Baxter City Council mulls water treatment facility outlook

The council authorized city staff to advertise contractor bids on a project that would overhaul the filters and underdrains in the city's water treatment facility.

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Kevin Young, a consultant and water operations specialist with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., speaks to the Baxter City Council during a workshop Tuesday, June 15. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

After conveying a workshop Tuesday, June 15, the Baxter City Council approved a resolution to advertise bids for an overhaul of the city’s water treatment filter underdrains, but members also expressed concerns over the facility’s long-term future.

That future, city officials and consultants noted, is looking increasingly expensive as looming structural issues emerge and deteriorate with time. Kevin Young, a consultant and water operations specialist with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., noted projects to repair, modernize and upgrade the water treatment facility to performance levels it will need in coming years could be as high as $3.5 million in a worst case scenario.

Not only is $3.5 million a disconcerting figure, Mayor Darrel Olson observed, it’s only the latest iteration of mounting cost estimates in recent years. Council member Mark Cross expressed frustration with proposals and associated cost estimates to expand the water treatment facility’s capacity and upgrade its amenities so it can handle a heftier workload that comes with the local watershed. Concentrations of arsenic, ammonia, iron and other toxins need to be filtered on a regular basis.

RELATED: Watering restrictions begin in Baxter
“To actually increase the capacity, there’s gotta be a cheaper way to do it. … To get a million and a half gallons (of capacity), you’re going to have to pay $3.5 million? You do the math and it’s not worth it,” Cross said. “We have to look at another way to do it. The frustrating side to this is that we paid $10 million for a 5 million gallon plant and we’ve never seen it. We see report after report about how we can make it better and the number keeps getting bigger.”

Young noted a number of structural issues need to be addressed — notably, cracks, corroded nozzles and filters, or media (the granular mixture the water filters through) that’ll need to be replaced in the next few years. This is especially relevant with how often the Baxter facility needs to process and reprocess the water supply to account for toxins in the watershed.


On the other hand, the advent of biological filter technology, which the city is exploring, means the facility could have a more robust treatment process at a chemical level without overhauling the facility itself. Creating a water treatment system that can handle both traditional and biochemical forms of filtration is one aspect of the city’s push to address its water treatment system.

"To get a million and a half gallons (of capacity), you’re going to have to pay $3.5 million? You do the math and it’s not worth it. We have to look at another way to do it,"

— Baxter City Council member Mark Cross.

During the Baxter City Council meeting Tuesday, the council voted to approve the design of a reconstruction plan for the city’s existing water treatment plant filter underdrain system and to authorize city staffers to advertise contractor bids for the project.

The project includes the following work:

  • Removal of the existing filter media and underdrain system.

  • Selective deconstruction of internal portions in filters.

  • Construction of a concrete false bottom underdrain system.

  • Installation of filter nozzles, support gravels, and filter media, replacement of filter function valves, as well as associated electrical work for electric valve actuators and limit switches on pneumatic valves.

Funding sources identified to potentially pay for this project include:

  • Insurance proceeds, which are dependent on pending results from an insurance claim filed with the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust.

  • General obligation revenue bonds.

  • American Rescue Plan Act federal funds.

  • The city’s water fund reserves.

The issue of water — a typically abundant resource in the Brainerd lakes area — has taken on new dimensions and urgency after the council implemented watering restrictions during an emergency meeting June 9. A failure in Baxter’s water treatment plant, the summer influx of residents and visitors, little rain and hot temperatures are all combining to put a strain on the city’s water supply. Because of issues with the water treatment plant, Baxter is purchasing water from Brainerd Public Utilities for the next few months.
RELATED: Baxter staffers caution that water treatment problems are no easy fix
Issues initially came to a head at the water treatment facility after engineers discovered one of the facility’s filter caps was inexplicably failing late last year. The Baxter water treatment facility is also somewhat limited because it was designed in the late ‘90s to be a limited usage or temporary amenity, which has not been reflected in the city’s filtration needs over the intervening decades, consultants noted in prior meetings.

During a Jan. 20 workshop, staffers noted the plant has four filter pumps when it probably should have eight to account for the consumption, as well as to address high concentrations of arsenic, ammonia and especially iron in the watershed. To filter out the water properly, it required the current plant to complete 300-400 backwashes (or a second cycle of filtration) a year, while an average water treatment facility of a comparable municipality typically requires roughly 150 backwashes per year.


GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .
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