The Outlook for Water Costs in the Twin Cities

Water Treatment in Minneapolis Minneapolis and Saint Paul consider it fortunate in that their water supply is the Mississippi River and, at least for the time being, the supply is abundant.

Minneapolis was the first in Minnesota to have a public drinking water system, and today it is a modern enterprise that supplies water not only to the city, but to many neighboring communities. 

The first pump station was built in 1872 and today Water Treatment and Distribution Services (WTDS) pumps 21 billion gallons of water annually from the river.

The Source

Minneapolis and its neighbors are the recipients of a system with nine pump stations and eight reservoirs that produce approximately 57 million gallons of drinking water each day, through 1,000 miles of pipe, much of it 75-100 years old. Its customers are 62 percent residential and 38 percent business, commercial and industrial.    

Neighboring Saint Paul, by comparison, boasts 1,200 miles of water line and serves up water at a rate of about 40 millions gallons a day to residents of the city and surrounding suburbs. St. Paul Regional Water Services has a water storage capacity of about three times that. According to Jim Bode, production division manager, the utility is "vigilant" with its treatment processes in order to avoid problems like those encountered in Flint, Mich. They also respond immediately to any hint of lead contamination.

Land of the Lakes

While Minneapolis and Saint Paul may have fewer problems than other cities around the nation, the future may bring some issues with it. There are aging unlined cast iron water pipes. Minneapolis experiences approximately one water main break each week; mineral buildup in the pipes is a problem.

With one of the largest water distribution systems in the Midwest, Minneapolis has begun to replace about 10 miles of aging infrastructure each year, a project that, at the current pace, will take 100 years to complete. Saint Paul estimates that less than 14 percent of its water lines are lead or partial lead, but it responds immediately to any reports of lead problems.

What Comes from the Tap

Minneapolis "Muddy Water" is a reality despite all the chemicals added to the water supply, and contamination from upriver is a worrisome reality. More than 99 small Minnesota communities still dump sewage into local streams and rivers and the WTDS performs more than 500 tests each day in an effort to assure the safety of the drinking water.

Recently, a unique Water Bar opened in Northeast Minneapolis in 2016, an outgrowth of a collaborative effort between artists and scientists in Saint Paul. It offers tap water -- actually, a variety of different tap waters -- free of charge in order to foster a conversation about water and its importance. The store front actually had a bar and a bartender, and labeled tap water available to taste and compare. 

And the Future?

Costs continue to rise. Water customers are typically charged based on consumption, and sewer rates are frequently higher than the rates for tap water. Effective conservation efforts in many cities have lowered consumption but served to boost rates even higher. Large cities, among them Atlanta, Seattle and Austin, Texas, have moved toward fixed fees in order to meet budget needs after experiencing falling revenues and extraordinary infrastructure demands.

There is little doubt that consumers across the country will pay more for water services in the future. According to a recent report by Circle of Blue, water prices are up 41 percent since 2010. Drinking water is just one part of the picture, but it is a vital one. At least in the Twin Cities, there is an expectation that the river will keep flowing, and that both cities will stay at least one step ahead of potential problems.

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