The 1960s and 1970s were a golden age of infrastructure development in the U.S., with the expansion of the interstate system and widespread construction of new water treatment, wastewater and flood control systems reflecting national priorities in public health and national defense. But infrastructure requires maintenance, and, eventually, it has to be replaced.
That hasn’t been happening in many parts of the country. Increasingly, extreme heat and storms are putting roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure under stress.
Two recent examples – an intense heat wave that pushed California’s power grid to its limits in September 2022, and the failure of the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, amid flooding in August – show how a growing maintenance backlog and increasing climate change are turning the 2020s and 2030s into a golden age of infrastructure failure.
I am a civil engineer whose work focuses on the impacts of climate change on infrastructure. Often, low-income communities and communities of color like Jackson see the least investment in infrastructure replacements and repairs.
Crumbling bridge and water systems
The United States is consistently falling short on funding infrastructure maintenance. A report by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker’s Volcker Alliance in 2019 estimated the U.S. has a US$1 trillion backlog of needed repairs.
A water main break now occurs somewhere in the U.S. every two minutes, and an estimated 6 million gallons of treated water are lost each day. This is happening at the same time the western United States is implementing water restrictions amid the driest 20-year span in 1,200 years. Similarly, drinking water distribution in the United States relies on over 2 million miles of pipes that have limited life spans.
The underlying issue for infrastructure failure is age, resulting in the failure of critical parts such as pumps and motors.
Jackson, a majority-Black state capital, has dealt with water system breakdowns for years and has repeatedly requested infrastructure funding from the state to upgrade its struggling water treatment plants.
Climate change exacerbates the risk
The consequences of inadequate maintenance are compounded by climate change, which is accelerating infrastructure failure with increased flooding, extreme heat and growing storm intensity.
Much of the world’s infrastructure was designed for an environment that no longer exists. The historic precipitation levels, temperature profiles, extreme weather events and storm surge levels those systems were designed and built to handle are now exceeded on a regular basis.
Unprecedented rainfall in the California desert in 2015 tore apart a bridge over Interstate 10, one of the state’s most important east-west routes. Temperatures near 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C) forced the Phoenix airport to cancel flights in 2017 out of concern the planes might not be able to safely take off.
Power outages during California’s September 2022 heat wave are another potentially life-threatening infrastructure problem.
The rising costs of delayed repairs
My research with colleagues shows that the vulnerability of the national transportation system, energy distribution system, water treatment facilities and coastal infrastructure will significantly increase over the next decade due to climate change.
We estimate that rail infrastructure faces additional repair costs of $5 billion to $10 billion annually by 2050, while road repairs due to temperature increases could reach a cumulative $200 billion to $300 billion by the end of the century. Similarly, water utilities are facing the possibility of a trillion-dollar price tag by 2050.
After studying the issue of climate change impacts on infrastructure for two decades, with climate projections getting worse, not better, I believe addressing the multiple challenges to the nation’s infrastructure requires systemic change.
Two items are at the top of the list: national prioritization and funding.
Prioritizing the infrastructure challenge is essential to bring government responsibilities into the national conversation. Most local jurisdictions simply can’t afford to absorb the cost of needed infrastructure. The recent infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act are starting points, but they still fall short of fixing the long-term issue.
Without systemic change, Jackson, Mississippi, will be just the start of an escalating trend.
On Tuesday, August 30, Judge Armando Bonilla of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a decision from the bench in favor of New Civil Liberties Alliance’s (NCLA) client and denying a motion to dismiss in Todd Hennis v. The United States of America.
“Today, the Court of Federal Claims recognized what we have long known. EPA must answer for the bad decisions it has made and the unlawful actions it has taken since 2015, said New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) Litigation Counsel Kara Rollins. “We are pleased that Mr. Hennis’s case is moving ahead, and we look forward to presenting the facts about what the EPA did to him—and took from him.”
Hennis filed a lawsuit against the United States for the physical taking of his property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He took this step after years of waiting for action. On August 5, 2015, EPA destroyed the portal to the Gold King Mine, located in Silverton, Colorado. Upon doing so, the agency released a toxic sludge of over 3,000,000 gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed. According to Hennis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused an environmental catastrophe that preceded and culminated in the invasion, occupation, taking, and confiscation of Hennis’s downstream property. Ever since, he has been trying to recover damages. This ruling means the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is allowing Mr. Hennis’s lawsuit to go forward to discovery, and ultimately to trial…
[The EPA] eventually mobilized supplies and equipment onto Hennis’s downstream property to address the immediate after-effects of its actions, but it apparently ignored Hennis’s explicit instructions on how to protect the land and the scope of the access that he granted. Instead, the EPA constructed a multimillion-dollar water treatment facility on his land, without permission, compensation, or even following a procedure to appropriate his property for public use. After seven years, Hennis says the U.S. Government has been “squatted on his lands”, and he wants financial compensation. Hennis says he didn’t voluntarily give EPA permission to construct and operate a water treatment facility on his property. It was built without his knowledge or consent, and it later coerced him into allowing access to his lands by threatening him with exorbitant fines (over $59,000 per day) should he exercise his property rights. When Hennis refused to sign an access document, the EPA preceded to occupy his property by operation of the agency’s own administrative order—and threatening him with fines if he challenges it.
Protecting people from hazards that can lurk in their drinking water is the day-in, day-out job for water industry engineers, utilities and regulators.
And at Denver Water, efforts to protect people from the health risks posed by lead from old, lead service lines getting into drinking water, has been part of the job for decades.
There is no lead in the water Denver Water delivers to customers, but the utility regularly tests for lead in the drinking water of homes that are known to have lead water service lines, the primary source of lead in drinking water.
In the first half of the 20th century, lead was a common, cheap and easy-to-work-with material to use when forming small pipelines that carry drinking water from utility pipelines in the street into customers’ homes. But these old lead service lines, which in Denver Water’s experience are more often found in homes built before 1951, pose a threat in the community, particularly to children, infants and pregnant women.
Denver Water has tested for lead in customers’ drinking water for decades under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule. In 2012, the routine monitoring indicated the utility needed to investigate whether it could adjust the chemistry of the water it delivered to customers to better protect them from the risk of lead getting into drinking water.
Read this 2019 story to learn about Denver Water’s efforts over the years to combat lead in drinking water, which culminated in the 2020 launch of its groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program.
In short, the results of tests on customers’ drinking water launched Denver Water into years of study centered on one question: What more could it do to better protect at-risk customers?
The first step was more testing.
“For a utility of our size and the number of lead service lines we have, you can’t just test something by putting it into the distribution system that’s delivering water to 1.5 million people every day. That’s not acceptable to us,” said Ryan Walsh, manager of the water treatment engineering section at Denver Water.
“We had to test things at a pilot scale, by doing the pipe loop study, before we could move forward.”
Walsh’s team was in charge of testing various treatment options via the pipe loop study and later planned, designed and executed the treatment plant systems involved in increasing the pH level.
To build the pipe loop study, Denver Water used old lead service lines its crews removed from customers’ homes (replacing them with lead-free lines) as the crews found the old lines during their regular work on water mains across the utility’s service area.
Denver Water plumbers connected the decades-old pipes together on racks and its treatment engineers ran water through them for hours, days and years. They tested different treatment methods to find out which worked best to reduce the risk of lead from the old pipes getting into the water passing through them.
Watch this video to see Denver Water’s pipe loop study, which is still underway today.
“That testing was so critical because we used the water that had been treated by our treatment plants, Moffat and Marston, the water that was going into our system to customers. The pipe loop study allowed us to test the adjustments we might do to the water to keep people safe,” said Patty Brubaker, a water treatment plant manager.
“We tried different pH levels, we tried different phosphate levels, and we tried all of them on the actual lead pipes that had been taken from our system,” Brubaker said.
“There were so many people involved in putting this together. We had the crews who went out and pulled those lines, the plumbers that put them together on the racks, the people who made the adjustments and tested the water as it ran through the pipes.
All of us were studying the impacts to figure out which would be the best method to use to protect our customers from those old lead pipes.”
In March 2018, based on Denver Water’s studies, state health officials told Denver Water it had two years — until March 2020 — to get ready to start using a food additive called orthophosphate to tamp down the potential for lead to get into customers’ drinking water.
The decision worried many people inside and outside of Denver Water.
The concern wasn’t whether orthophosphate would reduce the potential for lead to get into drinking water. They knew it would.
Denver Water’s years of tests on the old pipes had shown orthophosphate would work, and other water utilities use orthophosphate to reduce the risk of lead getting into their drinking water.
But Denver Water, environmental groups and other water and wastewater utilities downstream of Colorado’s capital city worried about the widespread, long term — and expensive — consequences of adding orthophosphate to such a large system, including the increased potential for environmental impacts in and downstream of the Denver metro area.
Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, had been hired at the utility few months before the state’s 2018 decision on orthophosphate. From previous jobs involving water and wastewater treatment plants, she’d seen what orthophosphate could do at the plants and in the environment.
“I’d seen the algae, which can grow faster when there are higher levels of phosphate in the water. I’d seen it coating the valves coming into the treatment plant so we couldn’t bring water in. I’ve seen how the taste and odor problems with the water were so bad that people bought and used bottled water instead of tap water,” Poncelet-Johnson said.
“And in Colorado’s dry, arid environment, with our long, sunny days and the UV light, adding orthophosphate to our system would have created a primordial soup. Plus, after the expense of adding it to the water at the drinking water treatment plant, it’s hard, expensively hard, to get phosphorous out of the water when it arrives at the downstream wastewater plants,” she said.
On top of the expensive work that would be required at wastewater treatment plants, there simply was no way to recapture all the orthophosphate that would be added to Denver’s drinking water due to the way water is used in the metro area, she said.
About half of Denver Water’s residential water use is outdoor water use, tied to the irrigation of lawns and gardens. That means some of the orthophosphate-treated drinking water was bound to run off of lawns, down the gutter and end up in the metro area’s urban creeks, streams and rivers.
The groups worried that under the right conditions, that additional phosphate could accelerate the growth of algae not only downstream of the city, but also in the metro area’s urban creeks, streams and reservoirs.
There had to be another way, they said.
“We went back to the data from the years of tests we’d run. We saw that if we raised the pH level of the water, instead of adding orthophosphate, we could protect people from the lead service lines,” Poncelet-Johnson said.
“And if we combined a higher pH with replacing those lead service lines with new, lead-free copper lines, then the lead levels would drop to the point where the tests couldn’t detect anything.”
In 2019, Denver Water formally proposed an alternative approach to state and federal regulators.
Denver Water’s proposal, at its core, called for raising the pH of the water delivered to customers from 7.8 to 8.8 on the pH scale, and keeping it there with relatively little variance as it flowed from the treatment plant to the customers’ homes and businesses.
The higher pH level would strengthen an existing protective coating inside the lead service lines, reducing the risk of lead getting into the drinking water as it passed through the lead pipes.
And that — combined with significantly accelerating the replacement of the old lead services lines — would 1) lower the risk faster than relying on orthophosphate alone, and 2) do so without the cost and environmental concerns posed by adding the phosphate.
“It was a better solution, a permanent solution to the problem of old lead service lines, which are the primary source of lead in drinking water,” Poncelet-Johnson said.
“Because instead of a Band-Aid approach, instead of just adding chemicals to the system and then dealing with the widespread economic and environmental consequences of that decision for decades, we went the other way and proposed permanently removing the problem by raising the pH of the water and replacing the lead service lines,” she said.
Listen to Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, discuss Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program:
Denver Water’s alternative proposal focused on five areas:
Raising the pH of the water it delivers to 1.5 million people to 8.8, and keep it fairly constant, with very little variance, as the water flowed from treatment plant, through the distribution system, to customers’ homes and businesses.
Mapping the location of the customer-owned lead service lines in its service area and sharing that map with customers.
Replacing the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines in its service area with new lead-free copper lines at no direct cost to the customer.
Providing customers enrolled in the program with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use until six months after their lead line was replaced.
Launching the largest public health communication effort Denver Water had ever done to educate its customers about the risks of lead, the importance of using filtered water until the old lead service lines could be replaced, and the process for replacing those lead pipes.
Watch this video to learn more about lead service lines.
Breaking new ground
The proposal broke new ground in the water industry in two main ways.
It attacked the legacy issue posed old lead service lines from all sides — by raising the pH level, replacing customers’ old lead service lines, providing water filters to customers enrolled in the program to use until six months after their line was replaced, and educating those customers about the program.
And Denver Water said it would tackle all those steps on a scale and at a speed never before seen in the water industry.
Other cities had aimed to replace a few thousand lead service lines.
But Denver Water proposed replacing up to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines estimated to be in Denver Water’s service area, doing it at no direct cost to the customer, and doing it in 15 years.
And, the utility proposed sending water pitchers and filters to more than 100,000 households enrolled in the program to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead line was replaced.
In December 2019, health officials at the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment agreed to Denver Water’s alternative proposal.
Weeks later, in January 2020, Denver Water launched its Lead Reduction Program — and immediately faced a crucial deadline.
The utility’s engineers, treatment plant operators and monitoring teams now had to implement the systems and processes that would raise the pH level of the water and maintain that level as the water flowed across more than 3,000 miles of pipe to 1.5 million people. And they had less than 90 days to do it.
