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.


Reclamation: On this day in 1940, the Mancos Project in Colorado water approved. #ColoradoRiver

October 21, 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.


Long Hollow Dam dedicated, brings hope of a more reliable supply to La Plata River irrigators

October 6, 2014
Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The traditional ribbon cutting Thursday officially brought on line the Long Hollow Reservoir, raising the hopes of irrigators for a more consistent supply of water.

Already the reservoir, capacity 5,300 acre-feet, has seen a little accumulation of water from recent heavy rain funneled into it via Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw.

“We released that water,” said Brice Lee, president of the La Plata Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the project. “But today we start storing.”

The main purpose of the reservoir, named for the late landowner Bobby K. Taylor, whose ranch house sat scant yards from the toe of the dam, is the storage of water to meet contractual obligations with New Mexico.

Colorado must share La Plata River water fifty-fifty with New Mexico. But the fickle nature of the river makes living up to requirements difficult. Now reservoir water can satisfy New Mexico demands, allowing Colorado irrigators more use of the La Plata River.

“The real beneficiaries are our irrigators,” Lee said. “We hope we can develop sustainable agriculture on Fort Lewis Mesa.”[...]

Seemingly, anyone connected to the project – from early visionaries to construction workers who labored during the two years it took to build the dam – attended.

Representatives from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, which contributed $3 million to the cost of construction, were on hand. Priscilla Rentz, a member of the Ute Tribal Council, gave invocation.

Three current legislators were in the audience – state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango; state Rep. Michael McLachlan, D-Durango; and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

Judging from the names announced, the entire board of the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority accompanied agency director Mike Brod,

At least a half-dozen members of the extended Taylor family stood to acknowledge applause…

Water is gold here, given the inconsistent nature of the La Plata River and the requirement that what flow there is must be shared fifty-fifty with New Mexico.

Irrigators saw hopes shrivel when the Animas-La Plata Project, or A-LP, the last big water undertaking in the West, was downsized in the late 1990s, eliminating water for agriculture.

In spite of the disappointment, project advocates found three sources to keep the project alive – $15 million from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, $3 million from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and $1.575 million from the state Legislature this year.

Groundbreaking took place in summer 2010. The labor force of the Weeminuche Construction Authority, which built the dam, was 71 percent Ute Mountain Ute.

The Long Hollow Reservoir will serve as a water bank, to be drawn on by New Mexico. The reserve allows Colorado irrigators to use La Plata River water that otherwise would go south.

More La Plata River coverage here.


EPA plans concrete bulkhead for Red and Bonita mine in 2015

September 30, 2014
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Representatives from several government agencies, including the EPA, informed La Plata and San Juan county commissioners last week that the Red and Bonita mine will be plugged to help stem the flow of metals.

“This is a worthwhile investment,” said Steve Way, on-scene coordinator for the EPA.

The EPA plans to pay for the large concrete bulkhead, which could cost between $750,000 and $1.5 million, Way said earlier this year.

The Red and Bonita Mine is a major source of metals such as cadmium, zinc, iron and aluminum that have been flowing into Cement Creek and are responsible for killing off native fish and other species, the researches told local commissioners.

“We really need to do something about this before it gets worse,” said John Ott, general manager of Animas Water Co.

While his well water is in good shape, as a farmer on the Animas River below Bakers Bridge, he said he is disturbed by the pollution.

In 2003, the Sunnyside Gold Corp., the last major mining operation in Silverton, stopped treating the water in Cement Creek.

Then in 2006, the Red and Bonita started leaking high levels of metals after the American Tunnel was plugged in several places, which raised the water table, said Peter Butler, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

In recent years, the EPA and other agencies have come together to assess if plugging the mine would significantly reduce pollution. They found it contributes some of the highest levels of heavy metals year-round to Cement Creek and leaks about 300 gallons of polluted water per minute, Way said. A plug would help, but it would not eliminate all the seeping metals.

The mine was active for only a few years in the late 1800s, and miners carved out only 2,000 feet of tunnels below the surface that the EPA and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety could explore in 2013. After mapping the mine, scientists don’t believe the tunnels are connected to any other systems where polluted water could find an outlet.

The scientists also reason that the bulkhead could reduce the amount of pollution any potential water-treatment plant would have to process if one is installed. The Animas River Stakeholders Group has been researching treatment plant options, but it could be very expensive to maintain.

