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.


Alamosa: City attorneys deny libility in 2008 salmonella outbreak

April 13, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

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

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

More Alamosa coverage here and here.


Monte Vista: City council approves chlorine dosing for water system

March 25, 2010

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From The Monte Vista Journal:

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

More water treatment coverage here.


Alamosa: Lawsuit filed Monday over salmonella outbreak

March 1, 2010

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Update: From The Denver Post (David Olinger):

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

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

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

From the Associated Press via KRDO.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Alamosa coverage here and Here.


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

January 3, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


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

November 24, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

More Alamosa coverage here and here.


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

November 22, 2009

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From the Valley Courier:

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

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

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

More Alamosa coverage here and here.


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

November 19, 2009

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

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

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

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

Inspectors also found:

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

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

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

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

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

More Alamosa coverage here and here.


Alamosa: Levee recertification

July 5, 2009

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

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

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

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

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


Alamosa: Salmonella outbreak lawsuits

May 22, 2009

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

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

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

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

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

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


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