Sterling: ‘The plant is doing what it was built to do’ — Jim Allen

January 12, 2014
Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Sara Waite):

…Allen said they have yet to receive any reports of discolored water, and there is no evidence of issues with lines breaking due to the new water. He said he didn’t believe a problem last week with the service line to Pizza Hut was due to the water treatment system, although he acknowledged it would be hard to prove either way. But, he said, when the problem arose and city crews dug up the line, they found it was an old lead service line, which they usually replace anyway with newer materials.

Allen was reluctant to talk about the probability of those problems — he said he doesn’t like to discuss things he doesn’t want to happen — but he was happy to report that the uranium levels in the water, which prompted the need for the new treatment plant, are falling. The membranes (in the reverse osmosis system) are working, he said.

He said that the newly treated water likely has not fully replaced the “old” water in the system, as it has to cycle through the storage tanks and into the water service. The timeline on that depends on the volume of water in storage and usage.

The water is safe to drink, he reiterated.

“The plant is doing what it was built to do,” he said.


The price tag for Sterling’s deep injection wells for RO brine escalates from $80,000 to $2.3 million

March 29, 2013

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From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (David Martinez):

[Sterling Public Works Director Jim Allen] told the council that Public Works was working on a number of water and sewage issues around the city – most of them directly or indirectly related to construction of the new water treatment plant.

The one that stands out: Deep injection wells used to pump the treated wastewater from the reverse osmosis filtration, estimated to cost $80,000 at the start of the project, will now cost about $2.3 million, according to a March 10 estimate. About $1.3 million of that cost would go toward the construction of one of the two pumps, which is located above the railroad tracks north of the plant…

The wells themselves, buried about 7,000 feet underground, have already been constructed. They were included in one of three bid packages for the project – the other two being a pipeline project and the water treatment plant itself, which is in the final construction stages.

Allen told the council the increased cost comes from the pumping equipment needed, as well as some stainless steel piping needed for the aboveground operation. The pipes might need to handle 2,200 to 2,600 pounds of pressure per square inch, which Allen said is a “monumental number.”[...]

Allen told the Journal-Advocate the $2.4 million also isn’t set in stone; he, Kiolbasa and others will be working with the estimates for a more solid cost…

In related projects concerning the plant, Public Works is continuing to redrill and rehabilitate the city’s raw water wells. The effort is part of a plan to have enough raw water to actually put through to the water treatment plant.

In February the council heard that the plant planned on having the ability to pump more than 7,900 gallons of water per minute, but that it could only pump about 5,500 gallons at that point because of degraded wells.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Sterling: New reverse osmosis treatment plant to be online by late summer

February 7, 2013

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From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (David Martinez):

Some unexpected hang-ups have pushed back the time before residents receive the full benefits of the new water treatment plant until late summer. The plant has been filtering the city’s water since November, but the full 80/20 reverse osmosis (RO)-filtered water to regular filtered water mix will eke its way into Sterling’s system over the next several months…

The water treatment plant will significantly lower uranium and pollutant levels, and significantly drop the hardness of the water.

Most of the issues crews ran into concerned well and distribution issues, but one stood out: A thick, black, non-cohesive material in the well water was clogging up filters faster than expected. “We don’t know entirely what it is,” said Rob Demis, of Hatch Mott MacDonald, the company overseeing construction of the plant. He brought a bottle of it to show the council, showing it as fine black sediment layered at the bottom of clear ground water. After a couple of shakes, the water turned black and opaque. The material – 20 percent organic material and 30 percent manganese, with traces of other elements, such as iron and silicon – is also odorless, though Demis guessed it would have tasted “metallic” and “bitter.” The manganese gives the material its color.

The raw water filter running now, which catches sediment down to the one-micron level, has caught the material at the five-micron level. Crews would change the filters every couple of days in November, but it’s since become less prevalent, which Demis credited to the city’s aggressive pipe flushing program. “We don’t know the origin. It may be coming out of the pipes. It may be coming out of the formations,” he said. “The good news now is we’re filtering it.”

The plant also encountered issues with its distribution system, which wasn’t getting water out of the plant quick enough to the city’s distribution tanks to fill them. Demis said the plant quickly fills Sterling’s north and south tanks but doesn’t reach its west tank. Part of the problem might be buildup in the pipes over the years slowing water flow (like plaque clogging an artery, Demis said), but many of the pipes are also 100 years old…

The plant had planned on having the ability to pump more than 7,900 gallons of water per minute, but right now it can only pump about 5,500. That means that of the treatment plant’s three pump levels – the third allowing the maximum amount of water to pump during peak use – they can only pump enough water to fulfill the first two…

Water treatment crews have also been finishing construction on two deep water injection wells, which will deposit treated waste water more than a mile underground. One of the wells was dug at about 7,200 feet underground, as recommended by EPA estimates, while the second was dug to about 6,100 feet.

