U.S. Water News Online
BISMARCK, N.D. -- A plan to pump water from beneath the
Missouri River for a thirsty Burleigh County would be among the first
along the longest U.S. river and one of only a handful such projects
in the nation.
Called angle wells, the system would use the Big Muddy's sand and
rock riverbed to help filter the water to near "bottled-water
quality," said Doug Neibauer, executive director of the
Bismarck-based South Central Regional Water District.
It would provide an additional 3.5 million gallons of water daily
to some 3,500 residents of northern Burleigh County, from north of
Interstate 94 to Wilton, said Joe Bichler, a project manager with the
Bartlett & West engineering firm of Bismarck.
"Rural water is a fast-growing need in northern Burleigh County,"
said Neibauer. "Most of the well water there is quite
Angle wells use a new technology to provide "good water and good
yields at the lowest construction costs," Neibauer said. "It has
achieved all goals."
Construction of the $17 million project began this summer, with
the first phase to be completed in mid-2007. The entire project is
slated for completion in 2009, Bichler said.
Residents approved a $10 million bond issue last year to help pay
for the project, Neibauer said. State and federal funds are being
added, he said.
Two of the six planned wells have been placed at the site, about
10 miles north of Bismarck. A third is slated to be in place this
The wells are placed at angles ranging from 14 degrees to 23
degrees from the river's edge, with casing extending underground to
about 100 feet offshore and up to 38 feet beneath the Missouri's
Slotted screens with ceramic filters in the 16-inch double-wall
casing allow groundwater and river water to be sucked from beneath
the riverbed. The water goes through additional treatment before
tying into pipelines.
The system is unaffected by ice, silt or low water, Bichler and
"There are an awful lot of benefits to it," said Jame Todd, an
engineer with the federal Bureau of Reclamation in Bismarck. He said
the agency is studying the technology, hoping that it could provide a
reliable water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Silt clogged the intake pipe at Fort Yates on Thanksgiving weekend
in 2003, leaving hundreds without water. A temporary intake system
was built at a cost of nearly $3 million.
Todd said soil samples have been taken at Fort Yates, "but so far,
we haven't found soil conditions like they are in Bismarck."
For the system to work, the riverbed must have loose rock and
gravel, not clays that are found in some of the river's stretches
that have been flooded by dams, Bichler said.
"It's viable solution to a challenging problem -- if you have the
right soils," he said.
Martha Silks, a Perry, Kan.-based hydrogeologist who worked on the
Burleigh County project, said only a few such systems exist in the
An angle well project planned for the Lewis and Clark Rural Water
System will pipe Missouri River water from Vermillion, S.D. to
customers in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.
Executive Director Troy Larson said that system differs from the
North Dakota project in that it would tap into an aquifer adjacent to
the Missouri River, at least at first.
Angle wells were placed along the Hudson River, near Albany, N.Y.,
to provide municipal water.
"They were completed in 2003 and were the first in the United
States, as best as we can tell," said Gary Smith, who works for
White-Pierce, a Topsham, Maine-based civil and environmental
He said a similar system is being developed in Orange County,
Calif. Those wells would go beneath the Pacific Ocean's floor to pump
water for a desalination plant.
South Central Regional Water District has about 30 years remaining
on a 40-year contract with the city of Bismarck to purchase water.
Neibauer said his group would continue to buy water from Bismarck
as well as use the angle wells.
Keith Demke, Bismarck's utility operations director, said northern
Burleigh County uses an average of about 800,000 gallons of water
"That's less than 10 percent of our entire system," Demke said.
Bismarck plans on using a more-common horizontal collector well to
pull water from an aquifer under the Missouri instead of taking it
directly from the river, he said. The aquifer is fed by the river and
not groundwater, he said.
The city's current water-intake plant has the capacity of about 30
million gallons a day, enough to cover a football field with 70 feet
of water, Demke said.
He said the city has opted for a more traditional design, and he
doubts the angle wells could provide the volume of water needed in
"We think there are some advantages to what we're doing over what
they're doing," he said.
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