Wellington faces a Catch-22, caught between its desire for growth and the water issues that threaten to slow it to a crawl.
The town of about 12,000 has plenty of water — the lifeblood of any community — to serve thousands of new homes. But the cost of water is rising rapidly and the town currently lacks the capacity to store it, treat it or flush it. Both its water and wastewater treatment plants are overextended.
Expansions are underway but still three years away from completion.
It’s not a new problem for Wellington, which earlier this year raised water rates to pay for an expansion of its water and wastewater treatment plants, imposed water restrictions and limited new residential building permits to about 100 per year until the expansions are complete.
The very measures it’s taking to create that infrastructure have raised water rates to the highest in Northern Colorado, which could, in turn, adversely affect growth as builders consider their options.
It’s a fragile balance that’s frustrating residents who are now paying about double what they were two years ago and has the town asking for patience.
Residential water and sewer taps, the largest slice of new development impact fees collected when a building permit is issued, went from $5,500 to $7,500 for a typical home tap and sewer taps increased from $7,500 to $9,700.
Those fees, which also pay for things like parks, streets, water and sewer lines, are typically passed on to the homebuyer or business, which is one reason the cost of homes is going up in Wellington…
Continuing to increase impact fees while at the same time limiting the number of residential permits to stay within treatment capacities “could reach a point where developers or buildings are unwilling to build in Wellington,” the town wrote on its website, “and could result in a slowdown or stop to new development, shifting the cost of paying for improvements onto existing residents…
When treatment plant expansions are done in 2024, they will be able to support Wellington’s expected growth for about 20 years, when the population is expected to double to about 24,000, Town Administrator Patti Garcia said.
Plant expansions won’t bring rate relief, however, she said. Base water rates were raised $31 — to $66 a month — in January to pay the debt service on the water treatment plant. To get the loan, the town had to prove it could pay it back, Garcia said…
For comparison, Fort Collins’ base water rate is $18.30 with a charge of $2.83 per 1,000 gallons of water up to 7,000 gallons. Like Wellington, it has tiered rates that go up the more water used. The charge for water over 13,000 gallons is $3.75 per 1,000 gallons.
That means a Wellington resident using the average 7,000 gallons per month would pay $97.92 per month compared to $38.11 for the same amount of water through Fort Collins Utilities…
It won’t help rates, but finishing the treatment plant expansions should ease water restrictions and lift the moratorium on building permits…
Wellington is served by the North Poudre Irrigation Co., whose share costs have risen 40% since 2018, when the town wrote in its resolution to increase rates. That resolution passed in August 2020. NPIC water currently sells for $200,000 or more per share.
In response to past increases and hedging its bets against future increases, Wellington increased its raw water rates from $19,285.50 to $67,586 for 0.58 acre feet of water — the amount of water it requires for every developed dwelling unit.
“Once we have capacity in the water treatment plant we will be fine,” Garcia said. “We have plenty of water, the issue is having the capacity to provide it, store it, use it and flush it. We’re looking forward to what 2024 can bring.”
During a meeting on June 17, the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) Board of Directors voted unanimously to accept a grant award from the Small Communities Water and Wastewater Grant Fund.
According to the agenda brief, in early March PSSGID, staff informed the board that they had taken the initiative to apply for a grant to repair the lift stations that pump sewage to the Vista Treatment Plant. The grants are specifically for small communities that need funds to protect the water quality in the region.
“The grant application was for the maximum amount of that grant, $400,000 and the GID of- fered a match of $100,000 for a total amount of $500,000,” said Public Works Director Martin Schmidt. “That amount was determined by what [we] anticipated were the costs for replacing the pumps and pricing at the lift stations.”
The brief states that the staff made it very clear in the applica- tion that the failing lift stations are a serious problem and must be remedied with a long-term solution.
On Tuesday, June 7, the staff received a letter informing the district that the application was successful…
The agenda brief states that the funds will be used for replacement of equipment at Pump Stations 1 and 2, where there continue to be unsustainable failures with the pumps.
Kestrel Kunz is surfing, Colorado style, in her kayak among the waves at the Gunnison Whitewater Park a few miles west of town. The waves are more than recreational play for Kunz. Flowing water is an important part of the work she does for American Whitewater as the organization’s Southern Rockies associate stewardship director. For Kunz, the Gunnison River is like a watery crystal ball that gives her a glimpse into a future increasingly threatened by drought and climate change.
Kunz is the mastermind behind a prototype web tool developed by American Whitewater and the Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District that may change the future of river management across Colorado and eventually the West. The tool, the Upper Gunnison Basin Boatable Days Web Tool, is based on historical wet and dry year flows and other data and gives river users and water managers the ability to check an entire season’s flow forecast.
The Boatable Days Web Tool, Kunz said, “shows the relationship between river flow and recreational opportunities. With a little research we can use historic flows to project how a dry or wet year, a new diversion project, a climate change scenario, or reservoir operations can positively or negatively impact river recreation opportunities and thus Colorado’s robust outdoor economy.”
Being able to look ahead is an especially important feature for the state’s fishing and rafting outfitters, Kunz said. “The web tool will give an estimation on what flows are going to look like and how that is going to affect the number of commercial operating days in an upcoming season and help them plan in advance.” If outfitters know they’re not going to have sufficient boatable flows in September and October they might bring employees in earlier or may have to shift the way they do business and when they do it.
Kunz sees the tool as an opportunity for water managers both locally and at the state level to use the information to better balance flows for recreation with other needs. “This tool provides an important snapshot into how recreation opportunities are going to be impacted by drought. The web tool in no way is going to solve our drought problem, but it’s a critical piece of the puzzle that’s been missing before now.”
Kunz and American Whitewater are currently working to fit other pieces of Colorado’s river puzzle together by finalizing boatable days studies on the Roaring Fork, Crystal, and Poudre rivers and creating similar web tools.
“I think the biggest thing the tool does is give us a perspective on how climate change and drought are impacting our rivers,” said Sonja Chavez, general manager of The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. Chavez believes the next step will be to gain a better understanding of how changing river flows affect the local economy.
“Gunnison has been discovered,” Chavez said. “We have a lot of people visiting and a lot more people on the river.” As river flows drop, rafters, boaters, and other water users are concentrated into certain segments of the river with more frequency, impacting the fishery and wildlife, boat ramps, wetlands and the boating experience. You can see in water short years how that recreation season is shortened and that’s important for a community like Gunnison that is dependent on recreation.
This web tool is going to be a good model for how communities can come together and identify how their rivers are functioning,” said Trout Unlimited’s Dan Omasta. Omasta was TU’s grassroots coordinator during the development stage of the Boatable Days Water Tool and worked with Kunz and American Whitewater to identify ideal flow ranges for fishing and floating, and the high and low thresholds for navigation.
“When is the river too low to float for a dory or raft with clients?” said Omasta. “The tool will especially help identify sections of river that become unnavigable at certain flows. The Taylor and Gunnison rivers are seeing a lot of pressure. They get busier every year and one of the ways to tackle that challenge is to spread people out and encourage them to be floating and fishing different sections.
“More people are recreating on rivers and that’s awesome to see. We just need to be smarter about how we manage it and hopefully this tool can play a part in that,” Omasta said.
Dean Krakel is a photographer and writer based in Almont, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Mount Werner Water & Sanitation via The Steamboat Pilot & Today:
Beginning June 14, Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District is making major infrastructure improvements that will install 3,000 liner feet of new sewer pipe as part of the second phase of its sewer interceptor replacement project set to begin Monday.
“This project brings significant enhancements to the overall system,” said Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District General Manager Frank Alfone in a news release. “While there will be impacts to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic at times, the finished project will benefit the community for decades to come.”
The interceptor project consists of replacing approximately 5,600 liner feet of existing sanitary sewer trunk collection main and associated structures, approximately 25 manholes and a sanitary sewer junction box. The new pipe material is composed of polyvinyl chloride or PVC.
This project will require a closure and detour of the sidewalk along the Yampa River Core Trail south of Fetcher Pond to Alpine Lumber. An additional closure of the sidewalk at U.S. Highway 40 and Mount Werner Road will also be implemented in late July. Both set of closures and detours will run through the duration of the work into mid-October.
The design parameters for the project were provided by Civil Design Consultants. Engineering and design plans were prepared by Landmark Consultants, Inc., and Native Excavating Inc. will serve as the project’s general contractor.
During the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District board meeting on Tuesday, May 4, Town Public Works Director Martin Schmidt shared increasing concerns with the town’s wastewater pumping.
“About a year ago, I came to the board with a report from an engineer from the company that sold us the pumps, Sulzer, and they were very confident in a replacement pump to be put into the lift stations because it would solve our net-pressure suction head issue,” Schmidt said. “It exacerbated issues down the line and acceler- ated some pump failures. That’s a big issue.”
In his agenda brief, Schmidt states that after the board approved pur- chasing a different pump that was recommended by the supplier, the newer pump exacerbated issues with other parts of the pumping train and inadvertently increased the speed of the pump failures at the lift stations.
“What we need is a system that will pump sewage and not destroy pumps at the rate they’re destroying them,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt explained that pumps should be lasting between 15 and 20 years with minor maintenance. Currently, some of them are lasting not even six months.
“Staff has been working on a solution for this from the very moment we realized the problem has been occurring,” he said. “We worked with them throughout the fall and into the winter and around Christmastime, we realized Sulzer wasn’t coming forward with any reasonable solutions.”
During a phone call the follow- ing day, Phillips explained several options for the emergency backups she referred to during the meeting.
“We do have an overflow vault that is located under the ground next to Pump Station 1, and that is for taking any kind of overflow that the pumps would not be able to handle,” she said. “That would get us maybe about 12 hours of time and if we needed to do more than that, we’ve identified a supplier of a bypass pump that we would utilize.”
Phillips explained that there are two pump stations with four pumps each in service at any given time. Typically 150,000 to 250,000 gallons per day of wastewater are being pumped. Both pump stations are suffering from issues.
“We also could utilize the existing old sewer lagoons that are down there, one of which is par- tially lined,” she said. “We could get several days of overflow by utilizing those old lagoons, and in the meantime would be requesting emergency assistance from Sulzer and other suppliers to ship us on an emergency basis additional pumps.”
“We are waiting on [the engineer’s] report. I anticipated it this afternoon; it will probably be here tomorrow,” said Schmidt during the meeting.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, once was sustained by the waters of the Santa Fe River, which begins in the high country of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, flows through the city and then onward to the Rio Grande.
But when Western cities grow, they look everywhere for more water, with little regard for the rivers they drain. As the city’s population grew, Santa Fe turned to its groundwater. Later, New Mexico reached across the desert to take water from the Colorado River and deliver it to Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other beneficiaries on the Rio Grande.
And yet the Santa Fe River downstream was not reduced to a dry and dusty arroyo. In fact, the riverbed is relatively verdant, supporting cottonwoods, willows and sustaining some irrigation in communities downstream. That moisture helps make Santa Fe a beautiful place in the desert.
That’s because the water that Santa Fe residents use to flush their toilets or pour down the drain ultimately makes its way to the wastewater treatment plant, which returns the treated water to the Santa Fe River. That could soon change.
The city’s water bureaucrats have fastened on the idea of capturing some of that treated effluent, either to get additional “return flow” credits by returning it to the Rio Grande, or by moving to direct potable reuse, a process derided in California as “toilet to tap.”
But both of these proposals will also take water out of the Santa Fe River, affecting downstream irrigators, wildlife and even the cultural identity of the region.
As climate change tightens its grip on the arid West, water managers are focusing on wastewater as a source of “new” water for cities. It’s hard to blame them: Municipalities don’t need new water rights in order to reuse treated effluent.
Communities dump their treated sewage into rivers, and downstream users draw that water, treat it, and send it to residents’ homes. Orange County and Irvine Ranch in California are pioneers in recycling wastewater. The Bureau of Reclamation now administers a fund for water-reuse projects, and the Environmental Protection Agency has made it a national priority.
There’s another strategy that Western cities like Santa Fe are exploiting to make use of their wastewater. Instead of sending all of the treated wastewater back into the potable water supply, Santa Fe plans to send some of its wastewater to the Rio Grande via a $20 million pipeline. This would give the city the right to pump additional water from the Rio Grande. Regardless of how the city proceeds, the Santa Fe River will end up losing some of the water that provides for its existence.
Never forget that Western water law was set up to serve users, not rivers. And under Western states’ laws, cities own their treated sewage, meaning they can use it or sell it downstream as they wish. In fact, wastewater is such a reliable supply that it gets top value at Western water auctions.
Santa Fe’s webpages overflow with the community’s commitment to sustainability. But these values were disregarded in the city’s focus on squeezing more water out of the system for a growing populace.
Wastewater has other values and uses, though. How do we draw attention to them? A report by the National Wildlife Federation, the Pacific Institute and the Meadows Institute warns that reusing water can inadvertently “starve natural systems of needed flows and potentially reduce water available to communities downstream.”
By now, years of battles over Western water should have taught water managers that while people value reliable water supplies, they also value living rivers, small farms, historic communities and recreation. The report urges water managers to consult with the public before making decisions. It also lays out a blueprint for incorporating the value of living rivers, as well as addressing water supply.
Wringing more use from water, even wastewater, is a powerful tool in addressing water scarcity. But just like the dams, pipelines and other tools of the Cadillac Desert era, wastewater ought to be approached with respect for all of its values. The proponents of water reuse need to acknowledge this.
Denise Fort is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to lively conversation about the West. She is professor emerita at the University of New Mexico School of Law and has co-authored three reports for the National Academies on water reuse.
Following more than a year of back-and-forth with state regulators, the Leadville Sanitation District has been issued a new wastewater discharge permit that will allow for the same amount of mercury to be present in treated water released into California Gulch.
The new permit, issued by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE), came after outside evaluations and public comments to the state agency called attention to Leadville Sanitation District’s (LSD) inability to meet proposed lower mercury limits without substantial upgrades.
The previous permit limited acceptable mercury levels in treated water to 0.077 micrograms per liter. Though CDPHE was going to require a lower limit of 0.044 micrograms per liter in the new permit, the limit will remain the same under the recently implemented five-year discharge permit.
While the new permit maintains the same limits for mercury levels, it requires the sanitation district to monitor for a number of contaminants not previously recorded, including uranium and radium, among others.
The permit, citing a 1989 report regarding the release of gasoline from underground storage tanks, also calls for new monitoring of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene given the potential for groundwater contamination from the Tabor Grand Hotel service site.
The permit went into effect on Jan. 1, and requires regular reporting of contaminant levels to CDPHE.
LSD has had issues meeting the 0.077 microgram-per-liter mercury limit in the past. The district was found to be out of compliance with state-determined mercury limits in 2017, prompting evaluations of the district’s collection system.
As the organization responsible for receiving, treating and releasing all of Lake County’s wastewater, LSD has since been evaluating the sources of entry for contaminants into the county’s wastewater system.
While the district has not been able to pinpoint the exact entry point for mercury and other contaminants, evaluations of the district’s aging collection system, made up of pipes and drains throughout Leadville, suggest that the intake system has leaks which may allow for contaminant infiltration and leakage.
After recording a lower-than-expected amount of incoming sewage based on the number of residences and businesses served in the sanitation district, CDPHE is requiring LSD address the issue under the new permit. In its explanation of the new requirement, CDPHE says the low input may be a result of sewage leaking from the collection system before reaching the treatment facility.
The new permit requires LSD to meet acceptable mercury limits stipulated in the 2021 permit by September 2023. The district is required to submit a report that identifies sources of cadmium, zinc, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene by Sept. 30 of this year.
