New bridge to connect #RioGrande trail system at Adams State and Cattails — @AlamosaCitizen

Location of new pedestrian bridge over the Rio Grand in Alamosa. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Owen Woods):

OU’RE walking along the Rio Grande trail at Cattails Golf Course and you see the campus of Adams State across the way but can’t get to the other side. Patience, dear trail user. A crossing is on the way.

The city of Alamosa is moving forward with plans for a pedestrian bridge crossing at Stadium Drive behind the Adams State ballfields that will connect the west levee to the east levee at Cattails Golf Course.

The city has applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program to help fund the $4.1 million project. Other funding coming into the project is $220,000 from local contributors to cover design and permitting; SLV GO! kicked in $100,000 from private donors; the city of Alamosa $50,000; SLV Health $25,000; and Alamosa County $40,000.

Green bar shows location
of proposed pedestrian bridge. Read the report HERE.

This is a long-dreamt-of project, one that would no doubt change the way locals recreate. It would, with a seamless stitch, connect the most residential parts of Alamosa with the other side of the river, cutting down travel times and encouraging walking, running, and biking over driving.

Increased visits to Blanca Vista Park, the city’s Disc Golf Course and nearby trailheads are among the benefits, according to project consultant THK Associates. In addition, the pedestrian bridge would allow people to avoid the heavier traffic of the Highway 160 bridgeand the State Avenue bridge, giving a more direct route for runners like those from Adams State.

“The bridge will reduce vehicular traffic and result in reduced carbon emissions, potential traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths,” THK Associates said in its report. It added the State Avenue bridge was deemed a “High Conflict Area” and that runners, dog-walkers, and families with small kids could avoid potential danger with the new bridge.

Bridge on the river grand

THK presented three different bridge designs and locations, along with the costs. Of the three designs, the city chose to go with a more cost-effective, shorter bridge that will span just 370 feet at one of the river’s narrowest points. This particular design cuts down on the total overall cost, and also the impact to the river beneath it. The design proved to be the most direct line of access. To have this point of access, the city will have to purchase two properties on the west levee. As THK writes in its memo, “….the acquisition of additional land at this time is beneficial to allow for expanded parking, staging and access, and other possible benefits.”

Southwest River Engineers designed the bridge type and outlined where it would be and what it could look like. It’s a tied arch free span design that will have only two concrete supports placed on each side of the river bed. Each will impact 100 square feet of area once competed.

The earliest construction would begin is 2023, once funding is secured. An extensive design and permitting process is required before ground can be broken. A part of that permitting process is purchasing the two properties that border the west levee. After everything is moved along, permits are permitted and the Army Corps of Engineers is satisfied, construction could be completed by February 2024.

“With RAISE grant monies, the City will provide a safe corridor for pedestrians and cyclists separate from motorized traffic and improve economic competitiveness and resilience by supporting a growing outdoor recreation economy,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet wrote in a letter of support to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

Keith Baker and Vern Heersink from the San Luis Valley Transportation Planning Region wrote in their letter of support, “The City of Alamosa and Alamosa County for decades have been in need of and in pursuit of a pedestrian bridge to cross the Rio Grande near Adams State University’s campus…. Multimodal projects such as this have become increasingly important to communities within the region as they develop new initiatives to improve pedestrian and bicycle routes to recreational opportunities and commercial centers.”

“The Rio Grande Intermodal Transportation Project builds on years of community planning with diverse stakeholders to develop the infrastructure needed to connect the public to multi-use trails along the river corridor,” said Emma Ressor, executive director for the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project in her letter of support. “This will increase sustainability and pedestrian accessibility, while creating space for the community to enjoy the Rio Grande and surrounding wildlife habitat.”

Widespread support for the project may help with grant selection. For small Alamosa, a bridge like this is apt to dissipate fear of traffic bridges, create an easier avenue to enjoy the nature and the sky, and ultimately increase the value of the town. The economic benefits from this are outstanding, yes, but the recreation opportunities are tenfold more.

Doing the math

Perhaps one of the most desired benefits of this project is the slashing of travel times.

Among the information studied by the city are two tables that show current travel times and estimated travel times after construction. The tables break down distance from Adams State, and travel times for driving, walking, and cycling to the North River Pavilion Trailhead, the Disc Golf Course, Blanca Vista Park, and the State Avenue Trailhead and Boatramp.

Say you start at Adams State University and want to catch up with some friends at the Disc Golf Course. You’re again limited to two ways to get there, but the obvious choice would be to take State Avenue. Let’s say you’re on your bike. The distance is 3.3 miles and if you’re enjoying a leisure ride, that would take you roughly 20 minutes.

With the new connecting bridge, the distance is cut by 2.5 miles and it would take you a mere 5 minutes to get there.

Now, of course, travel by car won’t change much if you want to park at the specific locations.

The flip side of this travel and distance also makes its case for anyone traveling from the east and north sides of town – the county side. Anyone can drive to these places and instead of taking the car downtown, they can take their own two feet. It encourages different means of travel for everyone.

It encourages taking the scenic route.

And for a community that relishes its outdoors, this bridge is a step toward making Alamosa’s wide open spaces and endless sky even more accessible and enjoyable.

GOCO funds two San Luis Valley projects

1869 Map of San Luis Parc of Colorado and Northern New Mexico. “Sawatch Lake” at the east of the San Luis Valley is in the closed basin. The Blanca Wetlands are at the south end of the lake.

From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Alamosa News:

The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board on Thursday announced funding awards for two San Luis Valley projects.

GOCO awarded the City of Alamosa $347,794 for construction of a community park in the Montaña Azul subdivision and awarded Costilla County a $225,274 grant to add approximately 125 acres to Batenburg Meadows, creating permanent access to public lands for residents along Rito Seco Creek. The projects were two of 14 selected for funding from a pool of 59, with funding requested totaling more than triple what was available.

The GOCO Local Park and Outdoor Recreation grant for Alamosa will help complete the first phase of building Montaña Azul Park, pictured above, which currently serves as a stormwater retention area. After development, the 5.6-acre park will continue to store storm water but will also provide close-to-home recreation for residents. The dual-purpose nature of the park makes it the first of its kind for the city.

The park is within walking distance of all Montaña Azul residents, who currently have no neighborhood park and who have cited transportation as a barrier to recreation, and is a short distance from Alamosa Elementary School, which will encourage more children and their families to play.

As part of phase one, centered around development of the eastern half of the park, the city will create an irrigated, youth soccer field, which will allow for multiple uses beyond soccer including football, Frisbee ®, and kite-flying. It will build a concrete basketball court, a quarter-mile walking track with native plantings, a community pavilion and shade structures, and an adaptive, ADA-accessible playground.

