The plant that provides drinking water to the city of Osakis is less than 10 years old, but it already needs replacing, a project that would mean high bills for residents.

Upgrades to the Osakis water plant and water tower could increase monthly bills for residents from $40 to $58.

Those estimates were provided in a presentation to the Osakis City Council on Monday, Nov. 9, as the city wrestles with water supply issues.

The City Council submitted a request to receive funding for the water plant improvements to USDA Rural Development on Sept. 29 and revised it on Oct. 21, so now the city is waiting to hear back.

After conducting a pilot study on the current water system, Eric Meester from Nero Engineering said the main problem with the groundwater in Osakis is its ammonia levels. The presence of ammonia increases the number of contaminants with cancer-causing compounds in the water, so Meester said the city will need to make modifications to the current plant to decrease this health issue.

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The city's existing water plant was built in 2012, but flaws in the design process allowed ammonia to seep into the water system. City superintendent Greg Gottwald said this has been the root cause of water treatment issues around Osakis since the start of the 2012 plant.

Once the Rural Development funding bill is processed and approved, Gottwald said he will have an idea of a start date and timeline for the project. Due to delays from COVID, he estimated the water plant project could be completed in 2022.

In addition, Meester said the Osakis water tower was built in 1996 and requires both interior and exterior improvements.

The project is expected to cost between $4.5 million and $5.5 million. Since the project in its entirety isn’t affordable for the city’s budget and the current water source presents health and safety concerns, Meester said the city should expect to receive grants from Rural Development.

During a public hearing regarding the proposed project, Osakis resident Roger Larson said that the current water treatment plant was a “huge disservice to the city” and that the council should “move forward sooner rather than later” with the new plans.

The council approved the required public hearing and passed a resolution accepting the engineering report to press on with the plans discussed.

“It’s incredibly important, and if the funding is available to help make it more affordable, even better, but I agree with Roger,” council member Justin Dahlheimer said. “It’s something we’ve got to weather the cost of and move forward.”