Funds will upgrade plants, replace aging pipelines
An increase in monthly water and sewer service rates in Dolores will go into effect in January.
The base water rate will increase by $5 to $30.84 per month, up from $25.84.
The base sewer rate will increase by $2.50 to $31.16 per month, up from $28.66.
Rate increases were approved by the town board in March, but implementation was delayed until 2021 because of economic challenges due to the pandemic.
The last time water and sewer rates were raised was in 2015. The town is reviewing a senior, income-based exemption from the latest rate increase.
Inflation and the need for infrastructure upgrades are the reasons for the rate increase, said Mayor Chad Wheelus.
While both the sewer plant and water plant are in good condition, outdated pipelines are deteriorating and need replacement.
Many water service pipelines are more than 50 years old, and their 4-inch diameter size is insufficient. The undersized pipes puts limitations on fire protection needs.
Wheelus said the town has replaced aging leaking water and sewer collection lines, more needs to be done…
Priority needs for the water and wastewater pipeline system in Dolores are estimated to cost $2.7 million, according to a recent assessment from SGM Engineering.
Rate increases will help cover current and future repairs and upgrades at the water and sewer plants over several years, town officials said during recent budget discussions.
In the fall, 10 deteriorated water lines passing under Colorado Highway 145 were replaced. The job was a priority because the highway through town is scheduled to be repaved by Colorado Department of Transportation in 2021. An upgrade to the water treatment plant also was completed this year.
To cover the approximate $800,000 cost, the town secured a $292,363 grant from the Department of Local Affairs, and a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Remaining costs were covered from town reserves and a loan from Dolores State Bank.
The water rate increase will go toward paying off the loan…
According to town documents, there are numerous other infrastructure needs pending within the next 5 to 10 years in Dolores. The rate increase will help build up the reserve to pay for future water and sewer upgrade and maintenance projects.
The increase will also help offset ordinary inflation of costs to operate and maintain water and sewer utilities, officials said.
Dolores has significant remaining capacity in both treatment plants, they said, and both plants are also meeting state standards for water quality. Regarding water quantity, SGM said water supply, and the water and sewer treatment systems are sufficient, and the plants have capacity to meet growth in town without major repairs or expansion.
From the Upper Thompson Sanitation District via The Estes Park News:
Upper Thompson Sanitation District (UTSD) was established almost 50 years ago. Since then, they have been silently supporting and growing to meet the increasing water treatment needs of Estes Park. From humble beginnings, the UTSD service operation has expanded to over 4,300 households and 96 miles of collection system infrastructure in the Estes Valley. When the plant was built in 1976, it employed some of the most innovative technologies available and provided the highest level of treatment for sensitive waterways. This technology, coupled with unwavering commitment, has enabled UTSD to continue service even through moments of crisis, from fire to flood.
Although excellent care has been taken of the decades-old wastewater treatment facility (WWTF), the effects of age, changing building codes, and outdated equipment mean it is nearing capacity to treat wastewater to the high standards that Estes Valley’s sensitive environment requires. In addition, upcoming stringent regulatory treatment requirements related to nutrients, metals and temperature will be impossible to meet with the current facility. District Manager, Chris Bieker states, “The cost of maintaining our current infrastructure is not worth the investment because it will be obsolete nearly as quickly as it’s repaired. We also have the additional challenge of meeting treatment demand during the large fluctuations of peak visitation season in the summer. We are nearing the limits of processing ability now and need to prepare for tomorrow.” To face these challenges, UTSD has been laying the groundwork to relocate and expand the WWTF to a site near the current plant. This new facility will be able to handle community and visitor growth as well as the more stringent regulatory requirements now and well into the future.
With the large-scale improvements necessary to continue safe and efficient water treatment, additional funding is needed to finance the project. The UTSD sewer rate increase has been assessed at 11% each year over the next three years; 2021-2023, and diminishing increases for subsequent years. In 2021 this translates into an extra $5.33/month for most customers in the District. This fee will vary from customer to customer assessed as a flat rate fee or calculated on metered water use.
“As residents ourselves, we share this cost and are committed to use the resources we have available as responsibly and efficiently as possible” Bieker said. When completed, the new WWTF will meet upcoming strict water quality standards. The new WWTF will also serve future customer and community demands while continuing to preserve the clean water that preserves wildlife and the natural habitat. “It means we will be able to continue to be good stewards of our environment, continue to protect the headwaters, and ensure our quality of life,” states Bieker.
“Most people don’t think about the work we do at UTSD, but it is critical to maintaining our most precious resource, our water” says Bieker. “This is our home and we want to treat it right.”
If you have questions about the upcoming changes please visit UTSD’s website at utsd.colorado.gov.
From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Ray K. Erku) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
Following Rifle City Council’s approval Wednesday to hire outside firm JVA, Inc. to conduct water and wastewater studies, which include analyzing potential capital improvements, utility maintenance and infrastructure needs, city manager Scott Hahn said it’s likely residential and commercial rates won’t see a heavy increase.
“I think you probably won’t see a decrease (in the water rate) unless the council chooses to do so,” Hahn told the Citizen Telegram on Friday. “We’ve got a nice, healthy balance in the water fund. It may need to be higher – I don’t know. But it all depends on the values.”
Over the next several months JVA will determine where water rates and reserves should be and do a full financial assessment of where city “water and wastewater stands,” Rifle civil engineer Craig Spaudling told city council on Oct. 21. According to the project’s timeline, a final presentation is scheduled for Feb. 22.
Among the certain areas of assessment, however, chances are wastewater rates will receive the most attention.
“We’ve got issues with copper that is going through the wastewater plant and going into the river that we need to try and mitigate,” Hahn said. “And I don’t know all the codes that we’ve faced over the last 15 years, but I know from my experience as city manager… that the EPA keeps handing down tighter and tighter restrictions.”
There are two major causes to certain levels of copper leaching into the Colorado River, Hahn said. One, typical household plumbing systems are made from the red-brown metal. Once water drains through the pipes, it carries small increments of copper, which then collects at the municipal wastewater treatment plant…
Another reason, natural copper ore is commonly found in the sedimentary rock in the river itself…
The city’s current water and wastewater master plan is based from 2006, according to JVA’s proposal. Residential and commercial rates have increased annually at relatively low increments – with city code stating no more than a 5% increase each year since 2006.
The City of Pueblo was nationally recognized for implementing the first full hydrocyclone/ammonia controlled nutrient removal process in the United States and for improvements to the James DiIorio Water Reclamation.
The city received the prestigious Water Environment Federation 2020 Project Excellence Award for its pioneering improvements that additionally saved over $20 million for taxpayers and increased capacities.
“From the continental divide to the Mississippi, our waterways are connected. What happens in Colorado will impact the Gulf’s algae problems and I am happy to announce Pueblo is leading Colorado to reduce algal bloom,” said Mayor Nick Gradisar. “In addition, our wastewater team saved taxpayers over $20 million, which shows our team is doing everything it can to be environmental leaders while being great financial stewards.”
The City of Pueblo partnered with Brown and Caldwell, an engineering and construction firm, to develop an advanced system of nutrient removal through aeration control and hydrocylone-base wasting process.
“We want to meet the Water Quality Control Division Discharge Permit requirements without adding additional costs for the citizens,” said Nancy Keller, Wastewater Director for the City of Pueblo. “We have a system now that protects aquatic life and improves the quality of our down stream communities.”
In 2012, the State of Colorado introduced new standards to reduce the algal growth and aquatic life impairments. The first phase of reductions had to be met by April 2021 and the next phase of reductions will go into effect in 2027.
“Our success in this project allows the facility to earn credits with the Water Quality Control Division that will delay implementation of the 2027 standards in our discharge permit, allowing technology improvements to occur, hopefully decreasing that large capital expense also,” said Keller.
With the new system the City of Pueblo’s Wastewater Department was also able to increase the capacity of this process by 50% while reducing electrical and chemical costs.
Algae blooms deprives waterways of much needed oxygen leading to Hypoxic (dead) zones.
Hypoxia, or dead zone, occurs when a body of water or waterway has increased levels of nutrient pollution which is primarily caused by human involvement. These increased nutrients cause an overgrowth of algae which when it decomposes, reduces the supply of oxygen.
The Nutrient Removal Project was expected to cost an estimated $20-25m. The City of Pueblo, with partners Brown and Caldwell, implemented Ntensity enhanced nutrient-removal system in for a total cost under $2 million.
The DiIorio Facility treats more than 10 million gallons of wastewater per day.
Since the 2016 revelation that groundwater in Fountain Valley, which provided drinking water for Security-Widefield and Fountain, was contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include a number of individual chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFHpA, government agencies, residents and community activists have been struggling to come to terms with what is arguably one of the largest ecological contaminations in Colorado’s history.
On Aug. 4, Chris Reh, associate director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), led a virtual information session for residents of Security-Widefield and Fountain regarding its ongoing PFAS exposure assessment. The assessment will randomly select participants and test blood, urine and tap water for levels of PFAS chemicals. According to Reh, the assessment will identify how people might be exposed to chemicals, calculate the extent of exposure and determine if there is a threat to health.
ATSDR’s exposure assessment is the first part of a process that will continue in 2021 with the Pease Study, a national multi-site study conducted locally by the Colorado School of Public Health that will look at the human health effects of PFAS exposure through drinking contaminated water. While the sites chosen for this study are near Air Force operations, PFAS exposure extends far beyond Air Force bases. Much of the focus in El Paso County is on Fountain Valley, but the Air Force Academy on the city’s Northside also released PFAS chemicals, and residents of Woodmen Valley report health concerns as well, though they are not included in the ATSDR exposure assessment.
El Paso County is one of eight sites nationwide identified by ATSDR for exposure assessments related to PFAS chemicals. The sites, located in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, are co-located with Air Force bases that used aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a type of chemical used to extinguish fuel fires and that contains PFAS chemicals…
Since 2016, community activists have been working to raise awareness of this environmental threat, and Colorado legislators have recently passed laws to address PFAS contamination. While much of the blame, and legal consequences, for this massive and widespread contamination have been aimed at companies that produce PFAS chemicals, such as DuPont and 3M, the military has known of the potential dangers of these chemicals since at least 1989.
The Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory published a study titled “Biological Analysis of Three Ponds at Peterson AFB [Air Force Base], Colorado Springs CO” in November 1989 that raised concerns about contamination coming from the installation. “A series of three man-made ponds on the golf course at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs CO were analyzed to determine their current ecological status and future potential for recreational fishing,” notes the report, which goes on to identify that “Pond 3 cannot be recommended for stocking with fish in its current condition. Low species diversity suggests that this pond is being stressed by an unknown pollutant.” The report identifies a nearby storm drain as a “chronic source of pollutants for this pond.” While the Air Force analyzed a number of factors, such as pH and the levels of phytoplankton and zooplankton, it was quick to identify AFFF as a possible problem, noting that it “was accidentally spilled into pond 3 shortly before the first fish kill. A subsequent restocking resulted in a second fish kill.”
Stephen Brady of the Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs office commented, “When there is a potential our missions are having, or may have had, an adverse impact on communities, we take appropriate measures to protect it. When PFOS was discovered in the aquifer south of base in 2016, we immediately stopped using the legacy foam during fire response and training. We replaced the legacy foam in our fire response vehicles in November 2016 and in the hangar fire suppression systems in 2018 with a more environmentally responsible foam. Our first responders will only use the new environmentally responsible firefighting foam for emergency life-saving response, and do not discharge it during training. The Air Force takes environmental stewardship seriously, and continuously strives to meet or exceed environmental standards.”
By the early 2000s DuPont and 3M were facing lawsuits from residents near their plants and increased scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the EPA formally issued a health advisory regarding PFAS chemicals and set advisory levels of contamination at 70 parts per trillion (ppt)…
While Rosenbaum was organizing FVCWC, the Colorado School of Public Health began to study exposure and health effects from PFAS chemicals. The study was named “PFAS Aware.” In 2018 the PFAS Aware team began sampling water in Fountain Valley. Initial results published in December 2018 showed that “total PFASs in untreated well water ranged from 18 – 2300 ppt” and that “PFASs detected are typical of fire-fighting foam-impacted groundwater.”
On Sept. 18, 2019, the Air Force Academy sent a notice to Woodmen Valley residents, signed by Col. Brian Hartless, the installation commander, warning them that “firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA was used for firefighter training at the Academy from the 1970s until 1990, when we began to consolidate all of our training at Peterson Air Force Base. After that time, the equipment used to dispense the foam was periodically tested until approximately 2005.” Hartless did note that “this firefighting foam has never been used to extinguish a petroleum-based aircraft fire at the Academy” and that “the foam now in use at the Academy is a more environmentally friendly formula that we began using in approximately 2017.” Hartless went on to inform residents that the Air Force would begin sampling wells within the Woodmen Valley Fire Protection District.
According to Hartless, Air Force Civil Engineer Center representatives “identified 37 private wells used for drinking water at homes closest in proximity to the southern base boundary for sampling. To date, 35 of the 37 wells have been sampled.”
Bill Beaudin, a Woodmen Valley resident since 1978, questions the Air Force’s testing process. “The north border of our property is the south border of the Academy,” he says. “We live on six acres. For many years until 1995 we all used well water. We were offered to go on city water at that time and most of us took that option. About 38 families chose not to go on city water for whatever reason.”
Longtime residents like Beaudin were concerned about the fact that the Air Force only tested the wells still in use. “The rest of us all drank that water and so did our children for all of those years in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s until we went on city water,” says Beaudin, “and yet the Air Force Academy chose to just do this select group.”
On March 24, the Air Force announced in a news release, “recent well water monitoring tests on the southeast perimeter of the U.S. Air Force Academy show Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 ppt.”
While the Air Force reported PFOS and PFOA levels below the EPA advisory limits, Rosenbaum says that doesn’t tell the whole story. ”There’s 4,700 different types [of PFAS],” she says, “PFHxS is toxic firefighting foam, which may or may not have PFOA, which is Teflon, or PFAS, which is Scotchgard water-repellent. So when the Air Force Academy said ‘we’re below levels of PFOA and PFAS,’ all of us activists who have been doing this for four years were like, ‘duh.’ You don’t have a Teflon pan company. You don’t have a Scotchgard water-proofing company. You have toxic firefighting foam, so here, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility [PEER] did a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] to try to get the PFHxS levels, and they are really high.”
On March 12, 12 days before the Air Force’s statement, PEER reported that “The Air Force Academy test data of neighboring drinking water wells found levels of two individual PFAS chemicals, PFHxS and PFHpA, at more than 200 ppt in two locations” and “combined PFAS levels at a single well of 503.9 ppt and 537.8 ppt across two separate tests.”
The consternation over the levels of PFAS chemicals in the water stems from concerns over the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Heightened levels of PFAS chemicals have been linked to health problems such as increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to Rachel Rogers, an environmental health scientist with ATSDR.
“A neighbor that was four houses away, her husband died of testicular cancer,” says Beaudin. “A neighbor who has since passed away died from both kidney and bladder cancer. They were longtime neighbors of ours.”
Rosenbaum notes, “The main health issues here are kidney cancers, prostate cancer and a lot of autoimmune diseases.” Autoimmune disease are often difficult to diagnose because symptoms can come from other common conditions…
Lawmakers in Colorado addressed problems with PFAS contamination during the 2019 legislative session. Tony Exum, D-House District 18; Lois Landgraf, R-House District 21; Pete Lee, D-Senate District 11; and Dennis Hisey, R-Senate District 2, sponsored House Bill 1279, which bans the use of AFFFs that use PFAS chemicals for testing or training purposes. In 2020 the same group of legislators sponsored House Bill 1119, which further regulates the use of PFAS chemicals.
