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Partnering with Fargo could be cheapest way for WF to eliminate waste

One of the waste stabilization ponds Thursday, March 17, 2016, in West Fargo. Temperatures above freezing have caused a strong odor to rise and make its way through the city.Dave Wallis / The Forum

While continuing to handle West Fargo's wastewater through a lagoon system may be the cheapest option officials are sniffing out other cost savings measures that could keep up with the booming population without causing a stink each spring.

At the City Commission's Monday, April 17 meeting, Public Works Director Chris Brungardt said the city is studying four options, two which would keep the lagoon system by expanding the ponds or building a pretreatment facility. The other two options would mean eliminating the lagoons by building a mechanical treatment plant or by treating wastewater in partnership with Fargo.

"Lagoons are the cheapest option out there," Brungardt said. "But there are environmental and social issues that go along with those."

However, the lagoons would likely need to be expanded for future growth, which means the city would need an additional 40 acres of land and it would still need to dredge current lagoons and add a treatment plan to quell the smell, would could cost $24 to $30 million.

Each year, the lagoons tend to smell up the city, sending an onerous odor through town while releasing hydrogen sulfide. The city has been considering its options to lessen or eliminate the smell while also looking at ways to ensure the lagoon system can keep up with the city's population.

If the city can partner with Fargo to build a regional treatment plant, the cost would be up to about $14 million to construct the plant with an annual operating cost of $1.7 million based on current population, but that could go up with population increases.

"If we're paying Fargo $3 million to take our waste, over 10 years, it would be a wash over keeping lagoons," Brungardt said.

If West Fargo chose to build its own treatment plant, it could face a price tag of upwards of $70 million.

If West Fargo no longer uses the lagoon system, the city could decommission the lagoons little by little, which would cost about $5 million to $8 million.

To decommission a lagoon, it would be drained but the city would need to dispose of the sludge that sits at the bottom.

The city has tested the sludge in its 460-acre lagoons near 12th Avenue Northwest and found it had no hard minerals or high concentrations that would make it highly expensive or impossible to dispose of, if the city chose to close the lagoons, West Fargo City Engineer Dustin Scott said at a meeting with state Thursday, April 13 at a meeting between West Fargo city officials and state Department of Health officials to discuss the state's role in regulation of city wastewater lagoons.

Since the city has never dredged its lagoons, a method of cleaning the sludge, the lagoons have an estimated 2 feet of sludge in them. If the city cleans its lagoons, it would need to dispose of the sludge, which can be done by spreading it out across farmland. But with that much sludge, the city would need 5,000 to 16,000 acres of land, Scott said.

Scott said the state health department has been considering increasing regulations of lagoon systems, which could impact the city's decision-making on what to do about its wastewater and spring stink.

Marty Haroldson, a program manager with the North Dakota Department of Health, said the state allows cities to find a wastewater solution that's best for their size and location. However, many western cities, such as Dickinson and Williston, have opted out of using lagoon systems in recent years with much success.

Haroldson said he has received complaints about West Fargo's lagoon smell, but the city's air quality is not dangerous to public health.

During the winter, the lagoons lose all oxygen and sludge builds up along the bottom, Brungardt said. When the temperatures warm up, water on the bottom nearest the sewage starts churning to the top, resulting in the funky fumes.

"I agree we have to do something with the lagoons," Commissioner Mark Simmons said Monday. "There's no question we have to do something"

The city plans to take action on an option by the end of summer.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and and at CBS Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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