Demis said the area’s geology hasn’t been fully explored, so the crew will need to test the area over time.

More infrastructure coverage here.


South Platte River Basin: DWR Sterling Groundwater Monitoring Effort

January 22, 2013

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Click here for the Sterling Groundwater Monitoring Effort website from the Colorado Division of Water Resources. They write:

Homeowners have relayed their concerns about high groundwater levels in the Country Club Hills and Pawnee Ridge subdivisions in Sterling to state officials. The DWR and CWCB are conducting an independent analysis at each subdivision. The agencies have undertaken an effort to monitor groundwater levels and characterize the hydrogeology within the areas of interest. The objective of this groundwater monitoring is to identify relationships between the hydrology of the area and the high groundwater levels. Preliminary information and data obtained from this investigation is updated monthly.

Here’s a report from David Martinez writing for the Sterling Journal-Advocate. Here’s an excerpt:

Ralf Topper, senior hydrogeologist at the DWR, said at a community meeting that results so far show that a mix of geologic deposits and structure – in terms of bedrock – have an effect on the level of water tables.

Several area farmers and residents have complained of low water tables, or levels below ground that are completely saturated with water. Spots with water tables as high as at four of five feet below the surface can damage crops and cause basement flooding.

So the DWR and the Colorado Water Conservation Board started conducting an independent analysis of the city’s subdivisions.

The agencies are monitoring groundwater levels and characterizing the hydrogeology around the city. The goal, according to the DWR, is to find relationships between the area’s hydrology and the high groundwater levels.

“We’re looking at all of the inputs and outputs,” Topper explained. “Why are groundwater levels changing? What’s the mechanism for changing?”

He added that they’ll collect data on stream flows, diversions, recharge ponds, climate and large capacity oil pumping. All of that will then go to third party consultants to analyze.

The DWR has studied 16 piezometers – devices that measure groundwater pressure – between the Sterling subdivisions of Country Club Hills southeast of Northeastern 18 Golf Course and Pawnee Ridge north of County Road 30 and east of Ballpark Road since May.

From the measurements, the DWR found that the geology from spot to spot varied between thick and thin layers of gravel, sand, clay and shale (bedrock).

The clay is important, Topper said, because water levels where clay exists tend to be shallower.

“(The results) gave us an indication that we’re really looking at a system that is highly variable in terms of the subsurface,” he said. “The assumption was (the land’s) homogenous…. Everyone says it’s sand and gravel. What we’re finding in this area, it’s not the case.”

And the water tables can vary in any given spot, as well.

“Nested” piezometers, which measure at different levels from the same bore hole, showed that water tables existed in as many as three layers in Country Club Hills. Some tables were as shallow as three feet, while others were as deep as 24.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Sterling: New reverse osmosis water treatment plant online and ramping up to full production

January 6, 2013

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From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (David Martinez):

…by the end of February, [city engineers] say, 80 percent of the city’s water will run through dozens of stacked reverse osmosis (RO) filters, squeezing out pollutants to meet state standards.

“It’s not something you call in and say, ‘Hey, deliver this to us,’” said Mark Youker, construction manager for Hatch Mott McDonald, which has overseen the architecture and engineering of the project. “It’s a lot more complicated than that.”

Plans to build the plant started around September 2008, when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an enforcement order to get the city’s water standards up to compliance within a given time frame. The main contaminant, among others, was the water’s naturally-occurring uranium levels, which could increase an individual’s cancer risks over longer exposures.

Youker said before the plant was constructed, Sterling’s water was pumped directly from wells across the county, treated with chlorine at four separate stations and delivered directly to city homes, farms and businesses.

When the plant becomes fully operational, the city’s raw well water will all instead flow straight to the one spot for treatment. It’s capable of providing 9.5 million gallons of water to the city per day, though the average demand is only about 4 million gallons.

The water will run through a filtration system before it’s chlorinated, and be pumped out as a 80/20 mix of RO-treated to untreated water; Youker said the city has been receiving the “20 percent,” filtered water for about two months already.

Workers at the new Sterling Water Treatment Plant monitor every aspect of the treatment process through a monitor in their control room. (David Martinez/Journal-Advocate)
Ryan Walsh, the project engineer, said the mix holds several structural and taste benefits.

“The first goal (of treatment) is to bring the city’s water to compliance with the new state standards,” Walsh said. “The second is to bring water that more aesthetically pleasing and requires less maintenance.”