On July 10, The city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities, along with the cities of Aurora, Greeley, Fountain and a number of water districts filed a motion to vacate an administrative action hearing by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) in regards to a proposed new policy to address PFAS contamination, referred to as policy 20-1. The motion states, “The Joint Parties recognize the importance of assuring that drinking water supplies are not contaminated by PFAS, and that water supplies contaminated by PFAS are cleaned up. Vacating the administrative action hearing will not preclude the cleanup of PFAS; it will require that regulatory measures imposed by the Water Quality Control Division are properly authorized through a rulemaking hearing.”
Rosenbaum was confused by the motion. “At first the injunction was pretty difficult to understand,” she says. “Here we are Saturday morning and it came across that they wanted all the PFAS discussions taken out of the meeting. This is our fifth contamination to our water district here. We have to do something completely different and drastic and start writing new policy. The state health department wasn’t making a new law, they were adding language to the policy they already had in place.
According to Jennifer Kemp, a public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities, “The reason for our joining several other Front Range entities on the motion to vacate is because we did not agree with the WQCC’s approach to regulating PFAS. Under Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act, a policy is a general statement of interpretation that is not meant to be a binding rule. Therefore, we joined other stakeholders in asserting that the regulation of PFAS is so important that it should have been accomplished with a thorough rulemaking process to establish a statewide PFAS standard.”
On July 14 the WQCC adopted policy 20-1. “What this policy does,” explains Rosenbaum, “is it forces wastewater to test for PFAS. Your drinking water is fine, it’s not contaminated yet, but do you have an industry that’s dumping everything into the wastewater? We have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, so they’re not dumping in rivers anymore but they’re dumping into wastewater.
Now we’re making that accountable in our state. Now we’re explicitly stating in writing CDPHE [Colorado Department of Health and Environment] will receive extra funding to help that water district do an investigation of the industries that are connected to the wastewater system to see if they have PFAS. If they do, now they have to filter it at their site. If you own a restaurant, you have a grease trap. You can’t just dump in the wastewater. If you have a dental office, it’s explicitly written that they have to filter mercury. We’re not doing anything different, we’re just directly applying it where they’ve gotten away with no rules because they’ve been allowed to self-regulate.”
While ATSDR completes their current study, Rosenbaum is planning her next steps. “We need to set maximum contaminant levels in this state,” she says. “What we can do is stop the industry from adding more [PFAS contamination] in. New Hampshire set it at 18 ppt, where the state health department wanted to set it at 700 ppt for PFHxS, which is stupid. The EPA isn’t monitoring PFHxS, they’re just doing PFOA and PFAS, so we brought in evidence from other states saying PFHxs is actually the more harmful one because it’s more prevalent.”
The district’s new, $27 million-plus wastewater treatment facility is nearing the end of its finishing touches after a three-year construction process. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new plant is tentatively set for Thursday.
Financed by a mill levy approved by the SWSD’s voters in May 2016, the facility was completed in March, whereupon the old plant was retrofitted to work in tandem with the new plant. Now, both facilities are online and working as designed, according to Hamby.
Some $23.3 million in bonds were sold for the project; the additional $4 million for the retrofitting of the old wastewater plant was financed through development-fee revenue from Snowmass construction projects, the district manager said.
In a tour of the new plant last week, Hamby beamed with pride as he described the reasons for the new plant, the complicated construction process of integrating the two plants and how SWSD employees accomplished retrofitting the old plant themselves…
While the plant took three years to build, the actual work started in 2013 when SGM, the Glenwood Springs-based company of consulting engineers, began talking to SWSD about new regulations that had recently been passed in 2012 in Colorado to reduce nutrient pollution in lakes, rivers and streams.
Regulation 85 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulates nutrient discharges such as nitrogen and phosphorus and requires wastewater treatment plants to reduce both substances in the water that they discharge.
In the beginning, SGM and SWSD considered retrofitting the existing SWSD wastewater plant that was originally constructed in 1968 after the Snowmass ski area opened and then modified since then with additional construction.
A challenge for SWSD and the design and construction companies working on the new plant was the fact that the existing wastewater plant had to remain in operation while the new one was being constructed in order for Snowmass to meet current water regulations.
Because of this, the project was built in phases over the three-year period.
“Both plants have to be run in tandem to make this work, so we first had to build this new plant and put it online,” explained Hamby.
“Once it was constructed, we took the old plant offline, retrofitting it with new equipment, but we also had to remove a lot of the equipment that was over there. Our own people did the retrofitting work so it is really extraordinary to me that the people that maintain the plant also took responsibility to build basically a new plant inside,” he said.
Here’s an in-depth look at how a circular economy for water would look from GreenBiz (Nick Jeffries & Tansy Fall). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Water is a vital resource that has fueled human progress. It transports solids, dissolves minerals, chemicals and nutrients and stores thermal energy. This “carrier characteristic” allows for countless industrial, agricultural and transport processes that enable our society to thrive.
But water is also key to life. The water in our oceans is home to phytoplankton that produce 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe. The lakes and rivers, and the groundwater beneath our feet, are our sources of drinking water without which we would soon perish. The food we eat relies on fresh water to grow.
In nature, water purifies and renews itself endlessly as it flows through the planet’s hydrological cycle. But nature’s capacity to renew on her own is being disrupted. In the last century, intensive industrial activities and urbanization have significantly affected our water supplies.
To make just one pair of jeans, for example, requires around 1,981 gallons of water and produces difficult-to-clean wastewater. With the number of clothes produced annually doubling from 50 billion to 100 billion units in the last 15 years, industrial water use in the clothing industry alone also has increased dramatically.
Extrapolating this growth across the economy, and factoring in an expanding population, it is easy to understand why the United Nations estimates that water demand will exceed easily accessible supply by 40 percent in 2040.
To make things more complex, the evolving climate emergency is leading to more unpredictable rainfall and greater frequency of extreme and unusual weather events. This has manifested as floods in South East Asia, droughts in California and Australia and wildfires in Greenland. The recent U.N. Water Policy Brief on Climate Change and Water is unambiguous on such effects: “The global climate change crisis is inextricably linked to water.”
Water is never waste
With more unpredictable weather events and increased demand for fresh water, the ways in which we use and reuse water resources have never been more important. Reimagining wastewater not as a costly problem but as a valuable resource is a good illustration of this.
One example is the El Torno wastewater treatment plant in Cadiz, southern Spain. Like thousands of similar treatment facilities across the world, El Torno receives wastewater flows from surrounding businesses and homes, which it purifies so the water can be safely discharged into the nearby river. However, an aerial view of the El Torno site shows this plant to be different from the rest.
Extending from the North West corner of the facility is a pair of very straight emerald green channels, each about 328 feet long. In these “raceways,” algae are cultivated that produce oxygen to fuel the biological treatment of the wastewater, thus almost eliminating the need for an energy supply to the facility.
To avoid suffocating the water flow, dead algae constantly are harvested and pumped to an anaerobic digester where they are converted into biogas. The gas is then scrubbed of impurities, leaving pure biomethane, which is pressurized and used to fuel a fleet of cars. Results from the full-scale pilot facility indicate that just one hectare of algae can treat the effluent of 5,000 people and produce enough biofuel to power 20 cars driving 18,600 miles a year. Although the burning of biomethane produces carbon dioxide, it releases only the same amount of CO2 that the algae absorbed while it grew. Carbon also remains in the byproducts of this process, which can be returned to the soil of local farms, meaning that the process has the possibility of being net carbon positive.
When we connect systems such as this and think of them as a whole, it is possible to transform a costly carbon emitting process into both an economic opportunity and a means of addressing a number of global challenges. The implications are significant. Wastewater treatment consumes about 3 to 4 percent of U.S. energy demand. In India, inadequate wastewater treatment, due to unreliable or expensive power, costs the Indian economy more than $50 billion a year. Imagine the positive impact that could be made if all future new wastewater treatment facilities in Africa, for example, were designed as power plants…
Regenerating the environment by redesigning systems is a critical element of the circular economy. It advocates that economic activities should go beyond doing less harm, and strive for a regenerative or net-positive impact on nature. Natural systems provide us with food, oxygen and clean water, regulate our climate, absorb floods, provide recreation and much more. The WWF Living Planet Index estimates these “ecosystem services” provide humans with more than $120 trillion of benefits each year. Our current extractive and polluting economic model drastically diminishes the ability of ecosystems to provide these services.
No sector of the economy illustrates the potential for circular economy to regenerate natural systems more than agriculture. And, as farming consumes 70 percent of the planet’s freshwater, no part of the circular economy offers more to the conservation of water resources than regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture describes a broad set of food production methods with two complementary outcomes: the production of high quality food and the improvement of the natural environment. It recognizes that farms are part of a larger ecosystem, which farming activities must not just extract from, but also support. Farming in this way shifts from monoculture practices heavily reliant on chemical inputs, towards a more holistic way of thinking that cherishes diversity, encourages virtuous cycles of renewal and focuses on the health of the system as a whole.
The specifics vary, or as soil expert David Montgomery puts it: “What works for temperate grasslands may not work so well in tropical forests.” However, there are common regenerative practices that can be applied across all soil farming. These include the use of cover crops, wider crop diversity, minimizing soil disturbance and, most important, the building up of soil organic matter. For every 1 percent increase in organic matter in the top 7.9 inches of topsoil, 90 metric tons of carbon can be sequestered and an additional 38,000 gallons of water stored. This shows that regenerative agriculture is a powerful tool for climate mitigation and adaptation, while at the same time meeting demand for food.
In 2012, the state of Colorado passed Regulation 85, or Reg 85, which dealt with point source and nonpoint source water contaminants. Point sources, like wastewater treatment plants, were hit with strict measures for managing pollutants. Nonpoint sources, like parks, golf courses and agriculture, were not.
However, Reg 85 began a 10-year period where the agricultural community is encouraged to do voluntary measures for managing nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Agricultural organizations like the Colorado Livestock Association and Colorado Corn Growers Association were involved in those early discussions and pushed back against the assumption that agriculture is the main contributor of nutrients to streams and rivers in Colorado.
In 2022, the Water Quality Control Commission will determine if the agricultural community needs regulations or if we will continue voluntary measures. The first hearing on Reg 85 is in October, and it is an opportunity for the agricultural community to tell their story and keep Colorado as a voluntary state.
The main issue is not the voluntary measures. Farms and ranches throughout the state have been changing and adapting their practices constantly. Many practices, which have been implemented to simply keep a farm or ranch efficient or profitable, have also improved the management of nitrogen and phosphorus. Colorado producers will continue to invest and adopt practices that manage nutrients and are compatible with their operations.
The issue is telling this story to those outside of the agricultural community, and there are multiple opportunities to do just that.
A team with Colorado State University is conducting multiple edge-of-field studies to show the benefit of specific operations and practices on nutrient management. These studies provide us with valuable data to show the positive benefit of practices on the majority of farms and ranches today.
Additionally, these studies can help the landowner have a better understanding of their own application rates of nitrogen and phosphorus and how well those are being used by the crop.
There is also work being done to demonstrate past improvements through programs like EQIP — Environmental Quality Incentives Program —administered by Natural Resources Conservation Services. Every year, millions of dollars in federal and private funding are spent on Colorado farms and ranches that have had positive impacts on managing nitrogen and phosphorus. These studies can show us how much work has been done throughout the state in reducing loads of nitrogen and phosphorus because of new agricultural practices.
If there is a project that will benefit your farm or ranch and have a positive water quality impact, there is a lot of funding out there. We want to focus that money on projects that are compatible with farms and ranches, making them even better.
If you are interested in participating in any of these opportunities, want to know more about Reg 85 or are interested in project funding, please contact Greg Peterson at the Colorado Ag Water Alliance at email@example.com or 720-244-4629.
Greg Peterson is the executive director of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance.
FromThe Snowmass Sun (Maddie Vincent) via The Aspen Times:
By Sept. 16, the new plant — which started being constructed in 2017 and has now been up and treating local wastewater for more than a month — will be fully working in tandem with the newly renovated current plant, creating a refined wastewater treatment system that goes beyond more stringent state and federal requirements and discharges cleaner water into Brush Creek.
“To see the water flow from that plant through this and actually go out to the stream, to actually see the clarity of the water that goes out to the stream is very gratifying,” Hamby said.
As Hamby stood in the sanitation district parking lot looking at the three buildings, he explained that the primary reason for creating this newly refined wastewater treatment system was the need to align with Regulation 85, the state Nutrients Management Control Regulation passed in 2012 to help reduce phosphorus and inorganic nitrogen pollution to Colorado waterways.
According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Safety documents, Regulation 85 established new limits for how much phosphorus and inorganic nitrogen could be in the clean water discharged from state wastewater treatment plants, new and existing, and put new nutrient monitoring requirements in place.
All 44 wastewater treatment districts in Colorado must meet these new requirements by specified dates, with Snowmass being one of the first on deadline due to its size and location in a priority watershed, as previously reported.
Snowmass Water and Sanitation District voters approved a mill-levy tax to help construct the new plant in May 2016 and the district also was able to sell $23.3 million in bonds for the project, Hamby said.
The total cost for the whole renovated system — including construction of the new plant and renovation of the current plant — is around $27.6 million, Hamby said. The district anticipates it will be about 1% over budget when the project is completed this fall, but will be able to cover the extra cost with system development fee revenue from village construction projects, he explained.
And once it is fully up and running, the improved wastewater system will be able to filter out phosphorus to 1 milligram per liter and nitrogen down to 11.4 milligrams per liter, Hamby said. This is even stricter than the state’s limit of 1.75 milligrams of total phosphorus per liter at the 95th percentile (or 95% level of all samples taken in a given year) and 14 milligrams per liter of total inorganic nitrogen for new treatment plants.
Utilizing aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, the wastewater moves between plants through various aeration tanks, clarifiers, filters, UV disinfecting light and eventually out to Brush Creek. The predominately biological nutrient removal process will take around three days from start to finish and have a multitude of automated data collection and monitoring in place along the way to ensure it all runs smoothly.
“The idea of the process is we go from no air, to very, very little air, to a lot of air … that helps grow different types of bacteria. Different steps get you different nutrient removal,” Fineran explained.
Fineran and Hamby said the type of treatment plant and refined process isn’t unprecedented, but that the district was able to carry out the $3.5 million worth of improvements to the current plant in-house, or without any outside contractors to do the work — a feat the three men are proud of and a part of the district’s cost-effective philosophy.
