Red Wing wastewater plant tested by rising Mississippi
RED WING — As usual, Doug Alms drove to work on Monday morning. But the rest of the week has been a little chaotic because of the rising Mississippi River.
Alms was the last employee at the Red Wing wastewater treatment facility to use the plant's south access road before it was covered by the Mississippi River; the north access road was closed last week for the same reason. Alms said he was forced to "blast" his way through the rising waters to make sure his vehicle wasn't stranded.
While access to one of the city's most important facilities has been limited by the flood, officials are relieved that it shouldn't get much worse.
Early predictions from the National Weather Service had said the Mississippi might rise high enough to rival the record flood of 1965 — when the river crested at nearly 21 feet in Red Wing. That would put the wastewater plant under about a foot of water. But the most recent flood projections have the river cresting near 15 feet later this week.
That doesn't mean city officials have been idle.
Alms, the plant manager, has kept his staff busy with preparations — moving equipment from garages to higher ground, evacuating files and records, installing oversized sump pumps, protecting electrical equipment and other tasks in an attempt to minimize damage. The city's wastewater headquarters has also been shifted to the city's second wastewater facility off Bench Street, which is in no danger from flooding.
Based on the new crest projections, it's unlikely that the plant — which is tucked behind Barns Bluff — will be adversely effected. Still, city workers are forced to park about half a mile away and make the trek to the office along the railroad tracks that parallel the river. During previous floods, they've used boats to get to work.
"You can look at it like, yeah, we did some work when we didn't need to," said Alms, who has been with the city for 32 years. "But if we hadn't done it and needed to, then where would we be?"
Part of the preparation process involved hauling about 400,000 gallons of sludge to other local facilities. That should free up tanks to handle the processed waste until the water recedes.
The plant typically handles 1.5 million gallons of water a day. That's up to 3.5 million gallons a day this week. Alms says the facility can handle about 4 million gallons "for a few days" before there's a danger of sewage backing up the main lines on Levee Road near the train depot and the Red Wing YMCA.
That isn't expected to be an issue this spring, but a contingency plan has still been made as officials continue to monitor the river.
"It's nice being along the river because you get to watch the water go by, but every now and then this happens and makes it difficult," Alms said. "Whether there's a flood or not, we're still expected to operate."