A new era for water reclamation: Dickinson facility built to serve the Oil Patch

With more people comes more waste. But the second-fastest growing micropolitan city in the country still has room to grow when it comes to sewage. That was the plan when Dickinson city officials and engineers designed a new $30 million water recl...

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Press Photos by April Baumgarten Dickinson Public Works Director Gary Zuroff, looks over the Integrated Fixed Film Activated Sludge System, where bacteria stabilized and cleans pretreated wastewater at the water reclamation facility.

With more people comes more waste.
But the second-fastest growing micropolitan city in the country still has room to grow when it comes to sewage.
That was the plan when Dickinson city officials and engineers designed a new $30 million water reclamation facility, said Karla Olson, a project manager with Apex Engineering Group.
“It was a very exciting project,” she said. “The city was great to work with the whole time, trying to be forward-thinking.”
After more than five years of planning, the facility was fully operational in October, opening the door to new possibilities for sewage treatment in western North Dakota.
Meeting a growing demand

Dickinson grew from approximately 17,000 residents to an estimated 28,000 in the past five years, according to city officials. The sudden pull of people to work in the booming Oil Patch has tested the power of many communities, especially Dickinson, to improve its infrastructure.
In 2009, Dickinson’s wastewater treatment facility was nearing its capacity. The old wastewater treatment plant could process about 2 million gallons a day, or serve about 20,000 to 21,000 people, Olson said.
But the facility was still stressed and had problems meeting permit requirements, Dickinson Public Works Director Gary Zuroff said. The city had to restrict septage haulers and development due to the lack of capacity.
“Lagoon systems usually only work for a city up to a certain amount,” he said. “The lagoon system that Dickinson had was getting very overloaded.”
This prompted city officials to start planning for a new wastewater treatment plant. Aside from minimal piping updates, the project would be the first major upgrade to the sewage system since 1983, with the majority of the plant being built in the 1970s, Olson said.
Most cities get about 20 years of service from their treatment facilities, but Dickinson got more than 30 years from its plant.
“They had done pretty well on what they had,” Olson added.
Still, officials know Dickinson is serving a much larger number that cannot be properly counted due to the transient nature of the population. It also must serve surrounding areas that do not have the ability to handle the sudden growth.
There were also several questions to answer: Where should the facility go and how big should it be? Engineers had to make sure the plant was big enough to handle the ever-growing population - something that wasn’t easy to estimate.
“Another consultant said that when they were planning this, they thought 26,000 in maybe 10 years,” Zuroff said. “We surpassed that before the plans were finished.”
But they had to be careful not to overbuild or overspend.
“With everything going on in that area, it was kind of a moving target, so we wanted to be flexible in the design in the series of phases so we didn’t overbuild right away and be able to quickly react if all of the sudden we had a huge population burst,” Olson said.
That is where Apex’s three-phase plan came into play. The engineering firm helped Dickinson leaders pick a plot of land southeast of the city’s lagoon system. Sitting on 370 acres owned by the city, there is plenty of room for the new facility to grow.
The first phase of the plant can serve 35,000 to 38,000 people. Currently, the plant treats an average of 3.65 million gallons of wastewater each day. If residents used an average of 110 gallons of water a day, the plant would be serving a little less than 25,500 people.
“We will never be able to tell you how many people; it’s all based on flow,” city administrator Shawn Kessel said.
The second phase could serve approximately 52,000 to 57,000 people, and the final phase, if needed, would max out at 76,000. All the city has to do is add more buildings and put more equipment in the empty spaces inside of the current structures.
By summer, Dickinson will also have added four lift stations across the city to pump water uphill against gravity to the plant. The previous stations are small enough to go underground, but the newly added ones, like the one at Highway 10 and the Interstate 94 Business Loop, were so big that they needed their own buildings.
“They are very different from the older, smaller lift stations,” Zuroff said, adding the lift stations can not only handle existing but also increasing flows.
The city plans to add to its stock of 22 lift stations, he said.
The state-of-the-art facility has some of the newest technology available for water reclamation. It has also won multiple awards, including the 2014 American Public Works Association Large Project of the Year for communities serving more than 5,000 people.
How it works

