After a long, cold winter with snow coming in late April, there seemed to be no sign of spring. That is until recently, when West Fargo’s surefire way to sniff out spring’s arrival began wafting through town, tickling noses with a sniff of lagoon stench.

The city has long used a 460-acre lagoon system near 12th Avenue North to store its wastewater. During winter the wastewater is frozen, the lagoons lose all oxygen and sludge builds up along the bottom, said West Fargo Public Works Director Chris Brungardt. When temperatures warm up, water on the bottom nearest the sewage starts churning to the top, resulting in the nasty fumes of hydrogen sulfide.

West Fargo’s surefire sign of spring will soon pass. The city is currently finishing a pipeline that will pump the city’s wastewater to Fargo and in 2020, the city will decommission its first lagoon.

The city plans to drain and decommission all lagoons within six years, Brungardt said.

“It’s a sliding scale,” he said. “It will depend on how construction season goes.”

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Wastewater would be pumped north from the lift station between the lagoons and Drain 21, then east near 19th Avenue North.

In 2018, the city requested easements from all property owners along the route, but not all landowners readily accepted the city’s easement offers. City Administrator Tina Fisk said to obtain the rights to build the pipeline, the city initiated a condemnation process, which allowed the city to use eminent domain to acquire the easements needed for the pipeline.

City Engineer Dustin Scott said the final construction on the pipeline and fittings to the Fargo location will be finished this fall.

By September, West Fargo will begin pumping half its wastewater to Fargo and the remaining will still be pushed to the lagoons. Starting in 2020, all wastewater will be sent to Fargo.

Fortunately for most, the odors usually only last a few weeks, and are strongest when wind blows from the north, but those in and out of the city have complained of the strong stink for years.

The lagoon odors are monitored by the state Department of Health with a tool called a scentometer, but the offensive odors never registered a high enough reading to be harmful, according to the agency.

The lagoon system requires one staff member and minimal maintenance, roughly costing the city about $200,000 per year.

TThe ponds will be drained one by one and eventually repurposed for development. However, the city is still deciding the process for decommissioning the lagoons, which could include using the solid waste for agricultural purposes, shipping it to a landfill or disposing of it on site.

Once the lagoons are no longer used, the city has considered potential uses for the land, which could include a park or open space, industrial or commercial developments or residential developments.