More infrastructure coverage here.


Logan County approves data collection monitoring well license for high groundwater levels

May 9, 2012

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From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Judy Debus):

The Logan County Commissioners once again considered a request by the Colorado Water Division to use county-owned property for the installation of monitoring wells for data collection in the groundwater-plagued area of Pawnee Ridge Subdivision and Country Club Hills. Commissioners Jim Edwards, Dave Donaldson and Debbie Zwirn were present for Tuesday’s meeting.

At a previous meeting, the request was addressed in a license agreement, but was tabled due to language problems. This week, the request from removed from the table upon motion by Edwards and then postponed indefinitely. To replace the requests, commissioners then approved lease agreements (rather than license agreements) to provide the approval for the wells to be installed. The data will be collected and then analyzed to determine the cause of the increased groundwater problems in the two areas.

The CDW held a public meeting last month to present their outline of a program to address the water issue. That program will begin with the monitoring program that will last a period of two years with an initial analysis at the end of one year.

More South Platte River basin coverage here and here.


Sterling: New water treatment plant startup is one year out

February 27, 2012

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Judy Debus):

In September 2008, an enforcement order was issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The order identified specific tasks the city would have to perform within a specified compliance schedule and identified civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance. Sterling is the largest system of 32 communities across the state to receive the high uranium and TTHM’s rating. After looking at various technology for primary (the uranium, TTHM’s and nitrate) and secondary standards (total dissolved solids, sulfate, manganese and hardness ) treatment, a reverse osmosis (RO) with blend stream filtration was the selected method to mitigate the problems. Demis noted that the selection removes those primary and secondary contaminants, is the lowest overall water cost impact to the average Sterling citizen and provides the best overall water quality.

To dispose of the concentrates that are filtered out, a deep well injection system was selected. The well injection is approximately 7,000 feet deep, is permitted through EPA Region 8 and is the least costly alternative, Demis said…

Noticeable changes will be in taste (less salty), less gastro-intestinal discomfort for visitors, less metallic taste, and a reduction in hardness, lessening the need for in-home softening.

Hatch Mott MacDonald Company is the architect/engineer of the project and contractor is Hydro Construction Company.

More water treatment coverage here.


2011 Colorado legislation: State Representative Jerry Sonnenburg talks water in Sterling

January 8, 2011

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Callie Jones):

“Over the last two years, we have allowed over 500,000 acre feet of water leave this state over and above our compact obligations on the South Platte,” Sonnenberg said. “That`s enough to fill Jackson Reservoir, North Sterling Reservoir and Jumbo Reservoir three times.” He wants to do what he can to make sure there is water available with loans and grants for water projects. “Small water projects, water quality projects, water storage projects, those type of things,” Sonnenberg said.

One option they`re looking at for water storage is expanding existing water facilities. “Unfortunately, the problem is, is there is so much negative pressure of people not wanting storage,” he said. “We`re looking at that and trying to get that to happen and those are projects that I will try to move to the top of the list for funding for grants and loan proposals.”

Sonnenberg said if something isn`t done about water storage, it puts this area at risk of losing it to larger cities. “If we don`t find a way to store water, keep water here in northeastern Colorado for us to use, we`re going to have that big red target and cities will come here to get that water,” he said.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.


Sterling: Council sets water rate structure

February 28, 2010

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Judy Debus):

A schedule of revised rates will be determined and presented at the next meeting as exhibits A and B of the previously tabled resolution. The rates will include a minimum charge based on meter size and a volume surcharge of 5 cents per 1,000 gallons beyond the minimum usage. The rate increases will be phased in over the next three years. For example, the proposed minimum charges for a 1-inch meter are $34 in 2010, $54.36 in 2011 and $67.97 in 2012. The minimum volume for a meter of that size is 2,000 gallons.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Sterling: The city council is struggling to raise the dough necessary for water treatment plant upgrades

February 14, 2010

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Forrest Hershberger):

Sterling has been in violation of state health department and Environmental Protection Agency water contamination standards. The city is now under a time deadline to show progress on constructing a new water treatment plant that will remove uranium and a byproduct of water purification processing, trihalomethanes.

The debate Tuesday hinged how the new fees will be structured. The proposed fee structure would be tiered according to the size of tap and how much water is consumed. Councilman Patrick Lawson questioned if a tiered system is the best option. He said he isn’t convinced the tiered system would result in the conservation the city needs to achieve. Councilman Rocky Joy said he is concerned the council doesn’t have time to go back and restructure the fees. He added that he recalls the council not choosing the uniform volume rate plan because it could result in a significant loss in funding during low-use years. “My own personal opinion is it’s a little late to look at restructuring (water fees),” said councilman Jerry Haynes.