Turbidity in the Colorado River is dropping to levels previous to major wildfires and mudslides that roiled Glenwood Canyon in 2020 and 2021, Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner said…Whenever loose rock and dirt unearthed from heavy rainstorms barrel into the Colorado River — the main source of drinking and agricultural use for Silt, Rifle and Parachute — sediment increases. The measurement is called turbidity…Turbidity levels rose after the Grizzly Creek wildfire consumed more than 32,631 acres within Glenwood Canyon in 2020 and after a rare, 500-year rain event in summer 2021 caused massive debris flows in the same area…
Middle Colorado Watershed Council Executive Director Paula Stepp said one of the ways to mitigate turbidity relies on new measurement devices installed up and down the Colorado River. With water quality monitoring stations established by the USGS in Garfield County, data collected from these sites are used to warn downstream users. Though Glenwood Springs’ primary water source isn’t the Colorado River, the city has water monitoring stations at Veltus Park on the Roaring Fork River and at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers near Two Rivers Park. Three other stations are located in South Canyon, Silt and Rulison…
Recently, Silt used $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to pursue an engineering study on how it can better its methods of pulling water from the Colorado River. That study concluded the city needed at least $30 million to not only combat turbidity levels but better serve its growing population. One way to pay for water and wastewater treatment improvements falls on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November 2021.
With the recent news that the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to pay New Mexico and the Navajo Nation more than $63 million for damages related to the Gold King Mine spill, some Coloradoans are asking: What about us?
“I just always question, should we have been louder, because holy smokes, that’s a lot of money,” La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka said. “And it is concerning when $60 million-plus goes to communities at the end of the river, yet (Durango and Silverton) were the most heavily impacted.”
After the plume passed by, the communities closest to the headwaters – Silverton and Durango – decided not to pursue litigation against the EPA. Instead, they chose to push for the cleanup of mines that pock the mountains around Silverton and have degraded water quality in the Animas River since the heydey of mining in the late 1800s, early 1900s. And indeed, in fall 2016, a collection of historic mines in the area, including the Gold King, received a Superfund designation with widespread local support…
Downstream communities in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation, however, went a different route. New Mexico sued the EPA in May 2016, with the Navajo Nation following suit a few months later. The $63 million settlement, announced in June, is now under question by upriver elected officials.
“Those are funds I would have liked to see go to the actual source of the issue,” Salka said. “We should be addressing the Superfund site, making sure water quality is good and preventing another mine blowout.”
While the sheer sight of the spill alarmed even the most involved members of groups such as the Animas River Stakeholders Group (a now-defunct organization of volunteers dedicated to protecting the health of the river), the fact that a mine blew out near Silverton wasn’t a shock. It has happened many times over the years. Looking at the long view: roughly 5.4 million gallons of acid mine drainage leaches into the Animas each day, compared to 3 million in the one-time Gold King blowout. The spill, however, was the catalyst that finally secured a Superfund designation for the mines draining around Silverton. In the past, some community members objected that a Superfund declaration carried a stigma that would imperil the town’s tourism economy and destroy any possibility of reviving the local mining industry. But after the Gold King blowout drew national attention, there was no stopping the momentum, and the Bonita Peak Superfund site was established. It’s composed of 48 historic mining sites around Silverton that are the biggest culprits of metal loading…
It should be noted New Mexico also reached an $11 million settlement with Sunnyside Gold, the last operating mining company in Silverton, and is still pursuing a lawsuit against the EPA’s contractor…
On the Navajo Nation, a different case was made about the Gold King Mine spill. From a Native American cultural perspective, waters are sacred, and the disturbing sight of a bright orange San Juan River had a traumatic impact on tribal members (not to mention the history of environmental injustice on tribes throughout North America). According to media reports, some farmers on the Navajo Nation refused to use San Juan River water for years after the spill…
That’s not to say Silverton and Durango were shorted. Both governments received some reimbursement for dealing with the spill itself. The EPA built a $1 million water treatment plant that continues to operate at a cost to the EPA of $2.5 million a year. And, the agency has spent about $100 million to date on the Superfund site and expects to spend significantly more in the coming years…
Since the Gold King Mine spill happened, a lot of money has been exchanged (and not exchanged: the EPA, for instance, denied liability for $1.2 billion in private damages, such as rafting companies that took a hit during the river closure, lost wages for the tourism sector and alleged damage to crops and livestock). EPA’s Basile added a separate lawsuit settlement will have Sunnyside Gold pay $41 million to the federal government and $4 million to Colorado, all to be used on top of the federal government’s $45 million for the Bonita Peak site…At the end of the day, however, local officials say the best payout of all would be improved water quality in the Animas River watershed. Yet, Brookie said it does sting to see the dollar amount going to a New Mexico community that may not necessarily have a case for claiming they were impacted by the Gold King Mine spill.
He explained that the engineer had estimated that the cost would be $25 million but that the contractor placed the price at “closer to $40 million,” necessitating that PAWSD reapply for a larger loan.
The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. at the PAWSD administrative office at 100 Lyn Ave.
The Colorado River’s precipitous decline pushed Arizona lawmakers to deliver Gov. Doug Ducey’s $1 billion water augmentation fund — and then some — late Friday, their final night in session.
Before the votes, the growing urgency for addressing the state’s oncoming water shortage and the long timeline for approving and building new water projects nearly sank the legislation. Just over a week after the federal government warned that the seven states that use the Colorado must make major new cutbacks by next year, Democrats held out until they got an additional $200 million commitment for water conservation, which they argued could help Arizonans much faster than the costlier seawater desalination plan that the governor has touted. Some of the water importation schemes that had been discussed would require multiple billions of dollars and interstate or international partnerships, making this three-year investment effectively a fund for down payments for big-ticket pipes or treatment plants. The water conservation measures, such as grants to help cities reduce turf grass, could be cheaper…
One after another, a bipartisan stream of legislators picked up a microphone in a two-day blitz for the package to say that spending to plug the emerging holes in Arizona’s water supply was critical to the state’s future. They eventually passed it as Senate Bill 1740 with just one dissenter in each chamber.
The biggest risk to Westminster’s drinking water is wildfires and algae blooms, according to Tom Scribner, water treatment superintendent with Westminster. The water flows from Loveland pass to Clear Creek to Farmers Highline canal and into the lake.
Borgers said wildfire risk is high.
“Unfortunately, Clear Creek is at a very high risk for having a catastrophic wildfire,” she said.
It is something the city is very aware of and Westminster is heavily involved with mitigating wildfire in the watershed, she said.
“If it were to get into Stanley Lake, Semper probably would have a hard time treating it. But we have the ability to divert water around Standley so that Semper is not having to treat that poor quality water,” Borgers said.
The Semper Water Treatment Plant was built in the 1960s and does not have the technology to treat wildfire contaminated water to make it drinkable, according to Scribner.
Standley Lake has about a year of water storage the city would use, she said. The city would be able to find a new, reliable source for drinking water in that year, she said. Standley Lake supplies water for Northglenn and Thornton as well as Westminster.
Metropolitan Water District’s wastewater recycling project draws support from Arizona and Nevada, which hope to gain a share of metropolitan’s river supply
Momentum is building for a unique interstate deal that aims to transform wastewater from Southern California homes and business into relief for the stressed Colorado River. The collaborative effort to add resiliency to a river suffering from overuse, drought and climate change is being shaped across state lines by some of the West’s largest water agencies.
Southern California’s giant wholesaler, Metropolitan Water District, claims a multi-billion-dollar water recycling proposal will not only create a new local source for its 19 million customers, but allow it to share part of its Colorado River supply with other parched river partners already facing their own cutbacks. To advance what would become the nation’s largest wastewater recycling facility, Metropolitan is securing financial aid from other major Colorado River users in Nevada and Arizona in return for giving them portions of its river supply. Amid critically low reservoir levels and the first-ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River, water managers and experts are touting the interstate deal as a prime example of the team effort required to safeguard the future of this iconic Southwestern river and the people who rely on it.
“It’s a really interesting and innovative approach around partnerships,” said Heather Cooley, research director with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based water policy center. “Something we haven’t yet seen.”
Thus far the project appears long on support, but there are some potential impediments, such as whether the next set of river operating guidelines due in place by 2026 will allow the partners’ proposed long-term interstate water exchanges. Additionally, California regulators must clear the way for Metropolitan and others in the state to put the recycled supply directly into the drinking water system.
Aid for the Struggling Colorado
Metropolitan pitched the ambitious wastewater recycling proposal more than a decade ago, but the project gained steam recently amid increasingly dry conditions across two of its key water sources in California’s Sierra Nevada and Colorado River Basin. Water interests along the lower Colorado River Basin have for several years discussed how they might augment the river’s shrinking flows. As it turned out, the Lower Basin’s next potential augmentation project is being hatched more than 200 miles away near the coast of California.
Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources have agreed to spend up to a combined $12 million to assist Metropolitan with environmental review, almost half of the total planning cost. If the project isn’t built, or if operating agreements aren’t finalized, Metropolitan would refund the agencies’ contributions. However, if the Nevada and Arizona agencies stay on to help build the final project, they will gain to-be-determined slices of Metropolitan’s annual share of Colorado River water.
The partnering agencies are currently grappling with major cuts to their own Colorado River supply, and more are on the horizon.
Last summer, the Bureau of Reclamation declared a first-ever shortage in the Lower Colorado Basin, requiring Arizona to slash its annual take of the river by 18 percent and Nevada by 7 percent in 2022. But the mandated cuts have done little to protect water levels at the river’s two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and now federal officials are on the verge of implementing a fresh round of unprecedented reductions that stand to affect supply for the Lower Basin states.
Metropolitan’s assistant general manager calls the deal a win-win for Southern California and the Southwest.
“The idea of the program is that in return for their co-investment to make this facility a reality, we would back off some of our Colorado supply,” Deven Upadhyay said. “It becomes one component of potential augmentation on the river to help others out.”
Boosting Water Security
At full capacity, Metropolitan’s wastewater recycling plant could produce up to 168,000 acre-feet a year. However, Upadhyay said Metropolitan doesn’t plan to make a corresponding amount of its river share available to the out-of-state investors.
But gaining even a sliver of Metropolitan’s Colorado River supply could boost water security for arid Arizona and Nevada.
“We’re at a point in this Basin where we can’t afford to not look at reasonable ideas,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Contract details haven’t been finalized but Pellegrino estimates SNWA could secure between 25,000-35,000 additional acre-feet annually, or around 10 percent of its yearly river apportionment. In Las Vegas, one acre-foot of water is enough to serve two households for more than a year, though officials are continually striving to reduce per capita water use.
Meanwhile SNWA, which relies heavily on Lake Mead to serve its more than 2 million customers in the fast-growing Las Vegas area, appears wholly interested in seeing the project through. It has already earmarked up to $750 million for Metropolitan’s proposal or other recycling projects. Such a major investment would require a long-term operating contract potentially in the 20- to 30-year range, Pellegrino said.
The partnership also figures to afford some long-term water security for Arizona, which takes the biggest hit of any state when shortages are declared on the Colorado River. Currently Arizona is grappling with how to cut 512,000 acre-feet and it faces further reductions if Lake Mead’s elevation drops below 1,045 feet and a Tier 2 shortage is triggered, a scenario the Bureau of Reclamation projects could happen by May 2023.
Gaining reliable access to Metropolitan’s river allotment could help Arizona address growing demand from municipal and industrial users, said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. Porter applauded the multi-state collaboration, saying the recycling project and other augmentation ideas, like a proposed binational desalination plant along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, could add flexibility to a system that serves 40 million people from Denver to San Diego and irrigates more than 4 million acres of farmland.
“It’s a huge amount of water,” Porter said of the potential yield of Metropolitan’s project for urban Southern California. “That’s one more community that relies on the Colorado River that has another degree of resilience.”
A Promising Leap in Reuse
California already has a rich legacy of turning wastewater into high-quality water suitable for a variety of uses including agricultural, groundwater recharge and outdoor irrigation. In 2020 the state used more than 700,000 acre-feet in recycled water, much of it going to golf courses, farms and some indirect potable uses. But experts say California can greatly expand the output through a recycling technology Metropolitan is currently ginning up support for.
Direct potable reuse, however, is not currently permitted in California, but the State Water Resources Control Board is expected to finalize regulations by December 2023. To prove to regulators and the public that the process is safe and viable, Metropolitan has been compiling water quality data from a demonstration facility in Carson since 2019.
The technology is a great match with a county like Los Angeles where most of the treated wastewater currently goes into the ocean, said Cooley, with the Pacific Institute. With imported water becoming increasingly unreliable, she said it was critical for Southern California to pursue new recycling projects, noting the region currently reuses only 29 percent of its effluent.
“There are lots of opportunities if we start thinking outside the box more and really look beyond individual agency service areas,” Cooley said. “We’re going to have to do more of that to address the challenges that we now face.”
Once California gives the green light, Metropolitan says it will build a facility near the demonstration facility in Carson that could produce up to 150 million gallons a day of potable water or enough to serve more than 500,000 households, using wastewater from a nearby plant operated by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts. Purified water from the new recycling plant would be delivered to four of the region’s groundwater basins for later use and two of Metropolitan’s existing treatment plants via approximately 60 miles of new pipelines for further distribution in its service area.
