Alexandria’s sewer system seeks $67.4M upgrade

It would includes a membrane bioreactor that would block viruses, pathogens and a variety of pollutants from getting into Lake Winona.

Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District (Echo Press file photo)
Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District (Echo Press file photo)
Alexandria Echo Press file photo

ALEXANDRIA — Facing stricter environmental regulations and increased user demand, the Alexandria lakes area's wastewater plant is seeking a $67.4 million upgrade in coming years.

The prize component of the upgrade, says Scott Gilbertson, executive director of the Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District, is a membrane bioreactor that he says would block viruses, pathogens and a variety of pollutants from passing through with water it discharges into Lake Winona.

“The water quality from this facility will be about as close to drinking water as you can find,” Gilbertson said.

The district posted a copy of its public hearing on its website and is accepting public comments on it through Feb. 17. It plans to hold a public hearing at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8, at its training facility at 2201 Nevada St. SW in Alexandria.

If approved, the design would begin this year and wrap up in 2025. Construction would begin in 2026 and it would open for use in 2028.


Known as ALASD, the plant has the task of treating the wastewater of more than 26,000 people over 102 square miles. That includes homes and commercial business, as well as industrial users. It was formed 45 years ago to protect the lakes from troublesome septic systems, but there are many things it has not been able to remove from the water it treats, including all phosphorus, chlorides and antibiotics.

A membrane bioreactor catches anything larger than a micron level of .04, he said, adding that a human hair is 40 microns.

"Anything nonsoluable will be filtered out," he said.

The upgrade will also put the plant in a position to add a reverse osmosis system if, down the road, the government begins to require treatment plants to remove chloride from treated wastewater. Currently, the plant sends treated water into Lake Winona, which is considered impaired for chloride. Lake Winona feeds into the area's chain of lakes and eventually into the Long Prairie River.

Inflation has driven the cost significantly higher, Gilbertson said. If it had been done several years ago, they would have saved about $20 million.
“Do we have sticker shock? You bet we do. Does the board have sticker shock? Yes. But we know we have to do something,” he said.

He said the project will probably drive up user fees, but he's not sure how much or even if they will.

“It’s going to depend on grant funds and our loan terms, what kind of interest rates we get,” he said.

Last year, the plant raised its user fees 10%, most of which was gobbled up by inflation, he said. For many people on fixed incomes, any increase can pose a hardship.


However, Gilbertson expects that the new debt payments to begin at about the same time the old debt for other upgrades expires, which will ease the hit on its users.

He said this upgrade could "for sure" help clean up Lake Winona.

“We want to be good stewards," he said. "That’s our goal, to be good stewards of the chain of lakes we discharge to.”

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994. Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn about the United States, Karen Tolkkinen has covered local news from Idaho to New Hampshire to Alabama and landing at the Echo Press in Alexandria in 2017.
What To Read Next
Get Local