Since lifting restrictions on outdoor water use more than two months ago, public discussion of infrastructure issues that led to a month and a half of water conservation measures has been largely absent at Rifle City Hall.
But behind the scenes, staffers in the city’s utilities department have been at work completing an assessment of the intake issues, along with compiling a 20-year plan for utility infrastructure needs and associated costs, according to City Manager Matt Sturgeon.
Ultimately it will be up to City Council to prioritize those items during its annual budget process, which typically begins in October each year.
Admittedly though, Sturgeon said the No. 1 priority for the city is the completion of Rifle’s new water treatment plant, which has been under construction for the past two years.
“This has been on the front burner of the entire community for years,” Sturgeon said.
The new regional water treatment plant is part of approximately $35 million in capital projects — which include new 2-million-gallon and 3-million-gallon storage tanks and the acquisition of property that can be used for a future expansion of the treatment plant — over the past two years.
The new plant will ultimately be capable of producing 8 million gallons a day — nearly double the capacity of the existing Graham Mesa water treatment plant, which was built in 1980. In bringing the new plant online in the next four to six months the city also has to take the Graham Mesa plant offline and decommission it.
All of this means issues such as those with the water intake system are taking a back seat.
Vulnerabilities in the intake system were first discovered on June 1, when the city located a break in the only raw water line that delivers Colorado River water to the Graham Mesa treatment plant — the main source of potable water to municipal water customers.
A ban on outdoor water use was implemented almost immediately in order to ensure the city had enough water for fire protection, sanitation and indoor use for municipal customers. Although the line was repaired in less than 24 hours, problems arose with the pump house and other intake infrastructure, which led to reduced outdoor water restrictions remaining in place until things returned to normal on July 13.
Despite the previous belief that the cost would come in well below the $250,000 in emergency dollars authorized by City Council, the final cost will likely be closer to that number, said Jim Miller, Rifle utilities director.
“We used less diesel but more equipment and temporary labor than forecasted,” he said, adding that there is still one outstanding invoice.
The $250,000 was in addition to a little more than $100,000 in initial costs authorized by City Council.
Although much of the focus in the coming months will be on wrapping up the in-process capital projects, that is not to say the city has ignored the intake issues.
The city is now aware of the weak points in the system and is ready should another issue arise in the near future, Sturgeon said. That readiness includes experience with the contractor that provided temporary pumps during the repair process, as well as having pipeline on hand to repair the raw water line if needed.
The intake, pump station and raw water line all remain stable at the moment, and staff has discussed the vulnerabilities in preparation for the budget process and discussion with a broader audience, Miller said.
Issues identified with the water intake infrastructure include: the age and route of the raw water line, as well as the poor bedding condition, which was cited as one of the leading reasons for the initial line break; more sediment being pulled with the raw water during greater periods of the year, which causes accumulation in the wet well; and the existing pump station is difficult to take offline to address the accumulation in the wet well.
With the new treatment plant and associated infrastructure coming online in the near future, it makes more sense to address the intake issues once the other infrastructure, which has a larger capacity, is on.