Robbinsdale, Minnesota has a lot to celebrate when it comes to the City’s drinking water. The Robbinsdale Water Transformation Project received a prestigious Project of the Year Award from the American Public Works Association Minnesota (APWA-MN) chapter in the Environmental category. The project includes the construction of a new 3.5 million gallon per day (MGD) lime softening water treatment plant, 0.75MG water tower, and two new wells.

“The recognition from APWA-MN underscores the exceptional efforts and innovation demonstrated by the City of Robbinsdale in the execution of this momentous project,” says Aaron Vollmer, AE2S Client Program Leader. “This project has consistently exemplified a dedication to advancing infrastructure, public health, and environmental stewardship. The APWA-MN Project of the Year Award serves as a testament to the City’s unwavering commitment to these values.”

The water treatment plant has been operational for about one year. In October, Robbinsdale hosted an open house to celebrate the City’s largest project ever. The new plant reduces the minerals, or hardness, in the drinking water by about 75% and is expected to meet the needs of the community for the next 50 to 75 years.

The City’s aging 1960s-era water treatment facilities were nearing obsolescence when a feasibility study showed that a new water treatment plant, water tower, and wells were needed to address the safe drinking water needs of the community amidst the challenges of aging infrastructure and intensive redevelopment. These intersecting challenges required meticulous planning, resource allocation, and community consensus to transform adversity into an opportunity for sustainable progress.

Previously, Robbinsdale operated three water treatment plants that processed water from five groundwater wells. Improved water quality and replacing old and outdated equipment were the fundamental objectives of the transformation project. The City Council looked at options to upgrade the water system, including purchasing water from Minneapolis, as well as rehabilitating its existing three plants. In the end, building one centralized plant was determined to be the best option to add needed capacity and lime softening to improve the quality of the water for residents and businesses.

“From the start, we were looking at the long-game—let’s put in features that are going to serve us well for the long term,” said Richard McCoy, the City’s Public Works Director.  “Having a central plant for a city of this size makes a lot of sense,” McCoy said, adding that the public works department had been traveling to three locations each day to do its work.  “Consolidating into one location saves a lot of operations costs.”

The project’s development was not just about meeting technical requirements – it was a holistic endeavor that aligned the facility’s design with the needs of both its operators and the community, ensuring it would be valuable and sustainable for years to come. The design incorporates several key features, including a clearwell to replace existing ground storage facilities, designated office space for operations staff, workshop area, laboratory, ample storage capacity, outdoor parking area that can also service the nearby outdoor recreation facility, and a drive through garage capable of housing large chemical delivery trucks. Large translucent panels allow natural light into the building, which reduces electrical costs.

In addition, the site has green features to minimize its environmental footprint. A green roof with foliage captures rainfall, while a pollinator garden and a stormwater pond ensures no stormwater leaves the site. In the future, solar panels will be installed on the roof of the water treatment plant and hops will be grown on the outdoor trellis with the intent of making them available to the local breweries.

The Robbinsdale Water Transformation Project was primarily funded with low-interest loans through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. The City’s water utility made preemptive increases to drinking water rates to repay the loan. News of the rate increase was offset by the fact that property owners would not have to purchase bags of salt for their home water softeners or pay to maintain and periodically replace their softening equipment.

The Robbinsdale project will now move on to consideration of a national award recognition which is scheduled to be announced during the APWA PWX conference in Atlanta in September 2024.