Construction will begin in April, and the park is slated to open to the public this fall.

To date, GOCO has invested nearly $7 million in projects in Alamosa County and has conserved more than 10,000 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported the Alamosa Multi-Use Pavilion and Ice Rink, the Cole Park Skatepark, and the Recreation Inspires Opportunity (Alamosa RIO!) effort to get kids and families outside.

For the Costilla County project, the county has partnered with Colorado Open Lands to acquire 14 parcels comprising 125 acres of land, a particularly rare opportunity to acquire forested land for public use. Expanding Batenburg Meadows was identified by local residents as a top priority, and expanding the park will legitimize and increase public access.

Youth Conservation Camp has long been a rite of passage for generations of Costilla County youth to learn how to fish, get their hunter safety cards, and learn about local wildlife, but the program was in danger of ending due to accidental trespassing. Acquiring the additional 125 acres of land will solve that issue not only for the camp but for local residents who use the area for picnicking, fishing, and collecting firewood and piñon nuts.

Expanding public access along Rito Seco Creek will allow the county to more effectively manage wildfire risk and overall forest health. Permanently protecting the land from subdivision will also conserve wildlife habitat for elk, deer, beaver, and turkey.

In addition to the GOCO grant, $225,000 from the US Forest Service will help Costilla County complete the land acquisitions. Costilla County expects to complete all 14 acquisitions by the end of 2018 and plans to partner with San Luis Valley Great Outdoors to build a trail connecting Rito Seco Park to Batenburg Meadows.

To date, GOCO has invested $10.1 million in projects in Costilla County and has conserved more than 5,000 acres of land there. GOCO funding recently supported the Brownie Hills conservation project, which will create critical public lands access in the area. GOCO grants have also supported the Sangre de Cristo Greenbelt Trail and the county’s outdoor fitness center and exercise park.

Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,000 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. Visit for more information.

Alamosa: Councillors review augmentation, loan, project plans

Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Like all other larger well owners in the San Luis Valley , the City of Alamosa has to comply with groundwater regulations filed by the Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer and pending court approval.

Those regulations require well owners to make up for the injuries they are causing senior surface water rights. The regulations also require measures to help replenish the basin’s aquifer levels.

The City of Alamosa staff and council have been working on means to comply with the new rules including acquisition of water to offset the city’s well pumping.

The city is setting up financing to cover those costs, which the city has capped at $4.3 million. The city will basically use a portion of its ranch property as collateral to finance the city’s water compliance efforts…

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks explained that the city allowed flexibility in authorizing up to $4.3 million to include the East Alamosa Water & Sanitation District, if it wished to participate in the city’s plan.

If East Alamosa opts to develop its own augmentation plan, or other costs for the city’s water plan are not as high as expected, the city will have leeway in the $4.3 million for other projects, Brooks added. The city would also have the option of paying the money back earlier, she said. The city staff and council identified some projects they felt were appropriate to use this money for, if it was not all needed for the water augmentation plan.

These include: water and sewer mains; sanitary lift stations; and levee rehabilitation to meet FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and CWCB (Colorado Water Conservation Board) requirements.

Including these projects in the financing ordinance does not mean they will be completed, but it gives the city more options with the financing , Brooks explained.

“It allows flexibility,” she said. She said the identified projects need addressed. For example, some of the pumps on sanitary lift stations are 30 years old “essentially at the end of their life” and if they were to be replaced, it would increase efficiency, use less electricity and require less staff time.

Likewise, there are sewer and water lines that need to be replaced. Last year lines even collapsed in a couple of areas, Brooks said.

The city also has to recertify the levee and cannot use enterprise funds for that, Brooks said. Councilors agreed it was a good idea to have some flexibility.

“It leaves the door open ” in case we need it,” said Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley . “It doesn’t cost anything extra than what we are already doing.”


The council unanimously approved on first reading the ordinance amendment and scheduled the second reading and public hearing during the city’s 7 p.m. meeting on April 5.

Alamosa councillors cap groundwater compliance right aquisition

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The city has already bought some water rights to begin this compliance process.

Alamosa City Attorney Erich Schwiesow told the council Wednesday night that staff has estimated it could take $3.5 million to comply with the rules…

The ordinance provides an outside limit to the terms of the financing of $3.7 million principal, $5.6 million total payment, and maximum annual payment of $375,000.

The $5.6 million is based on 5 percent interest over a 15-year repayment period.

Schwiesow said this ordi-ALAMOSA city council this week set boundaries on how much it will spend on its efforts to comply with new water rules from the state.

The council approved on first reading and scheduled for a March 1st public hearing an ordinance setting $3.7 million as the upper limit of what the city will finance to pay for water rights and associated expenses to bring the city into compliance with new groundwater rules.

Under the new rules, well owners (including municipalities ) must make up for their negative effects to surface water rights as well as providing means to replenish the San Luis Valley’s aquifer to more sustainable levels. nance for financing for the water project including the acquisition of water rights. It does not mean the city will be spending that much, but it means the city will not spend more than that, he explained.

The city will be working with UMB Bank to set up the financing . Alamosa Councilman Charles Griego said he hoped local banks would be involved. City Manager Heather Brooks said UMB Bank would shop around for the best rates, and Schwiesow added that the city council would ultimately approve whatever bank UMB Bank brought back to the council for financing. UMB Bank essentially serves as a broker for the city, he explained. In another water related matter of a different nature, the council on Wednesday approved its first budget amendment for the year in part to cover the costs of replacing failing equipment in the city’s wastewater treatment facility. The city will transfer $250,000 from the Enterprise Debt Fund to the water treatment department to replace ultraviolet equipment that is part of the last disinfection phase at the wastewater plant…

Alamosa Public Works Director Pat Steenburg added that when the plant was constructed 19 years ago, it had two UV systems. One of those quit working five or six years ago and the other is “on its last leg.” There are no parts even available for it now, he added.

The total transfer from the Enterprise Debt Fund was for $383,000, which included the $250,000 for the UV equipment as well as water department operations including $33,000 to add a technician to backfill existing staff.

The budget amendment also includes interdepartmental transfers to cover the cost of a drone purchase for the city, which all departments from IT to fire will be able to utilize.

Alamosa outlines rate increases — The Valley Courier

Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912
Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Utility rates will increase in Alamosa next year, and now residents have a better idea by how much.

The Alamosa city council Wednesday night approved on first reading and scheduled for a December 7 public hearing an ordinance increasing rates for water, sewer and solid waste (trash) disposal in 2017.

City water customers using about 8,000 gallons a month will see a 48-cent increase in their water bills, or just under 3 percent. Based on a conservation-oriented rate structure, customers using 50,000 gallons of water a month will see a larger increase, about $23 more a month, or about 25 percent. Customers using 100,000 gallons a month will see an even bigger increase, of more than $110 a month, based on the city’s conservationoriented rate structure.