Overcoming Sticker Shock
Neither construction nor the new water will be cheap.
In 2018 Metropolitan pegged construction costs at $3.4 billion, but inflation could spike the final price tag to $4 billion by the 2032 projected completion date. As for water prices, Metropolitan currently charges its member agencies around $1,100 per acre-foot of treated water; the new supply will likely run more than $1,800 per acre-foot.
Upadhyay, the Metropolitan official, downplayed the difference by saying cost concerns are relatively minor compared to the damaging effects climate change is having on the Colorado River and Sierra Nevada watersheds it relies on for imported water. He added the agency is hoping to reduce the impact on member agencies with contributions from the out-of-state partners. In addition, it has asked the California Legislature to contribute $500 million. Metropolitan also is exploring the possibility of similar partnerships with users of California’s State Water Project, but no contracts have been signed, Upadhyay said.
“It’s not like we can go out and acquire more imported supply,” Upadhyay said. “Going forward, we really need to be looking here at home.”
That sentiment is shared among some agricultural interests in the basin, including Bart Fisher, vice president of the Palo Verde Irrigation District Board of Trustees. Fisher, who farms on the west side of the Colorado River near Blythe, Calif., called urban water recycling efforts the “wave of the future” and noted Palo Verde farmers have been utilizing water reuse techniques for decades.
“These urban projects have major implications for the Lower Basin,” he said. “It will alleviate some of the pressure we are feeling.”
Finding Ways to Work Together
It’s unclear whether current operating guidelines for the river allow the sort of interstate exchange being proposed. But the partners say the concept shares ties with the intent of previously enacted conservation programs like the 2007 Intentionally Created Surplus, a water banking program intended to boost storage in Lake Mead. They hope guidance for interstate exchanges will be explicitly included in the next set of river operating guidelines that have to be finalized by 2026.
“It would behoove all of us to have a candid conversation in the renegotiations about that, make sure we have the rules spelled out,” said Pellegrino, SNWA deputy general manager.
The 20-plus year megadrought is forcing all users in the Lower Basin to get creative in developing ways to stretch their shares of the Colorado River. And the clock is ticking.
Last month water levels at Lake Powell fell to a historic low and are still hovering near the minimum elevation level at which Glen Canyon Dam can generate electricity for more than 5 million homes and businesses across the West. The Bureau of Reclamation expects the combined storage at Lake Powell and Lake Mead to drop below 30 percent by late 2022 due to declining inflows of runoff.
Metropolitan’s wastewater recycling plant won’t cure all the Lower Basin’s myriad water troubles. But Colorado River veterans say the proposal is a welcome sign of progress, nonetheless.
“It’s good to see this multi-state collaboration and that’s what we do need,” said Porter, with Arizona State’s Kyl Center. “It’s better for everyone if we can find these ways to work together.”
Reach Writer Nick Cahill at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Editor Doug Beeman at email@example.com.
The Pankey family’s resilience was put to a test when a wildfire burned nearly half of their ranch in 2018. Among the devastating impacts of the fire was livestock and wildlife could no longer drink from ponds because they were covered in ashes.
Keith and Shelley Pankey raise beef cattle with their sons, Kevin and Justin and their families, in Moffat and Routt counties. They have a history of doing right by their land. Following the fire, they cleaned the ponds and aerially reseeded native grasses on 900 acres in the fire’s path. It’s not the first time investing in conservation practices has paid off for this family and the landscape they share with livestock and wildlife.
Keith’s great grandfather homesteaded an area of high desert known as Great Divide. The Pankeys are still able to graze cattle in the drought-prone region from spring through fall thanks to improved water distribution and rotational grazing systems.
They replaced windmill-powered wells with solar pumps. New water storage tanks and nearly three miles of natural flow pipelines were also added. By expanding the number of watering stations (from six to 12) the Pankeys increased their ability to properly graze cattle while creating wildlife habitat across the ranch.
Precipitation, range conditions, and animal performance all impact how the Pankeys plan pasture rotations and stocking rates. They analyze pasture rotations to determine which areas benefit from early, middle or late season grazing. They’ve also found that some areas benefit from longer or shorter periods of grazing, while others benefit from being grazed twice in the same season.
When cattle widely disburse themselves, the Pankeys find that grass recovers at a faster rate, and taller grass is left behind when the cattle are rotated to another pasture. The ranch’s wildlife populations have greatly increased thanks to rotational grazing and the improved water system. By working with neighbors to control noxious weeds, desirable grasses have become dominant across the ranch.
Pankey Ranch borders Colorado’s largest Greater sage-grouse lek, a breeding ground for this declining species. The Pankeys hosted Colorado State University students to study grasses, insects, and Greater sage-grouse habitat in the Great Divide range. Their study was helpful in determining which conservation practices to adopt. The Pankeys fenced off a large area around a natural spring to provide cover. They also equipped water storage tanks with overflows that provide water and prolonged green vegetation to encourage production of insects that grouse chicks consume.
The Pankeys are involved with a large-scale conservation effort led by Trout Unlimited to stabilize Elk Head Creek’s riparian corridor. They have installed rock toe and erosion control mats, and reseeded stream banks to prevent erosion. Hundreds of willow trees have been planted in corridors to preserve wetlands and fish habitat. Less erosion in the creek means cleaner water downstream in the Elk Head Reservoir and Yampa River. This family’s leadership in raising awareness of the creek’s impaired health, and commitment to on-the-ground conservation practices, is inspiring other landowners to follow suit.
The Pankeys also provide public hunting opportunities on their land. In 2011, they obtained a conservation easement on their Routt County property through the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to ensure future agricultural uses on the land. As a longtime volunteer with the Moffat County Fair, Keith shares his land ethic and conservation practices with youth, neighbors and the general public.
Click the link to read “Pankey Ranch’s conservation efforts earn attention from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association” on the Craig Press website (Amber Delay). Here’s an excerpt:
According to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Leopold Award was created in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to recognize farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private, working lands…
The Pankeys will be presented with the award June 13 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Convention in Colorado Springs…
To mention a few who have contributed in addition to Trout Unlimited were: The National Resources Conservation Services, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the City of Craig, The Yampa-White-Green-Basin Roundtable and The Lower Colorado River Habitat Partnership Program.
Durango faces a different scenario than many other municipalities that rely on large water reservoirs for their supplies, he said. When a municipality saves a gallon of water, for example, that water stays right there in its reservoir until it is needed. But Durango “lives on the flow” of the Animas and Florida rivers, Biggs said. On one hand, the city isn’t reliant on reservoirs that may be in short supply of water. But on the other, if the rivers are short on supply because there isn’t enough runoff, the city’s only choice is to clamp down on restrictions and wait out the shortage, he said…
The city is looking into installing a pipeline that would connect Lake Nighthorse to the College Mesa water-treatment facility, Mayor Kim Baxter said, which would allow Durango to take a more proactive approach to drought management and mitigation.
Click the link to read the article on the PBS website (Matthew Brown). Here’s an excerpt:
Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding streams and ponds without being treated, The Associated Press has found. That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.
The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other “hardrock” minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.
Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines. The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks. The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement…
Problems at some sites are intractable.
In eastern Oklahoma’s Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow.
At northern California’s Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever.
In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.
This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.
Bulkheads remain relatively obscure except to those involved in mine remediation, but their purpose is to plug mines and limit the release of mine waste while reversing the chemical processes that contribute to acid mine drainage. They can be simple fixes for extraordinarily complex mining systems and produce unintended consequences. But they are also a critical tool for the EPA and those working to improve water quality and reduce the lingering effects of more than a century of mining in the Bonita Peak Mining District…
The role of bulkheads in the Gold King Mine Spill
In its October 2015 technical assessment of the incident, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation argued that bulkheads were at least partially responsible for the Gold King Mine spill. The Gold King Mine is a maze of tunnels, faults and fissures located at different elevations inside Bonita Peak and the surrounding mountains in Gladstone. The mine opening that drained when the EPA crews struck a plug holding back water was actually what’s known as the “Upper Gold King Mine,” or Gold King Mine Level 7. A short distance away lies the “Gold King Mine,” which refers to a mine adit called American Tunnel…
With oversight from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, Sunnyside Gold Corp. first installed a bulkhead in American Tunnel in 1995 to stop mine drainage from entering Cement Creek. The company closed the valve on the first bulkhead in October 1996 and would go on to install two other bulkheads in American Tunnel. With the installation of the bulkheads, the flow of toxic mine waste into Cement Creek decreased from 1,700 gallons per minute to about 100 gallons per minute. But as the impounded water rose behind the bulkheads, the water rose elsewhere, including in Gold King Mine Level 7, which sits about 750 feet above American Tunnel, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s assessment…The EPA has yet to determine if it was faults and fractures in the rock or other internal mine workings that carried water from American Tunnel to Gold King Mine Level 7, but the EPA and the Bureau of Reclamation have both said the spill was in part the result of this buildup from the bulkheads in American Tunnel. Bulkheads have been used in mine remediation efforts in Colorado for more than three decades, and there are about 40 installed across the state, said Jeff Graves, director of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety’s Inactive Mine Reclamation Program…Bulkheads back up water and fill mine tunnels. When they do so, they limit the air rocks can come into contact with, preventing the chemical reaction that creates acid mine drainage…
Acid mine drainage can also still make its way into river systems. Water naturally moves through rock and can turn into acid mine drainage when exposed to oxygen, though in smaller volumes.
Empire has confirmed there’s a leaking water pipe on private property, and there’s another suspect area underneath U.S. Highway 40.
Police Chief John Stein stated on April 1 that, while the leak on private property was confirmed to be drinking water, it was relatively small compared to the town’s overall system. So, it cannot be the sole cause of Empire’s loss in water last month, he described.
The suspect area underneath U.S. 40, which Stein said could be a valve that isn’t shutting completely or a cracked pipe, requires further research. If it’s a valve that’s not closing completely, water might not be leaving the system in that location, he explained.
Stein said he couldn’t guarantee it, but Empire’s water woes could be from these two problems plus residents’ relatively high water use during last month’s cold spell.
It’s still possible, he continued, there is a larger issue with the water infrastructure that the town and its partners haven’t identified yet.
Click the link to read the article on the Aqua Talk website (Amy Schultz and Jorge Delgado):
The Brighton Village mobile home community (Park) is a 28-home community in Adams County that serves around 80 people and is a disproportionately impacted community, defined in HB21-1266 Environmental Justice Disproportionate Impacted Community. The department initially issued an Enforcement Order in 2003 due to high nitrate values and the Park’s failure to comply with the nitrate maximum contaminant levels. Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate above the MCL could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome.
The 2003 enforcement order was closed in 2010. However, the department again issued an Enforcement Order in 2012 for nitrate violations and did so again in 2018. The Park had installed treatment but did not have the capabilities or the resources to operate the treatment appropriately to reliably achieve compliance. The long-term exposure to an acute contaminant created environmental injustices for this community.
From the EPA, environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The Colorado Environmental Justice Act recognizes that all people have a right to drink clean water and live free of dangerous levels of toxic pollution, experience equal protection of environmental policies, and share the benefits of a prosperous and vibrant pollution-free economy.
The department facilitated meetings with the Park and the City of Brighton. The City of Brighton and the Park decided that the best way to serve safe drinking water to the public was to connect the park to the City’s municipal water supply. However, the Park was required to upgrade its water distribution system before the connections could be made. The department provided the Park with $16,000 in grants that allowed the Park to connect to the municipal water supply.
The Safe Drinking Water Program worked in partnership with both the Park and City of Brighton to ensure this disproportionately impacted community is being provided with access to a consistent and reliable source of safe drinking water. This is an Environmental Justice win for the residents of this community, the department, and Colorado.
A long-planned project to restore healthy ecosystems along the South Platte River and two other waterways in central Denver got a major boost from the federal government this week, in the form of $350 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The funding for the South Platte River Project, spearheaded by Denver and Adams counties, will cover nearly two-thirds of the $550 million that civic leaders plan to spend restoring wetland habitats, improving recreation and mitigating flood risk along a 6.5-mile stretch of the river, along with Weir Gulch and Harvard Gulch.
The funds awarded Tuesday by the Biden administration are part of the $17 billion appropriated by a new federal infrastructure law to the Army Corps of Engineers to support flood mitigation projects across the country.
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“I’m delighted to welcome funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the South Platte River and surrounding communities after years of urging Washington to support this project,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “For decades, the neighborhoods bordering the South Platte River have experienced environmental hardship. This project is an important part of Denver’s efforts to protect communities and businesses from flooding, build resilient infrastructure, and help ensure that anyone who wants to live and work in Denver is able to.”
The Army Corps of Engineers finalized a feasibility and impact study on the project in 2019, concluding more than a decade of planning and environmental reviews. In addition to restoring aquatic, wetland and riparian wildlife habitats along the South Platte, supporters say the plan will create more than 7,000 jobs and protect hundreds of homes and other structures from flood risk.
In December, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock convened a coalition of two dozen interest groups that signed a memorandum of understanding on the project in order to secure federal funding. Signatories included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water and multiple environmental and conservation organizations — as well as business and real-estate groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Revesco Properties.