More Sterling coverage here and here.


Sterling: Local Colorado Division of Water Resources open house recap

January 14, 2010

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Judy Debus):

The Sterling office of the Colorado Division of Water Resources hosted farmers, ditch riders and other guests at an open house and lunch last week. Also attending from the state office were Dick Wolfe, state engineer; Jim Hall, division engineer; Scott Cuthbertson, assistant state engineer; Kevin Rein, assistant state engineer; Jeff Deatherage and Sara Reinsel. This is the third year the office has hosted the event, according to Brent Schantz, District 1 and 64 water commissioner. The area represented stretches from the Wyoming border to Elbert County and Kersey to Julesburg, he said.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Sterling city council approves two water resolutions

December 23, 2009

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Forrest Hershberger):

The council also approved two resolutions regarding the water quality improvement project. The first is a resolution defining the intent of the city to “execute and deliver” a loan agreement with the Colorado Water Resources and Power Authority regarding the $29 million loan voters approved in November. [ed. This debt will pay for the construction of a new water treatment plant.] “This basically authorizes the city to notify the lending institution that the money spent, already nearing $600,000, will be included in the loan,” city manager Joe Kiolbasa said…

A 7-0 vote did, however, approve an agreement with the Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife that would provide funds to treat the Overland Trail fishing pond. The pond has experienced excessive algae growth in recent years. The resolution approved the city’s part in a subgrant costing $12,800 total for aeration of the pond. The city’s share of the cost is $3,200.

More Sterling coverage here and here.


Sterling: Public meeting for fall ballot issues includes new water treatment plant

September 17, 2009

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From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Forrest Hershberger):

The city of Sterling has a question on the ballot that asks voters for permission to go into debt for as much as $29 million. The reason for the question is the city is faced with constructing a new water purification system, or facing the possibility of daily fines and loss of federal funding in the area. The fines and loss of funding would be a result of the city’s water supply system being declared non-compliant by the state health department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There’s a $2,000 per day fine for non-compliance,” Kiolbasa said. He stressed that this need to build a water treatment plant is not because the city’s water is getting worse, but because allowable standards as determined by the EPA have changed. The chemicals of concern are uranium, a natural erosion byproduct, and trihalomethanes, a result of water purification. Additionally, new health regulations say that any well deemed to be under the influence of surface water must be purified. The health department determined that the city has wells directly under surface water influence.

The unranium drawn from the city water supply will offer a problem of its own. The residue is expected to be concentrated to the point it has to be handled as a hazardous substance. The plan is to dispose of the remaining uranium with deep injection wells. The deep injection wells will be drilled at least 7,000 , well below the average depth for an oil well, Jones said…

Water softness is also a concern that was addressed. The chemical makeup of water is such that requires a proper balance between too soft and too hard. Water that is too soft, 0-2 grains, is considered corrosive and could damage pipes. Kiolbasa said water that is too soft could also be a health issue. The city is focusing on water quality better than what city customers experience now, but harder than the 0-2 soft water range. “We’re talking about a hardness of 7-9 grains. Most people will notice less scaling of the water,” Kiolbasa said. One of the losses in the process, when the new water system is completely online in 2012, is less need for water purification systems.

Many of the residents present in the meeting were concerned about how the increased water rates will affect their home budgets. A flyer distributed to the audience included a chart that shows conventional treatment would increase monthly costs by about $49 per month, and a decrease in cost for the reverse osmosis system of $2 per month if the customer is using an in-home treatment system. Customers who use bottled water, but no in-home treatment system, will see an increase cost under the conventional treatment system of $49 per month, and a $32 decrease under the reverse osmosis proposal. People who chose to use the water as provided, no treatment or bottled water, will experience the largest price increases: $49 per month with conventional treatment and $53 per month for reverse osmosis. The city council is preferring the reverse osmosis process because it has the best chance of staying ahead of changing standards in the future.

More Sterling coverage here and here.