Sewer rates will be increased by 8 percent across the board. The average customer using about 5,000 gallons a month will see an increase of $1.42 a month…

“We would never increase rates just to increase rates,” she said.

She said the staff has tried to manage the city systems as efficiently as possible to keep costs down, and staff wants the public to know the reasons for the increases. She explained that while the general fund covers many areas of city service, the enterprise fund covers the utilities, which should pay for themselves through rates and other charges. The enterprise fund revenues must not only cover operating and maintenance costs but also upgrades and improvements to the system, many of which are required by regulations and standards. The city cannot risk becoming noncompliant or its systems failing, Brooks explained. If the city is out of compliance with standards and regulations it could be fined or in an extreme case its systems be taken over by the state.

Sanitation and sewer rates have not increased since 2012 and water rates minimally since 2013, Brooks said.

The past increases have barely kept up with the normal cost of business but not covered capital improvement needs, she said.

“We have significant capital needs, especially with wastewater .”

She said funding sources like the Department of Local Affairs do not want to provide funds to communities where ratepayers are not paying their fair share.

The city contracted with Willdan Financial Services to perform a rate study, and the rate increases are based on what the consultant found and recommended.

Water conservation is key

Water revenues needed to increase by 6 percent, but the city is not proposing to increase rates 6 percent across the board, Brooks explained.

Part of what is driving these costs is the new groundwater rules taking effect in the San Luis Valley. To comply with the rules, the city is working on an augmentation plan, an effort costing upwards of $3 million.

If the city wants to continue providing municipal water, it must comply with these rules, Brooks explained.

The water rate structure takes conservation into account , Brooks added.

“We heard very clearly from council we needed to do more in conservation,” she said.

The city created a water smart team that has been looking at several measures including reducing irrigation needs on city-owned properties while still maintaining those properties for uses such as soccer fields.

“This team looked at every park and right of way the city owns and ways to reduce water usage,” Brooks said.

The team is also: looking at ways to educate the public on how to reduce water usage; creating programs to help residents on fixed incomes; and looking at ways to encourage landscaping changes to use less water and be more deer resistant.

In 2007 the city created a conservation-oriented staggered rate system that charges a higher rate to those who use larger amounts of water. The proposed 2017 rate structure adds another category for industrial users such as the school district and Adams State, which irrigate large areas and might be able to reduce that usage.

Brooks said another reason for larger water users, whether residential or commercial, to pay more is because it costs the city in infrastructure to accommodate that large of a volume.

“We have to build a system for the peak instead of normal residential usage,” she said. “There is additional cost to the city to have a system to meet that peak demand.”

Alamosa Public Works Director Pat Steenburg said Alamosa averages 1.2 million gallons a day during the winter but 5.1-5 .2 million gallons a day during the peak summer demand season.

“That’s all irrigation,” he said.

Another reason to be conservation oriented, Brooks explained, is because Valley water users can no longer continue pumping down the system.

“We don’t live in an environment that is water rich,” she said, “and we have been living like that. If you want to live that way, make a choice in landscaping that does not match the environment we have, there’s a cost for that.”

Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley said compared to San Francisco, where she was from, “we haven’t even touched what is conservation where I grew up.”

People were fined if they used too much water, could only water on certain days and used gray water for their yards.

She said with the water issues here, conservation should be taken seriously and those who choose to water more should have to pay more.

Councilman Jan Vigil said he grew up in El Paso, Texas, which is a desert, like the San Luis Valley, and he believes strongly in conservation.

Sewer system has significant needs

Sewer rates will be increased 8 percent across the board. Brooks said the capital needs in wastewater are significant . Some parts of the treatment system have become obsolete, and the city cannot even find parts and can only find one person anywhere who is qualified to work on the system.

One example is the UV (ultraviolet) system, which the city is cannibalizing parts from one unit to try to keep another working, and there is no backup if the one UV unit fails.

One motherboard is being jumped with a nail.

“When that board fails and it’s going to we can’t even replace it,” Brooks said. “This is an emergency.”

Another costly item, required by the new discharge permit, entails moving the discharge point, which will cost about $500,000. Fixing the HVAC system will cost another $100,000, repairing the aeration system will take another $500,00, and the list goes on, Brooks explained.

The city has deferred many of these repairs and replacements but cannot continue to do so, Brooks explained.

“This is something where we have significant capital needs that is driving the need for a rate increase,” she said.

Rates still comparatively low

Brooks said the city has performed an exceptional job to try to keep costs low. She shared comparisons with other municipalities, not in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses” but to show that even with the extensive system Alamosa has to operate, it has kept rates low, especially compared to other cities.

For example, with the increases the average Alamosa municipal customer will be paying about $42 a month for water and sewer while the average customer in Gunnison pays about $47 a month, East Alamosa $62 a month, Salida about $65 a month, Monte Vista about $73 a month, La Junta about $81 a month, Montrose about $87 a month, Pagosa about $98 a month and Durango about $131 a month.

Councilor Charles Griego said he did not care what other communities were doing but wanted to make sure Alamosa was taking care of its people, and he appreciated the fact the staff only recommended increases to cover the services and capital improvements needed.

Alamosa Mayor Josef Lucero also commended the staff and consultant for dealing with this complex and difficult issue.

“There are so many of us that go to the tap, turn that water on and don’t realize what really goes into every drop that comes out of that tap,” Lucero said. “It’s important for us to realize what we are paying for is basically life, because water is life. That’s our lifeblood here. We need to take care of it.”

Water rules costly for [Alamosa] — the Valley Courier

Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912
Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Complying with the state groundwater rules will not be painless or cheap for the City of Alamosa.

The city, like hundreds of well owners throughout the San Luis Valley, will have to comply with the recently filed state groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin.

City staff and legal counsel Erich Schwiesow have already been preparing for the inevitable compliance.

Well owners who must comply with the groundwater rules must join a water management sub-district or submit their own augmentation plans to the water court. The city of Alamosa is submitting an augmentation plan that will detail how the city plans to comply with the rules so it can continue pumping water from its wells for municipal use.

Schwiesow updated the Alamosa city council during a recent work session on the compliance process, and City Manager Heather Brooks updated the council on the compliance cost.

Brooks estimated the city’s cost to comply with the rules would be about $2.1 million. The rules require those who are pumping water from wells which constitutes the city’s water supply to replace the injuries their well pumping causes to surface water rights and to help restore the basin’s underground aquifer system. In Alamosa’s case, Schwiesow said the city must repair injuries to three rivers in the Valley, the Rio Grande, Conejos and Alamosa Rivers.