The water reclamation facility has nine structures on the site, each with a vital role to play in processing waste.
The wastewater is first pumped into the pre-treatment facility. There, the plant screens and removes large bits of waste, such as gravel and fecal mater.
Fine screening removes debris to 3 millimeters and is followed by vortex grit removal. The screenings are shipped to the landfill.
The water, still a dark color, is then moved to the Integrated Fixed Film Activated Sludge System (IFAS), were the biological treatment process begins. Normally, it would take about four days to clean the water. In a set of open-air bubbling pools, air and heat is induced to make bacteria work faster, processing the sludge in approximately four hours.
“We’re just trying to do everything to give the bacteria, the helpful bacteria, a chance to thrive and breakdown that waste,” Olson said.
The sludge and water then part ways. The water is further treated in the final clarifier domes and UV disinfection building before being pumped into the Heart River or shipped to other facilities for use.
The sludge is pushed into the biosolids digester building, where it is screen again and further stabilized. Then the remaining product is transported to the the biosolids facility, where excess solids are thickened by membranes before being applied to the adjacent fields as fertilizer.
Since the water is being discharged into the Heart River, which has a slower flow than other rivers, Dickinson’s reclamation facility was designed to meet some of the most stringent effluent limits in the state of North Dakota, Kessel said.
Heart of the facility

The facility’s staff are all new hires, but the city only needs four full-time employees for rotating shifts, Zuroff said. The administrative building is the heart of the facility, with two people usually in the building monitoring controls.
If needed, the plant can be operated remotely from a smartphone or tablet, said Ben Sears, a wastewater plant operator.
“When the alarms go off, it will call the on-call phone, and that person acknowledges it from there,” Sears said, adding some settings have not been programed for remote access, meaning someone has to physically be at the plant to assess certain situations.
Passwords and security measures are used to block outside users from hacking the system, Sears added. For example, if an employee lost their phone, the person that picked it up would have to go through several firewalls before gaining access to the facility’s operations.
Even then, suspicious actions can be overridden by the head of the department.
The administration building also has an all-purpose lab for testing samples from the plant to make sure everything is working properly and correct levels of bacteria and chemicals are maintained.
“As of right now, we run a few tests,” Sears said. “Until we get a few pieces of equipment set up, we are restricted to those few tests.”
But once that equipment is in place, the lab can do anything for water treatment facilities, Sears said.
“This lab is fully capable of being certified,” Zuroff said.
Serving others

Since the boom began more than five years ago, the “Queen City” has evolved from a community that barely got a second look from drivers on Interstate 94 into a growing hub of commerce that serves a large part of the state’s southwest region and beyond. That means it not only must increase its capacity, but the type of waste it can handle, Zuroff said.
“Two things with a lagoon: it can only treat wastewater up to a certain population, plus a lagoon system can only do so much for wastewater; it can only treat so many different things,” he said. “Along with the population increase, there’s also new discharge requirements.”
The reclamation facility in Dickinson is treating water from South Heart, and will ultimately process septage received from outlying areas.
The current water reclamation facility can now process industrial waste - including from the Dakota Prairie Refining facility west of Dickinson - something the old treatment plant could never do, Kessel said. The refinery was announced during the planning phases of the reclamation facility.
“We had enough time to make adjustments, and we didn’t have to adjust much,” he said. “It was mostly getting the pipes in the ground.”
An important feature of the plant is its ability to produce water that can be reused so that potable water can be conserved. While the water processed from the plant is not drinkable, it can be used for other purposes, such as frac water, agricultural irrigation and fire protection. It could even be used to wash cars.
The lagoons can still be used by the city for storage if needed.
During the planning process, several projections offered to the city predicted major growth for Dickinson, some suggesting it could double its population by 2030. A dip in oil prices could hamper that growth, but to what extent has yet to be determined.
Olson said she can’t predict when the next phases will have to be implemented, but no matter what the future holds, Olson is confident that the facility fits the city’s and the surrounding area’s needs.
And overall, she couldn’t be more excited to be able to put her name on the project.
“It’s not all the time you get to see something from start to finish like that,” Olson said. “It’s been a really good project for all involved.


Baumgarten is the news editor of The Dickinson Press. Contact her at 701-456-1210.

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