Click here to score a copy of the paper (William J. Raseman, Joseph R. Kasprzyk, R. Scott Summers, Amanda K. Hohner, and Fernando L. Rosario-Ortiz). Here’s the abstract:
This paper introduces a novel decision-making framework for the optimization of water treatment plant operations. Managers at water utilities face increasing tensions between cost, public health risk, public perception, and regulatory compliance. Multi-objective optimization techniques have been developed to generate innovative solutions to environmental problems with competing objectives. By integrating these optimization techniques with water quality scenarios, water treatment modeling, and interactive visualization, our framework enables water managers to choose among an ensemble of optimal treatment operations. By automating the generation of treatment options, this paradigm represents a shift toward exploration and insight discovery in drinking water decision making. To illustrate this framework, we create a disinfection byproduct (DBP) management problem that incorporates the influence of competing risks and cost objectives on decision making. Using data from the Cache la Poudre River—a source water in Colorado with seasonally-varying water quality—and a hypothetical conventional treatment plant, we evaluate the impact of organic carbon increases on the performance of optimal treatment operations. These results suggest that the hypothetical utility should consider infrastructural improvements if organic carbon concentrations increase more than approximately 25% of maximum historical levels. An interactive exploration of the optimization results reveal to what extent there are tradeoffs between solids handling costs, chemical costs, and DBP exposure. A k-means clustering of these data illustrates that the utility can achieve compliance through a variety of treatment strategies depending on decision maker preferences for cost and risk.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jayme DeLoss):
As COVID-19 cases start to climb again in Colorado, public health officials are seeking a scientific gauge to determine public policies and safety measures. Colorado State University researchers Susan De Long and Carol Wilusz will provide the indicator they need through a $520,000 project funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The CSU team will study a readily available source that will give them valuable insights into the infection rate of specific communities: human feces.
Sampling wastewater is a cost-effective way to test entire communities. By studying the wastewater of communities including Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder, Estes Park and Colorado Springs, the scientists and engineers can track trends in infection rates over time.
The proof is in the poop
Those infected with coronavirus often don’t exhibit symptoms for 10 to 14 days, and some remain asymptomatic. Regardless of their symptoms, or lack of symptoms, within two days, they start shedding the virus in their feces. Detecting the amount of virus in a community’s waste stream can warn of an impending outbreak four days to two weeks in advance.
“We believe this could be a promising supplemental tool for helping predict an outbreak in a community, possibly a couple of days before, so we can shift additional resources to that area,” said Nicole Rowan, clean water program manager with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
So far, 16 wastewater districts have signed on to the project, constituting up to 65 percent of the state’s population. The districts will take samples twice a week and send them to CSU. All of the testing will be done at CSU’s Molecular Quantification Core facility, with the ambitious goal of delivering data to the state in three days or less.
“It’s going to be a really important dataset for our community that will help make decisions regarding public health recommendations for distancing status and shutdown status,” said De Long, an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Wilusz, a professor and RNA biologist in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, pointed out how cost-effective this method will be, with tests costing only a few cents per person.
“We can test everyone in Fort Collins and it will cost pennies for each person,” she said.
In the lab at CSU, a technician will filter the samples to remove solids, concentrate the viral particles that are dilute in wastewater, and extract nucleic acids from the viral particles. COVID-19 is an RNA virus, so researchers will extract the RNA and use enzymes to make DNA copies of the target specific to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Isolating RNA from sewage is something I never thought I’d be doing,” Wilusz said. “I’ve learned a lot more about sewage than I probably ever needed to know.”
CSU had the specialized technology in place to perform this testing, thanks to purchase of a digital PCR machine in 2015 by the Office of the Vice President for Research and other CSU units, including the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“The technology we are using – digital droplet PCR – is ideal for this particular application because it is resistant to the types of inhibitors found in wastewater,” Wilusz said.
Public health agencies across the state will provide current case data for the project. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will interpret all the data and convey what they’ve found to public health professionals working on the ongoing response.
The collaborative aims to make this information accessible with the help of Professor Mazdak Arabi, director of the One Water Solutions Institute at CSU. Arabi will create a GIS-based, interactive online map for displaying the data, incorporating socioeconomic insights to give deeper context to the results.
A grassroots effort
Wastewater epidemiology is not a novel concept. This method has been used to monitor polio and illegal drug use. In Colorado earlier this spring, some wastewater districts sent samples to an East Coast-based company for coronavirus testing, but it took several weeks to get results, negating any benefit from the data.
Jason Graham, Fort Collins director of plant operations, water reclamation and biosolids, instead contacted CSU to see if the testing and analysis could be done here. “My interest in bringing CSU in was to have a local partner, reduced costs and quicker turnaround time,” he said. “I always try to partner with CSU if possible.”
De Long saw an opportunity to expand the scope of the project beyond Fort Collins. If they were going to test local wastewater, why not also do this for the state? She reached out to Jim McQuarrie, director of strategy and innovation at Denver’s Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, and Liz Werth, laboratory support supervisor with Metro Wastewater, who already had organized a group of wastewater districts involved in COVID-19 testing. The CSU team was the solution to the high cost and long turnaround time that came with sending their samples out of state for analysis.
“This is the kind of thing we should be doing at CSU because we’re a land-grant university and we serve our community,” De Long said. Initially, she didn’t know whether she would be paid for the work or if she would be able to publish findings, but it didn’t matter.
“There’s a need here that we have the capacity to fill, we’re just going to do it,” she and her colleagues decided.
De Long and her colleagues put their summer plans on hold and got to work, thanks to $20,000 in seed funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research and donation of a $12,000 ultrafiltration device from Metro Wastewater Reclamation District.
De Long and Wilusz developed the protocol for this project with GT Molecular, a Fort Collins biotechnology company. GT Molecular will offer this testing service on their own to entities outside Colorado that are not covered by the project, and they are available to back up the CSU team, should the need arise.
Of the overall $520,000 contract, $490,000 will go to CSU. The rest will go to collaborator Metro State, which will support analyses and process some of the samples.
The light at the end of the sewage
Along with being a harbinger of rising COVID-19 cases, this detection method also will inform officials if there is a downward trend in infections.
“Not only is this an early warning signal for when things are getting worse, it’s a nice signal for when things are getting better,” De Long said.
Tracking the coronavirus pandemic could soon be a bit easier because of one simple fact: everyone poops.
Around the world , wastewater plants have become unlikely sentinels in the fight against the virus, allowing scientists to track the disease’s spread at the community level. The practice of testing sewage samples is spreading across Western U.S. states as well, with programs currently running in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California.
Seeing success in large-scale wastewater testing, Colorado public health officials are finalizing the details of a program that will cover upwards of 65% of the state’s population and include more than a dozen utilities, two research universities and private biotech companies…
People infected with the virus shed it in their stool, often days before they start feeling sick, studies show . That is, if they develop symptoms at all…
Graham is one of the original partners in a statewide wastewater monitoring program that includes the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado State and Metro State Universities, and wastewater utilities in Fort Collins, Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs and Estes Park, among others…
Because the Colorado program is still in the initial phases, it’s unclear how the collected data will be used. Officials in Utah and in Tempe, Arizona, have set up public dashboards where wastewater testing data is uploaded regularly. How it will inform decision-making at the state and local level is an open question…
Once Colorado’s program is officially up and running, tests for all the participating wastewater utilities will take place twice a week over the next year.
Here’s the release from Rice University (Jade Boyd):
Rice’s trap-and-zap strategy for antibiotic resistant bugs becomes wrap, trap and zap
A shield of graphene helps particles destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria and free-floating antibiotic resistance genes in wastewater treatment plants.
Think of the new strategy developed at Rice University as “wrap, trap and zap.”
The labs of Rice environmental scientist Pedro Alvarez and Yalei Zhang, a professor of environmental engineering at Tongji University, Shanghai, introduced microspheres wrapped in graphene oxide in the Elsevier journal Water Research.
Alvarez and his partners in the Rice-based Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) have worked toward quenching antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” since first finding them in wastewater treatment plants in 2013.
“Superbugs are known to breed in wastewater treatment plants and release extracellular antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) when they are killed as the effluent is disinfected,” Alvarez said. “These ARGs are then discharged and may transform indigenous bacteria in the receiving environment, which become resistome reservoirs.
“Our innovation would minimize the discharge of extracellular ARGs, and thus mitigate dissemination of antibiotic resistance from wastewater treatment plants,” he said.
The Rice lab showed its spheres — cores of bismuth, oxygen and carbon wrapped with nitrogen-doped graphene oxide — inactivated multidrug-resistant Escherichia coli bacteria and degraded plasmid-encoded antibiotic-resistant genes in secondary wastewater effluent.
The graphene-wrapped spheres kill nasties in effluent by producing three times the amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) as compared to the spheres alone.
The spheres themselves are photocatalysts that produce ROS when exposed to light. Lab tests showed that wrapping the spheres minimized the ability of ROS scavengers to curtail their ability to disinfect the solution.
The researchers said nitrogen-doping the shells increases their ability to capture bacteria, giving the catalytic spheres more time to kill them. The enhanced particles then immediately capture and degrade the resistant genes released by the dead bacteria before they contaminate the effluent.
“Wrapping improved bacterial affinity for the microspheres through enhanced hydrophobic interaction between the bacterial surface and the shell,” said co-lead author Pingfeng Yu, a postdoctoral research associate at Rice’s Brown School of Engineering. “This mitigated ROS dilution and scavenging by background constituents and facilitated immediate capture and degradation of the released ARGs.”
Because the wrapped spheres are large enough to be filtered out of the disinfected effluent, they can be reused, Yu said. Tests showed the photocatalytic activity of the spheres was relatively stable, with no significant decrease in activity after 10 cycles. That was significantly better than the cycle lifetime of the same spheres minus the wrap.
Deyi Li of Tongji University, Shanghai, is co-lead author of the paper. Co-authors are Xuefei Zhou and Zhang of Tongji and Jae-Hong Kim, the Henry P. Becton Sr. Professor and Chair of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at Yale University. Alvarez is the George R. Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, a professor of chemistry, of materials science and nanoengineering, and of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of NEWT.
The National Science Foundation, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the National Key R&D Program of China supported the research.
Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University’s Office of Public Affairs.
Here’s a guest column from Jim Ling that’s running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan:
From where I stand, the South Fort Collins Sanitation District (SFCSD) is proud to announce it is nearing the completion of its approximately $35 million wastewater reclamation expansion, which includes improvements to its facility.
These much-needed improvements, slated for completion by the end of the year, allows us to meet new, more strict requirements from the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), in addition to providing additional capacity for future growth.
With this expansion, SFCSD can delay the implementation of future regulations by up to a decade, providing more time to budget for future requirements. Building now proves more economical than waiting, allowing SFCSD to do more with less.
We work hard to protect our customers and the environment by trying to stay ahead of the game and prepare as economically as possible.
The SFCSD serves an area encompassing approximately 60 square miles, including residents in Fort Collins, Loveland, Timnath, Windsor and Larimer County. These valued customers may rest assured that we will continue to provide excellent service and treatment 24/7, 365 days a year.
Performing these types of improvement projects proactively helps control costs, further protecting our customers from unnecessary fee increases. Best of all, we continue to offer very high levels of service at reasonable costs for our customers.
Thanks to careful planning, we expect the project to finish on time according to plans, and under budget.
Capacity increases are paid by growth through the sale of taps and impact fees collected during development. Costs associated with enhanced treatment needs are funded through monthly wastewater charges to our customers.
Our staff and board work hard to be good stewards of our constituents’ money. As of now, the district has not had to borrow to finance these important and necessary projects, thus saving money by avoiding interest payments.
More than 400 miles of collection lines bring wastewater to the water reclamation facility 24-hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days a year. The current treatment process at the facility is capable of treating 4.5 million gallons of water per day.
As EPA and CDPHE requirements for water reclamation become more stringent, we must adapt and add processes to continuously improve the quality of water discharged from our plant.
By sending cleaner water to the Poudre River, we improve the river’s health. Not only will these facility enhancements continue to provide excellent service and treatment, but they will also allow us to handle the population growth that many communities in Northern Colorado are experiencing.
Water is a finite resource and it needs our protection. We continue to do everything we can to ensure that clean and healthy water is available to future generations.
Palisade needs to decommission its aging wastewater lagoons and a new study shows piping the town’s waste to the Clifton Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment plant is the most cost effective.
The Palisade Sewer Study looked at several options for treating Palisade’s wastewater, Town Administrator Janet Hawkinson said. The two main options were to build a new treatment plant in Palisade or send the waste to Clifton.
“What the city found is that (piping to Clifton) is financially better for the town,” Hawkinson said. “It’s about half the price to take a line to Clifton versus us building our own treatment plant and then decommissioning our lagoons.”
A brand new plant would cost around $15 million, Hawkinson said, while utilizing Clifton’s existing facility would cost around $7 million. Decommissioning the lagoons will cost around $3 million, she said and will have to be done under either plan, as they will not be able to meet water treatment guidelines…
Town staff are beginning to research grant opportunities to pay for design and engineering work on the project, which Hawkinson said would cost around $500,000. She said the Department of Agriculture has some grants available and that the town was looking into other funding sources as well.
At a regular meeting of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors on March 12, District Manager Justin Ramsey noted that COVID-19 cannot be spread through drinking water.
“It’s very susceptible to chlorine,” Ramsey said. “We do keep chlorine in our water.”
However, COVID-19 can be found in sewage, Ramsey noted, adding that there are other unhealthy things found in sewage as well…
The only way PAWSD could be affected by COVID-19 is if too many staff members were to get sick, Ramsey added later.
According to Ramsey, the state of Colorado has put together a program, called CoWARN [Colorado Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network] that allows PAWSD to “share” equipment and staff.
“So if PAWSD gets hit real hard with this, I can call Durango and say ‘I need two water operators’ and if they have them available, they’ll send them to us,” he said. “It sets out how we’re going to pay for it and pay them back and so on and so forth.”
In a follow-up interview on March 17, Ramsey noted that PAWSD is now a part of CoWARN.
Additionally, Ramsey noted that PAWSD has run into issues with citizens using and flushing items that cause problems with PAWSD’s infrastructure.
“It is causing somewhat of a problem. It’s not a major catastrophe, but it is definitely clogging some pumps and causing a little bit of issues,” he said.
On March 17, PAWSD’s administrative offices closed to the public indefinitely, Ramsey explained in an email.
PAWSD customers will still receive regular water and wastewater service, Ramsey noted.
From King Abdullah University of Science and Technology:
Ultraviolet light could thwart antimicrobial resistance by damaging DNA material in wastewater.
Conventional wastewater disinfection using chlorine could facilitate the spread of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria1. Treating some types of wastewater with ultraviolet (UV) light instead could be part of the solution2, according to a study at KAUST’s Water Desalination and Reuse Center, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Bacteria are rapidly developing mechanisms to evade the effects of antimicrobial drugs, and this resistance is increasingly threatening public health. Pharmaceutical compounds and resistant bacteria that reach municipal and agricultural wastewater are partially to blame. Interestingly, the antimicrobial resistance of bacteria in wastewater entering water treatment plants is lower than after the wastewater leaves the treatment plant.
This may be because during wastewater disinfection, genetic material breaks out of bacteria into the surrounding water. This extracellular DNA can contain antimicrobial resistance genes. “The big question is are these extracellular resistance genes of concern to public health?” says KAUST postdoctoral fellow, David Mantilla-Calderon. “We don’t have an answer to this question yet, but the first prerequisite these genes must fulfill to be of concern is that they need to be harbored within a viable bacterial cell. This is only possible through a process called natural transformation, which allows extracellular DNA uptake and integration into the bacterial chromosome.”
Mantilla-Calderon and colleagues at KAUST found1 that natural transformation was stimulated in a bacterium commonly found in water and soil, called Acinetobacter baylyi, when it was in the presence of the chlorine byproduct, bromoacetic acid. They found that this disinfection byproduct caused DNA damage in the bacterium, inducing a DNA repair pathway that is known to also increase the integration of foreign DNA into the bacterium’s genome.
Ph.D. student Nicolas Augsburger next investigated2 the effects of sunlight and one component of sunlight, UV light, on natural transformation. “We wanted to see if there was a safer way to disinfect treated wastewater without provoking an increase in natural transformation in environmental bacteria,” he explains.
