'Unprecedented' precipitation means short-notice pump purchase in East Grand Forks

A pump transfers water from a “equalization basin” in East Grand Forks to a ditch draining into the Red River Wednesday after recent heavy rains and snowfall increased levels in the pond. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

An exceedingly wet autumn led to a public works purchase on short notice in East Grand Forks.

City Council members on Tuesday voted to temporarily suspend their normal rules of order to authorize city public works staff to buy a $62,000 pump. The suspension was necessary because the purchase was not on the council agenda posted a few days earlier.

The 8-inch pump is set to be stationed near the city’s “equalization basin,” an approximately 30 million gallon holding pond north of town, from which it will pump millions of gallons of excess sewer water into a ditch that runs to the Red River. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency signed off on a plan to pump 3 million gallons per day, but Public Works Director Jason Stordahl said they’ve notified the agency that the city will probably need to pump more than that.

Stordahl said the water heading into the Red is “substantially” diluted by rain and snowfall but is nonetheless still considered sewage.

East Grand Forks is buying the new pump because the city’s wastewater system is approaching its capacity. Public works staff have been sending as much sewer water as they can to Grand Forks, which has a large treatment plant. Whatever they can’t send over ends up in the basin, which is nearing its capacity, and the city has been pumping wastewater from the basin into the river to keep the basin from hitting its own capacity.


The new pump would replace a 6-inch pump and a 10-inch pump that have been chugging along near the "EQ." Stordahl said the plan is to put the smallest of the three in reserve in case other parts of East Grand Forks need it. The 10-inch one is on its last legs.

The sewer system, Stordahl suspects, is being strained from seepage from the stormwater system, people who -- knowingly or unknowingly -- have sump pumps that drain into the wastewater rather than stormwater system, and, perhaps, some infrastructure that was installed incorrectly.

Five-plus inches of rain fell on the Grand Cities in late September, followed by three days of sleet and snow last week that quickly began to melt. Mayor Steve Gander characterized it as “unprecedented” in his lifetime.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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