The city does not yet possess enough water rights to make up for its calculated injuries and sustainability obligations, so city staff members are currently negotiating for one water purchase that would help take care of that problem but may need to make more than one water purchase.

“We are looking for surface water and we are looking for groundwater,” Schwiesow said.

Brooks said the purchase the city is currently negotiating would be for surface water rights, but finding groundwater to help the city meet its sustainability obligations might be more difficult.

“We’ve been looking. There’s just not a lot out there,” she said.

The cost of the water rights is part of the $2.1 million compliance cost, with other portions including legal fees and possible water storage costs. Brooks said initial estimates were much higher than that, at about 3 million.

Bringing that cost down, Schwiesow and Brooks told the council, is the fact the city will receive credit for its accretions, the water it puts back into the system from the wastewater treatment plant. In fact the city has surplus accretion credits of 800 acre feet annually it is offering for bid starting at $250 an acre foot for a five-year lease. See the city’s web site at

Schwiesow explained that the city has made an application in the water court to exchange the accretion credits it has below Alamosa farther upstream on the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers to cover depletions the city is obligated to replace on those two rivers.

How much the city will have to replace is determined by a groundwater model that predicts how the pumping of certain groups of wells, designated in “response areas ,” affects surface streams, Schwiesow explained. Alamosa is in the Alamosa/La Jara Response Area, he said.

He also gave a hydrology lesson to the city council about how water melting from snow in the mountains recharges the San Luis Valley’s aquifer system and how the water under the Valley floor is divided by clay into unconfined (more shallow) and confined (deeper) aquifers , but there is connectivity between the aquifers. The city’s potable water wells are located in the deeper confined aquifer ranging in depth from 1,400-1,700 feet, according to Alamosa Public Works Director Pat Steenburg. The city has a total of seven wells.

Schwiesow also gave the council a water history lesson about priority being given to water rights on the basis of when they were first granted, with older rights having more seniority. Groundwater rights are very junior, he explained, because the wells were drilled long after water rights were granted to those using the surface streams. However, the state has not administered the wells in the past under the priority system, and a prior attempt to do so failed. The state was successful , however, in issuing moratoriums on drilling new wells both in the confined and unconfined aquifers, Schwiesow explained to the council.

Last fall the state promulgated rules requiring the junior groundwater rights to replace depletions they are causing to surface streams, and although filed, those rules are not yet in effect, pending challenges being resolved in court, Schwiesow added.

Councliman Charles Griego asked about how soon the city had to come into compliance with the state water rules. Schwiesow said the city has to be in a sub-district or have an augmentation plan or substitute supply plan within a year after the rules are finally approved by the court.

Griego asked why the city was in such a hurry to put the augmentation plan together now if the legal process could take years before the rules are finally approved.

“Because it takes time,” Schwiesow said, “and we want to be ahead of the curve. If we wait until the rules are approved, we can’t get it done in a year. It’s a long process.”

He added, “We can’t just sit here and wait until the court cases are over.”

The council talked about the role of the weather and climate in the basin’s diminished aquifer levels and how important it is to emphasize conservation measures with city water customers. Brooks said city staff is looking at ways the city itself can conserve water, perhaps implementing more xeriscaping for example.

“We could do a better job in the conservation piece,” said Councilor Jan Vigil.

Alamosa water rates to increase

Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912
Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

It’s good news, but not as good as originally reported. Contrary to an earlier misperception, water rates in the City of Alamosa will increase next year just not above what the city council had scheduled to do several years ago.

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks clarified that although the city will not have to go above the increases the council had set a few years ago, there will be rate increases next year.

She said in 2011 the city council passed an ordinance setting rate increases for five years. With additional costs to replace filters in the water treatment plant this year, city staff were concerned they might have to increase fees above the 2011-approved levels for 2015, but the staff were able to incorporate the additional costs for the filters into the budget without increasing water fees above the levels set out in the 2011 ordinance.

The city faces additional water system challenges in the future, such as the possibility of stricter arsenic regulations, and the staff will closely monitor those developments regarding their potential budget impacts.

City water customers are charged a monthly service charge plus a monthly volume charge according to their metered use. According to the ordinance the council approved in 2011:

  • In 2012 the volume charge per 1,000 gallons was $1.22 up to 8,000 gallons; $1.54 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $1.97 from 50,001-100 ,000 gallons ; and $2.56 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons.
  • In 2013 the volume charge per 1,000 gallons increased to $1.26 up to 8,000 gallons; $1.59 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $2.04 from 50,001-100 ,000; and $2.64 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons.
  • In 2014 the ordinance increased the water fees to $1.30 per 1,000 gallons up to 8,000 gallons; $1.64 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $2.11 from 50,001-100 ,000 gallons; and $2.72 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons. Next year, 2015, the ordinance set the following rates, which reflect a slight increase over the 2014 water fees: $1.35 per 1,000 gallons up to 8,000 gallons; $1.70 from 8,001-50 ,000 gallons; $2.19 from 50,001-100 ,000; and $2.80 per thousand gallons in excess of 100,000 gallons.
  • The ordinance the council passed in 2011 extends through 2016, increasing the above rates from 2015 to 2016 by 6 cents, 7 cents, 9 cents and 10 cents, respectively.

    The public hearing for the city’s 2015 budget is scheduled this Wednesday, Oct. 15, during the 7 p.m. city council meeting at city hall, 300 Hunt Ave., Alamosa. To view the budget online go to www. and click the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

    Alamosa: Water infrastructure funding is in short supply

    The water treatment process
    The water treatment process

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Treating Alamosa’s water is becoming more expensive. With more rigid arsenic standards coming into play several years ago, the City of Alamosa was forced to build a water treatment plant. Recently, Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin said arsenic standards might tighten up again, which could force the city to revamp its treatment system, resulting in an expensive adjustment.

    This week Koskelin informed the Alamosa city council of another more immediate problem with the city’s water treatment plant, and the council authorized funding for a pilot treatment system. Koskelin said for six years the membranes that filter out the arsenic in the municipal drinking water supply provided excellent performance. Then all of a sudden in the last year the city started having problems with the membranes. The manufacturer recommended a more stringent cleaning schedule, which meant using more chemicals, which in turn meant more expense. Koskelin said the cost increase for the chemicals alone is nearly $290,000 a year.

    Another option would be to replace the membranes, but that would cost threequarters of a million dollars or so. Koskelin said the life of the membrane system was supposed to be 15 years but it has only lasted about six years.

    Another solution, which hopefully will be less expensive , will involve lowering the pH of the water, which should improve the filtering process and arsenic removal.

