On a chilly February morning at the McCarrons Treatment Plant in Maplewood, Steve Schneider hovers over deep mixing basins that, if operational, would be stirring alum and quicklime into water pumped in from Lake Vadnais.
The fine particles clump loosely together to form “floc,” and giant paddles stir the mix so it’s smooth enough to drink.
Softening is one step among many in getting 39 million gallons of clean drinking water each day into the homes and businesses of more than 425,000 paying customers throughout the east metro. But these particular two-story basins stand idle and empty.
A century ago, explains the longtime general manager of St. Paul Regional Water Services, Schneider’s early predecessors had the foresight to build redundant flocculators, among other water-treatment machinery that has outlived the 20th century.
Soon, those tools will be retired, and Schneider is leaving with them after a 30-year career tending to the tap water distributed to St. Paul and 13 other east-metro communities.
As one of his last orders of business, Schneider in January signed the first of a two-part contract with Jacobs Engineering that will impact every business and household across his service area. It’s time, he said, to erect a new water-treatment plant for the east metro.
“We’re in the forever business,” Schneider said. “We have to be here. Every community needs a clean, reliable supply of drinking water.”
To pay for the new plant and some much smaller projects, rates will gradually increase. By 2024, the average water customer will pay $392 a year, up from $313 today.
“It is going to be tough for the community to swallow. It will be about a 25 percent increase in their bill by year four, when the construction is complete. We’re working really hard to keep taxes at bay in the city,” West St. Paul Mayor Dave Napier said.
“But I think our community will understand,” he added. “The importance of having quality water in our community is critical. Technology has changed. The plant, 100 percent of their operation is funded by the users. It’s not like they’re a for-profit business or tax-funded, so they have to spread the cost among the users.”
Replacing the massive McCarrons facility likely will be the most expensive water-treatment plant project in the history of Minnesota, Schneider said, and the most elaborate since McCarrons construction began in 1910 and was fully online by 1925.
“It has been serving us really well, but it’s getting up there in age,” said Will Menkhaus, civil engineer and project manager with the water utility.
Though there’s no sign of imminent danger, massive water tank footings dating back to 1910 give everyone pause, said assistant general manager Patrick…