Colorado infrastructure needs

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Here’s a look at the federal stimulus bill and projected shortfalls in funding for infrastructure in Colorado, from David Olinger writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

• Colorado now has 395 wastewater projects in need of state or federal assistance, including $444 million in new projects from cities hoping for economic stimulus money. The new total: $2.6 billion. The highest-priority projects alone total $202 million, almost seven times the amount coming to Colorado from the federal government…

• Statewide, the capacities of 169 dams have been restricted until repairs can be made. Colorado’s dam safety program has prepared a list of 30 “shovel-ready” repair projects that could be carried out for $11 million. Eight are “high-hazard” dams, meaning human lives probably would be lost if they failed. But the stimulus bill did not set money aside to repair state-regulated dams…

Statewide, there were 600,000 septic systems in Colorado as of 2002, serving one-fourth of Colorado residents, and thousands have been built yearly since then. Twenty-two stretches of rivers and creeks — from Fountain Creek and its tributaries north of Colorado Springs to mountain streams feeding the South Platte River — have tested positive for E. coli bacteria, an indication that fresh fecal matter is polluting them. In most cases, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials say they have not pinpointed the sources of these bacteria. But they suspect septic systems are fouling some of these streams. “Certainly, some of the problems we’re seeing in Fountain Creek, that’s what we’re thinking,” said Steve Gunderson, the state’s water quality director. Infrastructure: The word invites a yawn. Its nature invites neglect. Who sees the pipes that deliver and dispose of water, the undersides of bridges, the road beneath a cosmetic coat of asphalt, the seepage trickling from the wall of a dam? Yet in Colorado, and across the nation, the remarkable infrastructure systems our grandparents built are slowly crumbling, sometimes with devastating consequences. Some Colorado towns and unincorporated communities have been waiting years for a basic infrastructure component: their first sewer system…

[Jennifer] Williford, her husband and their two daughters live in Carter Lake Heights — a neighborhood built on a steep, rocky hillside in Larimer County…When her family moved in, they had to agree to temporarily put all their wastewater in a sealed tank until a sewer system was built. That was four years ago, and no sewer plan exists today.For decades, Larimer County permitted septic tanks and leach fields to dispose of wastewater at Carter Lake Heights. County health officials halted those permits before the Willifords moved in, citing septic-system failures that left sewage leaking above ground and across the neighborhood’s dirt roads. The only option: sealed vaults. In a septic system, solids accumulate in the tank, but the liquids from toilets, dishwashers, showers and washing machines flow into an adjacent leach field. In a sealed vault, nothing leaves. It must be pumped out whenever wastewater fills it, or sewage will back up into the house. For the Willifords, the charge is $280 per visit, plus $100 if the driver has to chain up in the snow. They do all they can to avoid putting water in their sealed tank. Flush for solids only. Never use the Jacuzzi tub. Take short showers…

State health officials intend to assist sewer projects that benefit public health first, but only if they’re ready for construction. Preliminary engineering drawings are due this month, final applications next month, for sewer construction projects that could begin by September. Projects costing $2.6 billion must compete for $30 million in federal funds.

More coverage from the Denver Post (David Olinger):

Colorado has minimized the risk of catastrophic failures with a highly regarded dam-inspection program. One consequence: In a state with a growing population and recurring water shortages, the safety program has restricted the storage capacity of 169 dams, including 21 high-hazard dams.
There is one federal dam in Colorado whose adequacy is debated — and whose failure would be catastrophic. It’s the reservoir in Cherry Creek State Park…

Fourteen years ago, a study for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led to this startling conclusion: The “probable maximum precipitation” event in the Cherry Creek basin could put a 2-foot wall of water over the dam. A subsequent study for the state envisioned a smaller maximum potential rainstorm — and concluded the dam would hold the runoff. “Depending on the figure you choose, the spillway is adequate or inadequate,” said Mark Haynes, the chief of Colorado’s dam-safety program. “We do not have any problems with the hydrological adequacy.” The Corps of Engineers study defined the maximum storm as dumping 17 inches of rain in nine hours after other storms had partially filled the Cherry Creek reservoir — in short, much worse than any storm in Denver’s recorded history…

The probable maximum storm “is a once-in-forever type of event. Worldwide, there have been dams that have seen that event,” said John Palensky, the Cherry Creek dam-safety study manager at the Corps. “We have to live in that world where you look at the improbable.” Palensky said the Cherry Creek dam is structurally sound, and he would not worry about living downstream. But the capacity question, combined with extraordinary population growth below the dam since the 1940s, led the Corps to consider safety options, from raising the dam or enlarging its spillway to storing more water upstream. As of the 1990s, the Corps estimated more than 120,000 people and $30 billion worth of property were below this dam. Interstate 225 passes directly adjacent to the dam; southeast Denver and Aurora lie downstream. Under the Corps’ rules, dams must be large enough to hold 100 percent of the water from a probable maximum precipitation event, and in that event, “there is a potential that the Cherry Creek dam could overtop,” Palensky said. In a Corps region that covers parts of six states, other federal dams are in worse condition. Yet the Cherry Creek dam, “out of all of our dams, is our highest dam-safety priority,” he said. The downstream population “puts it as the No. 1 on our priority list.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.