    Koskelin recommended that the city enter into a pilot project to test this theory for three months with Clearlogx. He said the city has a threemonth permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to test this system. If it works, the city could buy the system and 90 percent of the money the city paid during the three-month trial would count towards the purchase price. The total purchase price of the system is $175,000. The city will be leasing it for $4,500 a month.

    “We need to do something,” Koskelin told the council.

    He estimated the pay off on this system would be about two years, and the life of the system should be about 15 years.

    Addressing the water treatment situation will result in a budget adjustment, Koskelin added, primarily from enterprise fund surpluses. Koskelin said this solution might also help the city meet stricter arsenic standards when/if they come down in the future.

    “If it doesn’t drop lower than 2 parts per billion we should be able to meet those new standards,” he said. The current standard is 10 parts per billion, set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment is considering a stricter standard, which Koskelin estimated at an earlier council meeting would likely not take effect for a couple of years, if the state moves forward with it.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    Alamosa High School students get recognition for Rio Grande River data collection project

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    From the Valley Courier (Julia Wilson):

    “We were one of 60 schools from Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico that tested the river for 11 different parameters on the same day and at the same time,” said AHS science teacher Katie Montague. The goal of the study is to create a snap shot of the river from the headwaters all the way down into Mexico. The plan is to continue the project annually to create a history of data that can be analyzed by scientists now and in years to come.

    “This is an incredible accomplishment,” Tricia Cortez, Dia del Rio 2010 coordinator with the Rio Grande International Study Center that sponsored the project, said. “We created tremendous excitement among teachers and students throughout the basin, and witnessed a growing awareness and concern for issues impacting our river and watershed. With the help of our many partners throughout the basin, we hope to replicate this event year after year.”

    More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

    San Luis Valley: Rio Grande River erosion mitigation project update

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    Heather Messick, an employee of the project, said it is designed to stabilize the river’s banks and stem erosion, which increases sediment in the river. More sediment can alter the river’s channel, heat up water temperatures to the detriment of fish and change the riparian habitat as the river eats more of its unstable banks. Gone are banks that resembled cliff faces and stood as high as 14 feet over the river in spots. In their place are sloping banks that gradually push back to the flood plain.

    The project also includes a series of rock barbs that jut into the river channel. The piles of rock push the river’s current into the center of the channel and away from the banks. It’s expected they will keep the banks in place until willows can spread.

    The shrubs carry an added benefit of being the primary habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered species that makes its home along rivers in six other Southwestern states.

    Unlike much of the Arkansas Valley, tamarisk invasion is not a threat to the exposed banks. Messick said researchers aren’t entirely sure why the invasive plant hasn’t taken root in the San Luis Valley, but hypotheses range from the valley’s cooler temperature to its higher altitude.

    More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

    Restoration project on the Rio Grande through Alamosa

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    From the Valley Courier (Julia Wilson):

    “The river was broken into small sections and a study that included hydrologic, capacity and floodplain, geomorphology, riparian habitat, and diversion structure analyses were made of each section,” [Mike Gibson, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District] said. “Local planning issues were taken into consideration and integrated into the studies. Then the consulting team doing the study and the technical advisory committee were ready to prioritize projects.”[…]

    Gibson said the information from the study gave guidance on how to restore the health of the river and provided seven goals:

    • Maintaining and/or improving the quality of the water in the Rio Grande River is the first goal set out in the restoration plan.

    • Have stream flows mimic a natural stream flow in rivers.

    • Implement diversion structures to encourage the best use of the river.

    * Protect the channel and 100-year floodplain.

    • Maintain or enhance the river for recreational use.

    • Lead local groups that support the project in best use improvements.

    • Seek funding from state, federal and grant sources.

    The projects along the river are all aimed at improving the way the river functions, he said. There will be multiple benefits from the work being done on the local stretch of the Rio Grande River. These benefits include stabilized stream banks, reduced erosion and sediment loading, reconfigured channel, re-establishment of native vegetation (willows), and an improved stream flow.

    More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

    Alamosa settles Salmonella claims for $360,000

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The city and its former insurance company have reached a settlement with the 29 parties who filed a lawsuit for damages that sprung from the city’s 2008 salmonella outbreak, according to attorneys in the case. While copies of the agreements were not available Thursday from the city, attorneys said the settlement payments totaled $360,000. The damage payments were limited by state law to $600,000 for the entire outbreak and no more than $150,000 for any one individual.

    More coverage from the Valley Courier (Julia Wilson):

    R. Drew Falkenstein of the Seattle law firm of Marler Clark said all the cases have been resolved. “The settlement was approved by a local judge (District Judge Martin Gonzales) and while I can’t discuss the amount of the settlement I can say it was within the Colorado statutory limit on damages,” Falkenstein said. “We represented 16 children who became ill during the outbreak, and all cases have been resolved.”

    More Alamosa coverage here and here.

    Water treatment: The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission approves new rules for disinfection

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

    The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission voted unanimously to abandon its 43-year-old policy of granting waivers that allowed some water providers to sidestep disinfectant standards…

    Former Pueblo County Commissioner John Klomp serves on the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. He said the Alamosa [Salmonella] outbreak underscored the importance of adopting up-to-date standards for drinking water. “If water is not purified and standards are not what they should be, people can be exposed to microorganisms that can cause disease and impact a whole community,” Klomp said.

    The state had granted 126 disinfection-treatment waivers. It began urging that supplies be chlorinated during the 1950s and mandated it in 1967. Waivers were granted mostly when entities could prove that source water for their water systems were contamination-free. Under the rules adopted Monday, no new waivers will be granted. Holders of the 37 waivers that remain must abide by new testing standards, and purification systems using ultraviolet light must add chlorine to the mix to counter the potential for residual contamination. Among those still operating on disinfection waivers are three schools statewide, including the Centauri High School/Middle School building. Schools have until July 1, 2012, to begin disinfecting their water systems with chlorine to comply with the new rules and retain their waivers.

    More water treatment coverage here.

    Alamosa: State of the Rio Grande levee meeting

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    From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    As a result of the mammoth 2005 storm [Katrina] and the levee breaches that occurred in its wake in the South, the federal government has revised river levee standards nationwide, a move that is now affecting the Rio Grande levee through Alamosa. The Rio Grande levee, constructed under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction, is now substandard by post-Katrina guidelines. Bringing the river dike up to the new 2009 standards will likely cost Alamosa hundreds of thousands, city officials told residents attending a levee forum Monday night…

    William Trujillo, levee safety program manager out of the Albuquerque Corps of Engineers office, told the group that the levee repairs facing Alamosa are due in part to post-Katrina standards, but Alamosa’s river dike has other deficiencies that must be addressed, such as beaver infiltration of the levee system.

