A Plant On The Mississippi’s Gets A Colorful Mural Conveying Respect For Water

The first clean-water plant on the Mississippi’s course south gets a colorful mural conveying honor and respect for water resources.
A Plant On The Mississippi’s Gets A Colorful Mural Conveying Respect For Water
The completed mural on the new digester facility at the main entrance to the Bemidji plant.

The City of Bemidji’s activated sludge wastewater treatment plant sits between Lake Irving to the south and the larger Lake Bemidji to the north. It is also the northernmost effluent discharger to the Mississippi River.

Its phosphorus discharge limit of 0.3 mg/L is the strictest in Minnesota and among the lowest in the United States. A $4.6 million upgrade to the 1.2 mgd (average) plant in 2011 included a gray architectural block on a new primary digester building that houses new equipment and controls. “It was just too big, too flat and too gray,” says Mike Forbes, co-superintendent. “We really needed something to make it look nice.”

Putting out the call

Forbes took his idea for a colorful mural to the local Regional Arts Commission and with its help gained city council support. The city then issued a call for artists in northwestern Minnesota, including three Native American reservations.

“Our goal for the mural was to present something that reflected the importance of what we do here at the plant, to have some cultural content and to pay homage to cleaning up the environment,” says Forbes.

A committee including retired art teacher Gregg Wilimek, landscape architect Tom Cooper, city council member Reed Olson, deputy city clerk Michelle Miller, public arts commission chair Sandy Kaul, art teacher Lisa Robinson and Forbes chose three finalists from nine respondents.

Marcia Larson, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, served on the committee because part of the 121-mile Paul Bunyan Trail, which the department helps maintain, passes in front of the plant where hikers and bikers would have a clear view of the mural.

The finalists presented the committee with examples of their artwork and a plan and budget for the mural. The committee chose Native American artist Wesley May for his rendering, “Protect, Respect, Honor, Give Thanks for the Water.”

In a droplet

The 30- by 50-foot painting shows a drop of water containing a serene lake guarded by eagles. May says the eagles and supporting scene represent protection of Mother Nature’s filtration system and humans’ respect for its preservation.  “He did a great job and it really looks good,” says Al Gorick, co-superintendent.

May worked with one assistant and completed the painting in a little more than a month. He painted the mural over a white undercoating and sealed it with a clear finish. The $25,000 cost came from the city’s annual budget.

Forbes says the mural complements art projects in the downtown and other areas of the city: “It meets our goal to improve the appearance and image of our facility and expand the presence of art in our community.” 


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