Revesco is the developer behind the massive, multi-billion-dollar River Mile project, which aims to redevelop 62 acres along the Platte south of Confluence Park over the next 25 years, adding homes for new 15,000 residents and ultimately displacing the Elitch Gardens amusement park. The river restoration project, too, is likely to take decades to complete, with city officials estimating in 2018 that the project could be finished in 10 to 20 years.
“The restoration and conservation of the South Platte River ecosystem is a phenomenal opportunity,” Hancock said in a statement. “Infrastructure investments like this do more than just improve our waterways, they build lives, they build communities and they build futures.”
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El Paso County is accepting applications for its American Rescue Plan Act Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Grant funding opportunity. According to a news release, “[t]he county has allocated $20 million in ARPA funding for necessary investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, to include improvements to drinking water infrastructure, upgrading facilities, managing sewage and other eligible uses.”
“The community has expressed great interest in this particular grant, and it truly is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many communities and projects,” Commissioner Holly Williams said in the release. “This grant will have a monumental impact for decades to come, as it increases peoples’ access to clean drinking water, and replaces many aging infrastructures.”
According to the release, “[a]ll levels of infrastructure have seen increased demands during the pandemic, and our water and wastewater infrastructures are no exception. This $20 million allocation will help El Paso County preserve and be better stewards of our most precious and scarce resource, and is an investment directly allowed under ARPA guidance.”
The application opens Monday, March 28, 2022, and will remain open through 5 p.m. Friday, April 22.
All projects must meet federal eligibility requirements, which include 17 project categories under guidelines published through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
Projects must be located in El Paso County.
The entire allocation for this funding is $20 million and the county expects to fund several projects, the release said, adding a portion of the funding will be reserved specifically for smaller communities and projects.
El Paso County will be hosting a pre-application webinar at 11:30 a.m. on April 4 to answer specific application related questions. To participate in the webinar, join using this link. Participants are encouraged to send questions ahead of time to ARPArequests@elpasoco.com. If you require accommodations or need a translator, send an email to JyotsnaKhattri@elpasoco.com by March 30.
Thousands of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley who’ve struggled to deal with contaminated water for more than 20 years will have access to clean water by 2024 under a new agreement signed by the federal government and two Colorado water agencies last week.
The Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), as the clean water delivery project is known, will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir through the city of Pueblo and out to communities on the Eastern Plains, such as Avondale and Boone, by 2024, and other communities, such as La Junta, as soon as 2027.
Water officials said the entire pipeline should be completed by 2035 if not sooner. The project will ultimately serve 50,000 people, officials said.
Under the agreements, signed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Pueblo Water Board, and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District March 18, some $40 million in federal and local funding will be available to launch construction, with subsequent funding for the $600 million project anticipated to come from Congress and local water agencies.
In addition, the agreement allows Reclamation and Southeastern to pipe the water through the city of Pueblo’s water system, rather than building a separate system to move the water out to the Eastern Plains. Officials said this new agreement will shave costs and several years off the project.
“This contract signing marks one of the most significant milestones to date towards making the AVC a reality and bringing clean water to communities that desperately need it. It advances the project over 14 miles east from Pueblo Reservoir which puts us much closer to our first participants in Avondale and Boone,” said Brent Esplin, regional director of the Missouri Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Gulf regions for Reclamation, in a statement.
Naturally occurring selenium and lead, as well as radionuclides, have dogged the region’s water systems since the 1960s. Many of the communities face enforcement actions from the state health department because they don’t have the financial resources to treat the water for drinking and then to treat it again for discharge into the wastewater systems that discharge to the Lower Arkansas River and its tributaries, according to Chris Woodka, senior policy manager with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Southeastern operates the federal Fryingpan-Arkansas Project’s Pueblo Reservoir.
“This project will relieve some of the pressures that they face. They will get better quality drinking water and they will see improvements to their discharged water,” Woodka said.
The idea is to deliver clean water from Pueblo Reservoir directly to the communities via the 34-mile pipeline, reducing and sometimes eliminating the contaminants that the water now picks up when it travels through streams and irrigation ditches.
The conduit has been on planning boards for more than 50 years but it wasn’t until a new federal law was approved in 2009 stipulating that the federal government would pick up 65% of the costs that the plan began to advance, Woodka said.
Since then the region has wrestled with getting federal cash to start work and convincing local water agencies and the communities who need the water to cooperate on design issues and costs, Woodka said.
“People are convinced it will get built,” Woodka said. “Now the questions are about affordability.”
And for small towns, those are big questions.
Tom Seaba is La Junta’s director of utilities. His city has comparatively clean water, with no radionuclides and a selenium issue that it is treating via reverse osmosis.
“It could be the silver bullet that everyone would like to take care of the contaminants that are in the water. The flip side is the cost,” Seaba said.
La Junta charges customer $2.50 per thousand gallons for water now, which includes treatment costs. The new water will cost $2.19 per thousand gallons, untreated, and La Junta will still have to find a way to recoup the cost to disinfect and treat the water.
“Now that we’re getting down to brass tacks, we need to see if the underlying reality will do for us what everyone hopes it will. If we can connect and that takes care of the problems we have, sign us up. But if it doesn’t, we will have to do something else,” Seaba said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
The construction of Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant is on budget and on track to open in 2024, having overcome challenges during 2021 stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic that affected everything from staffing to the supply chain.
The Northwater plant, on Highway 93 north of Golden, will be the fourth drinking water treatment plant in Denver Water’s system.
When finished, the new plant will be capable of producing up to 75 million gallons of clean drinking water per day using state-of-the-art technology. The new plant, part of Denver Water’s North System Renewal work, supplements the utility’s aging Moffat Treatment Plant on West 20th Avenue in Lakewood, which was built in the 1930s.
The new plant is being built on 100 acres of Denver Water land next to the utility’s Ralston Reservoir. The site will include seven primary buildings and multiple auxiliary facilities including tanks, clearwells, pump stations and vaults.
Here are some of the highlights from the work done during 2021:
Passed 50% construction completion.
Passed 1 million hours worked.
Completed all the remaining excavation needed to build the structures that will be part of the plant.
Placed concrete base slabs for the two underground storage tanks. Called “clearwells,” these 10-million-gallon storage tanks will hold clean, treated drinking water from the plant until it is released into Denver Water’s distribution system.
Dried in” the first building on-site, meaning the work was done to make the exterior surfaces of the Clearwell Influent Valve Vault building impermeable to rain and weather.
Installed the roof and windows and applied a stone veneer on the plant’s Operations Building and started installation of mechanical, electrical and plumbing works.
Completed most of the necessary connections with the Moffat Treatment Plant to enable Moffat to eventually store treated water piped from the Northwater Treatment Plant once the new facility is operational.
Earned the Envision Gold Award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. Envision Awards recognize leadership in building sustainable infrastructure around the world and encourage those involved to consider sustainable choices throughout the life of the project.
Here’s the release from Southeastern Water (Chris Woodka), USBR (Elizabeth Smith), and Pueblo Water (Joe Cervi):
A three-party contract allowing for the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 39 communities east of Pueblo was signed by the Bureau of Reclamation on March 18, 2022, following approval by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board and the Pueblo Board of Water Works (Pueblo Water). The contract was drafted after negotiations that began in November 2021.
“This contract signing marks one of the most significant milestones to date towards making the AVC a reality and bringing clean water to communities that desperately need it. It advances the project over 14 miles east from Pueblo Reservoir which puts us much closer to our first participants in Avondale and Boone,” said Brent Esplin, Regional Director of the Missouri-Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Gulf regions for Reclamation. “It is also the culmination of years of collaboration between Reclamation, Southeastern, and Pueblo Water to deliver a more cost-effective project to people of the lower Arkansas Valley.”
The contract will allow the Southeastern District to use capacity in Pueblo Water’s system to treat and deliver AVC water to a pipeline being constructed by Reclamation. The connection point for AVC is at the east end of Pueblo Water’s system, at 36th Lane and U.S. Highway 50.
The water will be either Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water or from participants’ water portfolios, not from Pueblo Water’s resources. The route of the AVC follows the Arkansas River corridor from Pueblo to Lamar, with spurs to Eads and Crowley County. Reclamation is building the trunk line, while the Southeastern District will build the spur and delivery lines. Estimated total cost is about $600 million.
The Southeastern and Pueblo Water boards both unanimously approved the contract on March 15 and 17, 2022, respectively.
“This project is vitally important to the people of the Lower Arkansas Valley,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District board. “It would not be viable, and certainly not affordable without the partnership with Pueblo Water, and I would like to express my appreciation to the board.”
“This is a truly monumental achievement and marks the culmination of decades of hard work, dedication, and collaboration by those who have devoted their lives to the business of water,” said Seth Clayton, executive director of Pueblo Water. “Pueblo Water is proud to be an integral participant in this important time in history.”
Many of the Lower Arkansas Valley water systems face water-quality enforcement actions for radionuclides or surface contaminants in groundwater sources. They face ever increasing costs to cope with these problems. The AVC will eliminate or reduce the effects of those contaminants by delivering filtered water from Pueblo Reservoir.
To deliver the full volume of water through the system, Pueblo Water must make some upgrades, and will receive a $20 million construction recovery fee. In addition, Pueblo Water will receive a $2 million investment payment. As the needs of AVC grow, Pueblo will receive funding for necessary improvements.
This is seen as a win-win opportunity by both Pueblo Water and the Southeastern District because it reduces the cost of an earlier plan to build a new pipeline south of Pueblo.
“Not only does the agreement save the AVC project hundreds of millions of dollars and years of construction time, but it also benefits Pueblo Water customers by providing an opportunity to use the excess capacity we have in our system and deliver water to our neighbors in the Lower Arkansas Valley,” Clayton said.
Pueblo Water will charge an initial rate of $2.19 per 1,000 gallons delivered, which reflects the operation and maintenance costs of those parts of the system needed by AVC. The rate will increase annually at the same rate as Pueblo Water’s other customers.
Pueblo Water will also renew its contract to store excess capacity water in Pueblo Reservoir for a 50- year period under the contract.
Finally, the contract spells out environmental commitments and operating conditions related to AVC.
“The significance of this action is that everybody will have the opportunity to have a clean source of drinking water after more than 20 years of work,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern District.
Alan Hamel, a Southeastern Board member, and former Pueblo Water executive director, said the idea for the AVC actually goes back 60 years, to the 1962 signing of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into law.
In 1968, there was a plan to jointly build a federal treatment plant for Pueblo Water and the water line for AVC.
The AVC was put on hold because of the inability of communities to pay for it. The AVC concept was revived in 2000, and a 2009 federal law provided for 65 percent federal funding, to be matched by 35 percent in other funding.
Reclamation issued a Record of Decision in 2014 which endorsed construction of the AVC to proceed via the “Comanche North” alignment. The alignment was modified in 2019 through a collaborative effort between Reclamation, Southeastern, and Pueblo Water which replaced the pipeline around Pueblo with this contract.
Federal funding so far has totaled $40 million, while $100 million in loans or grants is available to AVC through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The District has contributed $4.8 million through its Enterprise, while participants have paid $1.5 million since 2011.
Pueblo County recently contributed $1.2 million to build delivery lines to Boone and Avondale through local American Rescue Plan Act funds, and other counties or cities in the Arkansas Valley are expected to contribute as well.
Click the link to read the article on the 9News.com website (Wilson Beese). Here’s an excerpt:
The town said its water treatment facilities have been restored, and the system has been flushed through the distribution network after suffering damage during the wildfire…
Reservoir ash removal
The fire deposited ash on the town’s raw water storage at Terminal Reservoir. A firm has been contracted to remove ash from the banks of the reservoir, which will prevent deposited ash from going into the reservoir. The process should be completed in early April.
Superior installed chlorine dioxide within water treatment plant operations to assist with the oxidation and breakdown of compounds causing the taste and odor issues. Complaints from residents continued after the system was installed, and its use was discontinued.
Granular Activated Carbon (GAC)
The town ordered a GAC system to remove compounds causing the taste and odor issues. It will take four to six weeks for delivery and an additional two weeks for installation.
“This is a significant process revision and will require extensive modifications to the plant,” the town said in a release. “Our team is diligently working, including collaborating with other utilities, on procuring all the equipment required to bring this system online as fast as possible.”
Superior will soon begin releasing water from the reservoir into the parks irrigation system, which might help replenish the reservoir with water free of compounds causing the taste and odor issues.
Home filtration systems
The town said that home water filtration systems, especially those that use activated carbon, “may effectively remove” the compounds responsible for the taste and odor issues.
We’re partnering with GreenLatinos to spread the word about water reuse in Colorado, and how you can get involved in a proposed regulation. As the population in the state of Colorado increases, so do the demands on water resources. A variety of strategies are being implemented across the state to address projected gaps in water supply, and direct potable reuse (DPR) is one of those strategies. Join GreenLatinos and CDPHE to learn more about the technology and safe practice of DPR, and find out how you can get involved.