    City Public Works Director Don Koskelin and City Manager Nathan Cherpeski said the city is addressing the beaver problem. Trujillo said the city could request a compliance extension, but Koskelin said even during a potential grace period the city would have to begin levee repairs. “As a city we have a set of rules we have to abide by right now,” he said. “This isn’t some time in the future. We can apply for an extension … but during those years we have to be taking actions.” Trujillo said a vegetation variance guideline is also being drafted and may be approved by headquarters in September. The city could request a variance on vegetation, he explained. Although he did not have definitive cost estimates for levee repairs, Koskelin said a tree removal project already in the works for city-owned river frontage is going to cost about $10,000 to remove 10 trees. “If it would only cost $1 million I would be happy,” Cherpeski said.

    More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    Left unanswered were how the corps’ new rules would affect residents along the levee who negotiated individual agreements with the agency in the late 1990s and how the status of the barrier would affect federal flood insurance requirements. Nor did the forum provide a clearer picture of what steps the city might take or how much those steps would cost…

    Nor did it appear likely that Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., would be able to steer the levee rules affecting Alamosa. Erin Minks, a staffer for Salazar in the San Luis Valley, said the congressman would likely not be able to find an out from the corps’ rules for Alamosa, given that Pueblo, Grand Junction and Durango also had problems with the regulations but over different aspects. “It’s not a matter of John going into the committee chair and saying this shouldn’t affect Alamosa. It just doesn’t work that way,” she said…

    Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regional office in Denver did not return calls for this story, but Cherpeski said the agency could begin a re-examination of the Alamosa flood plain maps within the next year. Some city residents questioned the need for the levee, stating that in their lifetimes the Rio Grande has never approached the barrier’s capacity, which was designed to withstand 11,000 cubic feet per second or the equivalent of a 100-year flood. But the highest recorded flows through Alamosa came on July 1, 1927, when 14,000 cfs came down the river, according to the corps’ 1990 Interim Feasibility Report on the levee…

    The one effort that appeared likely to move forward Monday sprung from a suggestion by Alamosa County Emergency Manager Pete Magee, who urged the city to form a citizens task force to review the city’s options.

    More Alamosa coverage here.

    Alamosa: City attorneys deny libility in 2008 salmonella outbreak

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The city also denied that a covered reservoir and a pair of water towers were in significant disrepair, as the plaintiffs had claimed. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had pointed to the covered reservoir on the city’s northwest side as the likely cause of contamination in a November report. The report, which was cited in the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, also found the city had failed to follow up on a 1997 report from a private engineering firm that found cracks in the foundation.

    In the response, the city’s attorneys also maneuvered to deny or otherwise limit any damages the city might face, citing Colorado law that limits judgments to a claim from multiple parties at $600,000. State law also allows that the immunity of a government against damage claims can be waived under a number of instances, including those involving the operation of a public water system. Alamosa denied that the plaintiffs’ claims fell within the circumstances that warrant a waiver of immunity.

    More Alamosa coverage here and here.

    Monte Vista: City council approves chlorine dosing for water system

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    From The Monte Vista Journal:

    Last Thursday, City Manager Don Van Wormer told the Monte Vista City Council that the city is “in between a rock and a hard place” regarding the state’s requirement to chlorinate the City water system, and the last item to be voted on, chlorination, received unanimous approval. He told the council, after departmental reports, that it would possibly exceed $10,000 to fight the state mandate to chlorinate, inclusive of attorney fees, expert witness testimony, and other related costs.

    More water treatment coverage here.

    Alamosa: Lawsuit filed Monday over salmonella outbreak

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    Update: From The Denver Post (David Olinger):

    Larry Velasquez had colon cancer and a weakened immune system when his body was invaded by bacteria in the city water supply. But “I think if Alamosa had taken better care of their water supply, my dad would still be here,” his daughter said.

    That caused the worst waterborne- disease outbreak in the U.S. since 2004. In Alamosa, a city of 8,900, an estimated 1,300 people might have been ill, including 40 percent of its infants. State officials identified 442 cases of “probable salmonella infections” and pointed to a cracked water reservoir as a likely point of origin…

    A state immunity law limits liabilities of city and state governments to $600,000 per occurrence. The lawsuit against Alamosa was filed jointly by John Riley, a Greenwood Village lawyer, and Drew Falkenstein of Marler Clark, a Seattle- based firm that specializes in bacterial contamination cases.

    From the Associated Press via

    The lawsuit filed in Alamosa District Court Monday alleges the city failed to monitor and maintain a sanitary water system. The outbreak in March 2008 sickened as many as 1,300 people and killed one person…Alamosa’s city attorney says the city’s insurance carrier has been talking to the attorneys who filed the lawsuit for months.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner and Pablo Carlos Mora):

    Twenty-nine parties filed suit Monday against the city for damages they allegedly suffered during the 2008 salmonella outbreak…

    “What I’m seeking in this case is the amount of monetary compensation to put these folks back in the shape they were in before the outbreak,” said Drew Falkenstein, a Seattle-based attorney for the plaintiffs…

    The outbreak resulted in 122 confirmed cases of illness and the lawsuit estimates as many as 2,000 may have gotten sick. The plaintiffs included the spouse of Larry Velasquez Sr., the lone fatality from the outbreak. The parents of 17 minors also filed suit. Children under 18 were among the hardest hit by the outbreak, accounting for 60 percent of all confirmed illnesses.

    The suit claims critical points within the city’s water system were in significant disrepair at the time of the outbreak. The suit points to Weber Reservoir, a covered reservoir with cracks and holes, that the state health department said was the probable source of contamination. Two other water towers — Ross and Craft — contained sediment and the former contained animal feces, according to the lawsuit. None of the three structures had been inspected since 1997, the suit claimed.

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    The civil case seeks unspecified damages for medical care and associated costs such as travel, lost wages and emotional distress resulting from the water-derived salmonella event that involved hundreds of cases and one death.

    The civil suit filed on Monday includes the widow of Romeo resident Larry Velasquez, Sr., whose death was related to salmonella. Several other plaintiffs are parents of children who were sick with salmonella in the spring of 2008…

    The attorneys filing the suit on Monday made several points including:

    • The gastrointestinal symptoms detected among area residents the second week of March 2008 were confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control to be related to salmonella that was also confirmed in the city’s water supply, subsequently leading to the bottled water advisory, a state health investigation and system-wide decontamination;

    • Although 122 people were lab-confirmed with salmonella, it was estimated that as many as 2,000 people became ill during the outbreak and one person, Larry Velasquez Sr., died.

    • At the time of the salmonella outbreak, “critical points within the City of Alamosa’s public water facility were in significant disrepair,” including the Weber Reservoir, Ross and Craft water towers.

