Alamosa: Water infrastructure funding is in short supply

March 22, 2014
The water treatment process

The water treatment process

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More infrastructure coverage here.

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

November 11, 2010

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From the Valley Courier (Julia Wilson):

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

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

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

San Luis Valley: Rio Grande River erosion mitigation project update

October 31, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

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

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

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

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

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Restoration project on the Rio Grande through Alamosa

October 6, 2010

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From the Valley Courier (Julia Wilson):

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

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

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

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

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

* Protect the channel and 100-year floodplain.

• Maintain or enhance the river for recreational use.

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

• Seek funding from state, federal and grant sources.

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

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Alamosa settles Salmonella claims for $360,000

September 19, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

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

More coverage from the Valley Courier (Julia Wilson):

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

More Alamosa coverage here and here.

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

August 10, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

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

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

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

More water treatment coverage here.

Alamosa: State of the Rio Grande levee meeting

April 29, 2010

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From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

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

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

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

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

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

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

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

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

More Alamosa coverage here.


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