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City continues to expand water infrastructure

From filling glasses to flushing toilets, Dickinson's water infrastructure has significantly expanded through major municipal investments over the last few years.

A new water tower stands in east Dickinson near the Public Works Building. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)
A new water tower stands in east Dickinson near the Public Works Building. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)

From filling glasses to flushing toilets, Dickinson's water infrastructure has significantly expanded through major municipal investments over the last few years.

With the bulk of its main water and sewer-works structures already squared away, the city is now undertaking a series of capital improvement projects centered around potable and wastewater system upgrades, which amount to around $11.2 million.

Dickinson Public Works Director Gary Zuroff said the current price tag, though still substantial, doesn't hold much weight against the absorbed costs of previous years.

"These days, a million dollars isn't anything because we've dealt with these large projects in the past," Zuroff said. "Well, It's something. But in comparison, it's not much."

In the last few years, he said, the city has invested close to $80 million in sewer and wastewater infrastructure with about $30 million planted into the city's new wastewater reclamation facility alone. Zuroff said he was still totaling the potable water infrastructure, but said there was a "significant amount" in that sector as well.

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Funding for the wastewater projects has largely come from state revolving fund loans, Zuroff said, while potable water funding has been drawn from the North Dakota State Water Commission and other public funding sources.

The city of Dickinson buys its water from the Southwest Water Authority, which sources drinking water from Lake Sakakawea.

Zuroff said the city's water improvements have closely followed the Dickinson water utility master plan, which is part of the city's overall development plan. That plan identified areas for improvement and recommendations to city leaders that accounted for existing deficiencies and projected population growth.

Zuroff said the city's water system already had a shortage of storage capacity before the population began to grow rapidly alongside a booming energy industry.

The expansion of Dickinson's series of water storage tanks, including the east half-million gallon tank currently being constructed for a sum of about $1.57 million, is aimed squarely at increasing water storage levels.

Once water is in the city, it is drawn through a series of watermains and minor lines, as well as through a series of booster stations designed to control water pressure, before it reaches consumer taps. Two projects in the works are booster stations on State Avenue and River Drive. Those two stations are being built for a total of just less than $1.5 million and are joined by the city's main pump station and another booster.

The pump station, which is located on Broadway Street, was constructed through a joint effort between the city and the Southwest Water Authority, Zuroff said. Those two entities shared the costs of the roughly $10 million project with the city picking up $5 million of the tab.

Potable water structures are joined by a proliferation of wastewater infrastructure investments. In total, the city operates about 21 lift stations that pull sewer contents up through the system to the wastewater reclamation center in the south side of Dickinson.

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Zuroff said the higher number of wastewater lift stations is attributed to the way waste travels.

"Sewer's based on gravity," Zuroff explained, "and you can only go with gravity so far before you need to pick it up again."

Approximately 80 miles of sewer lines run beneath the city, he said, and are joined by a roughly equal mileage of potable water pipes. In 2015, Zuroff said, the city sold more than 919 million gallons of water.

At the moment, Zuroff said he believed city officials are "pretty satisfied" with the infrastructure constructed in the last few years.

"It's our backbone," he said. "The backbone of wastewater, the backbone of water, it's all in now. We're designed for additional growth."

City looks to stormwater mitigation efforts

City Administrator Shawn Kessel said the city's water investment plans have been tied into a general overlook of Dickinson's expanding infrastructure needs.

While examining water specifically, Kessel said the city identifies need in terms of potable water, wastewater and stormwater. The city recently contracted with HDR, Inc. to come up with an updated stormwater mitigation plan.

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Kessel said the Dickinson City Commission accepted the HDR plan a few months ago and is now in the early part of the process of investigating improvement options for municipal stormwater systems.

For potable water and wastewater though, he said the investments made by the city have already been helpful for accommodating recent population gains.

"We now have more capacity in the ground to deal with a population influx like we had before," Kessel said. "We are well prepared and poised if there's another population expansion in our community."

Infrastructure needs are tied to specific locations in Dickinson.

Kessel said the city is divided into three pressure zones that align with changes in topography. The zones are roughly delineated, with Zone 1 covering the area south of Villard Street, Zone 2 comprising of area north of Villard and Zone 3 running north of 21st Street.

The city's booster stations, Kessel said, are necessary to handle water pressure needs throughout the zones.

Zone 3, being a newer area of Dickinson, has been "really difficult" for the city to serve with appropriate water pressure due to limited construction in that area.

Kessel said the city could have built a water tower to meet needs there, but chose to install a booster instead because of cost considerations. Though he said it was "not the most ideal situation," it was still more a more cost effective way to meet the needs.

Looking ahead, Kessel said he was more concerned about the city's stormwater needs than either of the other two water-related systems. While the city has recently seen to the construction of new stormwater retention ponds, Kessel said other parts of the mitigation system are more than 50 years old.

In downtown Dickinson in particular, drainage issues often lead to the flooding of the railroad underpass near the intersection of Villard Street and Third Avenue West.

Kessel said poor drainage of water on the roadways and sidewalks can cause property damage in affected areas.

Though the city is at an early point in determining how it will deal with updating its stormwater needs, Kessel said he's in favor of finding solutions to runoff control that create "assets to the community," such as wet ponds. He also suggested possibly piping the Dickinson drainageway into an underground system and converting the existing ditch into a neighborhood trail system.

"My opinion is, we should look at it as asset driven, as turning those facilities into assets rather than simply making them functional," Kessel said. "Obviously they need to be functional no matter what, but I think we need to make them aesthetically pleasing."

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