    The lawsuit addresses the governmental immunity clause but maintains that the city is not immune from liability because it was negligent in maintaining its water facilities. “Defendant breached its duty to use reasonable care in the operation and maintenance of its public water facility …”

    The attorneys added that under the Colorado Product Liability Act, the city as a “manufacturer and product seller” of water, sold salmonella-contaminated water that resulted in the plaintiffs’ illnesses. Under the Product Liability Act, the attorneys stated, the city had an obligation to sell water that was safe to use, not contaminated with salmonella, so the city was liable for the injuries and economic loss that resulted to the plaintiffs.

    The attorneys are seeking a trial during which time the general and specific damages would be proven. Those damages include loss of enjoyment of life; medical and medical related expenses; travel and travel-related expenses; emotional distress; pharmaceutical expenses; and other incidental and consequential damages.

    More Alamosa coverage here and Here.

    The fight for water named the top story of the decade by The Pueblo Chieftain

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Thus began a decade of legal wrangling over water in ditches and canals known by the names of High Line, Fort Lyon, Amity, Catlin as well as Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River. Southern Delivery System and the Arkansas Valley Conduit became synonymous with Lake Pueblo, land-use permits, Colorado Springs, congressional hearings, legal lawsuits and intergovernmental agreements. Pueblo found itself in the battle over water being transported out of the Lower Arkansas Valley and later Lake Pueblo in 2001 and has continued the good fight ever since. The players have evolved through the years, but the focus is primarily the same – take water from Southeastern Colorado for use elsewhere.

    Aurora continued to want more water storage in Lake Pueblo for its shares of water in the Lower Arkansas Valley. And in 2004, Colorado Springs announced its plan to build a…pipeline from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs to quench the thirst for its growing city. Following a five-year battle, Pueblo officials signed a permit that allows the Southern Delivery System project to pass through Pueblo County, benefitting Pueblo West and Fountain and Security along the way.

    Here’s a look at the top 11 stories of the last decade, from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

    2. 2002 drought worst on record: In 2002, Pueblo was severely dry, recording fewer than 4 inches of precipitation for the year – less than any other year on record. The Pueblo Board of Water Works restricted outdoor water use and after the drought, doubled its storage level against future events. If you were a farmer, water provider or a tourist looking out the car window at dry river beds and smoking skies, 2002 looked a lot like the drought to end all droughts. To a climatologist, it looked more like one year of drought in an otherwise fairly average period of rainfall history. But the effects of the drought were magnified by an increased thirst for water. “Certainly, the 2001-02 period had the driest conditions during a 13-month period since records began in 1892,” said state Climatologist Roger Pielke Sr. The cost of the 2002 drought was amplified because greater numbers of people are depending upon the same water source, Pielke said. Its effects continue as water providers replenish storage and Colorado residents rethink how they use water…

    6. Salmonella sickens Alamosa: Alamosa was swept by a health emergency when a salmonella outbreak in March 2008 contaminated the city’s water supply, most likely through an underground reservoir on the north side of town. The outbreak led to 424 cases of illness, 24 hospitalizations and the April 15 death of Larry Velasquez Sr. of Romeo. For 24 days, 8,500 residents went without drinking water from their taps, leaning instead on the distribution of water by emergency crews or the generosity of rural friends and family who weren’t on the city system for water for drinking and bathing purposes. Alamosa now offers chlorinated water thanks to a new $10.4 million water treatment plant designed to remove arsenic from the water supply…

    8. Arkansas Valley Conduit closer to reality: On the books since 1962, when President John F. Kennedy authorized it as part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, the Arkansas Valley Conduit got a major boost in 2009 when project funding began to line up. The $300 million project got a jump-start with a $5 million appropriation from Congress and a dedication ceremony for the conduit was held in late 2009. The conduit will benefit 42 communities serving 50,000 people from east of Pueblo to Lamar. The water will be taken directly out of Lake Pueblo, guaranteeing better quality than now used by many towns. Federal water quality rules are being tightened and most small communities lack funds for water treatment plants.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

    Alamosa: Report on 2008 salmonella outbreak blames aging infrastructure, inspection regime

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    Here’s a look at the City of Alamosa’s response to last week’s report on the 2008 salmonella outbreak, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

    Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin has responded to a recently released state report on Alamosa’s 2008 salmonella crisis. “There’s no big surprises,” he said…

    Koskelin added that the Weber Reservoir was not in the best shape at the time of the salmonella crisis but was already slated to be out of service. Koskelin said the Weber Reservoir was constructed in 1979 and the roof was replaced in the 1980’s. He said all the indications the city had were that the reservoir was not in great condition but not in terrible condition and within a matter of months was to be taken off line. (It is currently only used for irrigation purposes, not as part of the city’s potable water supply.) Before the 2008 water crisis, the Weber Reservoir was not the center of attention, Koskelin said. “We were deeply involved in constructing the water treatment plant. We started designing the plant in 2004 … That was taking up much of our attention.”[…]

    “If the water treatment plant had been in eight months earlier than it was, and it was under construction, none of this could have happened,” Koskelin said…

    Koskelin shared a copy of Liquid Engineering Corporation’s 1997 report with the Alamosa city council. The inspection listed the reservoir as clean, the roof in good condition and the walls showing “minor spalling” (chipping, flaking) and bowing outward. Koskelin said the bow occurred when the concrete was initially poured. The report noted that the corners of the wall surface were in poor condition with cracking, spalling and exposed aggregate but were still satisfactory. “That’s exterior damage,” Koskelin said. The report also marked the concrete slab/ring as satisfactory but also showing cracking, spalling and erosion or exposed aggregate. The 1997 report also noted “minor corrosion on roof support structures.” The report stated sand had built up on the west side from the inlet, and sediment was observed on the floor, but no leaking was observed in any part of the reservoir at that time.

    More Alamosa coverage here and here.

    Alamosa: Report on 2008 salmonella outbreak blames aging infrastructure, inspection regime

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    From the Valley Courier:

    The health department’s final report (pdf) provides a comprehensive look at the disease outbreak, the response to the outbreak, and the conclusion of the 18-month investigation into how the city’s drinking water became contaminated. The investigation involved a detailed review of the water system; historical records; and interviews with city of Alamosa personnel, local health officials and responders to the outbreak. “We believe the people in Alamosa deserve to know what happened, what was done about it and why it happened,” said Ron Falco, Safe Drinking Water program manager in the Water Quality Control Division at the department.