Wellington residents and business owners will not be seeing an increase in water rates at this time. The Town has decided to maintain the current rates and tiers established in October of 2020 and January of 2021. They accomplished this through a General Fund transfer of $653,000 to the Water fund, through 2021 Water fund operational savings of $400,000, and through continuing to identify operational efficiencies and cost-saving opportunities. They also decided to use the available $2.6 million American Rescue Fund Act (ARPA) Tranche II funds towards the water fund…
Sewer base rates and usage rates have remained the same since 2016. That is $20.63 for up to 3,000 gallons and an additional $6.50 per thousand gallons over that. Starting in April of 2022, that base rate will go up to $31, with the additional usage rate of $10 per thousand gallons over 3,000 gallons. An example bill for an average resident using 4,000 gallons of water shows a change from $122.70 a month to $136.57 a month, including water, sewer, and storm fees.
The plan is for a stepped base and usage rate increase with a 5% annual increase to base and tier rates for the subsequent three years. In 2023 folks can expect another increase to $44 for the base rate and $13 for the amount per thousand gallons over 3,000. However, a utility rate study will happen before this Year 2 projection is finalized. This plan included a $390,000 General Fund transfer to the Sewer Fund, and there will be a shortfall in the Town fund balance reserve that will remedy with time and should be back above the red line in 2026.
Construction on the Wastewater plant will begin mid-2022. The goals for this project are that the capacity for the Wastewater treatment plant expansion must align with the Water Treatment Plant expansion, and the new Wastewater plant will meet the more stringent compliance standards. The project is set for completion in mid-2024 when the new plant should be ready for processing our sewage.
The next steps are for the Town is to engage in a comprehensive rate study happening in 2022. Water and Sewer usage rates, impact fees, and indirect costs will be evaluated. The goal is to ensure an equitable impact on residential and non-residential customers and plan annual reviews and updates into the future. In addition, the Town is continuing to support and promote the Hardship Utility Grant (HUG) and the Water Efficiency Program and is looking into other financial solutions…
The Rate study will look at regional trends and provide a holistic review of the water and wastewater rate needs and implications. It will answer the equity question of how to handle commercial vs. residential rates and share options on how best to proceed with future rate changes. It seems that the affordability of water and utilities is affecting Colorado in general, and it is a hot topic currently with the Colorado Municipal League. This discussion topic is far from over, so stay tuned for further details on the progression.
Beginning in April, Firestone will begin to produce treated water from its new water-treatment facility, dubbed the St. Vrain Water Treatment Plant.
The plant is one part of a multi-million dollar investment into diversifying the town’s water supply that includes the water plant, surface reservoirs, subsurface water in alluvial wells, conversion of irrigation water to municipal use and reuse of some water resources…
Firestone, like several growing communities along the northern Front Range, was largely dependent upon water from the Colorado-Big Thompson water project, which draws water from the Colorado River on the Western Slope and transports it to reservoirs and a network of supply lines in Northern Colorado…
All of Firestone’s water, prior to the opening of the new treatment plant, is treated at the Carter Lake Filter Plant, which is jointly operated by regional water districts. In Firestone’s case, the Central Weld County Water District is under contract to treat and deliver C-BT water for Firestone…
The investment has not been cheap. The town has spent $76 million so far.
It issued bonds to build the treatment plant and build a storage system. Those bonds will be repaid by tap fees, a storage and infrastructure fee, and the usual monthly water bill payments from residents…
Developers who own irrigation water now can dedicate it to the town in satisfaction of the town’s water requirements for new development. The treatment plant will process that native water and reduce the town’s reliance on C-BT, he said.
Insteading of drawing the water from the creek, the town will draw water from alluvial wells — wells that are replenished from surface water — and also inject water when available back into the wells for storage, Teneyck said. The alluvial wells are relatively shallow at about 35 feet and are located north of the historic coal mines in the Carbon Valley.
The town also is a partner in the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Northern Integrated Supply Project — NISP. A reservoir to hold Windy Gap water is under construction near Carter Lake. The NISP project will include two large reservoirs when it is built…
The treatment plant, which will be operated by the St. Vrain Water Authority, an entity jointly controlled by Firestone and the Little Thompson Water District, will initially treat 1.5 million gallons of water a day. Two expansions are planned, the first of which will expand capacity to 2.25 million gallons per day, and the second expansion will bring it to 5 million gallons per day by 2050. Firestone uses 2.23 million gallons of treated water per day today…
All of this is being paid for with fee schedules meant to recover the costs of growth. Developers will pay storage and infrastructure fees while homebuilders and commercial building contractors will pay tap fees that currently sit at $13,000 each for a residential tap.
Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art drinking water facility is rapidly taking shape on a 183-acre site next to Ralston Reservoir north of Golden in Jefferson County.
Watch this video to catch up on the progress of one of Denver Water’s largest construction projects.
When complete and operational in 2024, the new Northwater Treatment Plant will be capable of cleaning up to 75 million gallons of water a day. Construction of the plant remains on time and on budget.
The new plant is part of Denver Water’s North System Renewal effort, which includes the construction of a new pipeline (completed in September 2021) to carry water from the new plant and upgrades at the old Moffat Treatment Plant built in Lakewood in the 1930s.
Learn about new case studies in water utility greenhouse gas mitigation from the Water Utility Climate Alliance, including Denver Water’s sustainable Northwater Treatment Plant. Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a priority for Denver Water, and projects like these help get us to our goal of reducing emissions 50% from a 2015 baseline by 2025.
The North System Renewal work brings critical updates to an aging 80-year-old system that was reaching the end of its lifespan.
The advanced new technology that is part of new Northwater Treatment Plant will provide:
Sustainability: Hydropower generation equipment at site of the Northwater plant will produce enough energy to operate the treatment plant, significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Reliability: Advanced treatment processes will improve resiliency in times of potentially challenging treatment issues, such as those created by drought or wildfires.
Flexibility: The Northwater plant was designed to be expanded if needed to meet future water demands and changing regulatory standards.
When Denver Water is finished building the new water treatment plant, redeveloping the Moffat Treatment Plant, and installing a new pipeline, the utility’s northern system will be more resilient and adaptable to changing demands for water now and into the future.
Increasingly extreme wildfires are raging across the West – leaving behind barren, charred areas and threatening drinking water.
Jill Oropeza is director of sciences for water quality services for Fort Collins Utilities in Colorado.
She says in a healthy forest, trees and shrubs buffer the impact of rain on the ground. Pine needles and detritus on the forest floor help retain water.
“That is the sponge that soaks up and holds a lot of that moisture and allows the precipitation to percolate downwards,” she says.
If this vegetation burns up, melting snow and rain run across the land instead of seeping into the soil. And as the water flows, it picks up ash, sediment, and other debris.
“And those substances in the soil itself and the ash are dissolved and carried in the river and into reservoirs,” Oropeza says.
She says Fort Collins was forced to adjust its water treatment system to cope with influxes of contaminated water. And it’s using helicopters to spread mulch in burned areas to help plants start growing again.
Doing so is expensive but critical to providing people with clean water as the climate warms.
The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors recently approved increases in the district’s monthly service and volume charges. The board voted unanimously to approve the increases at its regular meeting held last week on Thursday, Jan. 13.
The board initially discussed the increases at its regular meeting held on Dec. 9, 2021.
District Manager Justin Ramsey explained during that meeting that the increases approved were the result of a water rate study that was performed in 2018. That study suggested a 6 percent increase in rates annually through 2022…
According to documentation attached in the meeting’s agenda, the approved increases included an increase in the monthly service charge from $27.98 to $29.66. Also approved were increases in the volume charges for 2,001 to 8,000 gallons used from $5.02 to $5.32, 8,001 to 20,000 gallons used from $10.05 to $10.65, and over 20,001 gallons used from $12.61 to $13.37. Additionally, the water fill station charge per 1,000 gallons increased from $10.84 to $11.49. Also noted in the agenda documentation is that the wastewater service charge will increase at an annual rate of 2.5 percent beginning in 2024 and ending in 2027…
Treasurer Glenn Walsh men- tioned the board may consider ad- ditional changes in the water and wastewater fees for next year…
Accessory dwelling unit fee discussion
During the same meeting, the board held a discussion on the topic of accessory dwelling units (ADU) and if the district should be charging additional monthly service fees for properties with an ADU that uses the district’s infrastructure. Walsh indicated that the board has held previous discussion on the topic and the consensus was that it would not impose any additional fees.
Hundreds of Denver property owners have failed to respond to requests or have directly refused to allow Denver Water to replace lead service lines leading to homes and businesses, a situation that jeopardizes the city’s efforts to keep lead out of drinking water.
The pipe replacement program, one of the largest in the country, is being done to help the agency comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which sharply limits lead in drinking water.
Since the program’s approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2020, Denver Water has replaced some 10,000 service lines out of 68,000 targeted in the program.
But the agency has yet to decide how to bring reluctant property owners into the fold, according to Alexis Woodrow, Denver Water’s lead reduction program manager.
“Of course we would like to get 100% consent or compliance and we’re continuing to come up with communications to make sure homeowners understand the why behind this work,” Woodrow said.
According to data obtained by Fresh Water News through an Open Records Act request, 534 property owners, roughly 5% of those targeted by the program to date, have either failed to respond to the agency’s request to replace the service lines or have specifically refused to allow the work to be done.
Top reasons for refusing, according to Woodrow, are that homeowners don’t want their landscapes disturbed or they believe their lead service lines have already been replaced.
Denver, which is Colorado’s largest municipal water utility, has known lead was present at the tap in some of its customers’ homes since it appeared in routine sampling in 2013. The levels exceeded the benchmarks set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
For several years, the utility ran pilot tests and negotiated with CDPHE and EPA over how best to eradicate the harmful metal. Though the amounts of lead found in Denver’s tap water samples varied, no amount of lead is considered safe to ingest, especially for young children.
Though lead isn’t present in the city’s treated water, it shows up at customers’ taps if it is delivered through aging lead service lines, where corrosion allows it to seep into the supply.
Cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, Penn., Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C., have been dogged by an increase in lead contamination as service lines age and corrode, allowing the lead to comingle with water supplies, eventually reaching taps.
The CDPHE issued an order in 2018 requiring Denver to begin adding phosphorous to its water, one of the most effective ways to reduce corrosion in pipes. But phosphorous is also a pollutant and causes problematic algae blooms in lakes and rivers. Adding it to the municipal drinking water supply would also make it harder for wastewater treatment operators to meet their own obligations to keep phosphorous out of rivers and streams.
Due to those concerns, Aurora, Metro Water Recovery, The Greenway Foundation, and eventually Denver, sued the CDPHE in 2018 to stop the order from taking effect.
The dispute was settled after Denver was able to obtain a rare variance under the Safe Drinking Water Act in exchange for agreeing to invest some $68 million over 15 years to replace lead service lines, offer free water filters to residents as they wait for the new lines to be installed, conduct community education programs, and increase the pH of the water supply to also help reduce corrosion in pipes.
In earlier negotiations the utility had proposed replacing the lines at a much slower rate that would have taken decades to complete.
MaryAnn Nason, CDPHE spokesperson, said the agency is happy that Denver Water has been able to replace so many lines so quickly.
“While we are pleased, our goal is to have everyone participate or use a filter to keep themselves safe,” Nason said via email.
“When Denver Water’s program was approved, a strong outreach component was included. We wanted Denver Water to reach out to the community and provide educational materials about why this is important to do and how it protects public health. We understand the disruption to their lives is significant, but the outreach program is intended to help customers understand the safety and health benefits of replacing their service line,” she said.
Citing state privacy laws, Denver Water declined to identify addresses of properties that had not complied with the replacement requests. But an analysis of the zip codes where the agency has been shut out shows that the largest number, 124, are in 80205, which encompasses an area north and west of City Park and which includes Five Points and the Whittier neighborhoods.
The zip code with the second largest number of non-compliant property owners, 72, is 80220, an area that includes South Park Hill, Montclair and Hilltop.
Though no large apartment complexes have refused to replace lead lines, according to Denver Water, dozens of small multi-family units have yet to agree to have the work done, according to Fresh Water News’ analysis.
Tom Romero, an associate professor of law at the University of Denver and an expert on water equity issues, said the replacement program is critical to providing safe drinking water to everyone in the city.
“I definitely am concerned for all of those residents where you have recalcitrant property owners that are refusing to have these lead pipes replaced,” Romero said.
“This is definitely a public health issue,” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable that they have been able to get a 95% response, but any lead level is putting people at risk. It goes to the duty of Denver Water to provide safe drinking water to us all.”
This year is the third year of program, and is a critical benchmark with the EPA, which will decide later this year whether to allow Denver to continue the work, or use a different strategy.
Denver Water’s Woodrow said the agency is still trying to decide how aggressive to be with reluctant property owners because legally it could access the properties without the owner’s consent.
“We have discussed internally if we could compel the customer,” she said. “But we haven’t gotten there yet in terms of making a decision.”
But that may change.
“When you’re looking at the long-term strategy, we’re going to have to come up with additional tactics to get these lines replaced,” she said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
FromColorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):
Several factors are fueling the water problems in both communities. Firefighters used so much water trying to extinguish the Marshall and Middle Fork fires that pressure was lost in both water systems. Bacteria and other organisms can enter water lines that aren’t properly pressurized and contaminate water supplies.
