Never. Never during the dozens of years that he has resided within his home adjacent the Minnesota River has Pete Oie ever seen his well dry up. Or, that was true at least until this past year.
“It’s the first time my water has ever gone dry,” he said. “I’ve lived there 66 years.”
It’s not likely to do much, but Oie may find a little comfort in the fact that he is not alone with his situation. Fellow riverside resident Gerald Baker is also looking at a near empty well on the property that he has held since 1963.
Located just upstream from the Minnesota Falls dam, the Baker property’s proximity to the dam has seen the well impacted by reservoir drawdowns before, but never to such an extreme and prolonged extent.
The Minnesota Falls Dam reservoir drawdown and the historically low river levels, are each responsible for the drop in the water table around the well.
In August, the Minnesota Falls Dam reservoir was drawn down half-way, resulting in a four to five foot drop behind the dam that “carried fairly well upstream,” according Xcel Energy representatives.
Since then, the months of drought that have followed has continually depressed river flows by a level not heard of at least during past 20 years, said Chris Domeier of the DNR Fisheries Division. A measurement taken the week before last illustrates the anomalous nature of the river flows the, recording a rate of flow of 35 cubic feet per second (cfs) compared to a typical Minnesota River winter flow of approximately 300 cfs.
The Baker and Oie households have been without there traditional water source since August and September, respectively. Each has taken their own temporary counter measures.
At the Baker residence on Pete’s Point Road, a temporary utility system, consisting of a 200 gallon refillable water tank and pumps, has been installed. Meanwhile, Oie, utilized the proximity to city utility customers, has run 600 feet of garden hose from a nearby neighboring residence.
Oie’s quick-fix is the most pressing of the temporary solutions to address if it is going to avoid becoming a problem. Already the hose has frozen for brief periods on separate occasions, and so with winter fast approaching both the City of Granite Falls and Xcel Energy have stepped into help facilitate a prompt remedy.
During last Monday’s council meeting, city representatives declared a public emergency, allowing the normal timeline provided to call and approve for construction bids to be fast tracked.
The project approved by council includes both the Oie utility hookup and the replacement of a 12’’ outflow pipe that steams from the wastewater treatment plant and is deteriorating.
Page 2 of 2 - By combining the projects, the thought is that the city will save on expenses associated with two projects. As it is, the trench that is dug to reach the outflow line, will also be used to connect Oie’s utilities.
Baker Brothers Construction, was awarded the job with a low bid of $53,628, of which $28,515 is associated with the outflow pipe and $25,113 with the new water line to Oie’s house. The city will be responsible for the outflow replacement expense. It will be on Oie’s shoulders to pay for the water line by an amount that will depend on how much of the cost Xcel Energy, the owner of the dam is willing to pick up.
According to Xcel Senior Environmental Analyst and Scientist, Jim Bodensteiner, the company has agreed to aid Oie and Baker by a yet to be determined dollar amount.
Xcel, he said, decided it was willing to step in and assist the affected parties given the severity of the situation as it pertains to the loss of drinking water.
Baker said that Xcel offered to pay for his temporary system but is unsure to what extent the business is willing to chip-in beyond that. It is likely, given his considerable distance away from municipal utilities, that the family would have to bring in a well digging company that has the capacity to drill through bedrock he said.
Both Oie and Baker were complementary of the city and Xcel has handled their situations. According to Baker, the utility is not liable for any of the expenses of either he or Oie. “Whatever is done will be at the good will of Xcel,” he said.
At the present, Xcel is still awaiting a single permit that will allow the company to perform the remainder of the dam drawdown. At that point, a contractor will begin the dam removal process, which is expected to take a month or more.
As to whether other wells might be impacted by the removal isn’t exactly certain. According to company representatives, a study commissioned by Xcel identified a limited number of wells listed on the County Well Index as having a low probability of being affected.
“Based on our previous review and current assessment with the lower river levels, the probability of affecting indexed wells is still characterized as low,” the representative said.