environment. Since 1970, Ulteig water experts have worked with public and private clients to deliver potable water through projects that solve challenges in supply, treatment, storage and distribution. On the wastewater side, we design pumping stations, treatment lagoons, treatment plants and rapid infiltration basins, all of which are used in the collection and treatment of sanitary wastewater. Learn more about Ulteig’s Water and Wastewater Treatment Services.

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