New water works had costly problems, off until June

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Columbia Heights residents who live near the Minneapolis Water Works’ Ultrafiltration Plant at the north end of Reservoir Boulevard might have seen a lot of activity there this winter, even though the plant hasn’t been in service since last November.

City of Minneapolis spokesperson Casper Hill said workers are performing routine maintenance of pumps and valves and are also replacing all of the plant’s membrane filters. “During the winter, when water demand is low, we routinely take parts of plants off line. We expect that the work will be finished in June.”

Settlement agreement

According to city information, the Columbia Heights Membrane Filtration Plant, which went on line in 2006, replaced the old Columbia Heights filtration plant built between 1913 and 1919. The new plant’s purpose was to remove “pathogenic microorganisms” and improve the quality of water delivered to customers.

General Contractor GE Water Process and Technologies, doing business as GE/Ionics, finished the project in 2006, but according to a March 31, 2009, “Request for City Council Committee Action from the Department of Public Works” document, “in the detailed testing of the equipment, a small number of significant issues were identified as needing correction.”

After attorneys for both sides got involved, the city and contractor reached a settlement agreement, in which the city agreed to pay $1,350,000 toward replacement membrane modules and $200,000 for more equipment to make the plant fully operational. The contractor agreed to make the necessary corrections and improvements, and provide next-generation membrane modules.

The settlement bumped the plant’s total cost to the city from $17 million to $18,550,000.

As Public Works director Steven Kotke described the situation, “It was a new plant with very sophisticated technology. We found that it was not operating to expectations; we were not getting to the capacity we needed, due primarily to the fibers [in the membranes] breaking. The city and the vendors spent time trying to understand all the issues, but it was not totally conclusive. The agreement we reached was that the manufacturer would replace all the membranes with a newer version, which would take care of the other issues. That replacement is what’s happening right now at the plant.”

Hill said that the original membranes had been under warranty; the new modules will come with a new seven-year warranty.

Fridley plant takes over

Minneapolis has two water plants, one in Columbia Heights and one in Fridley, on East River Road north of 37th Avenue NE, Hill said. “The main pumping facility is in Fridley, next to the Mississippi River. Water is taken in there, some of it is treated there, and some is pumped to Columbia Heights for treatment.”

The Fridley plant also has a softener system. Hill said that with the Columbia Heights plant down, the Fridley plant is handling all operations.

Public Works has another maintenance project at Pump Station Four, at the eastern base of the Camden Bridge. Hill said workers are replacing all the pumps and some internal piping at the pump station, where “the equipment there is more than 50 years old.” Both projects started in November, he added. “The pump station will likely be back on line in June as well.”

According to the city of Minneapolis website, www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us, the Columbia Heights Ultrafiltration Plant processes up to 70 million gallons of Mississippi River water per day. Columbia Heights is one of seven cities that receives all of its tap water from Minneapolis’ water works. The others are Minneapolis, New Hope, Crystal, Golden Valley, Edina, and Hilltop. Bloomington gets some of its water from Minneapolis and the rest from its own well. Minneapolis also serves the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.