The fires also carved a destructive path through Superior and Louisville that broke water mains and destroyed as many as 1,000 homes, damaging and exposing other pipes, leaving them open to other contaminants entering the water systems.
Greeley Water and Sewer customers can expect about 10% rate increases starting this month, as the department funds more than $200 million in investments over the next several years.
The Greeley Water and Sewer Board recently approved the new rates in a unanimous vote, according to a city news release. On average, residents can expect a utility rate increase of about $10 a month, or about 9.8%.
The increases take effect this month, but residents may not see the changes until their February utility bills.
The increases break down as follows, according to the release:
Water: An average increase of $4.16 per month will help cover the city’s participation in a new water storage reservoir to provide enough water for more than 4,500 new residents.
Sewer: An increase of $4.22 per month will cover the cost of state- and federally mandated sanitary sewer upgrades. The mandates reduce the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous allowed in the city’s treated wastewater discharge to reduce algae growth.
Stormwater: An increase of $1.54 per month will help the city resolve downtown flooding issues. The city will upgrade its storm drainage to handle large rain events, such as the one in July that damaged businesses and homes.
In the release, Harold Evans, chairman of the water and sewer board, cited the regulatory changes and providing for the city’s rapidly growing population as drivers behind the rate increases.
A $1.6 million settlement agreement with Sunnyside Gold Corp. was approved by the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees to resolve the company’s liability for damaged natural resources at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site where the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout occurred.
Colorado Natural Resources Trustees include state Attorney General Phil Weiser, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Jill Hunsaker Ryan and the Executive Director of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Dan Gibbs.
The settlement will allow trustees to fund restoration projects in natural areas damaged by the spill and other releases of hazardous substances within the Superfund site.
Trustees will now begin to consult with regional stakeholders, including local governments and nonprofit groups, solicit proposals and allocate the money for environmental restoration and property acquisition projects.
“The settlement announced today is a step in the right direction to address the damage suffered in Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners region in the wake of the Gold King Mine disaster and other degradation of our natural resources,” Weiser said in a news release. “The trustees look forward to partnering with the local community on how to invest the funds.”
The work reflects the mandate of the trustees to take necessary actions to address when Colorado’s natural resources are injured or destroyed.
In an email to The Durango Herald, Gina Meyers, director of reclamation operations for Sunnyside Gold Corp., said the settlement agreement was reached as a matter of practicality, with no admission of liability or wrongdoing.
The settlement agreement resolves the trustees’ claims that Sunnyside caused or contributed to releases of acidic, metals-laden mine wastewater into the Upper Animas River watershed. Sunnyside operated the Sunnyside Mine from 1986 until 1991…
The settlement agreement will be filed with the U.S. District Court in Denver. Once filed with the court, the agreement will go through a 30-day public comment process.
After the close of the comment period, Sunnyside Gold Corp. and the trustees will present all comments received to the court. The court will ultimately decide whether to approve the settlement.
“The trustees look forward to infusing funds into the local economy through community endorsed reclamation projects that improve watersheds and address legacy mining impacts,” Gibbs said in a news release.
Project 7 Water Authority has been invited to apply for a $39 million water infrastructure loan for the Ridgway water treatment plant project. Projects were chosen for their efforts to help modernize water infrastructure for 25 million people while creating up to 49,000 jobs across the country.
If selected, funds would be pulled from Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans fund, providing assistance to the Project 7 initiative slated to provide a second water treatment source to the region. The water resiliency project, estimated to cost between $50 – $70 million, will establish a raw water line that offers more long-term affordable costs and energy-efficient infrastructure.
Project 7 pursued the loan, applying for eligibility in early planning stages. The loan is considered a common funding instrument for water projects, said Miles Graham, spokesman for the water treatment cooperative.
“I think, more than anything, it speaks to what a good candidate this project is for outside federal funding opportunities,” said Graham. “When you look at the project on its merits, it’s really well qualified to bring in low interest loans and grants. So this was one of the first ones [loans] to make sure that we had the ability to take on the needed debt to fund the project.”
As helpful as the loan would be for the water project, Graham emphasized the cooperative’s goal of minimizing as much of the long-term debt that Project 7 takes on as possible.
Seeking grant opportunities and low interest loans such as the WIFIA program would supplement any gaps in funding, as well as mitigate water treatment rate increases that will be applied as a result of the project. Ultimately, it’s the grant opportunities that will keep water rates low, Graham said…
The WIFIA program would provide Project 7, if selected, with financing tools to address challenges around public health and environmental concerns within the community.
In addition to the WIFIA loan, the water cooperative is pursuing several grant opportunities with entities such as FEMA, the Department of Local Affairs and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Project 7 was previously awarded $25,000 through the Bureau of Reclamation grant.
Some of the highest concentrations of radium-contaminated drinking water in the nation are clustered in rural southeast Colorado, according to a recent compilation of data.
The problem is hardly new. The presence of radium in the area’s groundwater, which is linked to an increased cancer risk particularly for children, has been known for decades. The newly compiled data shows that out of the 50,000 water systems included in the research, six of the ten worst radium levels in the nation are in Colorado.
The water providers are required to inform their customers of the contamination, and they say they’d like to fix the problem, but providing clean, radium-free tap water in the most remote areas comes with an untenable price tag.
A massive infrastructure project that promises to largely resolve the problem, the Arkansas Valley Conduit, broke ground this year, but its completion is years away and the bulk of its funding hasn’t materialized yet.
For now, most are hopeful that the conduit will be fully funded and fully built, but until then, the faucets in the area will still provide water with as much as four times the legal radium limit…
Radium poses a unique risk to children, because it is treated by the human body like calcium and deposited into developing bones, where it remains radioactive and can kill and mutate cells.
Although the area’s groundwater was known to have contaminants, high levels of radium in Colorado’s groundwater became a regulatory problem around 20 years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated new radionuclide standards. Federal law allows up to 5 picocuries of radium-226 or radium-228, the most common versions of the element, per liter of water…
According to the Environmental Working Group’s new drinking water contamination data compilation, the worst radium content in the nation is found in Rocky Ford, where there was an average of 23 picocuries of radium per liter of water.
Eighteen other water systems in Colorado contain more than the legal limit. Most are clustered around the small rural towns of Rocky Ford, Swink and La Junta, about an hour’s drive east from Pueblo. The new data show one in every six Otero County resident has tap water above the federal limit.
After years of testing, studies and planning, the solution that‘s emerged is one proposed sixty years ago: The Arkansas Valley Conduit, the massive clean water delivery system proposal that stalled for decades over the project’s equally massive price tag.
Elsewhere in the state the Peak View Park mobile home park, situated on a wooded hillside along U.S. Route 24 in Woodland Park, registered more than twice the legal limit of radium for years, as the owners struggled to get the problem fixed…
But a key feature of the system Peak View Park installed is the access to Woodland Park’s sewer system. LaBarre said he had to make arrangements with the city’s wastewater treatment officials about the timing of their extraction system’s wastewater disposal, so that they can send the radium-saturated byproduct of the extraction process into the sewer when the system can adequately handle it…
The lack of a sewer system is what cripples any similar efforts in the more rural areas around La Junta. There, where many of the residents use septic tanks, storing an extraction byproduct would be prohibitively expensive…
Bill Long, the president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the towns along the first 12 miles of the [Arkansas Valley Conduit], Boone and Avondale, should be getting clean water from the conduit by 2024.
More funding will be needed to finish the project, and Long said he believes there will be money allocated from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, and that the funds could help get the conduit finished, but that the details aren’t yet clear.
FromThe Associated Press (Brittany Peterson and Sam Metz):
hen Aurora buys one bucket of water, it’s really buying multiple buckets of water. Each drop of water will likely be used over and over again.
The growing city approaching 400,000 residents isn’t interested so much in acquiring single-use water anymore, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. With its Prairie Waters potable reuse system, Aurora can recapture and reuse about 95% of the city’s water, so having multiple uses written into water rights agreements has become a top priority as water rights are likened to gold in the West — expensive and often hard to come by.
Aurora’s method — sterilizing wastewater from toilets, sinks and factories and then piping it back into homes and businesses as tap water — is catching on across the U.S.
In the Los Angeles area, plans to recycle wastewater for drinking are moving along with little fanfare just two decades after similar efforts in the city sparked such a backlash they had to be abandoned. The practice, which must meet federal drinking water standards, has been adopted in several places around the country, including nearby Orange County…
The shifting attitudes around a concept once dismissively dubbed “toilet to tap” come as dry regions scramble for ways to increase water supplies as their populations boom and climate change intensifies droughts. Other strategies gaining traction include collecting runoff from streams and roads after storms, and stripping seawater of salt and other minerals, a process that’s still relatively rare and expensive.
Though there are still only about two dozen communities in the U.S. using some form of recycled water for drinking, that number is projected to more than double in the next 15 years, according to WateReuse, a group that helps cities adopt such conservation practices.
In most places that do it, the sterilized water is usually mixed back into a lake, river or other natural source before being reused — a step that helps make the idea of drinking treated sewage go down easier for some.
In Aurora, the process is thanks to the Prairie Waters system, which was opened in 2010. It starts south of Weld County along the Platte River, where Aurora holds water rights that can be used “to extinction,” meaning nearly endlessly.
“Essentially, this means that the water residents use for washing, laundry, showering, as well as some of the water from lawn watering, stays in the South Platte River Basin,” Aurora Water explains…
A few dozen wells on the basin pull water through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel to purify the water. Next, the water is pumped into basins of more sand and gravel where filtration continues. Finally, pipes take the water to three different pump stations, which lift the water 1,000 feet over a ridge and back to the Peter D. Binney Purification Facility, near Aurora Reservoir.
From there the water is treated and pumped back out to the city’s thousands of homes and businesses, where the cycle begins all over again…
Currently, the facility treats about 50 million gallons of water each day…
Funding for more wastewater recycling projects is on the way. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress has $1 billion for water reuse projects in the West, including the $3.4 billion project in Southern California.
And tucked into the federal budget reconciliation package being debated is $125 million in grants for alternative water sources nationwide that could include reuse technologies.
Plans for expansion of the Aurora Prairie Waters project are ever-evolving and so there isn’t a build out budget attached, Baker said.
When Project 7 began drawing up plans for a water resiliency program in 2019, its leaders didn’t plan to invest in connecting a raw water line from the Ridgway Reservoir to a new treatment plant in Ridgway.
The new treatment plant and water line would be designed so additional capacity can be added in the future, allowing a maximum capacity of approximately 10 million gallons per day, more than a 30% increase in drinking water supply for the region.
The plan to construct the Regional Water Supply Program in conjunction with the Ridgway Water Treatment Plant is a decision driven by water supply security. The project will add a second water source to the region while serving all Project 7 members.
The valley hasn’t yet experienced water supply interruption, but Project 7 intends to stay ahead of a slew of risks that could potentially affect over 50,000 people and thousands of local businesses.
The new treatment plant would allow direct access to existing water rights in the Ridgway Reservoir while building a system resilient to wildfire, drought and transmission interruptions in the Gunnison Tunnel.
Project 7 Water Authority is a wholesale water treatment provider that supplies to the City of Montrose, City of Delta, Town of Olathe, Tri-County Water Conservancy District and the Menoken and Chipeta water districts, although each entity owns its own water rights.
Although geographically the second smallest entity in the cooperative by size, the City of Montrose uses roughly 50% of the water supply due to population density, with about 8,000 residents using water services from Project 7…
As it stands, the Gunnison River remains the only water supply source for the region, with one treatment facility to provide to the six entities within the cooperative.
The cooperative projected the overhead cost of the project to be between $50 – $70 million. The estimate includes the raw water line, but will become more specific as the design process progresses, said Miles Graham, spokesman for the resiliency program.
City of Montrose customers will see an increase in water rates on Jan. 1, 2022, due in part to Project 7’s elevated fees. Huggins noted that the impact of increasing wholesale rates for customers depends largely on the size and budget of the district…
Montrose residential water bills will increase by $4.86 per 3,000 gallons of water used per month and increase $1.35 per 1,000 gallons used per month, due in part to the water supplier raising its own fees by 15%.
At this stage in the planning process, it’s impossible to predict the cost for each entity without knowing the ultimate program cost or the amount of outside state and federal support, said Graham.
By using a uniform rate structure for all entities to provide local funding, the cost will be shared equally throughout the valley and supplemented by aggressively seeking grants and low-interest loans.
As the process moves forward, the team will be able to test and determine which treatment technology is best for the new plant and raw water line, as well as finding opportunities to make use of existing water distribution infrastructure near the new facility site.
The cost may be higher to build the raw water line, but overall, the cost to run and operate will be lower since the water quality leaving the reservoir will provide a stable water supply, Huggins noted. The water will also be easier to treat, with less influence from rain events washing mud and silt in the river that have to be removed, allowing for mitigated operation costs…
Water treatment plants often use electrical backup generators that run on diesel or natural gas, which is typically banned in the event of a wildfire, the engineer said. Because a gas-run generator on a tank of fuel presents a dangerous risk, utility companies usually shut off any natural gas in the area if a wildfire is present.
“So if you think about an emergency situation, having the ability to bring water down to this site and continue operations at the plant without having to pump it up from the river made a lot of sense. [It’s] a more sustainable solution than the other options for getting water to the site.”
