Baxter water flows once again – Brainerd Dispatch
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Baxter water flows once again – Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — In January of 2021, the Baxter Water Treatment Plant closed for what was supposed to be a week of repairs.

Flash forward a year, and the plant is still offline. What started as a repair turned into the discovery of a catastrophic filtration failure. Baxter activated its water interconnect building and began purchasing water from Brainerd Public Utilities to offset filtration failures in its water treatment plant.

The plant was closed down in

early 2021 to address media failure

in three of the four filter caps — the permeable barrier that constrains the media and allows the water to pass through.

The catastrophic failure, combined with the summer influx of residents and visitors and a dry season with little rain and hot temperatures, put a strain on the city’s water supply. The drought was having cities all over the state looking at watering bans. On June 9, the Baxter City Council met in an

emergency meeting and implemented watering restrictions

. Brainerd would later do the same. Baxter’s water restrictions were in place through Labor Day.

Those restrictions were followed by leak after leak as staff worked to repair the plant, presenting a “head-scratching and concerning problem.”

It could be described as Murphy’s law in action: If something could go wrong, it did.

However, starting Monday, April 25, Baxter’s water problems will hopefully be over when the city’s water treatment plant is scheduled to start back up after undergoing a complete overhaul.

“In all honesty, we’re relieved and excited, all in the same breath,” said Baxter’s City Administrator Brad Chapulis, in an interview with the Dispatch. “You know, we’re thankful that we were able to get back up and running and producing the quality of water that Baxter residents and businesses have been accustomed to over the years.”

A cut-out display of the filter material

A cut-out display of the filter material in Baxter’s reconstructed water plant Monday, April 18.

Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

Baxter’s Streets and Utilities Supervisor Brian Berent has been working to bring the Baxter Water Treatment Plant back online before the influx of people this summer.

“So the filter system that’s in here is an all-natural gravel system now, where before it was a plastic underdrain system, basically like putting together … Legos with a synthetic gravel plate on top of it,” Berent said. “The natural gravel system that has been put in, we’ll call it the tried and true system. That type of system has been around for years and it’s fully replaceable, you can dig down with a shovel and do something if you need to.”

Other improvements to the facility include additional inspection and maintenance ports. These improvements will potentially cut down on the cost of maintenance to the system as parts of the new system are easier to access and inspect. Easier access will allow for a less time-consuming process to complete the annual inspections of the system.

As part of switching Baxter off Brainerd’s water system Monday, the city will be checking and flushing its fire hydrants to help expedite the transition. With the switch over, Baxter residents may notice a discoloration during the transition period because of the different treatment processes each city uses as Baxter’s water mixes with Brainerd’s water.

According to the public service announcement, Baxter’s water has been tested and meets the Minnesota Department of Health requirements for drinkable water.

Rated to provide up to 5 million gallons of filtered water a day, the treatment plant filters around 700,000 to 800,000 gallons a day during the winter period and during peak summertime usage, is around 2.2 to 2.5 million gallons a day.

The new system is made up of layers of gravel, sand and anthracite to filter the water. Anthracite, a type of coal, cleans up iron and is one of the topmost layers. Greensand is used to remove and filter manganese, soluble iron, hydrogen sulfide, arsenic, and radium from water supplies. The garnet layer is a chemically inert and non-metallic mineral that has a high specific gravity, as well as its chemical and abrasive resistance, and is used as filter media. The final layer is made up of gravel and is used to keep the filter media in place.

An aeration pipe runs through the media layer to inject air into the media during a backwash to break up the trapped particles in the filter.

Top view of the water filters

A view of Baxter’s Water Treatment Plant filters #2 and #3 on Monday, April 18, inside of the public works building.

Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

With the reconstruction of the plant being completed, the final assessed budget will be brought before the council, as it was tabled in a

special joint meeting

between the council and the city’s Utilities Commission in March after additional leaks were found hours before the meeting took place.

During the meeting, Public Works Director Trevor Walter said things come up with a project of this magnitude and the project is about $30,000 over budget now and is expected to be about $50,000 over budget when completed. The project budget is currently about $2.2 million.

Looking to reduce costs to local residents associated with repairs and upgrades to Baxter’s water treatment plant, the council voted to

allocate $700,000

of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to the project at the beginning of April.

If residents have water chemistry questions or concerns, they are encouraged to contact the Streets and Utilities supervisor at 218-454-5116.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter

@timmy2thyme

, call 218-855-5859 or email

[email protected]

.