7 things to know about Rochester's water reclamation plant upgrade

Apr. 17—ROCHESTER — A planned $69 million upgrade to Rochester's water reclamation plant will replace 43-year-old equipment and streamline operations for processing the city's sewage.

"It sets us up to meet a more stringent phosphorus limit, which we received from the (Minnesota) Pollution Control Agency in our last permit reissuance," Rochester's Deputy Public Works Director Aaron Luckstein told the Rochester City Council on Monday.

Luckstein outlined the history and next steps of the project for the council during its weekly study session. Here are a few takeaways from the presentation.

1. The project is on the MPCA's project priority list.

The listing helps provide access to state and federal funds, and Luckstein said the Rochester project is ranked 35th out of 276 projects.

2. The change will reduce energy consumption.

The current plant requires approximately 1.7 megawatts of energy per hour.

Luckstein said the conversion is estimated to reduce the energy need to 1.2 to 1.3 megawatts per hour, potentially saving 12 megawatts a day.

According to EcoWatch, an online environmental news company, 1 megawatt is enough power to meet the needs of an average American home for 1.2 months.

3. The project will be phased.

Luckstein said plans call for taking old equipment down and replacing in phases to ensure the city can continue to process wastewater as the upgrades are made.

"That allows us to reuse the existing footprint," he said of the site near the intersection of 37th Street Northwest and West River Parkway.

Ahead of the upgrade, Luckstein said a variety of smaller upkeep projects are slated for this summer to prepare for the transition.

4. Design plans are nearly completed.

Luckstein said plans for the project are 90% complete and expected to be ready to submit to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in June.

The plans are expected to move toward city-level review in July.

The council will be asked in May and June for permission to start seeking bids for purchasing of equipment needed for the project.

5. Grants are expected to cover nearly $9 million of the work.

The city is authorized to receive several forms of state and federal support for the project, including $7 million in state funds aimed at helping reduce the phosphorus output, which will protect the Zumbro River and waterways downstream.

Luckstein said other funding is available for the disinfection portion of the project and for implementing green infrastructure.

6. The source of the remaining funding will depend on state action.

Luckstein said current plans call for financing the project through the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority, which will require action by the Minnesota Legislature on the state bonding bill.

If the Legislature fails to approve the funding, he said the City Council will be asked whether it wants to take steps to borrow the funds through city-issued bonds on the open market.

Luckstein said the city can pursue the planned grants, regardless of how the bulk of the cost is covered, and the city has retained earnings in its sewer enterprise fund to cover unexpected cost overages.

7. Construction is expected to take two years.

The proposed schedule calls for hiring a contractor to start construction efforts in February 2024, with the project expected to be completed in January 2025.

"Those are all estimates, assuming the construction goes well," Luckstein said of the proposed timeline.