Construction for the project is expected to begin in 2023. The new water line and treatment plan is slated to go online by 2025.
ON A DUSTY hilltop in San Diego, the drinking water of the future courses through a wildly complicated and very loud jumble of tanks, pipes, and cylinders. Here at the North City Water Reclamation Plant, very not-drinkable wastewater is turned into a liquid so pure it would actually wreak havoc on your body if you imbibed it without further treatment.
First the system hits the wastewater with ozone, which destroys bacteria and viruses. Then it pumps the water through filters packed with coal granules that trap organic solids. Next, the water passes through fine membranes that snag any remaining solids and microbes. “The pores are so small, you can’t see them except with a really powerful microscope,” says Amy Dorman, deputy director of Pure Water San Diego, the city’s initiative to reduce its reliance on water imported from afar. “Basically, they only allow the water molecules to get through.”
But to be extra sure, the next step blasts the water with UV light, to obliterate any microbes and other trace contaminants. The end result is water in its purest form—too pure, in fact. The last phase is “conditioning” the liquid by adding minerals back to it. Without that, the water would leach the copper out of pipes. If you drank it, it’d soak up your electrolytes like a sponge.
If that all sounds like a rather convoluted way to get drinking water, that’s because the American West is facing a rather convoluted climate crisis. San Diego—and the rest of Southern California—have historically relied on water from Northern California and the Colorado River. But they’ve always been at the end of the line. The river hydrates 40 million other people in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, and it is withering under a historic drought, a harbinger of even worse water scarcity to come as the climate warms.
So San Diego has to figure out how to do more with less water. The Pure Water program aims to provide more than 40 percent of the city’s water from local sources by the year 2035 by reusing water recycled from homes and businesses. (That means water that has flowed through sinks, showers, toilets, and washing machines.) “We’re diversifying the portfolio,” says Todd Gloria, San Diego’s mayor. “We’re heavily dependent upon water that comes from very far away, and that’s a problem that we have to address.”
The water-recycling revolution is just getting going in San Diego, but its proponents hope it will ripple across the American West. In June, legislators in the US House of Representatives introduced a bill that would funnel $750 million into water recycling projects in 17 western states through 2027. (The bill hasn’t made it past committee.) “This is beginning to be our new normal—88 percent of the West is under some degree of drought,” Representative Susie Lee (D-Nevada) told WIRED in July. “Lake Mead is at the lowest level it has been at since the Hoover Dam was constructed. And the Colorado River has been in a drought for more than two decades.”
The technology to recycle water on a large scale already exists—it’s been around for half a century, in fact. But the problem is that it can cost billions to build a recycling facility, and you can’t just copy-paste a particular plan from one municipality to the next. The North City Water Reclamation Plant has been experimenting with different kinds of filtering membranes because not all water is the same. For example, the mineral content of the water flowing into the San Diego facility is distinct from what operators might be working with in New York. Recycling plants also cost a pretty penny to run, since pumping lots of water through fine membranes requires significant pressure. But then again, it also takes a lot of energy to pump water from northern areas to Southern California.
It’s been almost exactly a year since the Cameron Peak Fire tore through the foothills outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, on its way to becoming the largest fire in state history. Now, restoration efforts are underway. About 1 million people rely on water moving through this canyon, and one of the most effective ways to protect the area’s watershed uses these helicopters. Instead of scooping up water to drop on flames, pilots dip low and pick up bulging nets full of wood mulch to dump on the charred hillside.
Randy Gustafson, water resource administrator for the City of Greeley, looks on as a helicopter hovers near the ground, rumbling loudly over a pile of mulch bigger than a house. Then, it’s off as quickly as it came, zipping back and forth into the burn scar with heaving payloads in tow…
Even though Greeley is a two-hour drive away from this “aerial mulching” operation in Poudre Canyon, this is where the city’s water comes from. Snowmelt and rain make their way down from the foothills into the Cache la Poudre River before that water is piped over to the city. But Gustafson said a charred slope is slick like a frying pan. Water will run off of it, carrying dirt, ash and other debris into that water supply. So his team has to stabilize the hillside with mulch.
“I look at the Poudre as a living organism,” Gustafson said. “How do you keep it functional and operational and make it produce good, clean water for everybody down below?”
Gustafson’s team is just one part of the city’s strategy to keep the water clean. Another effort is underway above Chambers Lake, less than a mile from where the fire began. Here, fire debris threatens to cause harmful algae blooms in the reservoir. So big bundles of spongy wood shavings, held together by biodegradable nets, are laid out on the hillside.
“They form a baffle,” Gustafson said. “They stop the debris, soil, ash, and keep it from coming down into the reservoir.”
On a visit to the site, Gustafson shows how the baffles are successfully holding back sludgy piles of gray dirt in one of the most severely burned parts of forest…
In the grand scheme of things, though, these efforts could be little more than a Band-Aid. The expensive and time-consuming mulching work can only cover a fraction of the burn’s sprawling footprint. And more are likely on the way…
“These megafires are unfortunately not going to be going anywhere anytime soon,” said Hally Strevey, director of the Coalition for the Poudre River watershed. “We’re trying not to lose hope. There are plenty of things we can still do, working together collaboratively.”
That includes her organization’s precautionary forest management in areas prone to burning. The fact it’s carried out by a watershed group just further emphasizes how deeply water and fire are connected. Even after a fire is put out, it takes a lot of work to keep the water clean.
But restoration projects like the one in Poudre Canyon are not cheap. Keeping just one helicopter in the air costs $87 per minute. Greeley’s deputy water director, Adam Jokerst, says the high costs are worth it for two reasons…
The money spent on recovery work is also a precautionary measure against purification costs that could be incurred if ash finds its way into the water supply…
Greeley’s water team says restoration work will carry into the next few years, but because of the size and severity of the burn, it may never truly be the same as it was before the fire.
At City Superintendent Mark Brown’s request, Holyoke City Council members held a work session immediately following their Sept. 7 meeting to discuss issues related to the city’s water.
He told the council that he, Lennie Fisbeck and Jeremy Thompson met with Element Engineering LLC on Friday, Sept. 3, to review ideas to address the issues…
Brown provided council members with spreadsheets showing nitrate level samples of the city’s different wells from 2002 through the third quarter of this year.
He said the increasing nitrate levels in the cemetery well are raising concerns. One of the possibilities of the increased levels is that an excessive nitrate plume could be headed in that direction.
He then discussed the possibility of getting the Stout well set up as a municipal well. This well, along with 318 acres located 2 1/2 miles south of Holyoke, was purchased by the city in 1996 from Clarence and Bernice Stout.
Brown said there are different options that can be used to bring the Stout well in, it’s just a matter of finding the one that suits the city best.
One of these options is to blend the Stout well with the cemetery well and come up with an acceptable nitrate limit.
This would involve connecting the two wells with underground pipes to let the water mix at a suitable distance before it ever gets to the city.
If the cemetery well gets to the point where it exceeds nitrate levels, allowing water from the Stout well to blend with water from the cemetery well would create an acceptable nitrate limit while still keeping both allocations…
Flushable wet wipes still causing problems
Brown then brought up the subject of the city’s wastewater, noting that flushable wet wipes continue to be an issue.
He outlined two possible scenarios to try to address the problem.
He said a grinder could be installed in the wet well of the existing lift station in Holyoke, grinding wipes up and pumping them to the lagoons. This would mean the lagoons would have to be dredged much more frequently since the debris would collect in the bottom of the lagoons.
“We know who pooped in the river, now we’re trying to figure out where it’s coming from,” Alyssa Richmond said as she took a sample of water recently from the muddy San Juan River, in the blazing high desert outside Farmington.
Richmond is coordinator for the San Juan Watershed Group, a collection of local agencies and volunteers working to improve water quality on the San Juan River as it runs through northern New Mexico. The group’s ultimate goal, Richmond said, is to have the stretch of river meet national water quality standards. But as it stands, it’s not going well.
Among a plethora of water-quality issues that include mine pollution, urban runoff and rising water temperatures amid an increasing drought, is the issue of E. coli contamination. A naturally occurring bacteria that lives in all humans and animal stools, E. coli can contaminate ground and surface water, and lead to health implications.
For at least the past 10 years, researchers have launched a full-scale investigation to better understand E. coli issues up and down the San Juan River watershed, from high up in the San Juan Mountains to its major tributary, the Animas River, to stretches that run into the Navajo Nation.
Early results are not encouraging: the EPA’s standard for acceptable E. coli levels is 126 colony-forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters. In stretches of the San Juan River through Farmington, water samples taken this summer exceeded nearly 1,500 CFUs. “We didn’t expect it to be as high as it was,” Richmond said on a sampling day in late August. “It was shocking.”
But it’s not all doom and poop. The San Juan Watershed Group’s efforts will ultimately help inform where cleanup projects should be focused to achieve the highest improvement in water health. And, all up and down the watershed, even to the highest reaches of the Animas River around Silverton, there is a concerted push to face E. coli issues head on.
“The good news is everyone agrees there should be no human poop in the water,” said San Juan Citizens Alliance’s Animas Riverkeeper Marcel Gaztambide, who probably never thought he’d have to make so obvious a statement to the local paper. “And it’s an issue of concern, so it’s good we’re talking about it now.”
E. coli is a difficult contaminant to fully contextualize because not only is it naturally occurring, it is also one of the most common bacteria. It can come from livestock as well as wildlife like elk, deer, birds, beaver – pretty much any animal that poops. And to complicate matters further, only some strains of the bacteria are harmful to human health.
In the early 2010s, however, researchers knew high E. coli levels were an issue in the San Juan River in northern New Mexico, but the question was, who was the main culprit? After conducting two years of microbial source testing, which not only shows the level of E. coli but also pinpoints the exact source, the results were not what researches were expecting. It came back that the largest contributors were … drumroll, please … humans.
In fact, test results showed human feces in 70 to 100 percent of samples taken from the Animas River at the Colorado-New Mexico state line down to the border of the Navajo Nation.
With the guilty party exposed, funding was again secured to take the investigation a step further this summer by understanding where exactly the human waste was coming from, Richmond said. It’s a process that’s rather simple, by testing upstream and downstream of suspected source points, and then seeing where the spikes in E. coli levels occur. And already, there are some potential smoking guns: failing septic tanks from homes and development, outdated wastewater treatment plants and illegal RV dumping.
What the sampling has also shown, Richmond said, is the high E. coli levels aren’t necessarily coming from upstream communities in Durango and elsewhere. Instead, early results indicate the highest spikes happen in and around Farmington…
It’s a watershed moment
But that doesn’t necessarily mean upstream communities are swimming in sparkling clean waters.
The Animas River, for instance, has issues all its own. Remember that EPA standard of 126 cfu/100 mL? Well, one study conducted by Fort Lewis College in October 2018 found E. coli levels in the Animas at Santa Rita Park, near the Whitewater Park (close your eyes kayakers and surfers) at 226 CFUs. Bare in mind, this was before the completion of the City’s new water reclamation facility in December 2019…
Over in the Florida River, which runs into the Animas about 18 miles south of Durango, progress is also being made, said Warren Rider, coordinator for the Animas Watershed Partnership, which focuses on water quality issues on the Colorado side of the border.
The Florida River for years has exceeded safety standards for E. coli and accounts for nearly a quarter of the bacteria and nutrients dumped into the Animas River before the state line. In a bit of a shock, the Florida was delisted last year, but that was mostly due to a lack of data, researchers say.
While natural sources do account for a portion of contamination in the Florida, agriculture and livestock operations also contribute a good amount of harmful bacteria. As a result, Rider said the Animas Watershed Partnership has tried to work with landowners to fence off waterways to livestock and reestablish vegetation along stream banks…
Up in the high country
And no one has forgotten about the highest reaches of the watershed atop the San Juan Mountains, where an unprecedented increase in recreation, and therefore human waste, has been well noted and nosed in the past year or so.
This summer, the U.S. Forest Service and Mountain Studies Institute partnered to test heavily trafficked recreation areas for E. coli. Colleen Magee-Uhlik, a forest ambassador with MSI, said areas with high use of recreation showed much higher concentrations than locations with little human impact.
In the obvious case study, South Mineral Creek – that of Ice Lakes fame – water samples taken above the highest areas of recreation tested at about 22 CFUs. Farther downstream, in a location that would catch all the cumulative impacts of recreation and camping, samples were more than four times as high, at nearly 90 CFUs. (And, it should be noted, South Mineral was closed this year because of fire damage, which likely means levels would be even higher if people were in the area)…
Christie Chatterley, Fort Lewis College assistant professor of physics and engineering, said in the popular backpacking spot Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness, a student-led research program also found high levels of E. coli in streams. FLC has plans to conduct microbial source testing to see exactly where the bacteria is coming from, but Chatterley said it’s probably safe to assume hikers and campers…
So what can be done?
For starters, using best practices in the high country, such as burying waste 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water, and packing out toilet paper can go a long way. This message is even more important as record numbers of people visit the backcountry, many without a working knowledge of how to protect the very landscape they come to enjoy.