Interestingly, Augsburger and his colleagues found that, similar to bromoacetic acid, treatment with either the full spectrum of sunlight or only with UV light caused increased natural transformation in Acinetobacter baylyi.
“What surprised us was the finding that after treatment with UV light, the bacterium’s genes were damaged to the extent that they were no longer functional,” says Augsburger. “Thus, although treatment with UV light increased the integration of foreign DNA into the bacterium, just like disinfection byproducts and sunlight, it will not be able to express those genes.”
“Our studies question our current reliance on the use of chlorine as the final disinfection step in most wastewater treatment plants,” says microbiologist Peiying Hong, who supervised the studies. “A disinfection strategy using UV light could be considered for disinfecting low turbidity water. This could help in minimizing wastewater contribution to antimicrobial resistance.”
Hong’s lab is now investigating how various stressors might interact to affect uptake and integration rates of extracellular DNA into bacteria.
Read the full issue of Water & Finance Managementhere.
Stormwater and sanitary sewer systems may be some of the least technologically sophisticated systems in the utility’s arsenal. Most often, these systems are gravity-based and out of sight. As a result, operational assess- ments are limited to the occasional vi- sual inspection when an operator lifts a manhole to check conditions, or worse when called out due to backups, over- flows or odors. With this lack of visibility, operators are left to use their experi- ence, intuition and instincts to operate these vital systems.
In addition, storm and sanitary sew- er systems are often “build and forget” projects. With no data to support real- time assessments, these systems are as- sumed to be operating to specification unless there is a major problem. Or they are subjected to routine but perhaps unnecessary cleaning programs or other capacity management activities. Both these conditions create the perception of efficiency, and absent an external impetus, such as EPA-enforced consent decrees or significant property or public health impacts, the budgets for fire, police, and roads often command more financial attention than do storm and sanitary systems.
The relative invisibility of these sys- tems and a lack of continual investment means that the managers of storm and sanitary sewer systems must be able to operate at increasingly proficient levels within the financial constraints of their budgets. In the past this was based on experience. Today, these managers have a powerful tool at their disposal to achieve this: information. Through the use of data-driven analytics and remote sensing and communication tools, the operators of storm and sanitary sewer systems can elevate the performance of their systems even in the face of scarce financial resources.
In some ways, we could call this the Sewerball equivalent of the Moneyball. For those not familiar with the book, “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Un- fair Game,” by author Michael Lewis takes the reader on a journey to discov- er how the Oakland Athletics maximized the potential of their undercapitalized team by focusing on data. Sabermetrics, a term coined by Bill James, can be defined as the use of statistical analysis to analyze baseball records and make determinations about player performance.
Hawthorne, California is the home of SpaceX, which launched in to orbit the Iridium Satellite network, linking sewer monitors with their customers even in the midst of extreme weather events.
Sabermetrics allowed Oakland to build a team within an existing (and minimal) budget, that in aggregate could compete with teams with comparatively unlimited resources.
In our Sewerball story, however, we apply statistical analysis to understand the performance of our storm and sani- tary sewer infrastructure and use that information to maximize its operational availability and capacity within a constrained budget.
The Transition to Data-Driven Decisions
In the 1980s, Bill James pioneered the concept that the traditional baseball data was in fact not representative of the performance of players and the sport. While statistics in baseball have been around for generations and the availability of data staggering, according to James the statistics being employed were not meaningful assessments of team or individual performance. They also failed to provide any guidance or insight into the operations of the teams. For example, the number of hits achieved by a player is not truly reflective of the effectiveness of a hitter. James’ notable insight was existing data could be combined in new ways to generate something more useful than traditional metrics. In this case, James proposed a mathematical formula to determine how many runs a hitter creates:
From the perspective of the game, this is a more effective “stat.” If the object of baseball is to score runs to defeat your opponent, then the batter who creates more runs is a more valuable player.
Interestingly, this concept has a direct parallel in the water and wastewater sector: it is data rich, but information poor and oftentimes we are not calculating the correct performance indicators to truly understand the game, or in our case, the performance of our underground system.
However, the water and wastewater sector is now amassing vast troves of data that, when combined in unique ways, can be used to derive important relationships. Large internal and ex- ternal data sets can be combined and compared against a physical model of operations that can inform the process and maximize efficiency.
As an example, using a set of sophisticated sensors within a sewer system, patterns of normal conditions and indicators of abnormal situations become apparent. By combining this level of understanding with external data sets such as NOAA’s rainfall and tidal information, the utility can make predictive assessments of how externalities are impacting the physical operations of the system — and adapt operationally. This creates a system that takes the guesswork out of understanding the real-time condition of the storm and sanitary sewer systems and allows operational decisions to be made in a timely and cost-effective manner.
The result is that for the first time, these often-ignored systems can be elevated and operated in a manner that not only guarantees compliance but can have significant fiscal benefits.
By using a data-driven decision sup- port platform combining the data from 50 sensors and providing insight into the real-time conditions in the collec- tion system, the City of Hawthorne, California, has reduced sanitary sewer overflows by more than 99 percent and saved more than $2.5 million in fines and mitigation costs over the past 13 years. Similarly, the City of South Bend, Indiana, installed a real-time monitoring system consisting of more than 120 sensors and automation to stormwater retention basins to control the release of stormwater. This resulted in the elimination of dry weather overflows and reduced combined sewer overflows by 70 percent (1 billion gallons per year) over the period of 2008 to 2014, according to EPA data.
Data-driven services can also be used to better deploy resources. For example, the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) uses trend analysis from 200 remote sensors to manage a real-time sewer cleaning optimization program. This program has allowed SAWS to strategically identify areas needing cleaning and resulted in an overall reduction of cleaning operations by 95 percent and projected saving more than $3.4 million in three years, according to SAWS data.
Finally, data can also be deployed to drive significant savings in capital expenditures. This was the case in Mt. Crested Butte, Colorado, where state regulators threatened to cancel the town’s operating permits if the sewer overflow problems could not be solved. While one traditional solution considered the investment in a $10 million project to replace the sewer main, the town was able to optimize the utility of their existing infrastructure by better understanding the way in which the system operates. With real-time visibility into their collection system — at a cost of $96,000 in sensors — the town was able to comply with the regulatory requirements and avoid the requirement to construct new facilities.
The Move to Artificial Intelligence
At the time, James was pioneering Sabermetrics and demonstrating that the methods and analysis were often correct, he was mostly ignored. This may be attributed to baseball’s tradi- tionalist roots — one where the primary senses and gut intuition determined the flow of play of the players, the teams and the sport. The same situation exists in storm and sanitary sewer systems: their relative invisibility results in their being operated by intuition based on past experience rather than on actual operating conditions assessments.
However, with real-time visibility into the conditions of these systems, that veil of intuition is being lifted and replaced by actual understanding. As the availability of highly granular, accurate and validated data increases, storm and sanitary sewer system op- erations can leverage the analytic tools of artificial intelligence to improve assessments. For example, SmartCover Systems (Escondido, California) has collected more than 200 million hours of sewer and stormwater monitoring data, which are now used in machine learning pattern recognition routines to identify common issues with our collection system infrastructure – issues that are rarely evident to operators who are “popping a manhole.” Companies such as SmartCover, EmNet, Innovyze, Echologics and OptiRTC are leveraging sensor and data technologies to create an advantage for operators who can rely on a data-driven understanding of their underground infrastructure systems for the first time in decades.
Most importantly, these technologies are more than the sensors. Data is integrated into real-time decision support tools that offer full service operational insights to provide operators and utility management staff with advanced warning of potential issues and allows them to oper- ate the system with confidence and effectiveness.
The Town of Palisade is moving forward with a study exploring solutions to either replace its aging sewer plant with a new facility or pump the waste to the Clifton Sanitation District, Town Administrator Janet Hawkinson said.
The town’s current plant uses lagoons and is situated on the east side of Riverbend Park. Those lagoons must be decommissioned, Hawkinson said.
The town, utilizing grant money awarded by the Department of Local Affairs, tasked an engineering firm to study the amount of waste the town produces, the cost to install a new plant and the cost to send the waste to Clifton…
The cost of a new Palisade sewer plant would likely be much more expensive than sending the waste to Clifton, Hawkinson said.
The study will be completed in approximately six weeks, Hawkinson said, at which point the Board of Trustees will need to weigh in on the next steps in the process.
Water treatment upgrades
Not to be confused with its sewer plant, Palisade’s water treatment plant is getting an upgrade after the Board of Trustees voted to spend nearly $40,000 to upgrade its computer systems.
Hawkinson said the water treatment plant is a newer facility, which uses advanced safety features as well as solar power in its design. Since the facility is newer much of it is computerized, Hawkinson said, and needed updates to its software.
My team has discovered another use for microwave ovens that will surprise you.
Biosolids – primarily dead bacteria – from sewage plants are usually dumped into landfills. However, they are rich in nutrients and can potentially be used as fertilizers. But farmers can’t just replace the normal fertilizers they use on agricultural soil with these biosolids. The reason is that they are often contaminated with toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium from industry. But dumping them in the landfills is wasting precious resources. So, what is the solution?
I’m an environmental engineer and an expert in wastewater treatment. My colleagues and I have figured out how to treat these biosolids and remove heavy metals so that they can be safely used as a fertilizer.
How treatment plants clean wastewater
Wastewater contains organic waste such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, oils and urea, which are derived from food and human waste we flush down in kitchen sinks and toilets. Inside treatment plants, bacteria decompose these organic materials, cleaning the water which is then discharged to rivers, lakes or oceans.
The bacteria don’t do the work for nothing. They benefit from this process by multiplying as they dine on human waste. Once water is removed from the waste, what remains is a solid lump of bacteria called biosolids.
This is complicated by the fact that wastewater treatment plants accept not only residential wastewater but also industrial wastewater, including the liquid that seeps out of solid waste in landfills – called leachate – which is contaminated with toxic metals including arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium. During the wastewater treatment process, heavy metals are attracted to the bacteria and accumulate on their surfaces.
If farmers apply the biosolids at this stage, these metals will separate from the biosolids and contaminate the crop for human consumption. But removing heavy metals isn’t easy because the chemical bonds between heavy metals and biosolids are very strong.
Microwaving waste releases heavy metals
Conventionally, these metals are removed from biosolids using chemical methods involving acids, but this is costly and generates more dangerous waste. This has been practiced on a small scale in some agricultural fields.
After a careful calculation of the energy requirement to release the heavy metals from the attached bacteria, I searched around for all the possible energy sources that can provide just enough to break the bonds but not too much to destroy the nutrients in the biosolids. That’s when I serendipitously noticed the microwave oven in my home kitchen and began to wonder whether microwaving was the solution.
My team and I tested whether microwaving the biosolids would break the bonds between heavy metals and the bacterial cells. We discovered it was efficient and environmentally friendly. The work has been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production. This concept can be adapted to an industrial scale by using electromagnetic waves to produce the microwaves.
This is a solution that should be beneficial for many people. For instance, managers of wastewater treatment plants could potentially earn revenue by selling the biosolids instead of paying disposal fees for the material to be dumped to the landfills.
It is a better strategy for the environment because when biosolids are deposited in landfills, the heavy metals seep into landfill leachate, which is then treated in wastewater treatment plants. The heavy metals thus move between wastewater treatment plants and landfills in an endless loop. This research breaks this cycle by separating the heavy metals from biosolids and recovering them. Farmers would also benefit from cheap organic fertilizers that could replace the chemical synthetic ones, conserving valuable resources and protecting the ecosystem.
Is this the end? Not yet. So far we can only remove 50% of heavy metals but we hope to shift this to 80% with improved experimental designs. My team is currently conducting small laboratory and field experiments to explore whether our new strategy will work on a large scale. One lesson I would like to share with everyone: Be observant. For any problem, the solution may be just around you, in your home, your office, even in the appliances you are using.
At its Jan. 7 meeting, the board of the Pagosa Springs Sanitation Gen- eral Improvement District (PSSGID) again worked to deal with a stinky issue that’s plagued the district and some Archuleta County residents — odor control near the town’s two pump stations in the Timber Ridge area.
The odor issues in the area began when the town started using a force main to move its collected waste- water to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District campus for treat- ment. Construction of the pipeline was completed in 2016.
“The odor results from naturally high sulfur in the area, in waste, and the long detention times in the wet well and the force main,” an agenda brief prepared by Public Works Di- rector Martin Schmidt explains.
The PSSGID previously piloted an odor control project with little success, with Schmidt’s document stating, “it did not get close to the levels of H2S [hydrogen sulfide] that were stipulated in the contract.”
PSSGID staff, with engineering support, then brought back information on several options for the board to consider on Jan. 7, along with a recommendation to pair two of the technologies to best control odor and eliminate corrosion.
The four options brought to the board were an oxygen injection system, an aeration system with added ozone (the same technology as the pilot project), chemical dosing, an air scrubber system and an air-injector system that builds dissolved oxygen in the water to eliminate anaerobic bacteria.
Schmidt and Utilities Supervisor Gene Tautges recommended that the board combine the final two options.
The air scrubber system, manufactured by Syneco Systems Inc., has a small blower that creates a negative pressure in the wet well, the agenda brief explains.
“The removed air is scrubbed of H2S by a proprietary media that converts 100% of the H2S into a non-toxic polymer,” the document explains.
Schmidt noted the blower is not much larger than a bathroom fan, with Schmidt and Tautges indicat- ing it operates at a low decibel level, around 55 decibels.
Many may not care to think about what goes on in the Loveland Wastewater Treatment Plant, but the facility had plenty to brag about Tuesday, as officials showed off the fruits of a $41.02 million improvement project that wrapped up this fall.
The plant is responsible for reclaiming and returning the water used by Loveland residents to the Big Thompson River, while disposing of other waste.
Water and Power Director Joe Bernosky, who delivered one of the speeches at Tuesday’s “grand opening” and ribbon-cutting ceremony, described the plant as a crucial link in the water cycle that all of Loveland participates in.
“Water is a cycle — it’s not created, it’s recycled,” he said. “What this is doing is not necessarily treating wastewater. It’s reclaiming the water we’ve used.”
The improvements allowed the plant to be rerated to handle 12 million gallons of wastewater per day, an increase of 2 million gallons. Staff hope that increase will allow the plant to keep up with growth for an additional 10-15 years.
Bernosky added that the city’s partnership with Garney Construction was one of the most significant in Loveland’s history. Construction of the improvements alone cost $35.06 million, and the project finished under budget…
Improvements made to the facility include:
Installation of a new and reconfigured sewer collection system at the head of the plant.
Screening improvements with the addition of step screen technology, to remove pieces of trash such as wet wipes and hygiene products from the wastewater.
Mixing and aeration improvements to all six existing aeration basins.
A new and upsized digester facility.
The addition of a new return activated sludge anoxic tank.
Replacing pumps at the return activated sludge pump station.
Ultraviolet disinfection hydraulic improvements.
A new, 2,000 square foot maintenance building.
Project design began in March 2015 and construction started in April 2017. According to a city factsheet, over 2 million working hours were spent on the project.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe Utilities Division will raise water and wastewater rates by more than 90% and 50%, respectively, starting Oct. 1.
The Southern Ute Utilities Division, administered by the Southern Ute Growth Fund, provides both treated drinking water and wastewater treatment for the tribal campus, local tribal members living near Ignacio and the town of Ignacio. Discussions of rates have caused a rift between the town and the tribe, said Mark Garcia, interim town manager. While the town and the tribe analyze their agreement, ratepayers are stuck paying ever-increasing water and wastewater utility rates.
