Annual Spring Stench Could Linger Longer this Year

It’s a sign of spring in the valley, as much as a blooming flower or birds chirping in the breeze.

But this change isn’t welcomed, and it’s a lot harder to escape.

Frankly, it stinks.

That smell you and many others can’t avoid is the result of thawing wastewater lagoons.

And this year, the smell could stick around longer than normal.

Danell Phelps constantly opens her window to customers at Ladybug Latte, along with the West Fargo air.

“You just kind of notice it,” Phelps says, “But there’s nothing you can really do about it, so you just go along with your day.”

A smell permeates over the city, courtesy of ten wastewater lagoons.

Warm weather is thawing the lake, releasing hydrogen sulfide, which is a gas produced by waste matter, and that gas builds up during the winter, when ice blocks the oxygen supply.

“Hydrogen sulfide is a really heavy gas,” explains Terry Rust, Wastewater Environmental Coordinator for West Fargo, “so it stays low and it spreads out.”

Spreading the stench of the waste in the lagoons.

It’s not a popular scent.

Phelps says of her customers, “They’ll roll down their window and be like ‘Ugh, it stinks.'”

The only ones who don’t seem to mind are geese sitting next to the lagoons.

They must not have much of a sense of smell.

Standing out among the lagoons, it’s legitimately hard not to start gagging at the smell.

Officials say the stench is actually worse than it needs to be because the city hasn’t kept up with cleaning the lagoons in a long time.

“Our primary cells haven’t been cleaned since 1960”, adds Rust. “They need to be cleaned.”

They’re supposed to be cleaned every 20–25 years.

Now, there’s an 18 inch layer of sludge at the bottom of the main lagoons.

Fifty-year-old waste could be contributing to the sorry scent.

Dredging the lagoons would help.

But Rust explains, “I’m not the money man for that, but basically we’ve been pressing for that for several years.”

Weather patterns might keep the stench around longer.

Normally the worst of the smell is gone in two weeks.

But a chilly forecast this weekend could stall the thawing process, letting the stench linger.

Rust adds, “We try to get is as warm as quickly as we can.”

As long as the stench stays, it’s part of life here in the valley.

Phelps says she’s not letting the smell get in their way.

She says, “Everybody will come and they’ll complain about it but they’ll still roll down their windows to get their coffee.”

Leaders in West Fargo say they sometimes get complaints from locals asking to do away with the lagoon system.

But they say it’s a cheap and effective way to deal with waste.

Plus, a new system such as a treatment plant could cost up to $100 million.

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