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Erik Burgess, Published October 17 2012

Moorhead water shifts to backup

MOORHEAD – It might smell like there’s something fishy brewing in the tap water here, but fear not. Officials say it is still safe to drink.

As Moorhead Public Service finishes upgrading a pump station that brings water from the Red River to the city’s water treatment plant, new piping has to be connected to older piping, said Kris Knutson, water division manager for MPS.

While the two piping systems are being connected, the utility has to stop taking in river water and rely solely on the Buffalo Aquifer – a giant underground well that stretches from Dilworth to Wolverton – to supply Moorhead’s water.

Knutson said any taste or smell difference is a result of the different mineral compositions of both water sources. He said the aquifer water doesn’t necessarily taste worse, comparing it to the difference between two brands of bottled water.

“They’re both clean, good water,” he said. “It’s just they taste slightly different.”

The river typically makes up 85 percent of water here, while the other 15 percent comes from the Buffalo Aquifer, Knutson said. For the next three weeks, 100 percent of the water will come from that aquifer.

The Buffalo Aquifer acts as a backup water source in case of severe drought. It was originally glacial water, Knutson said, but is now recharged by the Buffalo River, its tributaries and by precipitation that soaks through the ground, among other things.

MPS typically doesn’t pull 100 percent of water from the aquifer, but as the new piping project is completed, Knutson said, it gives them an opportunity to test out the aquifer’s capacity and see how well it would be able to provide water in the case of a long-term drought.

“We rely on the aquifer as a drought supply, so we want to make sure that if there is a drought situation that we have enough water available,” Knutson said.

He said the aquifer holds hundreds of billions of gallons of water and could provide 10 years of water during a drought, so he’s not concerned about it running dry.

“Think of it like a huge underground lake,” Knutson said. “We’re really fortunate to have it as a water source.”

The publicly owned utility company began replacing the 53-year-old pump station along the Red River at 14th Avenue South in July, with help from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

The $3 million project is intended to protect the new station from a 500-year flood event, Knutson said. Work is expected to be done in spring 2013.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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