“Wastewater and water rates are based on usage, and they’re going up,” Garcia said. Utility customers will be hit with the increase at different times, based on their level of use for water and/or wastewater. But for overall water and wastewater rates, “all levels of users will see probably an increase in their rates starting in 2020,” he said.
Starting Oct. 1, ratepayers will pay higher base rates for fewer correlating gallons of water. Water rates will increase from $32.80 per 8,000 gallons to $47.80 per 6,000 gallons, a 94% increase. The rates will jump again Oct. 1, 2020, to $62.80 per 6,000 gallons, a 156% increase over current rates, according to a July letter to Garcia from the tribe.
The town charges customers additional fees for billing, repairs and collections. Garcia said the town’s water fees will increase from $24.60 to $26.48 a month starting Jan. 1, 2020, a 6.4% increase.
Wastewater rates will also increase. Service users currently pay $72.09 per ERT, or Equivalent Residential Tap, per month. One ERT allows for 7,500 gallons of usage.
That billing system will change. The tribal utility will charge the town based on winter usage, not ERT. This shift will also make ratepayers pay more for fewer gallons. On Oct. 1, the rate will increase to $87.09 per 6,000 gallons, a 51% increase over current rates. Wastewater rates will jump again in 2020. Users will be charged $102.09 per 6,000 gallons, a 77% increase over current rates.
The town charges an additional $9.88 base rate to users for billing, repairs and collections.
According to Garcia, the average town customer uses 4,000 gallons of wastewater per month, so ratepayers are paying for more wastewater than they are using.
“With the new rates and winter flow basis, the rates that the tribe charges the town as a bulk customer will actually go down from the current bulk rate charged,” the tribe wrote in a June news release.
The Cortez Sanitation District contracted with Four Corners Materials for the construction, which will include replacing 1 mile of sanitary sewer line and manholes along with reconnecting sewer services between North Ridge Drive, North Market Street and West Empire Street.
NACWA recognizes wastewater plants that achieve 100% compliance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) over a consecutive five-year period.
The Greeley wastewater plant discharges more than 7 million gallons of treated water back into the Poudre River daily. Compliance with permitted requirements ensures that water is safe for downstream users, aquatic habitats, and the environment, according to a Greeley news release…
The wastewater plant maintains compliance through the operation and support of various systems that remove pollutants from the wastewater. Samples of the water are then tested and analyzed to ensure that the proper treatment has been performed…
Here’s the release from the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (Kelly Merritt):
The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (Metro District) honored 19 metro area organizations for perfect compliance with their industrial wastewater discharge permits on May 8, 2019. Water Remediation Technology, LLC, received a Platinum Award for perfect compliance for five consecutive years (2014 through 2018).
The following were recognized with Gold Awards for perfect compliance from January through December 2018:
Acme Manufacturing Company, Inc.
Advanced Circuits, Inc.
Ball Metal Beverage Container Corp.
CW Elaborations, Inc.
Denver Metal Finishing
G & K Services, A Division of Cintas
Industrialex Manufacturing Corp.
Majestic Metals, LLC
Packaging Corporation of America
Pepsi Beverages Company
Rocky Mountain Bottle Company, LLC
Safeway, Inc., Denver Beverage Plant
Swire Coca-Cola, USA
United States Mint
Upsher-Smith Laboratories, LLC
The federal Pretreatment Regulations under the Clean Water Act require the Metro District to have an Industrial Pretreatment Program to control the discharge of industrial wastes to the sanitary sewer system. One of the ways that the Metro District controls these discharges is through issuance of industrial wastewater discharge permits.
Trustees earlier this month approved the foundation for such change, an expansion master plan for the site that could run the town nearly $25 million in construction costs over the next few years, and an additional $2 million for consultants to steer the early stages.
Several factors — ranging from the predictable to the esoteric — are driving the need for the facility’s expansion, according to Adam Parmenter of HDR, Inc., the firm charged with shepherding the town through the project.
According to Colorado Department of Health regulations, towns must begin to make expansion plans when their facilities reach 80% capacity; at 95%, construction must begin. Delays could get state regulators to slap communities with growth restrictions.
In 2017, Erie’s North Water site hit about 81% capacity, processing roughly 1.58 million gallons of wastewater per day. By 2020, that number is expected to hit 95% of the facility’s processing capacity, equivalent to 4 ½ Olympic swimming pools…
If Erie’s projected growth keeps pace (and with current trends, there’s no reason to expect otherwise), Parmenter said the facility’s liquid capacity would be exceeded by 2021.
Consultants are recommending a plan out to 2028, expanding the plant into a 3.03 million gallons per day system, a 50% capacity increase from what the existing facility does now.
The expansion will take place in steps, however, over the next decade, according to Erie Public Works Director Todd Fessenden.
“We will be in design over the course of the next year for the expansion of the plant” he said, “then we’ll be in construction late next year or early 2021.
“The master plan is really just laying out the next 20 years so we can have a schedule to look at,” he added, “whether that be regulatory milestones or looking at certain capacity stages, a lot of those things you have to be planning ahead for before those things hit.”
Another of the drivers, and perhaps a more pressing matter, is the plant’s solid operations. Whereas the plant’s liquid-stream processing is more of a straightforward capacity issue, dealing with the deluge of solids on a daily basis is often rooted in the quality of the science.
In order to get the solids that come through the plant to the designation of “Class A Biosolids” — a standard that meets EPA guidelines “for land application with no restrictions,” meaning reclaiming it to a point where it can legally be used as fertilizer or compost — the plant’s technology needs to perform a specific set of tasks.
As it stands now, the North Water site is essentially at capacity for processing solid waste, Parmenter said, and the “system isn’t running the way it was originally designed to create Class A Biosolids.”
Without changes, the system’s current process — which includes trucks having to move solids off-site — would cost the town roughly $1 million per year in hauling costs.
According to officials, the costs of the expansion project will be footed by the town’s growth through its existing tap fees.
Colorado School of Mines celebrated today the grand opening of a new 10,000-square-foot research facility in Denver that will pave the way for greater collaboration with industry, government and academia to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing society today – access to clean water.
The WE2ST (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology) Water Technology Hub will accommodate large-scale research focused on developing innovative treatment technologies for produced water from oil, gas and mineral production, groundwater contaminated with emerging contaminants (including toxic poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances), saline and hypersaline streams, municipal water, wastewater and more — leading to sustainable water reuse.
“Colorado School of Mines was founded almost 150 years ago to help industry grow and thrive and since those early years, solving water and wastewater treatment challenges have been a key part of its research mission,” said Stefanie Tompkins, vice president of research and technology transfer. “As we approach our next 150 years, we want to continue to be a go-to place for the use-inspired research and innovation needed for society’s big challenges. This new facility is an important step in that direction, allowing our amazing researchers – in partnership with other research institutions, industry and government – to bridge the gap between lab-scale and commercial-scale water treatment technologies.”
Located off Interstate 70 and Quebec Street in Denver, the WE2ST Hub includes full analytical and wet labs for water analysis, a fabrication facility and a flexible research bay, with capacity for 30,000 gallons of water and rail line access for bringing in those water samples from anywhere in the U.S.
The industrial facility was previously operated by NGL Energy Partners, a midstream oil and gas company, which donated the entirety of the facility’s equipment to Mines, a gift valued at approximately $800,000.
“For over a decade, NGL Energy Partners has been treating oilfield waste water, creating clean water for use in irrigation, municipal and industrial applications, and, in addition, returning substantial amounts of clean water to the surface for beneficial use,” CEO H. Michael Krimbill said. “We are proud to be a part of this project and look forward to an ongoing collaboration with Colorado School of Mines through serving as a partner to assist in efforts to pilot and commercialize innovations that flow from the WE2ST Water Technology Hub.”
A gift of $1.5 million from the Colorado-based ZOMA Foundation will seed the facility’s operations and support several undergraduate and graduate research fellowships.
“ZOMA is excited to support the WE2ST Water Technology Hub and hopes the facility can help accelerate innovations that improve access to clean water and further sustainable water reuse,” said Luis Duarte, chief philanthropic officer of ZOMALAB.
The hub’s inaugural projects include a U.S. Department of Energy-funded collaboration with UCLA on solar desalination and a smaller project in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on hydrokinetic – or ocean wave – energy desalination. The hub is also one of the core research facilities of NAWI, the National Alliance for Water Innovation. Dr. James Rosenblum, a former postdoctoral fellow at CU Boulder and staff scientist at Jacobs Engineering, will oversee daily operations of the facility.
“We want to thank NGL Energy Partners and the ZOMA Foundation for their help in making possible a facility of this size dedicated to developing innovative technologies for the treatment and reuse of municipal and industrial wastewater,” said Tzahi Cath, director of the WE2ST Water Technology Hub and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines.
“To better partner with industry and municipalities and help them solve the real-world water treatment challenges they face, we needed more space than is typically available on a college campus,” Rosenblum said. “We’re excited to get to work at a much larger scale than ever before.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Erin McIntyre):
Commissioners approved an amended conditional-use permit for the Deer Creek Facility after limiting the number of trucks to 10 per day or 150 per month. The 96-acre property, located directly east of Bridgeport Road off U.S. Highway 50, about a mile north of the Delta County line, was abandoned by Alanco Energy Services a couple of years ago. Goodwin Septic Tank Service is now retrofitting its disposal facilities.
Commissioners questioned the applicants and an engineer who designed the facility about the volume of traffic and concerns about odors prior to approving the proposal during an hourlong hearing Tuesday morning.
The commissioners acknowledged that past usage of the property had been controversial, and that there were numerous complaints about odors.
The plan is to take one of those ponds and use it for solid waste, to dispose of soil contaminated with hydrocarbons from the mining industry. Goodwin plans to use the other large pond for liquid waste, including sewage pumped from septic tanks and portable toilets, as well as industrial waste. The adjoining property will continue to be used for “land farming,” a waste-treatment process in which sludge is tilled into the soil.
Gerald Knudsen, the engineer who designed the facility and represents Goodwin Septic Service, said using the existing lined ponds for disposal would help owner Brent Gale mitigate the cost of cleaning up the Alanco facility. Since the ponds are double-lined, they would need to have the liners removed and be filled with soil from the berm currently blocking the neighbor’s view of the ponds. He estimated it would cost as much as $500,000 to do that. Instead, Goodwin can use the lined ponds as disposal cells for hydrocarbon-laced soil from mining operations for permanent disposal. When those are full, they’ll be covered…
Only one neighbor, Thomas Panter, spoke at the hearing, Panter, who said he has lived full time in a nearby off-grid yurt on the east side of U.S. 50 for about six years, described Gale and his business as good neighbors. He said he preferred the proposed operation to the one that Alanco was running with the produced water…
The permit allows Goodwin to dispose of waste at the property Monday through Saturday during daylight hours, and on Sundays in case of emergency, but only if the Panters are not at home.
Through an Intergovernmental Agreement, the Upper Thompson Sanitation District (UTSD) and the Town of Estes Park (TEP) are partnering to complete a utility infrastructure project that will impact the Fish Creek Lift Station and Mall Road.
The work, which is expected to start on Jan. 28, will start with replacing a single, 45-year-old sanitary sewer force main with new, dual-force mains. These will extend from the Fish Creek Lift Station, located on Fish Creek Road next to Lake Estes, across U.S. 36 to UTSD’s gravity sewer main near Joel Estes Drive.
“UTSD recognized the lift station force main was a critical piece of infrastructure, had been in operation for 40 years, and due to its design features, had received minimal maintenance,” said UTSD District Manager Chris Bieker.
Bieker explained that force mains are pressurized sewer pipes that convey wastewater where gravity is not possible.
“Moving the flow uphill requires a pump,” he said. “Pumping facilities called lift stations may be required to transport the wastewater through the collection system.”
According to Bieker, “The Fish Creek Lift Station and approximately 1,000 linear feet of 14-inch diameter cast iron force main was constructed in the mid-1970s. The interior of the force main is cement mortar lined. Approximately 600 linear feet of force main is located south of Highway 36. The remaining 400 feet crosses north underneath HWY 36 and discharges to a manhole located in Mall Road. Wastewater then flows along Mall Road through approximately 1200 linear feet of gravity sewer main to the treatment facility…
In late 2016, the District televised the interior of the force main. The video indicated cracking and delamination of the cement mortar pipe lining within sections of the force main. The televising operation prematurely ceased when the camera could not proceed any further due to the internal conditions of the pipe.”
New piping and valves will be added to the Fish Creek Lift Station. Old, aging pipes and valves will be replaced to facilitate new parallel force mains. As the Fish Creek Lift Station manages over a third of all of the district’s water flows, these improvements are critical to UTSD operations and public health.
New septic system regulations under the Montezuma County Health Department kicked in Jan. 1.
Under the Transfer of Title program, when a residential or commercial property meets certain criteria, an inspection of its on-site wastewater septic system will take place when the property is being sold, and repairs or replacement may be required.
The new rules are intended to prevent pollution from failing septic systems and protect the public and water resources, said Melissa Mathews, environmental health specialist for the health department.
The criteria triggering a septic system inspection when a title is transfered include: Structures older than 1974 that do not have a on-site waste water permit; properties that had a permit issued 20 years ago or longer; properties that have a higher level treatment system; properties that have had a previous septic system failure; properties that have a valid septic permit but no structure.
For 2019, the City Council passed an increase in the fees for water plant investment fees and water plant investment fees for new taps in 2019. From taps ¾-inch to 6-inch meters, the overall fee increase for wastewater and water plant investment fees will total by about 42 percent. Considered separately, the wastewater plant investment fees will increase about 29 percent and the water plant investment fees about 53 percent, for ¾-inch to 6-inch meters. For 8-inch meters, Rheem only provided the water plant investment fee information, which also will increase 53 percent in 2019.
Comparing fees in other towns and cities nearby, Rheem said they did not anticipate these fee increases to have an impact on economic development, considering the high quality of water within Fort Morgan. Mayor Ron Shaver characterized this and the other wastewater increases as ‘necessary evils’, and he and other Council members also noted the water quality factor in Fort Morgan.
When a town has high electric bills and no available land for a solar farm, a floating solar plant on the pond of a waste water plant makes great sense. Walden, Colorado, population 750, elevation 8,000 feet plus, and land area of 0.34 square miles, is such a town.
“We were spending about $22,000 a month for electricity for the water treatment facility, and this 75 kW solar installation will save us $10,000 a month,” says Jim Dustin, mayor of Walden, Colo. “We’ll pay for the plant in 20 years, and it is still expected to run 10 more years after that,” he says.
The plant technology was furnished by floating solar specialists Ciel & Terre USA and was installed by GRID Specialists. The $400,000 cost of the plant was offset by a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which manages revenues earned by oil and gas development tax in the state. The project also was supported by the Colorado Energy Office.
“The Energy Office is interested in this installation because it gets down to minus 40 or 50 degrees in the winter, and we have very high winds. They want to know if the technology will work, because there are irrigation ponds and unused water bodies all over this state,” says Dustin. The energy office has offered $120,000 to move the installation to another location if it doesn’t work in Walden, he adds.
The Energy Office is also interested in conserving water in the state, where evaporation reduces holding pond levels by up to 90 inches per year, according to Taylor Lewis, a program engineer at the agency. “We have 2,000 man-made reservoirs in the state to keep water so if we can identify a few where it makes sense to cover them with solar, there could be a double benefit of water savings and electricity generation,” he says.
The concept of covering drinking water bodies to reduce evaporation is not new. “I’ve been looking at claims by the City of Los Angeles that they have saved billions of gallons of water over the past 10 years at four reservoirs, using black floating plastic balls,” Lewis says. “We’re interested in studying the impact with floating solar here,” he adds.
