Marshall OKs cost breakdown for water softening project

MARSHALL — A project to pre-soften Marshall water is getting closer to reality. But while Marshall Municipal Utilities was waiting for approval of grant funding to help with the project, anticipated costs went up, MMU General Manager Brad Roos said. While a $7 million grant will still cover the majority of the $10.6 million project, Roos said MMU and the city needed to decide how to divide the remaining $3.6 million cost.

Roos gave council members an update on the water softening project Tuesday night, along with a proposal for the city’s share of the cost. The council voted to approve a resolution committing to 55.74% of the project’s local funding portion. At that rate, the city’s cost would come to an estimated $2 million. MMU’s portion of the local cost would be an estimated $1.6 million.

The idea to pre-soften Marshall water is something the city had talked about since 2013, Roos said.

Currently, Roos said, “Our water is very hard. It comes in at 50 grains of hardness. We lower it to 35 grains of hardness and bring it to the water customer.”

Even with the hard water softened to 35 grains, Marshall residents still use water softener salt on city water. A lot of that salt ends up in the Redwood River.

“With this project, we’re going to go from 35 grains down to 6 grains of hardness,” using soda ash and lime instead of salt, Roos said. With softer city water, it’s hoped Marshall can cut down on the salt in its wastewater — and the river — to meet new environmental standards.

MMU received a $7 million state grant to cover most of the water softening project costs. Unfortunately, the grant and the water softening project were delayed over a controversy with the Minnesota Legislature, on where the grant funds would come from. This March, a bonding bill was passed that resolved the problem.

Roos said the water softening project will now likely be bid in June. But in the meantime, estimated capital costs for the project had gone up from about $9 million to $10.6 million.

MMU and city staff had been talking about how to share the higher local portion of the project costs, Roos said. Their proposal was a split where Marshall paid 55.74% of the remaining costs, and MMU paid 44.26%. That would translate to an estimated cost of about $2 million for the city. If, after the project is bid, the cost to the city ends up being greater than $2.21 million, the city has the right to ask that MMU not award the construction contract.

Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said the water softening project was one of the best options the city looked at to reduce salt levels in the river.

“In the preliminary study that was looked at, the alternatives that were looked at were far more unfeasible, financially,” Byrnes said. “You’d have to do a reverse-osmosis at the wastewater plant, which would be incredibly expensive. So this partnership is the reasonable one, and does allow the city to ultimately meet their discharge permit for the amount of salt that is released into the Redwood River.”

Roos said MMU does anticipate some added costs to Marshall residents’ water bills, however.

“Once the project is finished, we now are making a softer water, but it costs more to do that. So we’re anticipating our rates are going to go up for water,” he said. Roos said MMU will be doing a water rate study this summer.

Roos said the pre-softened water would cost an estimated $1.44 more per thousand gallons. At the same time, homeowners could save an estimated $0.92 per thousand gallons, because they’re using less softener salt.

It wasn’t perfect, Roos said, but it would offset some of the increased water costs to consumers.