The state Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday that it is penalizing Fort Dodge $10,000 for not having a backup generator at the water plant and some of the wells, even though a contractor is now installing such equipment.
''The city has put its customers and the public water supply at risk by not providing for dedicated standby power to pump and treat water to meet average day demand during power outages,'' state officials wrote in an eight-page document in which they ordered the city to install the auxiliary power system and pay the penalty.
City Manager David Fierke said Thursday evening that the local government immediately appealed the state agency's action. He added that a backup generator will be ready to go at the John W. Pray Water Facility on Phinney Park Drive by July 1. State regulators imposed a Sept. 30 deadline for installing it.
''There's nothing wrong with our water system,'' Fierke said.
''We've never had an outage that caused us to lose water,'' he added. ''They're saying we're putting people at risk, but they have never demonstrated it.''
The need for a backup power supply has been discussed since 2007, according to Fierke and the administrative order issued by the DNR.
Mayor Matt Bemrich said the installation of the generator was scheduled so that it could be done in conjunction with water plant upgrades needed to serve the industrial park called Iowa's Crossroads of Global Innovation. He said it was in ''the better interest of the utility'' to do all the work at the same time.
The City Council on June 11, 2012, moved to address the issue by hiring Rice Lake Construction Group of Deerwood, Minn., to work on the water plant at a cost of $2,438,600. In addition to installing the backup power system, the company is replacing the high service pumps that push water out of the plant and into the pipes.
The action against Fort Dodge was among 20 enforcement moves announced late Thursday afternoon by the DNR. The announcement surprised Fierke, who said city officials have been working with DNR officials on the matter.
''The surprise of it is we have a meeting with them next Friday to discuss this,'' he said.
Fierke said that before 2007 the DNR did not require a backup power supply because the water plant was served by two electrical feeds from MidAmerican Energy.
The DNR document indicates that Jennifer Bunton, a senior environmental engineer for the state agency, informed consultants working for the city in 2003 that a variance from water plant standards wasn't necessary because the local facility was served by two independent power sources. She did recommend that an auxiliary power source be created.
DNR officials wrote in the document that on May 14, 2007, inspectors visited the plant and ''understood from conversations with water production manager John Horrell that the water treatment plant could not run on the alternative power source.''
Fierke said Thursday that Horrell told the inspectors that he didn't know how the backup power system worked because he never had to use it.
That conversation eventually led the DNR to order that a backup power system be installed. That order was issued on Sept. 10, 2008.
Fierke said the plans for the electrical upgrades were nearly done when Tate & Lyle announced in May 2010 that it would not open its plant in the industrial park. The loss of anticipated water revenue from the company impacted the plans for the plant, he said.
Then in 2011, when Cargill purchased the plant, the project had to be redesigned, he said.