Part VI: The Postwar Boons
During World War II, electric power consumption in Moorhead had stagnated after more than a decade of nearly continuous growth. There were several reasons for the flattening out of load growth: Moorhead and the rest of the nation were on double daylight-saving time as a wartime energy conservation measure. In addition, appliance manufacturing had been all but suspended during the war in favor of defense production; appliances were almost impossible to buy during the war.
In the 1950's, television sets became commonplace
Between 1945 and 1949, however, production of kilowatt hours increased in a nearly straight line. Peak loads grew from 2,400 kilowatts in 1944 to 4,925 kilowatts in 1948, an average growth rate of 20 percent a year over five years. Load growth was predicted to top 10,000 kilowatts by 1956.
In October 1945, the Water and Light Department commissioners had ordered a new boiler for the Moorhead power plant, but the difficulty in shifting the American economy back to peacetime production had delayed delivery of the boiler to the Minnesota utility. In the fall of 1946, the Water and Light Department requested industrial customers to shift more production to off-peak hours.
The new boiler finally arrived in Moorhead in the spring of 1947 and was installed as part of a $400,000 power plant expansion. Art Wenner, a Hitterdal, Minnesota, native who had gained experience with boilers as a shipboard engineer in the Merchant Marine during the war, joined the Water and Light Department in the spring of 1948.
"We had a couple of old boilers we weren’t using," Wenner recollects. "We were running one boiler during the summer. We were running approximately 3,000 kilowatts of generation. We started up another boiler and generator when school started in the fall."
Power plant crews had installed a 3,000-kilowatt generator in 1936 and a similar-sized unit in 1940. The addition of the new boiler in 1947 was welcome news for the power plant crew. Wenner recalled that when the boiler was finally installed, the entire crew showed up to help.
"We shut it down and cleaned it over the Labor Day Weekend," Wenner said. "They were all down there, cleaning up that boiler."
Mighty Joe Young
By the time the new boiler was installed, the Moorhead Water and Light Department was getting used to a new superintendent. Joseph E. Young, an official with the Minneapolis waterworks, had been hired to run the Moorhead Water and Light Department in the spring of 1946. For 15 years before joining the Minneapolis Water Department, Young had been superintendent of the municipal utility at Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
Young, who was to spend a quarter-century at the helm of Moorhead’s municipal utility, was selected for the position after tragedy struck the department in February 1946. George Dienst, who had been hired as superintendent in the wake of the 1943 strike, was generally accorded to be an excellent superintendent.
On February 5, 1946, Moorhead was in the throes of a Red River Valley blizzard when the 47-year-old Dienst suffered an appendicitis attack at his south Moorhead home. Dienst was rushed to the hospital the following day after a snowplow was finally able to open his blocked street. His appendix was removed, but the popular superintendent never recovered; he died in the hospital three weeks later.
Young inherited an expansion program that was designed to upgrade both the water and the electric plant. Although the electric utility expansion was perhaps more critical from a long-term perspective, upgrading the water plant was necessary in the short run.
Immediately following the war, the Water and Light Commission began a program of test drilling to develop additional water supplies. In 1947, the Commission announced plans to spend $600,000 to drill for water just east of Moorhead in a vast underground reservoir containing as much as 50-billion gallons of water.
In the spring of 1948, the utility began laying a pipeline to the Buffalo Aquifer wells more than five miles east of the city. The only problem with the water from the Buffalo Aquifer wells was its hardness. Moorhead residents had gotten used to cold well water, but the water from the wells at 12th Street and 21st Street was also soft and needed no treatment.
Joe Young decided to build a water treatment plant to soften the water from the new wells. Young had designed a water treatment plant when he was at Fergus Falls, and he had worked in a water treatment plant in Louisville, Kentucky. Accordingly, he decided to undertake the design work himself, with help from the local architectural firm of Foss, Englestad and Foss.
Work on the new treatment plant at 23rd Street and Second Avenue North got into high gear in the fall of 1950, and the plant went on-line in February 1951. Shortly before plant construction began, crews built a new $85,000 water tank at the Twelfth Street and First Avenue North well site.
Taming the Big Muddy
The passage of the federal Pick-Sloan Act in 1944 was to have immense implications for municipal power providers in the Upper Midwest. The legislation, which authorized the construction of a series of dams on the main stem of the Missouri River, was designed to provide flood control, irrigation, recreation and fish and wildlife habitat along the notoriously unstable Big Muddy. The programs were to be paid for by what the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called "cash register dams," massive hydroelectric facilities to be built at sites across North and South Dakota.
The legislation that authorized construction of the Missouri River dams also dictated that public power entities in the Missouri River Basin be given preference in obtaining the low-cost hydropower produced by the dams. The preference legislation meant that municipal utilities like Moorhead Water and Light could rely on low-cost federal hydroelectricity to meet surging demand in the 1950s and 1960s.
Before hydroelectric power could begin flowing east to Moorhead from the Garrison project, Moorhead embarked on another major upgrade of its power plant. In 1950, voters approved a $1.2 million bond issue for expanding the power plant, including installation of a new 6,000-kilowatt turbine and necessary auxiliary equipment. The expansion was driven by the continuing increase in electric power consumption. In 1951 alone, electric sales jumped 13 percent.
The 1952 installation of the 6,000-kilowatt turbine in the Moorhead power plant helped meet demand, but it didn’t solve the problem that the city had wrestled with since the end of World War II: surging growth. The city’s population had increased from 9,400 in 1940 to 14,700 in 1950; by 1956, the city’s population was estimated at more than 21,000 people.
"In 1952, we put in this 6,000-kilowatt turbine," Henry C. Steining, chair of the Moorhead Public Service Commission, told the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs of the United States Senate then investigating allocations of Missouri River hydroelectric power. "We thought we had our difficulties licked, and then we discovered that the tremendous influx of people into our town was continuing."
Moorhead's population surged by more than 50 percent from1940 to 1950,
necessitating a power plant expansion. A the official opening for the 6,000-kilowatt
Brown Boveri turbine installed in 1952, Moorhead Public Service Superintendent Joe Young,
seen at the far right in the first row, and other dignitaries turned out to celebrate.
By the time Steining made his presentation to United States Senators, Moorhead’s Public Service Commission was already receiving its first allocations of Missouri River hydropower.
Steining called the entry of federal hydropower into the Moorhead market on November 7, 1956, "the culmination of six to eight year’s work."
By the time that Moorhead got its first allocations of Garrison power, focus had shifted to what was fast becoming a crisis situation in the city’s water supply. The Buffalo Aquifer, which had held the potential of an unlimited supply of water only ten years before, was reaching capacity by 1960.