Durango faces possible $55 million in wastewater plant upgrades

October 22, 2014
Wastewater Treatment Process

Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

In addition to the staggering estimate, the construction must be completed by December 2017 to meet state regulations for higher water quality.

Currently, the plant is releasing more nitrogen and phosphorous into the Animas River than the new regulations allow.

If the plant does not meet the new rules, it could be placed under a consent order by the state and will not be allowed to build any more sewer taps. This would halt any city growth. It could also equate to a $25,000 daily fine, said Utilities Director Steve Salka.

The regulations were approved in 2012 because high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous causes algae to bloom faster than ecosystems can handle. Too much algae deprives fish and other aquatic life of oxygen, said Meghan Trubee, community relations liaison for the Colorado Water Quality Control Division.

“We’re affecting the base of the food cycle in the wild,” said John Sandhaus, wastewater treatment plant superintendent for the city of Durango.

To remove what is effectively too much fertilizer, the sewer plant will need greater capacity and new technology, he said.

The upgrades should make the plant quieter and reduce the sickening smell that occasionally wafts across Santa Rita Park.

“If this plant is built the way we suggest it be built, you won’t even know it’s here,” Salka said.

Designs include 11 new structures, including a new administration building that may be built near the park to distance the public from the process, Salka said.

The capacity of the plant also will be increased from 3 millions gallons of water per day to 4 million, so it would be prepared for growth.

The new structures will add more equipment to almost every step of the treatment process.

When raw sewage enters the plant, it flows into a headworks building where the current flow-measurement device is too small to handle peak times. It also violates state standards because it cannot be cleaned or calibrated because it is underneath the concrete floor, Sandhaus said.

Once inorganic matter is removed, the waste flows into stilling basins, called primary clarifiers. Here, solid waste is separated from the liquid waste. These would not be replaced, but they would be covered with domes to filter the air.

The water then flows into an aeration basin where micro-organisms digest the waste in the water.

“We call ourselves bug farmers,” Sandhaus joked, while looking out across the dark-brown bubbling basins.

Four new aeration basins must be built with about five times the capacity of the existing basins, Sandhaus said.

Management also plans to replace the blowers that pump air into the basins from direct current to alternating current for efficiency, Salka said.

Solids are then removed from the water again in secondary basins, and the plant will need two more of these basins.

The water is then sterilized with ultraviolet light. A secondary sterilizer will be part of the upgrades because the plant is violating state regulations without one.

Sludge is processed separately from water in a digester. Much as the name suggests, here micro-organisms feed on the waste. The upgrades call for another digester that will prevent the stench currently caused by cleaning and maintenance.

Under the plan, processed waste will be dried in another new building. Here, human waste will be turned into dry pellets that can be sold as fertilizer.

Currently, the plant produces four to five tanker truck loads a day of mostly water mixed with 2.5 percent processed human waste. The plant pays $250,000 a year to truck this waste away.

The preliminary designs also call for a station where restaurants could send grease instead of pouring it down a drain. This can be used to increase the production of methane and produce more electricity.

All of these improvements would be scheduled, so that the plant can continue processing waste during construction. April 2016 is the earliest that construction may start.

More wastewater coverage here.


Alamosa water rates to increase

October 21, 2014
Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    It’s Time to Put Water First | Heather Himmelberger | TEDxABQ

    October 17, 2014


    San Juan River Basin: Dry Gulch Project update

    October 17, 2014
    San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

    San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

    from The Pagosa Springs Sun (Renita Freeman):

    In the regularly scheduled meeting of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) on Oct.14, board chairman Rod Proffitt discussed the progress and tour of the Dry Gulch Water Storage Facility (Dry Gulch Project), concerns of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and the appraisal value of the Running Iron Ranch.

    In a letter of intent dated Sept. 10 between SJWCD and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), each party agreed to work toward finalizing a satisfactory agreement that both relieves PAWSD of its financial obligations to the Dry Gulch Project and acknowledges efforts by SJWCD to develop the Dry Gulch Project on a more practicable basis with a broader group of interested partners.

    The letter of intent stated that an exchange of PAWSD equity in the ranch to the CWCB for substantial debt relief is to both parties’ mutual advantage.

    The letter of intent also states that if the principal outstanding on the loan cannot be reduced by the amount equal to the appraisal value of the ranch or $4.6 million, whichever is more, PAWSD may seek other means to reduce its debt to the CWCB. The letter of intent further states that the annual interest rate may be reduced to no more than 1.75 percent and a full term for payment of 30 years.

    SJWCD agreed to provide an appraisal of the ranch to the CWCB, which would establish the fair market value of the 660-acre ranch, shared water rights directly and indirectly related to the Dry Gulch Project, and long-term debt obligations to the CWCB incurred in the purchase of the ranch…

    Proffitt went on to explain that the problems with comparables done on similar ranches which sold for more was the fact they had more buildings and structures in place, as well as more riverfront on the properties than those of the ranch that was appraised.

    Proffitt told the board he had completed a tour of the Dry Gulch Project with CWCB Commissioner James Eklund, Jeff Robbins, legal council for PAWSD, and Kent Holsinger, legal council for SJWCD.

    Eklund was impressed with the site, Proffitt explained…

    Proffitt told the SJWCD board Tuesday evening that steps should be taken in order to satisfy the CWCB concerns that the board stayed focused on the Dry Gulch Project and did not wane.

    “Due diligence is needed to keep the Dry Gulch Project moving forward. Hopefully, the courts will see we are exercising due diligence,” he said.