    The 65-page report concludes that animal waste most likely contaminated a concrete in-ground water storage tank that had several holes and cracks. A water sample collected during the outbreak indicated that water in the tank contained bacteria. Additional site visits conducted in 2009 found animal footprints in the snow around the tank, and a photograph in July 2009 captured bird feces on a corner of the tank that was repaired at the time of the outbreak. While these observations were made in 2009, they likely are representative of the animal activity that could have contaminated the water supply in the tank in 2008. “We cannot say with absolute certainty where the salmonella came from because the actual contamination event was not directly observed, and probably occurred at least 7 to 10 days before the outbreak was reported,” Falco acknowledged. “But after weighing all the evidence, we believe that the most likely scenario is that contamination entered this in-ground storage tank.” The city commissioned an inspection of the in-ground storage tank in July 1997 by a professional tank inspection company. That inspection report noted cracking and problems with the corners of the tank, and recommended routine inspections for the future. It appears that the tank continued to deteriorate into 2008. The state did not know of the city’s 1997 inspection findings, and its own inspections did not focus on storage tanks and distribution piping.

    Alamosa was granted a waiver from state requirements to disinfect its drinking water in 1974, so water being served to the public in Alamosa at the time of the outbreak was not chlorinated. The investigation showed that only a small quantity of bird or animal feces contamination may have led to the salmonella outbreak. This kind of outbreak may have been very difficult to prevent in a system that did not chlorinate its water.

    More Alamosa coverage here and here.

    Alamosa: Report on 2008 salmonella outbreak blames aging infrastructure, inspection regime

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    The Colorado Department of Health and Environment is starting to require more chlorine dosing for water systems in the state. Here’s a report from David Olinger writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

    Colorado has revoked waivers from as many as 72 public drinking-water systems and is now requiring chlorine treatment of most public supplies as part of the response to a salmonella-poisoning epidemic that ravaged Alamosa last year. A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment report released Wednesday confirmed earlier suspicions that a decrepit infrastructure allowed deadly bacteria from animals to invade Alamosa’s 320,000-gallon Weber Reservoir. Still, the report said, had the city used chlorine to disinfect its water supply, the bacteria might not have grown. That finding has now prompted the state to redouble its efforts to require chlorine treatment in most places where the public shares a water supply…

    When asked what could have prevented the epidemic, state drinking-water program manager Ron Falco, the report’s co-author, answered, “Chlorination.” Alamosa had been exempted since 1974 from a state requirement to treat drinking water with chlorine, which kills salmonella bacteria. The state report concludes that salmonella bacteria from animal feces probably got into Alamosa’s drinking-water supply early in March 2008 and infected the entire city water system during the next week…

    The Alamosa report cited “a perfect storm of multiple defects” in the city water system at the time of the outbreak: the chlorination waiver, poor maintenance, incorrect bacteria testing and inadequate supervision by a chronically short-staffed state drinking-water program. After the enclosed, ground-level reservoir was drained during the epidemic, the crew entering it found holes “through which daylight could be seen” and waded through layers of sediment estimated at 12 to 18 inches deep in places. It had not been drained and cleaned in 24 years.

    Inspectors also found:

    • There were 145 gallons of sediment and missing bolts in a city water tower of unknown age, possibly built in the 1930s. The bolt holes could have exposed the tower’s water to bird feces.

    • Two mortuaries and a meat-packing and restaurant property posed an “extreme hazard” that water from their buildings could back into the public supply.

    • Alamosa’s tests for coliform bacteria in its water had not complied with federal requirements for diverse sampling in the distribution system…

    In Alamosa, the underground water pumped into its reservoir was warm — 75 degrees or more, a welcome environment for bacteria. Its warmth also attracted wildlife, birds and small mammals to the top of the fenced reservoir in winter. A tiny bit of salmonella-infected feces invading its holes or cracks “most likely” caused a massive disease outbreak, the report concluded. “Millions, or even billions, of germs can be released in the feces of an infected human or animal,” the report said, and a child can be infected by as few as 10 to 100 salmonella organisms.

    Some towns that lost their chlorination waivers after Alamosa’s outbreak are complying with state orders reluctantly. “We had quite the round with them over that,” said Mark Brown, city superintendent in Holyoke. “We know we have good-quality water. We run our system correctly.”

    More Alamosa coverage here and here.

    Alamosa: Levee recertification

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    Here’s an update on the recertification of Alamosa’s levees along the Rio Grande River through town, from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

    To come into compliance with new rules governing the maintenance of the levees, the city would have to make a number of improvements, including the removal of hundreds of trees and other vegetation along the roughly four-mile barrier. Not making the repairs would mean the federal government no longer would repair the levee following a flood. It also might lead to the reclassification of flood insurance ratings for some residents, who currently are not required to buy mandatory flood insurance from the federal government. Following a tour of the levee with Army Corps officials, Mayor Farris Bervig said Tuesday that the city likely would try to get the levee recertified. “There’s too many unanswerables in that to not have the levee recertified,” he said.

    The agency’s new rules have tabooed trees such as the cottonwoods and willows, which sit atop the levee in spots and and within 15 feet of the base of it in many other areas. Tree roots are considered a hazard to the levee because they serve as conduits for water to weaken the barrier’s structure. The burrows created by rodents such as the beaver, which were seen during Tuesday’s tour, likewise threaten a levee’s stability. Pressurized water sprinkler systems also pose a risk if their pipes burst and lead to erosion below ground. How to deal with houses that impinge on the levee would be another matter…

    Any removal of trees might require consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since the trees form part of the habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered bird, said City Manager Nathan Cherpeski. While an easement through private property allowed the levees to be built and provides access for maintenance, a number of trees that don’t fit the agency’s new guidelines sit on private property.

    More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

    Alamosa: Salmonella outbreak lawsuits

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    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    The Marler Clark law firm out of Seattle, Wash., is handling most of the 40-plus claims for damages ranging from $100 to $1 million that the city received last year. None of the claims have yet turned into a lawsuit but claimants have up to two years from the March 2008 incident to file a lawsuit. The claims being handled by Marler Clark, in addition to a $1 million claim from Velasquez’s widow, involve claims for 14 minor children and seek upwards of $50,000 in damages per claimant.

    Five other claims were submitted from folks not represented by Marler Clark – two family claims and three business losses attributed to the water crisis…

    [City Attorney Erich Schwiesow] said in talking with the lead attorney on the phone recently, the attorney told Schwiesow he hoped the city would look at the information the firm had sent the city and think about paying off some of these people. “I told him I did not believe there’s negligence on the part of the city,” Schwiesow said. He said the attorney suggested otherwise…

    In a drinking water report from the City of Alamosa this week the city told citizens that the new water treatment plant put into service last year to meet new arsenic standards and an ongoing enhanced testing program of Alamosa’s municipal supply would ensure that an outbreak like salmonella will not occur again. “The source of the contamination has not been determined and the investigation continues [to] identify possible ways in which it could have occurred,” the city report stated.

    More Coyote Gulch coverage here.