Johnson Controls came up with the initial idea of a floating solar array for Walden, says Dustin. “The floating solar array is a milestone for the Town of Walden and highlights the potential for Colorado’s overall energy efforts,” said Rowena Adams, a Performance Infrastructure account executive at Johnson Controls, in a statement.
“It was a practical choice for Walden given the surrounding bodies of water and the town’s energy resiliency efforts at the Town Water Treatment Facility, as well as the desire to conserve water and minimize algae growth,” Adams said.
Ciel & Terre, the technology provider, has more water projects in mind for Colorado. “With demand for solar power continuing to rise and available real estate becoming more expensive, floating solar is the ideal solution for anyone with a manmade pond or body of water. It’s cost-effective, quick to install, easy to maintain, and offers a variety of environmental benefits,” said Eva Pauly-Bowles, the representative director for the US office of the French company.
“Floating solar is no longer an exotic niche in the US, but a rapidly growing sector of the solar market. Ciel & Terre USA has other larger floating solar projects under construction and planned across the country,” Papuly-Bowles said.
Deploying a floating solar array on manmade bodies of water improves energy production by keeping the solar system cooler, Ciel & Terre says. At the same time it reduces evaporation, controls algae growth, and reduces water movement to minimize bank erosion, it says. Floating solar arrays also make optimal use of pond surfaces, providing clean solar energy without committing expensive real estate or requiring rooftop installations, the company adds.
Established in 2006 as a renewable Independent Power Producer (IPP), Ciel & Terre has been fully devoted to floating solar PV since 2011. The French company pioneered Hydrelio, the first specific and industrialized system to make solar panels float on water, with criteria such as cost-effectiveness, safety, longevity, resistance to winds and waves, simplicity, drinking water compliance, and optimized electrical yield, the company states in its profile.
Ciel & Terre has floating solar installations in Japan, Korea, China, UK, France, Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia, Italy, and Taiwan as well as the United States. The company has its United States headquarters in Petaluma, California.
Here’s the release from the Water Education Federation via Water Online:
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) proudly announces students from the University of British Columbia and University of Colorado as winners of the 2018 Student Design Competition. The 17th annual competition took place during WEFTEC 2018, WEF’s 91st annual technical exhibition and conference.
The University of British Colombia team’s project, “Ellis Creek Remediation,” won in the Environmental Design category, and the University of Colorado – Boulder team’s project, “Enhancing Nutrient Removal at Boulder’s 75th Street Wastewater Treatment Facility,” won in the Wastewater Design category. This was the third win for the University of British Columbia (British Columbia Water & Waste Association) and the fourth win for University of Colorado – Boulder (Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association).
As a program of WEF’s Students & Young Professionals Committee, the competition promotes real-world design experience for students interested in pursuing an education and/or career in water/wastewater engineering and sciences. It tasks individuals or teams of students within a WEF student chapter to prepare a design to help solve a local water quality issue. Teams evaluate alternatives, perform calculations, and recommend the most practical solution based on experience, economics, and feasibility.
Members of the University of British Columbia team included James Craxton, Johnson Li, Steven Rintoul, Luthfi Subagio, and their faculty adviser, Dr. Noboru Yonemitsu. Members of the University of Colorado – Boulder team included Katie McQuie, Mercedes Kindler, Debbie Cevallos, Feng Xiang, Dome Cevallos, Jackie Kingdom, and their faculty adviser, Dr. Christopher Corwin. Both teams received certificates and their respective member associations will receive a $2,500 award.
Greeley and Hansen, Black & Veatch, CDM Smith, and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation sponsored this year’s competition. Click here to learn more about the WEF Student Design Competition.
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) is a not-for-profit technical and educational organization of 35,000 individual members and 75 affiliated Member Associations representing water quality professionals around the world. Since 1928, WEF and its members have protected public health and the environment. As a global water sector leader, our mission is to connect water professionals; enrich the expertise of water professionals; increase the awareness of the impact and value of water and provide a platform for water sector innovation. For more information, visit http://www.wef.org.
At their regular meeting Tuesday, the Sterling City Council approved a resolution asking voters to take out a loan of up to $37 million to replace aging infrastructure and address “inflow and infiltration” issues. The interest rate on the bond would not exceed 3.25 percent.
City Manager Don Saling assured the council that the actual debt and interest rates should be less than the city is asking for, but the cost of the project has not been completely nailed down, and interest rates are also fluctuating. Because of that, he said, “limits were set conservatively.”
Repaying the wastewater bond will require city sewer rates to go up, but how much has not been identified. The council has been awaiting the results of a rate study for water and sewer services that looked at infrastructure needs, debt service and operational costs, but an evaluation of the wastewater treatment system done in 2016 by engineering firm Mott MacDonald suggested they go up $23. Since then, the city has implemented flat rate hikes annually, in anticipation of higher rates to pay for the required system upgrades.
The ballot question specifies infrastructure improvements that include changes to the headworks building, which suffered extensive flood damage in 2013; replacing the existing force main and constructing a redundancy in case of failures; modifications to the main plant; lift station replacements and corrective measures for the collection system. One of the problems the system has is leaks from the storm sewer system that can flood the wastewater lines and disrupt the treatment process after heavy rain events.
Failure to make the improvements could result in hefty fines from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as much as $10,000 from the date of the first violation in November 2017.
Denver Water and three other organizations are seeking to overturn a state order that directs Denver to adopt a strict new treatment protocol preventing lead contamination in drinking water.
Denver is not in violation of the federal law that governs lead, but it has been required to monitor and test its system regularly since 2012 after lead was discovered in a small sample of water at some of its customers’ taps.
In March of this year, after Denver completed a series of required tests and studies, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) ordered the utility to implement a treatment protocol that involves adding phosphates to its system. It has until March of 2020 to implement the new process.
Denver, which serves 1.4 million people in the metro area, has proposed instead using an approach that balances the PH levels in its treated water and expands a program replacing lead service lines in the city. Old lead service lines are a common source of lead in drinking water.
Treating lead and copper in water systems is a complex undertaking governed by the federal Lead and Copper Rule. In Denver, for instance, there is no lead in the water supply when it leaves the treatment plant. But it can leach into the supply via corrosion as water passes through lead delivery lines and pipes in older homes. Denver has 58,000 lead service lines in its system. Lead has continued to appear in samples it has taken at some customers’ taps, according to court filings, though not at levels that would constitute a violation of the federal law.
Eighty-six samples taken since 2013 have exceeded 15 micrograms per liter, including one tap sample which measured more than 400 micrograms per liter, according to court filings. The 15-microgram-per-liter benchmark is the level at which utilities must take action, including public education, corrosion studies, additional sampling and possible removal of lead service lines.
In response to the state’s order, the City of Aurora, the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District and the nonprofit Greenway Foundation, which works to protect the South Platte River, sued to overturn it, concerned that additional phosphates will hamper their ability to meet their own water treatment requirements while also hurting water quality in the South Platte. Denver joined the suit in May.
Because Denver Water services numerous other water providers in the metro area and participates in a major South Metro reuse project known as WISE, short for Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency, anything that changes the chemical profile of its water affects dozens of communities and the river itself.
Among the plaintiffs’ concerns is that phosphate levels in water that is discharged to the river have to be tightly controlled under provisions of the Clean Water Act. If phosphate levels in domestic water rise, wastewater treatment protocols would have to be changed, potentially costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, according to a report by the Denver-based, nonpartisan Water Research Foundation.
From an environmental perspective, any increased phosphate in the South Platte River would make fighting such things as algae blooms, which are fueled by nutrients including phosphorous, much more difficult and could make the river less habitable for fish.
But in its statement to the court, the CDPHE said the state’s first job is to protect the health of the thousands of children served by Denver Water in the metro area.
“The addition of orthophosphate will reduce lead at consumers’ taps by approximately 74 percent, as opposed to the cheaper treatment favored by plaintiffs [PH/Alkalinity], which will only reduce levels by less than 50 percent,” CDPHE said in court documents. “This is a significant and important public health difference, particularly because there is no safe level of lead in blood…Even at low levels, a child’s exposure to lead can be harmful.”
How much either treatment may eventually cost Denver Water and others isn’t clear yet, according to state health officials, because it will depend in part on how each process is implemented.
Denver, Aurora and Metro Wastewater declined to comment for this story, citing the pending lawsuit.
The Greenway Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.
In late July, all parties agreed to pause the legal proceedings while they examine water treatment issues as well as the environmental concerns raised by higher levels of phosphorous in Denver Water’s treated water supplies. If a settlement can’t be reached by Nov. 1, the lawsuit will proceed.
Jonathan Cuppett, a research manager at the Water Research Foundation, said other utilities across the country may be asked to re-evaluate their own corrosion control systems under a rewrite of the Lead and Copper Rule underway now at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The newly proposed federal rule is due out for review later this year or by mid-2019.
Cuppett said the changes may lean toward more phosphate-based treatment for lead contamination. In fact, the EPA issued a statement in March in support of the CDPHE’s order to Denver Water.
“Within the [Lead and Copper Rule] there are a variety of changes that may be made. Depending on what those changes are other utilities may have to evaluate their strategy again or more frequently. And if that is the case, we may see more of this issue where someone is pushing for phosphorous for control for public health, creating a conflict of interest with environmental concerns,” Cuppett said.
Colorado public health officials said they’re hopeful an agreement can be reached, but that they have few options under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act’s Lead and Copper Rule.
“The [Lead and Copper Rule] is a very prescriptive, strict rule,” said Megan Parish, an attorney and policy adviser to CDPHE. “It doesn’t give us a lot of discretion to consider things that Metro Wastewater would have liked us to consider.”
Aurora’s futuristic recycled water project — Prairie Waters— is running at full-tilt for the first time in its eight-year history, a move designed to make the city’s water supplies last longer in the face of severe drought conditions.
“We’re pushing it as hard as we can,” said Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water.
In February, as mountain snows failed to accumulate, Baker said the city began mobilizing to ramp up plant operations, knowing its reservoirs would likely not fill this summer. “We were very worried.”
By April, Prairie Waters was running at full speed, generating 9.7 million gallons a day (MGD), up from 5.1 MGD last summer, a 90 percent increase in production.
“We could possibly push it to 10 MGD,” said Ann Malinaro, a chemist and treatment specialist with Prairie Waters, “but we consider 9.7 MGD full capacity.”
“Prairie Waters was huge, not just in terms of volume, but also because it’s really helped us advance as a state in accepting potable [drinkable] reused water,” Belanger said. “Historically, there has been a yuck factor. But Prairie Waters has helped folks understand how systems can be designed so they are safe and effective.” [Laura Belanger]
Twenty-five Colorado cities, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Louisville, operate recycled water facilities, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but that water is used primarily to water parks, golf courses and to help cool power plants, among other nonpotable, or non-drinkable, uses.
But Aurora, faced with fast-growth and a shortage of water, realized more than a decade ago that reusing its existing supplies and treating them to drinking water standards was the only way to ensure it could provide enough water for its citizens.
Completed in 2010, the Prairie Waters Project recaptures treated wastewater from the South Platte River and transports it back to Aurora through a series of underground wells and pipelines. As the water makes its 34-mile journey from a point near Brighton back to the metro area through subsurface sand and gravel formations, it undergoes several rounds of natural cleansing.
Once it reaches the Prairie Waters treatment facility near Aurora Reservoir, it runs through a series of high-tech purification processes using carbon filters, UV light and chlorine, among other chemicals. Then, before it is delivered to homes, the reused water is mixed with the city’s other supplies, which derive from relatively clean mountain snowmelt that is carried down from the mountains.
The problems faced by the wastewater system have become more urgent, as the city is now non-compliant with its existing discharge permit. Failure to move forward with upgrades could result in stiff penalties from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to the tune of $10,000 a day assessed from the first date of the violation last November.
The Sterling City Council has long known about deficiencies in the system; two years ago, Rob Demis of engineering firm Mott MacDonald gave a preliminary overview of some of the problems presented by the aging infrastructure. In short, the system suffers from flooding and leakage issues, and also is incapable of meeting new environmental standards…
According to Demis, the system lacks the capacity to handle heavy rainfall events or river flooding, and also suffers from leaks at multiple points that allow groundwater to seep into the wastewater stream. That excess water damages equipment, overloads the system and can lead to costly permit violations, as well as disrupting the biological process that breaks down the organic material in the water.
The system also is incapable of meeting its existing compliance schedules or new regulations that are slated to be implemented by 2022. It suffers from a lack of redundancy, leaving the city vulnerable to failures that would be “catastrophic,” Demis said, and also uses obsolete and dangerous equipment and processes.
Demis explained that much of the system has reached, or exceeded, its useful life and the problems the city is facing will only get worse over time. As an example, he said the four clarifiers that are in place had been banned by the time they were installed in 1995, begging the question of how Sterling ended up with them in the first place, and one of the tanks has failed and can’t be used.
As part of the presentation, Demis went over the estimated costs, 80 percent of which was for construction and the other 20 percent for legal, administrative, engineering, permitting and other costs associated with such a project. The cost of installing a new force main and improvements to the treatment system itself make up about half of the $31 million price tag.
Demis also spoke about possible funding sources. Grants are not reliable, he said; they looked at six possible grant sources and one they identified as a possibility has not received the expected funding because of low oil prices. A review of potential loan sources showed that the State Revolving Fund would provide a lower total cost in the long run versus private loans, because of the reduced interest rate. Either way, the city charter requires voter approval for taking on debt.
The city’s existing sewer rates have not kept up with the rate of inflation, Demis said. Using simple math, he estimated that residential sewer users’ rates would increase by $23, but noted that the city would have to complete a rate study to look at the more complex issues involved in determining the revenue necessary to make the recommended improvements, operate the system and invest in other needed infrastructure. The council is awaiting a report on such a rate study that was funded in the city budget last year.
During his October 2016 presentation, Demis gave credit to the operators at the wastewater treatment plant, saying they were “willing to make their job a little bit harder to try to find the value for the city” by reusing existing equipment and infrastructure where possible. He estimated that the cost to completely start over with a new wastewater system would be between $45 and 50 million. “We think there’s very good value for the city of Sterling there.”
Sterling residents for the past two years have seen increases on both water and wastewater services in an attempt to build up the enterprise funds and address infrastructure needs. According to City Manager Don Saling, the rate hikes were intended to narrow the gap between where rates were and where they’ll need to be, pending the outcome of the rate study. One big change he expects to see from the study is a recommendation to base sewer rates on usage; the rate would be calculated from water usage in cooler months, when users are not watering outdoors. A variable rate would be more equitable — a family of four would presumably pay more than a single retiree on a fixed income — and could also encourage water conservation to lower both water and sewer bills.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jon Nicolodi):
Garfield County is revising its onsite wastewater treatment system regulations following new regulations put forth by the state. Does this impact you? Considering the consequences of a poorly maintained onsite wastewater treatment system, and with approximately 3,500 out of about 17,000 housing units in Garfield County relying on onsite wastewater treatment systems, the answer could be “yes.”
Some homeowners like septic systems because they don’t have a regular sewage bill from their municipality. Instead, they must properly maintain their system, but they have control, and more ownership, of what goes into their system and how much and how regularly they have to pay for maintenance. By only flushing human waste and toilet paper, by properly disposing of chemicals, and by using a compost collection service or backyard system to break down cooking grease and other food waste, all maintenance is preventative. With care and preventative maintenance, septic system owners can save in the long run.