Sterling: City Council wrestling with designing rate structure

September 5, 2009

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Forrest Hershberger):

Tuesday night, the city council met in a work session to discuss how to establish the rates necessary to fund the [treatment plant upgrades]. Part of the dilemma the city is facing is grant and loan funding may be limited unless the city proves it has an acceptable rate program. Tom Ullmann of The Engineering Company in Fort Collins said part of the reason the rates will change under the proposal offered Tuesday night is changes to the capital improvement budget in the project. He said rates for water use alone could increase as much as 190 percent by the year 2020. “The last time I was here, we were talking about $65 per month, so we are looking at about a $10 increase” since then, he said. He said the present average for water consumption, not including waste water and trash service on the city bill, is about $21.66, and an average monthly consumption of 10,000 gallons for a 3/4 inch tap. He maintained that with the proposed increase over the next several years, Sterling water rates will be only a little higher than Fort Morgan’s rates are now. Much of the two-hour meeting was involved in how best to design a billing system. Options discussed were increase the flat rate on a tier system based on the size of the tap and amount used, or to change the minimum usage. Part of the equation required by the EPA and Colorado Water Conservation Trust is a water conservation plan. The dilemma is that if water customers become too good at conservation, the water fund will be impacted.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Sterling: City Council approves ballot issue for new treatment plant

August 17, 2009

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Forrest Hershberger):

The city is confronted with an issue of how to supply water that meets the quality standards dictated by the Environmental Protection Agency and consequently the state health department. The issue is that the amount of uranium detected in the city’s water is higher than new EPA standards, and the city has a limited amount of time to show progress toward changing it…

A question brought up to the council is what happens if the voters do not approve the bonds. Mayor Dan Jones said if the city does not update the water system, the EPA could declare the city’s water system noncompliant and consequently federal funding, such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, would disappear. Real estate in the area would be virtually worthless, he said. Kiolbasa said the city is applying for funding from the Department of Local Affairs. Meanwhile, Sterling water users are in a bind, but no different than any other community along the South Platte River. “I think everyone else along the South Platte is in the same boat,” said councilman Jerry Haynes.

More Sterling coverage here and here.


Sterling: Costs for new treatment plant to push rates through the roof

August 7, 2009

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Forrest Hershberger):

[Tom Ullmann of The Engineering Company] said without the new water system, the city will need a rate increase of about 9 percent over the next couple of years. However, with the cost of a new water treatment plant, that number skyrockets to as much as 190 percent. Since 2008, the city has had a growth in water customers of about .15 percent and water plant investments of about $35,000, equal to about 28 new taps. The inflation rate shown by Ullmann to the city council indicates labor costs for the city’s water treatment plant have gone down slightly, about 1.33 percent. Meanwhile, power costs have gone up just above 7 percent. The real increase can be attributed to the EPA and state health department, Ullmann said — testing, at an increase of 15 percent. The new plant is expected to cost more than $27 million. Additionally, chemicals for city water treatment are estimated to cost about $500,000, and labor $250,000. Ullmann said the average monthly water bill for Sterling residents is $21 per 10,000 gallons used. By 2012, that cost needs to average $61 per 10,000 gallons consumed. He said in comparison, Fort Morgan residents are paying about $56 per 10,000 gallons.

More water treatment coverage here.


Sterling: Exploring options for compliance with CDPHE order

April 23, 2009

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Here’s a recap of the Sterling city council’s discussion of compliance with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s order for the town’s water supply, from Forrest Hershberger writing for the Sterling Journal Advocate. From the article:

Wednesday night, the Sterling city council held a special meeting to hear an update on the city’s water system. The research is being done by Arber and Associates, water, wastewater and reuse engineers. “There are a number of water quality violations the city is dealing with,” Richard Arber said.

The water quality issues are broken down into two categories: primary and secondary. The primary issues are contaminants: uranium, trihalomethanes and nitrates for example. The secondary issues address water hardness and sulfates. According to Arber’s study, the hardness standard is 100 to 200 milligrams per liter and Sterling’s typical range is 208 to 494 milligrams per liter…

Costs of upgrading the city’s water system were estimated Wednesday at between $17 million and $29 million. Earlier discussions among council members indicated residents might eventually be able to trade the cost of a home water purification system for what the city is required to provide. Wednesday night, the city council was addressed by a few residents and business owners regarding the possible price structure…

According to estimates provided by Arber and Associates, the upgraded water system will cost Sterling residents at least $65 per month. The costs would be based on what system is chosen by the city and the associated cost. The RO system would cost about $65 per tap; coagulation and filtration about $87 per month and lime softening $80 per month. The costs do not include existing pumping, distribution and water acquisition costs, according to Arber…

Rick Arber of Arber and Associates said the goal is to bring water quality to below health department’s maximum standards. “We have no choice,” Arber said. “By 2011, we have got to have a treatment plant online.” Arber cautioned that the effort of achieving acceptable drinking water will not get any easier. “Our industry has already picked the low hanging fruit,” he said. “so what’s happened is we’re having to pick lower and lower quality water.”[...]

The city will be meeting with the state health department next week regarding progress on the water system.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


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