“Treating water, that is a forever decision,” Way said.

However, a valve will be built into the bulkhead, so that if it causes problems, it could be opened back up. To what degree the plug may raise the water table and how the water would be dispersed is unknown, Way said.

While this would be an EPA project, it will not require Superfund listing. It would be a short-term project by a different branch of the agency.

More Animas River watershed coverage here.


#ColoradoRiver supply concerns mounting — The Durango Herald #drought

September 29, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The water in Navajo Reservoir could play a role in meeting Colorado River Compact obligations in the event of continued drought, said Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Release of water to Lake Powell from Navajo Reservoir, Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River in Utah and Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River is one of three measures his district and the Colorado River District want implemented if water storage in the network that supplies seven Western states approaches crisis level, Whitehead said.

The other measures call for increasing the amount of water available and, lastly, reducing use.

“We’re not in crisis now,” Whitehead said. “The 2013-2014 water year has been almost normal as far as the amount of water in Lake Powell.

“But the reality is that in spite of some good water years, we’re in a 15-year drought,” Whitehead said. “We need a plan to meet a crisis if the same conditions continue.”

The three measures to meet a critical water shortage came out of a recent meeting of Southwestern and the Colorado River District, which between them cover the Western Slope.

The recommendations went to the Upper Colorado River Commission, which regulates water matters in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, the Upper Basin states that supply Arizona, Nevada and California, the Lower Basin states…

The concern about Lake Powell is that if water drops below the level needed to generate electricity, federal agencies would lose $120 million a year in power sales.

The revenue from power sales funds among other things environmental programs such as protecting fish species in the San Juan River, Whitehead said.

If the water level in Lake Powell allows generation of power, there should be enough water to satisfy the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Whitehead said.

Again, Whitehead said, Lake Powell and Lake Mead aren’t at critical levels. But the Upper Colorado River Commission and counterparts in Lower Basin states are looking at what-if situations.

Thus, the recommendations from his district and the Colorado River District, Whitehead said…

Measures to increase the amount of water available through cloud seeding, removal of water-hungry nonnative vegetation such tamarisk and Russian olive and evaporation-containment methods are a first step, Whitehead said.

A second early step, Whitehead said, would be the release to Lake Powell of water from Navajo, Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs which, respectively, have acre-feet capacities of 1.7 million, 829,500 and 3.79 million.

The contributions of Navajo and Blue Mesa could be less than optimal because of contractual obligations, Whitehead said. Blue Mesa also generates electricity.

If the first two steps aren’t enough, water users would be affected directly, Whitehead said. The consumption of cities and agricultural users would be reduced. Fallowing of fields also could be required.

The two commissions said if water for agriculture is reduced, the loss must be shared by Colorado River water users on the Front Range.

Front Range users receive 500,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water a year from Colorado River transmountain diversions, Whitehead said.

Another transmountain diversion sends 90,000 to 100,000 acre-feet a year to the San Juan/Chama Project from the Blanco and Navajo rivers, Whitehead said. Users in Santa Fe and Albuquerque benefit.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Southwestern basin implementation plan ready for comment #COWaterPlan

September 26, 2014
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From the Pagosa Sun (Ed Fincher):

Laura Spann from the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango announced yesterday the release of The Southwest Basin Implementation Plan (BIP), which can be found under the “community” tab on the Colorado Water Plan website http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

The local portion of the state plan can be accessed by clicking on “San Juan and Dolores River Basin” under the community tab. The resulting page states, “Residents and interested parties are encouraged to participate in the Basin Implementation Plan process. As the process moves forward, documents relating to the plan will be posted here.” There are currently two documents on the page available for download.

While the website allows for electronic comments to be made concerning the broader Colorado Water Plan, Spann asks that interested members of the public direct any comments specifically about the southwest portion of the plan to Carrie Lile via email at carrie@durangowater.com or phone, 259-5322…

The website goes on to explain, “The Southwest Basin is located in the southwest corner of Colorado and covers an area of approximately 10,169 square miles. The largest cities within the basin are Durango (pop. 15,213) and Cortez (pop. 8,328). The region also includes three ski areas: Telluride, Wolf Creek and Durango Mountain Resort.”

The website concludes, “The Southwest Basin is projected to increase in municipal and industrial (M&I) water demand between 17,000 acre feet (AF) and 27,000 AF by 2050 with passive conservation included.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,046 other followers

%d bloggers like this: