Weekend storms pushed Grand Forks’ water infrastructure to its limits

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Cars maneuver through deep standing water on 24th Avenue South in Grand Forks Saturday, Sept. 21, after nearly 5 inches of rain fell on the area. (Korrie Wenzel/Grand Forks Herald)

The thunderstorms that pummeled Grand Forks last Friday night and Saturday morning flooded basements, closed roadways -- and pushed the city’s water infrastructure to its limits.

The city’s stormwater and wastewater systems are separate, but both reached their capacities during the storm, at least partly because excess water flowed into the sewer system once the storm system filled up. With both systems full, city staff early Saturday morning pumped an estimated 700,000 gallons of sewage into the Red River.

“The rain was still coming, pumps weren’t keeping up,” said Wastewater Collections Supervisor Pete Aamold. “What do we do? Chance of more basements flooding or dump some into the river? That was my decision to make, and it’s the right decision in my mind.”

The city reported the sewage it had pumped to the state on Monday, Sept. 23, and warned other municipalities downstream. Aamold said the storm is one of the worst storms he’s seen in his nearly 30 year career, and that the city seldom reaches the point where it has to decide whether or not to pump its wastewater into the river.

“We’d rather store sewage anywhere else than basements,” said Water Works Division Director Melanie Parvey.


On a typical day, the city’s wastewater system pumps 8 million to 9 million gallons. It pumped 27.8 million on Saturday, and 14 million to 18 million each of the next three days, public works staff said.

And, a few miles outside of town, the city’s wastewater treatment plant hit its capacity, too. Workers there on Saturday started diverting water into a holding pond. The plant cleans and filters about 8 million to 10 million gallons of water each day and can handle 12 million to 15 million gallons per day, staff there said.

Plant workers had to handle about 30 million gallons of water on Saturday. They diverted the excess into the pond and have deposited about 80 million gallons of water there since then.

“We’re playing catch-up,” said Lead Operator Frank Kilgore.

He and Lead Operator Stacey Ferdon said the weekend’s storm was the most rainfall they’ve seen in their 14 and 18 years on the job, respectively.

The National Weather Service reported that 5.29 inches of rain fell in Grand Forks fell overnight Friday, Sept. 20, and Saturday, Sept. 21.

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

You can reach him at:
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