Farther downstream, upgrading septic tanks is seen as another obvious target. Brian Devine, with San Juan Basin Public Health, said new septic regulations require people selling their homes to have septic systems inspected. In 2020 alone, more than 500 systems were inspected, which led to many leeching septic tanks being fixed. “It’s resulting in systems getting repaired,” he said. Richmond, with the San Juan Watershed Group, said agencies are working with New Mexico health officials to tackle failing and outdated septic systems as well.
And, the city of Durango’s Biggs said the Clean Water Act continues to push water quality standards. “The Clean Water Act has really improved water quality, and the Animas would be a testament to that,” he said. “And everyone benefits, including our downstream users.”
So yes, there’s no quick and easy fix to E. coli issues in the Animas and San Juan rivers, but all these efforts are folded into the long history of communities along the watershed, and the responsibilities they have to one another, Biggs said. It’s an issue that dates back to the 1800s when Silverton would send down water contaminated by mining operations to Durango, and a few decades later, when Durango’s uranium pile sat along the banks of the Animas River, only to be swept downstream.
With purified, reuse water flowing into Castle Rock homes this summer, the town was already celebrating the ability to supply high-quality drinking water to customers.
Accolades for the success at Castle Rock Water continued last week when the department received recognition for Outstanding Water Treatment Plant by the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association.
The Rocky Mountain Section is the regional division of the American Water Works Association, the principal association for scientific and educational opportunities dedicated to managing and treating water. The Rocky Mountain Section represents water industry organizations in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Castle Rock won in the large department category, which includes programs serving more than 50,000 people. The award was given specifically for the operations at the Plum Creek Water Purification Facility, which has developed the advanced treatment processes to accommodate purified reuse water…
The association also presented Castle Rock Water plant mechanic Casey Devol with the Water Treatment Maintenance Award for his design of new processes to clean pipelines. The annual award is given to a maintenance professional who demonstrates exceptional performance, dedication and teamwork. Devol was also recognized for his contribution to the Water to Wire efficiency study to reduce energy usage and pumping costs.
The local and national recognition for Castle Rock Water comes as efforts to invest in the town’s sustainable water future continues. Dating back to 2006, the town invested $208 million to build the reusable water facility.
Part of that investment included the construction of the $60 million Plum Creek Purification Facility. Reuse water will account for one-third of the community’s water supply and will be a big step in providing a sustainable water supply as the town grows and drought conditions are expected to continue.
In addition to the American Water Works Association awards, Castle Rock Water also received recognition for its efforts in environmental stewardship. This is the third consecutive year the water provider has received a Gold Level in the Environmental Leadership Program by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Reducing energy consumption, increasing water conservation efforts and instituting purified reuse water were among the primary considerations for the award.
With lower, warmer water levels in the Yampa River during this extreme drought year, town of Hayden employees are carefully watching operations at the water plant this summer to continue to alleviate taste or odor issues for the town’s 1,100 water taps…
[Bryan] Richards said the usual time of heightened summer concern for low water levels and thus increased algae is lasting longer this year, starting about one month earlier than usual in early July rather than the normal early August. Water levels have dropped at the intake on the Yampa River at the water plant north of town, and water temperatures at the intake have increased by 3 to 5 degrees above normal, rising as high as 75 degrees. Lower, slower, warmer water leads to more algae production…
Fortunately, major improvements to the Hayden water treatment plant during the past three years are working to help mitigate the algae increases, said Town Manager Mathew Mendisco. He said the town spent a total of $2.3 million in water system and plant upgrades with half of the funding coming from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and other funding from a citizen-approved bond measure. The plant was first built in 1978…
Town of Hayden water users have been under outdoor water restrictions this summer that mimic city of Steamboat Springs restrictions and resulted in a 3% decrease in overall water use compared to the past three years, even though the watering season started earlier this dry year, Richards said. Hayden water users will need to continue water conservation efforts when the town’s 1 million gallon water tank on hospital hill goes offline for a planned refurbishment starting with the tank drained by the end of August through project completion Oct. 20, Richards said.
Mendisco said the town secured $989,000 in low-interest financing to upgrade the tank through a state revolving loan fund managed by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority. The town qualified for a 1.5% interest rate based on its status as a “disadvantaged community” dealing with the impacts of the transition from coal.
The town has a 500,000-gallon water tank near Yampa Valley Regional Airport, so officials do not anticipate impacts to water customers when the larger water tank is off line.
The Snake River Water District will undergo a variety of rehabilitation and improvements throughout the next 10 years based on its 2021 master plan.
The district, which provides drinking water to the Keystone valley, underwent a study with an engineering firm to look at its infrastructure’s strengths and weaknesses. The idea to look into infrastructure upgrades started about two years ago when the district was notified it had a slight lead exceedance based on two water samples.
Scott Price, executive director and district administrator, said this occurs not because there is an issue with the actual water, but because pipes in some older homes in the area were built with lead and are still in use. If the water sits in the pipes for too long, it can lead to concentrations of lead in the water samples. Price said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has to use the water that first comes out when the faucet is turned on when it tests water samples, which will likely be affected by lead if the water sat unused in old pipes.
The district has three base plants, each with its own storage and water filtration system. The second base, which is also home to the district’s office, is likely to need an additional storage tank to serve the high-density area of Keystone Resort, as well as a pump station that can transport water uphill from the third to the second base.
An existing infrastructure issue to address is water pipe breakage, something Price said can cost around 10 times more to fix in the winter than it does in the summer. Engineers looked at which pipes were more likely to break, but also the severity of consequences that can occur from a breakage.
The study prioritized which pipes and fire hydrants in the district would need attention immediately, creating a map showing the different priorities based on each area. The district plans to chip away at these pipe and hydrant upgrades little by little during the 10-year plan.
Meanwhile, the third plant underwent $8.5 million in upgrades a couple years ago, including a new filtration system. Price said he expects this filtration system to be in compliance for decades to come as water quality regulations get tighter over time…
Price also said that should the base two plant need upgrades — which he is expecting to get a decision from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment by the end of the year — the whole district will be able to temporarily operate on the new base three plant.
Lastly, the study showed that the district’s Pilot Lode storage tank by the Settlers Creek townhomes will need improvements to its interior lining, as it is around 25 years old and steel constructed.
The study estimates that over 10 years, the district will need about $38.5 million in work, estimated as follows:
Pump station from base three to base two: $1.5 million
Base two storage tank: $7.6 million
Base two groundwater under direct influence compliance: $11.8 million
Pilot Lode tank rehabilitation: $550,000
Pipeline replacements: $13.5 million
Fire hydrant replacements: $1.6 million
On top of these costs there are several smaller projects included in the master plan that account for the remaining $2 million of the budget. These estimates cover only the cost of construction, and the district will need to pay more in the coming months for architects and engineers to design the systems…
The plan calls for a 12% rate increase at the start of 2022, and the Snake River Water District’s board is currently planning to do 12% increases over the next three years. The base quarterly fee will go from $65 in 2022 to $91 in 2024.
The Snake River Water District hasn’t increased its water rates in about eight years, which was then only a 3% increase. Prior to that, it hadn’t raised its quarterly rates since the 1990s.
The Snake River Water District will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 4, at its office at 0050 Oro Grande Drive in Keystone.
A presentation will be given on the recently completed water system master plan and upcoming rate changes at the meeting.
Based on the master plan, the district will need to invest about $38.5 million over the next 10 years to address aging infrastructure, potential trouble areas of the system, capacity and distribution. Its next step is determining how to fund these upgrades through federal and state grants and loans.
Here’s the release from the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (Elysia Bunten):
The New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (ONRT) is in the preliminary stages of soliciting ideas for projects that will restore natural resources in New Mexico injured by the 2015 Gold King Mine release.
We welcome stakeholder engagement in our process and invite you, as a stakeholder who was affected by the contamination, to participate in this process. Please see the attached letter containing details about ONRT’s funding, process, upcoming information session, and timetable.
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.”
At Hays Market, gallon jugs of drinking water have been flying off the shelves for the better part of two weeks. According to grocery manager Daniel Gehring, the store has gone from ordering several cases of water to palates of it, and not because of the hot weather.
“The town’s water is smelly, funny and has a dirt taste to it, so people are buying the heck out of the gallon water,” Gehring said.
For the grocery store, the business is a plus, but around town, folks like David Salls are concerned. He’s recently turned to filtering all of the water anyone in the family drinks, including his dogs…
Town manager Matt LeCerf says the odor is harmless, and the result of chemical compounds created by algae blooms in the Lone Tree Reservoir, the city’s main water source.
Normally, the water travels into town via a pipeline and drainage ditch, but this year the drainage ditch is not being used because of the nearby Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fire burn scars…
According to LeCerf, the ditch into town naturally aerates and filters the water more than the pipeline.
“We’re basically in a position where we have to run our water through the reservoirs where we do have that standing water that’s causing some of the taste and odor issues,” LeCerf said.
After hearing similar concerns in the past, the town approved a new $2 million granular activated carbon system earlier this year, which LeCerf said is 90% effective in removing the taste and odor. Construction has been underway for more than two months, and the system is expected to be online Wednesday…
The carbon filtration system isn’t the only improvement in the works for Johnstown. According to LeCerf, the town is also upgrading its water treatment plant and putting special buoys in the reservoir that use ultrasonic wavelengths to help mitigate algae growth.
At the moment, Frank Alfone, manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, thinks he supplies Steamboat Springs with some of the best water in Colorado.
The popular ski town relies on Fish Creek for about 93 percent of its normal supply. The postcard Rocky Mountain stream starts as snowmelt before collecting into a narrow canyon, where hikers flock to watch it roar over a 280-foot waterfall.
The water is placid and clear by the time it arrives at the district’s main treatment plant above the city, but Alfone expects that will change sometime soon. After months of drought, Colorado’s two largest active wildfires are burning near Steamboat Springs.
If a future blaze hits the Fish Creek watershed, the charred landscape could erode anytime it rains, possibly turning the city’s primary water source into a turbid soup of ash and debris. The sediment could fill reservoirs, trigger algal blooms or poison water quality with heavy metals…
The Mount Werner Water District and the City of Steamboat Springs are trying to get ahead of similar challenges. Their joint wildfire protection plan, published in 2019, details projects to guard against wildfire in Fish Creek and protect water resources if necessary. It’s the sort of effort experts say other communities should undertake, especially since forests supply 80 percent of U.S. water resources…
Preventing a fire until you can’t
A map helped kickstart Steamboat Springs’ planning effort.
The Colorado State Forest Service updates a detailed look at fire risk across the state every five years. Kelly Romero-Heaney, who managed water resources for Steamboat Springs until earlier this year before leaving for the state, said it was impossible to miss Fish Creek as an area of concern.
“It lit up bright red on the map,” Romero-Heaney said.
The 26-square-mile drainage basin looks like a misshapen funnel from above. Two high-elevation reservoirs collect snowmelt and channel water into tributaries that feed Fish Creek. A narrow canyon carries the water until it reaches Steamboat Springs and meets the Yampa River.
The protection plan, funded with a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, modeled the most likely ignition sources for a fire within the watershed. It quickly zeroed in on the Sanctuary Neighborhood, a high-end development north of downtown Steamboat. If a fire started there, it could quickly rocket up the canyon and affect larger parts of the watershed.
The finding helped spur residents to take action…
Carolina Manriquez, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service in Steamboat Springs who advised the fire protection plan, said those preventative efforts only go so far in areas strained by drought and growing numbers of residents.
“The bottom line is there’s not a lot we can do to minimize the fire risk,” Manriquez said…
Always have a backup
Alfone said fire risk is one reason the Mount Werner Water District developed a backup supply.
In 2018, Mount Werner expanded a second water treatment plant fed by wells along the Yampa River. If the district ever lost access to Fish Creek, he said it would likely have to restrict outdoor water use but could continue to supply indoor water from the auxiliary plant.
The City of Steamboat Springs also owns additional water rights along the Elk River. In the long-term, he said the city could develop the resource into an additional backup…
Over the next two decades, Alfone said the water district also hopes to upgrade its primary treatment plant along Fish Creek to handle water tainted by wildfire runoff. A new intake could help filter out ash and debris and a redesigned filtration system might also improve taste and toxin issues after the smoke clears from the water basin. Each project is outlined in the fire protection plan.
Alfone said the district would likely pay for the improvements through loans, water customer rate hikes or trying to win federal grants.
He is optimistic about the last option. President Biden recently doubled the size of a Federal Emergency Management Agency program to help communities prepare for extreme weather events. The water district likely qualifies after Routt County included the project in its overall disaster-planning efforts.
The Snake River Water District is planning ahead for increasing water needs in the Keystone area due to population growth over the past decade.
District Executive Director Scott Price said in a statement that the district recently created a water system master plan looking into emerging challenges in the next 10 years. The plan includes a prioritized list of short- and long-term projects.
According to the plan, the district needs to invest $38.5 million over the next decade to address trouble areas, update the old water treatment plant and add a new pump station and storage tank. The district is currently seeking grants and loans to help fund the improvements. It is also evaluating user rates that have remained unchanged for the past eight years.
The district will hold public meetings with key stakeholders to discuss the financial plans. There will be two public meetings July 22, including a 1 p.m. livestream on the district’s Facebook page and an in-person meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the district’s office in Keystone, 0050 Oro Grande Drive.