Construction begins on Lewis & Clark water treatment plant By David Lias
Plain Talk The crane and a few trailers scattered about on a parcel of land near Highway 19 three miles north of Vermillion raise motorists' curiosity, but tell little about what's going on. It's the start of something big, especially to nearby communities in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa whose water needs are growing. Construction has started on the first phase of the treatment plant for the Lewis & Clark Water System. The water treatment plant will provide a finished water capacity of 45 million gallons per day and is being designed with the ability to expand to 60 million gallons per day. A total of 226 acres of farmland have secured for the site. A traditional lime treatment method will be used. "We bought that property about four years ago," said Troy Larson, executive director of the water system. Without the financing in place to pay for the plant over the three year construction period, the Lewis & Clark Board in October rejected the bids. Planning is underway to determine whether to re-bid the WTP in FY2008 or FY2009, or award the high service pumps and clear wells (about 20 percent of the WTP) in FY2008 and the remainder of the WTP in FY2009. Lewis & Clark is also working with its engineers to determine what changes (either permanent savings or deferred construction and purchase of certain components) can be made. For more detailed information on the WTP, see the Final Engineering Report under the Technical Information link. Contractor for Phase one of the construction project is Foley Company of Kansas City, MO. "That was just over a $20 million contract, and they started in September, and they have two years to complete their portion of the work," Larson said. "The deadline for substantial completion (of this phase) is Aug. 1, 2010. Preliminary design work began on the treatment plant in early 2004. The long-awaited bid opening for the plant was held in September 2007. With an engineer's estimate of $98.5 million ($108 million with contingencies), Lewis & Clark officials were shocked and disappointed that the apparent low bid was $142.4 million. "So now we're bidding it (the water treatment plant project) in phases, and phase one includes infrastructure that's separate from the main water treatment building," Larson said. "We're going to have a large, underground reservoir. Right now, they are doing some major excavating out there. "Phase one also includes an electrical building and a building for high service pumps that will pump the water north," Larson said. More bids to come Phase two, which will include the main water treatment building, will be bid in May 2009. "That is roughly a $95 million project, so that is by far the biggest chunk (of expenditures)," Larson said. By bidding the treatment plant in phases, the water system board has been able to collect an extra year's worth of federal funding to apply toward the construction. "In addition, by taking off smaller bites, we're better able to manage our cash flow," Larson said. "In the long run, we anticipate phasing will actually cost us more, but by doing it in this way, we're better able to manage our cash flow." Phase two, he added, is the only project that the Bureau of Reclamation is allowing the Lewis & Clark board to bid before it has all of the needed money on hand. "Normally, if we're going to build pipeline, we have to have all of the money on hand," Larson said. "Well, because we're never going to have $95 million sitting around, this is the one project the Bureau of Reclamation is saying we can bid with the amount of money we have on hand, and they are anticipating we are going to be about $40 million short." He said the rest of the funds will come from future appropriations. "How we're bidding this is we're telling the contractor up front, when we are bidding, that we only have $55 million right now, so if, for some reason, the federal government stops funding this, you are not responsible to complete it. As soon as you complete $55 million worth of work, you stop," Larson said. The Lewis & Clark Board has been able to collect $55 million not only from federal allocations but also from prepayments made by member communities and states that have signed on to eventually receive treated Missouri River water from the Lewis & Clark system. "Otherwise, we would not be able to bid this project right now," Larson said. It is estimated that phase two will take approximately three years to complete. That gives the Lewis & Clark Board three years to raise the additional $40 million needed to complete the second phase. The water treatment plant is located approximately eight miles north of the Missouri River, as the crow flies. Its location, however, doesn't mean it will have any impact on other rivers and streams in Clay County. The plant is being built north of Vermillion, rather than close to the Missouri, because the construction site is of higher elevation which will aid in the pumping process once the water is treated. "The water will be drawn from a series of wells down by Mulberry Point," Larson said, "that is adjacent to the Missouri River. "The water will be drawn from a series of wells down by Mulberry Point," Larson said, "that is adjacent to the Missouri River. The aquifer that we will be pulling water out of is recharged by the river." When completed, the Lewis & Clark system will supply water to 15 cities and five rural water systems. The largest city destined to receive the water is Sioux Falls, but it doesn't rank the highest on a per-need basis. "We have roughly five members who will be using Lewis & Clark as their sole source of water," Larson said. "The other members – roughly 15 of them, including Sioux Falls – will use the river's water to blend with their other sources. But in terms of sheer volume, Sioux Falls is the biggest member." Drop in a bucket All of the water received by the members of the Lewis & Clark Water System will receive water treated at the new plant that, in a few years, should be fully operational north of Vermillion. When the second phase of construction is completed, it is anticipated that the water system will be able to distribute as much as 34 million gallons per day to members. After all members are connected and receiving water, construction will begin on a third phase of the plant. "Thirty-four million gallons will be able to handle the needs of our members out of the gate," Larson said. "We anticipate the last project we would bid would be phase three, where we would expand the treatment plant to its full capacity as designed, which is 45 million gallons a day." Depending on federal funding levels, construction is estimated to be complete by 2019. He admits that it seems like a very significant amount of water will be taken from the river. In layman's terms, however, it hardly amounts to a drop in a bucket. "The 45 million gallons represents less than three-tenths of 1 percent of the daily flow of the Missouri," Larson said. "It may not look like it, but it really is the Mighty Mo." The treatment plant's design will allow even more expansion – up to 60 million gallons per day, if needed. "That is not part of our Congressional-authorized project," Larson said. "That would be a future expansion many years down the road." When completed, the Lewis & Clark system will provide drinking water through its members to over 300,000 people in South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. Lewis & Clark's member systems will use this new source of water to either replace or supplement existing sources of supply. Through engineering analysis, the Missouri River was determined to be the most viable source of water for Lewis & Clark. The system will distribute treated water through 337 miles of pipeline to members in a roughly 5,000 square mile area, which is the size of Connecticut. In addition to a traditional lime treatment facility, the non-looped system will also include a series of pump stations and reservoirs. Based on the federal component of project expenditures, it's estimated that the economic impact to the region from construction of the project will total $374 million, which includes the creation of 3,730 construction related jobs over the lifetime of the project. These jobs will mean a direct labor income of $10.2 million annually to a region with an annual median income of $37,814. Tax revenues generated from construction are expected to be $15.9 million. The direct, indirect and induced impact of the operation and maintenance of the facilities after construction is estimated to be over $7 million annually for the region, creating 74 permanent positions.