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No decrease in aquifers providing Willmar, Minn., water, official says

WILLMAR — Unlike some parts of Minnesota where municipal underground water supplies are shrinking, Willmar has plentiful underground water, the Municipal Utilities Commission was told Monday.

Bart Murphy, director of Willmar Utilities water and district heating department, said he has not seen a significant decrease in the aquifers providing water to the city.

Murphy was responding to a question from a commissioner who referred to a story in the Sunday Minneapolis Star Tribune that reported many regions in the state, including the Twin Cities, have reached the point where people are using water faster than rain and snow can replenish it.

“We monitor it continuously and report it on a yearly basis to the Minnesota Department of Health and, no, we have not seen a significant drop in the aquifers in this area,’’ Murphy said.

Willmar draws its water from the Quaternary Buried Artesian and Indeterminate aquifers. The utility maintains 16 wells, 2 water treatment plants, 3 pumping stations, 4 storage facilities and over 120 miles of distribution piping.

Murphy said aquifers differ in Minnesota. He said water is extremely hard to find in the southwestern corner of the state. Cities like Marshall and Worthington have well fields that are located 10 to 15 miles away, he said.

In other business Monday, the commission received a report from power supply broker Chris Carlson on the growth of the utility’s electrical load during the past 17 years.

A graph presented by Carlson shows a steady increase from about 250,000 megawatt-hours in 1996 to a peak of 305,315 megawatt-hours in 2007. During that time of a strong economy, the city saw Home Depot open in 2004, Menards in 2005 and Best Buy in 2006. Walmart relocated in 2007.

Then the economy nosedived. The load fell to 301,653 megawatt-hours in 2008 and 293,978 megawatt-hours in 2009 and has not fully recovered since, Carlson said. The load rose to 301,559 in 2010, dipped to 300,335 and dipped again to 296,351 in 2012.

Up until 2007, growth had followed an upward trend line. Commissioner Jerry Gesch asked what had been the average yearly increase.

Carlson said the utility had estimated about 2.5 percent.

“But that’s kind of been shot out of the water the last few years,’’ Carlson said.

General Manager Wesley Hompe said the trend line provides some historical perspective “and we had some fairly steep growth years and then it leveled off and then the economy went down. Right now, growth will be under the increasing trend line. It’s still going up, but it will be a slower rate I’m sure going forward.’’

Hompe said the utility has reduced the 2013 projection as a result of 2012’s actual load.

“Our goal is to make sure that our budget’s as close as we can to what we’re actually going to be selling,’’ he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball and we can’t tell if a large industry or two happens to decide to relocate here or somebody wants to grow significantly.’’

Hompe said last year’s commercial and industrial usage grew compared to residential, which was relatively flat and even declined.

“Whether we have more residential or commercial remains to be seen,’’ Hompe said.

Commissioner Joe Gimse asked how conservation practices or legislation affect the trend line.

Hompe said conservation efforts have been relatively effective, including some significant lighting rebates to commercial customers in the last four to five years. Also, the utility offers rebates for Energy Star appliances.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150