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Tapping into the lakes
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

A dry fire hydrant. Sounds a bit like an oxymoron. Or a useless hydrant anyway.

Audubon Fire Department installed three dry hydrants, the first in the area.

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"It's a fairly new practice," said Dean Schmidt, WesMin Resource Conservation and Development coordinator.

A dry hydrant consists of PVC pipes running from a lake to a hydrant where fire departments can hook up to drain water from the lake during fires.

The pipes are trenched eight to 10 feet deep, about four to five feet below the water level. While that sounds simple enough, Schmidt said only about half the sites are suitable for the hydrants. Some areas are too shallow or too high in elevation, with not enough pressure to suck the water out of the lake.

"There's a pipe into the lake beneath the freeze level of the lake," Audubon Fire Captain Jim Bergerson explained. That allows firefighters to pump water year round, because it is below the ice on the surface.

So rather than having to haul water from town, the fire department tanker trucks can now fill from the lakes.

"It's a closer water source," he said.

In the more rural areas, dry hydrants can be a life and time saver.

"There's not a lot of pressured water as you would have in the city," Schmidt said.

The biggest advantage to the dry hydrants is in the winter when the lakes are frozen over. Fire departments can throw a floating pump into lakes during the warmer months, but during the winter, they have to drill through several feet of ice to get to that water, all while the house is still burning.

"We won't have to take time for drilling holes in the lake," Bergerson said.

Schmidt said he's been promoting the dry hydrants since coming to work at WesMin RC&D in 1999. All the RC&D offices decided to apply for a state grant to pay 50 percent of installing hydrants throughout Minnesota.

He said he's seen lots of interest for the dry hydrant sites. The grant covers half the cost of the pipes, trenching and so forth. Fire departments donate their time, which also counts toward the match.

Schmidt said the cost of the hydrants is between $2,000 and $3,000 apiece. Homeowners in the area of the hydrants can then get a discount on insurance.

"It's very cost effective," he said.

Bergerson said the Audubon fire department is looking to apply for another grant and have another hydrant installed in the Lake Eunice-Maud area.

The township covered the costs for the three installed in the Audubon area.

The dry hydrants installed in the Audubon area include one at the Little Cormorant access, one at Big Cormorant north access and one on Sampson Lake, a small but deep lake at the corner of County Road 15 and Pearl Lake Road.

"We (the fire department) looked at maps and where the most population is," Bergerson said. That's how it was decided where the hydrants would go. "We looked for locations (with the highest population)."

Audubon's three hydrants are the first this year to go in, but there are 11-12 staked and ready, Schmidt said. The Pelican Rapids area will have one, and Lake Park had applied to get a hydrant installed, but the location and lake turned out to be unsuitable.

He said any fire departments interested in applying for the grant and installing a dry hydrant should contact his office at WesMin RC&D, 900 Robert Street, Suite 104, Alexandria, MN 56308 or call 320-763-3191, ext. 5.

"Now that we've got the hang of it (after installing Audubon's), we can streamline and get done quicker," he said

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