    In an email, CWCB Deputy Director of Resource Management Tim Feehan stated other items CWCB would like to see as part of an agreement going forward: “SJWCD would retain an equitable interest in the Dry Gulch Project and its fee interest in the property. SJWCD would be able to move forward with land exchanges to further the Project.”

    Other items for consideration mentioned in the email were that SJWCD would be provided with adequate funding to move the project forward and would take the lead in discussions with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and other potential partners in the project.

    The email went on to state that the CWCB would like to see SJWCD considered as manager/coordinator for the project once it is built and it also needs closure to be on the loan/grant agreement. The correspondence also pointed out a new operating agreement needs to include a forgiveness provision on the loan side of the existing agreement.

    More Dry Gulch Reservoir coverage here.


    “Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero” — Brian Werner #ColoradoRiver

    October 15, 2014

    Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir -- Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call

    Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call


    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict have negotiated a contract that would allow the subdistrict to use excess capacity in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project for the Windy Gap Project and future Windy Gap Firming Project, according to a press release. A 30-day public comment period on the contract opened Oct. 8 and will close Nov. 7…

    Currently, Windy Gap water rights are in priority during wet years, though paradoxically the C-BT project is often too full to hold excess water. Because the Windy Gap Project has a junior water right, it is often not able to divert water during dry years, when there is available capacity in the C-BT project.

    “Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero because there are some years where they can’t get any water out of the project,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

    The Windy Gap Firming Project proposes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Carter Lake Reservoir in Larimer County. The added storage capacity would “firm up,” or reinforce the Windy Gap water right during dry years. The contract is needed to use federal infrastructure to firm up the Windy Gap water right.

    “This project will make more efficient use of existing water rights,” said Mike Ryan with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in a prepared statement. “When completed, Windy Gap Firming would provide water storage for 13 municipal providers.”

    The Windy Gap project is allowed to divert a maximum of 90,000 acre feet in a single year, and its 10-year running average cannot exceed 65,000 acre feet per year.

    The cost for using the excess capacity will be $34 per acre-foot, said Tyler Johnson with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Initial estimates for the Windy Gap Firming Project put the cost at $270 million.

    Also up for comment is Senate Document 80, which contains guidelines for project facilities and auxiliary features, and Section 14 Determination Memos, which authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts for the exchange or replacement of water, water rights, or electrical energy for the adjustment of water rights.


    Reclamation: Check it out! Two Reclamation employees perform a rope inspection of Granby Spillway #ColoradoRiver

    October 12, 2014


    Chatfield Reservoir water supply project OK’d by feds, faces lawsuit — The Denver Post

    October 10, 2014
    Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

    Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Federal water engineers on Thursday launched the long-planned and controversial Chatfield Reservoir water supply project, closing a deal with Colorado sponsors.

    Audubon Society opponents filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to block construction.

    A reallocation of the South Platte River water that is captured in the reservoir, created in 1975 for flood control, is expected to add 2.8 billion gallons a year to water supplies.

    But the project will inundate 10 percent of the premier state park.

    Col. Joel Cross, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha district commander, signed an agreement with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board — clearing the way for state-supervised construction after 15 years of negotiation.

    “This completes the study and gives approval to move forward. This is a huge milestone,” Army Corps of Engineers project manager Gwyn Jarrett said.

    Colorado natural resources director Mike King on Oct. 6 signed for the state. Colorado water supply planners have estimated that, by 2050, the state’s population probably will grow to between 8.6 million and 10.3 million people, up from 5 million in 2010. Today’s water supplies are expected to fall short by 390,000 to 450,000 acre-feet.

    “As we look to meet our state’s future water needs, taking advantage of existing infrastructure and maximizing yield from Chatfield is by far the most environmentally responsible option available,” King said.

    “This project will not pull any additional water from the West Slope, and the environmental impacts can and will be mitigated through an aggressive plan to ensure that Chatfield remains a tremendous recreational and wildlife viewing site,” he said. “At the same time, the new project will provide additional water to the already stressed farms and communities along the South Platte.”

    The 20,600 acre-feet of water stored in Chatfield Reservoir, located 25 miles southwest of downtown Denver, has been reallocated for municipal and industrial water supply along with other purposes, including agriculture, environmental restoration, recreation and improving fish habitat.

    Federal engineers said using Chatfield to augment water supplies is better than building a new dam and reservoir elsewhere.

    The plans say the water level will rise by up to 12 feet and the project will provide an average of 8,539 acre-feet of water (about 2.8 billion gallons) for municipal, industrial, environmental and agricultural use.

    This will inundate 10 percent of the 5,378-acre Chatfield State Park, which draws 1.6 million visitors a year.

    Lengthy reviews and negotiation among federal engineers, state officials and water users led to plans to mitigate adverse impacts.

    The plans describe new habitat for birds and replacement of park structures and roadways. State officials said water providers purchasing storage space in the reservoir must place funds to pay for mitigation work in an escrow account before construction begins. And no new water can be stored until on-site recreational and environmental work is done.

    The Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, has deemed the Chatfield project “technically sound, environmentally acceptable and economically justified.”

    Bird-watchers opposed it. Cottonwoods that serve as bird habitat likely will be lost.

    The Audubon Society of Greater Denver this week filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, arguing that federal authorities arbitrarily dismissed better alternatives and that the Clean Water Act allows only the least-damaging alternative. It argues that federal documents show the “dependable yield” of water from the project is zero and that project reviewers’ “segmentation” in evaluating impacts led to an improper analysis.

    “They need to take another look at alternatives they dismissed,” Audubon Society member Gene Reetz said. “Everybody realizes that demands for water are growing. And, especially with climate change, water is going to be very short. We all have to get more serious about conservation.”

    More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


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