Septic systems go astray, however, when they aren’t cared for. Septic system leakage isn’t a foreign concept to health and environment officials. Toilet water leaking into the ground untreated might make its innocent way down through hundreds of feet of soil before being neutralized by the soil microbes. More likely, the wastewater will leak into a nearby stream, creating algal blooms and wreaking havoc on the balance of water quality in the ecosystem.
If your home isn’t connected to a public sanitary sewer system, you may be utilizing a private drinking water well. This water source may be near your septic system. Phosphorus, nitrogen and bacteria aren’t exactly the constituents of quality drinking water.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division adopted Regulation 43 nearly a year ago, and counties have until June 30th of this year to adopt versions of this regulation that are at least as stringent as the state’s. Among other items, the regulation specifies the categories and type of material installed in and around the leach field, and it requires additional inspection of systems to ensure that they meet industry standards.
Septic systems should be inspected at least every three years, and typically pumped free of their settled solids every three to five years. Contact your local county officials to learn what you have on your site, and to learn who to call for a quality service provider. Be thoughtful about what you put down the drain and how much you use your garbage disposal. Mark the free hazardous waste collection day at the local landfill on your calendar. Practice water conservation by installing high-efficiency toilets, shower heads and laundry machines. Take one more step to being considerate of your local streams, and of your own and your community’s drinking water supply.
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
Roaring Fork Conservancy has been studying the creek since 2015, and water quality coordinator Chad Rudow told commissioners Monday that research shows parts of the creek are healthier than the state thought.
“We’re pretty excited and pretty hopeful that at least a section of Cattle Creek will come off of that 303(d) list,” Rudow said.
Roaring Fork Conservancy has submitted its data to the Colorado water quality division, which will analyze it this year.
Garfield County agreed to Roaring Fork Conservancy’s request for $10,000 to continue studying water quality and take steps to improve it. Rudow said the studies have identified some clear trends…
There isn’t just one culprit; diversions, agriculture, septic systems and commercial development all contribute.
Roaring Fork Conservancy is working with landowners to better manage riparian areas and septic systems, and Rudow said continued outreach is key.
Because there are many diversions on Cattle Creek, the stream doesn’t see a typical spring runoff flow, which clears out pollutants and sediments. So Roaring Fork Conservancy is also working with water rights owners to discuss a pulse flow to mimic spring runoff.
…in November 2016, the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sued, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and the city’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit to discharge into creeks, streams and rivers. As a federal judge looks to set a trial date this summer, the state and lawsuit intervenors, Pueblo County and the Rocky Ford-based Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, urge the EPA in a March 26 letter to “re-commit” to the case, suggesting a dismissal or settlement might be in the works.
That would be a mistake, says Lower Ark executive director Jay Winner, because the city has broken promises in the past involving stormwater. “I started this in 2005 and we’ve had three or four deals, and something always goes south,” he says. “We’ve got to make sure we have good clean water, not just for now but for the future.”
The city’s struggle to fund stormwater dates to two failed ballot measures in 2001, and City Council’s adoption of fees in 2007 only to rescind them in 2009. In April 2016, the matter became a sticking point as the city prepared to activate the Southern Delivery System, a $825 million, 50-mile water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir. Having issued a construction permit for it, Pueblo County demanded the city fix its storm system to relieve Fountain Creek flooding, or face revocation. In response, Mayor John Suthers and Council pledged $460 million over 20 years for city drainage work.
In November 2017, Suthers and Council proposed shifting that cost from the city’s general fund to fees. Voters approved, and the city begins collections in July. (See sidebar.)
By all indications, the city is working to comply with its MS4 permit. Its March 30 annual report for 2017 says the city:
Increased the number of drainage structures it maintained, from 53 in 2016 to 70, and for the first time, city workers walked every foot of the city’s 270 miles of creeks and channels to assess needs.
Boosted by 56 percent its reviews of drainage reports and construction and grading plans — to 1,590 last year. The city also rolled out new grading, erosion and sediment control permitting programs.
Launched Stormwater University, which instructs developers, engineers and consultants, as well as citizens, on MS4 mandates.
More than doubled the number of cleanup events along city waterways in 2017, to 88 from 37 in 2016, increasing public participation by 54 percent, to 6,014 people. Those volunteers removed 18 tons of trash. “We now have the capacity and people in place to run the programs,” says Jerry Cordova, who oversees the volunteer “trash mob” events, “so we can develop them and continue to grow.”
Beefed up development inspections, a key EPA lawsuit criticism. While no monetary penalties were imposed, the city stepped up enforcement, issuing 47 compliance actions last year compared to only 16 in 2016.
Inspections are more robust, says stormwater manager Rich Mulledy, because the city has more inspectors focused on drainage issues alone. “If you do a lot more inspections,” he says, “you’re going to catch more.” And the city did. It issued six stop-work orders last year, compared to only two in 2016, and 41 letters of noncompliance, the step that precedes a stop-work order — triple the 14 issued in 2016.
Pockets of noncompliance, such as Wolf Ranch in the northeast, which gave rise to 23 percent of last year’s enforcement actions, stem from multiple adjacent job sites, Mulledy says. “We have a lot of different home builders and different contractors, and they’re all trying to play in the same sandbox, and they step on each other’s toes. You might have 100 pieces of equipment being used by 20 to 30 different companies.”
Mulledy also warns against thinking that no monetary fines means no penalties. “Stop-work — that’s a very serious thing. That is a big deal,” he says. “They can’t work till it’s fixed.” Which is why stop-work orders span only a day or so, he says.
The industry is aware of the heightened scrutiny, says Kevin Walker, spokesperson for the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs. That’s why the HBA instituted “Wet Wednesdays,” a series of tutorials about drainage rules for builders and developers.
But it’s worth noting that builders applaud the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back clean-water and stormwater-runoff regulations. The HBA even funded EPA director Scott Pruitt’s “luxury hotel stay” at The Broadmoor in October 2017, according to Politico, which quoted HBA CEO Renee Zentz as saying it was “our chance to make sure the concerns of our industry are being listened to.”
It’s not publicly known if the EPA’s lawsuit was discussed during Pruitt’s visit, but there’s been no filing that hints a negotiated settlement is imminent. Still, the March 26 letter from the state, Pueblo County and the Lower Ark says they “are now seriously concerned about whether the EPA continues to share our commitment to working together to protect Fountain Creek…”
The CDPHE tells the Indy in an email the letter’s intent was to “reiterate the importance … of remedying the ongoing discharge of pollutants” into the Arkansas River watershed.
But Lower Ark’s Jay Winner is more pointed: “I think there is a genuine distrust that the EPA may try to cut a deal,” he says. “We’re hoping that doesn’t happen. We’ve got to live with Fountain Creek for a very, very long time. Colorado Springs is doing a great job. Mayor Suthers is doing a great job. But we had a mayor before him [Steve Bach] that wasn’t doing a good job, and I don’t know if the mayor after John Suthers is going to do a good job.”
More coverage of the Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise from Pam Zubeck writing for the Colorado Springs Independent:
Starting July 2, billings for the city’s Stormwater Enterprise will be mailed to all Colorado Springs residents and property owners.
The charges were authorized by voters last November under a 20-year plan that would raise roughly $20 million a year. The fee revenue will free up general fund money Mayor John Suthers and City Council had previously committed to its 20-year, $460-million deal with Pueblo County for projects to reduce erosion and flooding along Fountain Creek and other waterways. That general fund money, in turn, will be used for other purposes, such as hiring more cops.
Since the November vote, the city has been working to set up billing procedures. Residential billings, including those for apartment dwellers, will be made by Colorado Springs Utilities, with one exception. Multi-family buildings that don’t have individual apartment water meters will be handled under nonresidential rates.
City CFO Charae McDaniel says water service connections will trigger the stormwater fee for residential properties. Residential fee payers who don’t pay the $5 charge on their utility bills will be subject to disconnect under standard Utilities policies, which require payment within 14 days of the billing date. Utilities spokesman Steve Berry wouldn’t say how long Utilities provides service for overdue accounts, but it assesses a $20 fee for disconnection. Reconnection costs $30 during normal business hours and $40 after hours.
If a residential customer refuses to pay the $5 fee, it rolls onto the next bill. If left unpaid for a period of time, accumulated fees could exceed the usage billings for water, sewer, electric and gas.
“That couldn’t continue in perpetuity,” Berry says. “They [customers] will then eventually go into arrears, and they would be eligible for disconnection. There’s a point it becomes untenable for the customer, and they would be held responsible, just as in nonpayment of any service we offer.” But, Berry notes, Utilities gives customers “plenty of opportunity” to pay bills prior to disconnection.
Nonresidential property owners of developed tracts up to 5 acres will be billed $30 per acre per month; if the land isn’t developed at all, no fee will be assessed. Owners of properties larger than 5 acres will be assessed $30 per acre per month on only those portions that are developed. Portions of those properties that remain in a natural state won’t be assessed a fee. Undeveloped land won’t pay any fee.
There are currently 1,005 parcels that are over 5 acres that will be charged a fee, city spokesperson Jamie Fabos says. McDaniel says when properties are developed, based on monthly reports from the El Paso County Assessor’s Office, they’ll be added to the stormwater fee rolls.
But Assessor Steve Schleiker says he changes a tract’s status only once a year, on Jan. 1, for tax purposes, and doesn’t generate a monthly report regarding development status; rather, those reports merely describe changes to property ownership.
Asked about that, Fabos says, “Although we will be receiving monthly updates from the assessor’s office that show current ownership, acreage, and use, each property will be determined as developed or undeveloped by aerial investigation and through additional GIS technologies.” She adds that updates to parcel status will be made every six months — meaning new, nonresidential construction might not be assessed the fees until six months after they’re built.
Nonresidential customers — which includes businesses, industry, churches, nonprofits and governments, including the city — won’t face disconnection of utility bills, because the city, not Utilities, will collect the fees. Nor will they be assessed late fees.
“We will be going through collection processes if they become delinquent on the nonresidential side,” McDaniel says, meaning a collection agency could be used. If the fees become 150 days past due, she says, “We will process a lien on the property and record that with El Paso County to be added to property taxes.” That procedure carries a cost of 10 percent of the bill.
Last fall, City Council President Richard Skorman said nonresidential billing information should be made public. Now, McDaniel says the City Attorney’s Office has said stormwater fees fall under the Colorado Open Records Act’s exemption for utility bills, so they’ll be kept confidential.
That means citizens, or the media, can’t check how much various tracts are being assessed in stormwater fees.
“It’s an issue I’d like to bring up,” Skorman says, “because I did make that promise, and I didn’t check with lawyers at the time, and I said, of course we would reveal it.”
One possible alternative, he says, would be for Council to direct an appointed stormwater fee advisory committee to analyze and monitor fees assessed to assure they’re applied fairly. “That’s something that we definitely want to put in place,” he says.
Moving forward, the fees can be raised by Council action, but only to satisfy a court order, comply with federal or state laws or permits, or fund the agreement with Pueblo County.
FromColorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel). Click through to listen to the interview:
A new book puts the Gold King Mine spill within the long history of mining and pollution in Southwest Colorado.
Jonathan Thompson will be at the Book Bar tonight. I wonder if Denver is a bit of a shock to his system even though he’s a sixth-generation Coloradan?
I am so happy to finally get to finally meet Jonathan. His new book, River of Lost Souls, is an important read. Understanding the industrialization of our state over the years will help us chart a less destructive course.
I loved the passages where Jonathan reminisces about spending time around the Four Corners and in the San Juans. He transports you to those times in your life spent next to the river or exploring what sights the land has to offer. He connects you to the Four Corners in a way that only a son of the San Juans could.
Gugliemone explained that the price tag is a “conservative” (aka “likely high”) estimate, and the engineering team is looking into alternative wastewater-treatment technologies that could possibly cut the cost by $20 million. (“That would be nice,” she said about the possible price reduction during her presentation.)
Stantec Inc. — a design and consulting company headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta — is the engineer under contract, Gugliemone said. The company’s slogan is “We design with community in mind,” according to its official website (stantec.com).
Gugliemone added that the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village recently tabbed Financial Consulting Services to complete a financial analysis, along with a Financial Analysis Task Force and the town councils. The analysis will “lay out how the community might best meet the financial obligations before us,” she said.
Water and wastewater projects are covered through separate enterprise funds, which use taxes and service fees to raise capital. At a June 2017 wastewater treatment plant update, Telluride Councilman Todd Brown theorized there most likely would be a utility rate increase to help with project costs.
At Monday’s meeting, Mountain Village Mayor Laila Benitez pondered whether setting up a special taxing district for the treatment plant would be another funding option. Gugliemone said the financial consulting company is looking into that, but nothing has been suggested — let alone decided — yet.
The current wastewater treatment plant at Society Turn serves the communities of Telluride, Mountain Village, Eider Creek, Sunset Ridge, Aldasoro and Lawson Hill.
The plant is reaching its originally designed capacity, officials have explained. Plus, Department of Public Health and Environment regulations through the Colorado Discharge Permit System have been altered over the years. (Colorado Water Quality Control Division stipulations regarding acceptable metal levels in the water also changed in 2017.)
Those variables, in conjunction with an increased waste stream and new treatment options, make updating and eventually expanding the current plant paramount within the next decade. (A 1.5-percent annual population growth has been used to calculate increased wastewater loads until 2047. Basically, if the plant isn’t expanded, the San Miguel River would run with waste, which is a disgusting, vile thought.)
Pitkin County is now the second county in Colorado that can issue permits for graywater systems that allow some household water to be reused to irrigate lawns and flush toilets.
Graywater is defined by both the county and the state as water coming from bathtubs, showers, bathroom sinks and washing machines. It does not include water from toilets, urinals, kitchen sinks, dishwashers or non-laundry utility sinks, which is often called blackwater.
The city and county of Denver was the first to adopt a similar permitting process in 2016, and did so after the state approved guiding regulations in 2015.
The Pitkin County commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance last week that sets up the county’s permitting process, which is voluntary.
The city of Aspen also is considering adopting a graywater permitting system to complement its recently adopted water-efficient landscaping regulations.
Kurt Dahl, the county’s environmental health manager, said a 1999 statewide study found that typical indoor residential uses amounted to 69 gallons of water per person per day, and of that 28 gallons is graywater as defined by the state.
Graywater systems work by diverting household water away from its normal course — toward septic tanks and sewage systems — and into another set of pipes and storage tanks, where it sits until it is reused.
If the water is used for irrigation, the water must be filtered before storage and then, optimally, pumped out into a subsurface drip irrigation system. It cannot be applied via sprinklers.
If graywater is used to flush toilets, it must be disinfected and dyed before being sent to a toilet.
Single-family households can store up to 400 gallons of water a day in a tank for either irrigation or toilet flushing, and multi-family and commercial entities can store up to 2,000 gallons a day.
Graywater systems require double-piping of plumbing systems, which can be expensive to install in existing homes, and so may be better suited, at least economically, to new construction projects.
Brett Icenogle, the engineering section manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health, said Friday he was happy to see Pitkin County adopt a graywater permitting process, and he hopes other jurisdictions follow suit, even if current public demand seems low today.
“We don’t want to wait until there is a water shortage to put regulations in place,” Icenogle said.
The local permitting process begins with the county’s environmental health department, and also requires plumbing and building permits. If used for irrigation, it may also require a state water right.
Dahl served on a group that developed the state’s regulations, and he’d like to see other uses added to the state’s list, such as fire suppression.
“I want to get this to the point where using graywater is an option for everyone,” Dahl said.