From the gravel road that borders the fenced North Poudre Reservoir No. 3, you can’t see the blue-green algae that is to blame for Wellington’s water woes.
But if you poured yourself a glass from any faucet this summer, you probably tasted and smelled it. Your senses would’ve detected geosmin, the same compound that gives mud and rain-soaked streets that familiar earthy smell.
In a perfect world, geosmin levels in the town water supply would hover no higher than about 20 parts per trillion parts of water, town administrator Ed Cannon said.
As of early July, geosmin levels in North Poudre Reservoir No. 3 were about 15 times that. Summer heat invigorates the algae…
The good news: As of Wednesday, geosmin levels were down to less than 2.5 parts per trillion in the town’s raw water thanks to a copper sulfate treatment on the reservoir, Cannon said.
While the water tastes better than it did earlier this summer, history shows that the town has a long, expensive fight ahead of it.
The algae problem isn’t unique to Wellington. Loveland’s Green Ridge Glade Reservoir became a veritable algae garden during last year’s steaming summer, making for earthy, pondlike water similar to what Wellington’s residents are experiencing this year.
Loveland’s algae hasn’t gone away, but the city invested thousands of dollars in tools to beat it back, including hydrogen peroxide, four reservoir mixers and activated carbon compounds. If those tools aren’t enough, Loveland has a backup plan in the form of plentiful Big Thompson River water rights.
Wellington’s backup plan is less airtight.
Three algae-free wells supplement the reservoir water, but their output is limited. The town must draw even more water from the reservoir as its ranks swell and residents use more water on their lawns. That throws off the ratio of algae-free well water to algae-filled reservoir water and makes the stuff coming out of the tap smell and taste worse.
The algae visits Reservoir No. 3 every summer, like an unwelcome house guest. Town officials say the guest was even more obnoxious this year because it started earlier and bloomed more fiercely.
“To attack (the algae), we’re going to get extremely aggressive,” Cannon said during an interview at his office in Wellington’s town hall.
In July, a gang of boats blasted the reservoir with copper sulfate to kill off the algae. They’ll probably have to make the rounds again this summer, Cannon said.
The town hired additional workers for its water treatment plant and is adding another filtration process to increase the output of its Wilson Well facility, Wellington’s secondary water source. The $400,000 upgrade will supply the town with another 100,000 gallons of algae-free water each day once it comes online by this fall.
Ashley MacDonald, one of Wellington’s six trustees, said Wellington needs to — and plans to — do two things to truly solve its water problem: Revamp the town water treatment plant and find new water sources…
“I feel for them,” he said. “I’m dealing with the same issues. I don’t have an answer that’s going to please everybody, other than to make some assurances that we feel the investment we’re making in our water treatment plant will address that.”
Cannon is referencing a plan to overhaul Wellington’s water treatment facility, which was built when the town was about two-thirds its current size. The upgrade will increase the plant’s capacity so it can treat water for as many as 16,000 residents. It will also make its filtration process more sophisticated so the water tastes better.
That project is still in its design phase and will take at least 12 to 18 months to finish once Wellington’s trustees approve a game plan, Cannon said. Costs have not yet been projected.
The other big goal to solve the problem is locking down higher-quality water sources for Wellington. The Board of Trustees hired Denver consulting firm Wright Water Engineers to help them evaluate options, including water from the City of Fort Collins, the East Larimer County Water District, the Poudre River and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
The board will narrow down those options based on cost and efficiency in coming weeks, MacDonald said.
Water treatment is important, but cities like Fort Collins have better-tasting water primarily because they store it in colder, deeper and higher-altitude reservoirs that are less vulnerable to algae attacks, according to Lisa Rosintoski, customer connections manager at Fort Collins Utilities…
Wellington’s water doesn’t violate any water quality regulations, according to its most recent round of state tests in 2016. Those tests included tests for copper, lead, chlorine and uranium, among other compounds.
A state test of raw water in North Poudre Reservoir No. 3 this summer came back absent of microcystin and cylindrospermospin, two compounds sometimes present in algae that are of public health concern.