The city of Manitou Springs plans to take advantage of a much-needed upgrade to an almost 120-year-old deteriorating pipeline and become a bit more environmentally and economically efficient.
A more than $3 million project to upgrade the iron pipe just entered its beginning stages. And city officials already plan to add a small hydroelectric generator to the line that brings water from French Creek on the eastern slopes of Pikes Peak and into the city’s water treatment plant.
The city began plans for the project after heavy rains in September 2013 eroded soil that covers the pipe, which was installed in 1897 and is hidden less than three feet below the Ute Pass Regional Trail.
The line was exposed in multiple places during the 2013 storms that pummeled the entire Front Range, causing roads to wash away, resulting in at least eight deaths, according to Colorado Office of Emergency Management, and leaving some people stranded for days. The pipe sprung a couple of leaks during the torrent. The city temporarily shut off its water main for repairs. And officials became urgently concerned about just how long the three-and-a-half mile pipe will last.
“If it were to fail, there is only a couple days-worth of reserves,” said Sara Hartley, a flood recovery project manager with Manitou Springs. “This is a very high priority project.”
As city council discussed the plans earlier this year, one council woman suggested piggy-backing the hydroelectric generator onto the project.
“Coreen (Toll) brought up the idea that if we were going to replace the pipe, we might as well look into hydro,” said city administrator Jason Wells.
Just last week Manitou Springs received word from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that it will receive a $3.3 million Community Development Block Grant for the pipeline project. Adding a bypass that will send water flowing through a 40-kilowatt water turbine and generate electricity is expected to add about $300,000 to the cost.
Kurt Johnson, a consultant at Telluride Energy LLC, said a pressure-reduction valve would be needed to ensure that water flowing into the treatment plant doesn’t cause damage to the facility and its controls. According to Johnson, the bypass and the water turbine will consume any extra water pressure and make good use of the energy that would otherwise be wasted.
By adding the turbine during the pipeline project, some of the costs for installing the hydro generator will be avoided, Wells said. He and Johnson also talked about potentially designing the new pipeline so it can accommodate multiple future turbines at low cost.
Hartley said that possibility has been discussed by Manitou officials. She said those details could be added to the plans in the design and construction phases of the project.
This isn’t the first time the city has explored potential benefits of hydropower. Manitou Springs did a feasibility analysis in 1990 to see if installation of a hydro generator at the treatment plant would be cost effective, Hartley said.
According to Johnson, it wasn’t until 2013 when the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama, that small hydro projects became economically feasible. Johnson said that prior to 2013, tens-of-thousands of dollars were going toward bureaucratic paperwork and trickling down to consumers. He said the bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support and has led to “small hydro innovation,” more grant money for such projects and low-interest loan availability.
Manitou Springs plans to borrow money for the hydropower supplement to the pipeline project. The turbine is expected to generate about 237,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average residential utility customer used just under 11,000 kilowatt-hours in 2014.
The next step for Manitou Springs is to compile preliminary plans and engineering designs and turn them over to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for an environmental review. Upon completion, a “funding obligation date” will be determined. From that date, the block grant guidelines require Manitou Springs complete the pipeline project within 24 months.
Hartley said the city will submit a Request for Proposal next year and accept bids to choose a contractor. She estimates it will be at least 10 months before construction begins on the project.
In the meantime, Manitou Springs must simply wait and hope that the 188-year-old pipe holds up.
“It’s just long overdue,” said Kirk Greasby, the city’s water treatment plant operator.