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.


In Praise of Wastewater Managers

August 29, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

August is National Water Quality month.  This Sunday, August 31 is the 160th anniversary of the outbreak of one of the worst cholera epidemics to hit London – an epidemic that ultimately led to the identification of contaminated water as a conduit for the disease.

Humans have always sought sources of drinking water, and some water clearly looks and tastes better.  But we didn’t always understand that the wrong water could make us sick.

Where Does Your Water Come From?

Before I came to CFWE, I worked as a historical interpreter.  Whether wearing pioneer or Civil War-era dress, I always got the same question – “Don’t you wish you lived back then?”  And my answer was always no.  When asked why I prefer the present, the first thing on my list is always indoor plumbing.

Jennie Geurts before she joined CFWE - the clothes were pretty, but the water quality could be deadly. Jennie Geurts before she joined CFWE – the clothes were pretty, but the water quality…

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Cortez Sanitation District gives some businesses a break on rates

August 26, 2014
Cortez early 1900s via Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

Cortez early 1900s via Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

From the Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

The Cortez Sanitation District will provide temporary relief to dozens of local businesses that saw sewer rates spike 100 percent or more this year…

The CSD resolution states it is “fair, equitable and in the public interest to limit any rate increase to 100 percent in any one calendar year.” Teresa Wlodyka, owner of the Tomahawk Lodge on South Broadway, is among 54 customers to be impacted by the resolution. Rate changes should be reflected in September bills…

CSD manager Tim Krebs said the adjusted rates could remain in effect for 12 months.

“The board can adjust rates at any time,” said Krebs. “We just wanted to give some relief to those who were affected above 100 percent.”

The resolution also states “rates being adjusted down are subject to up to another 100 percent per calendar year until their rates meet the current SFE schedule.” Krebs said that if a customer’s previous bill, for example, was $100 per month, the stipulation allows the board to increase the bill to $200 per month next year and even up to $400 per month the following year.

“The rates need to eventually meet the same rate schedule everyone else is being billed from,” said Krebs.

Approved by a 3-1 margin, the resolution is forecast to cost the district $68,589, but save business owners $56,628 and public entities $11,961. Board member John Stramel voted against the measure. Board member John Candelaria was absent from the public hearing.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Donala merges wastewater operations with Academy — Tri-Lakes Tribune

August 20, 2014
Wastewater Treatment Process

Wastewater Treatment Process

From the Tri-Lakes Tribune (Danny Summers):

It may not by the biggest wastewater merger in Colorado history, but Donala Water and Sanitation grew by more than 10 percent when the Academy Water and Sanitation District Board approved a resolution to connect its wastewater operations with Donala.

“Academy made the decision between Colorado Springs Utilities and us,” said Donala general manager Kip Peterson. “It makes sense for both Academy and us from a cost perspective.”

Academy, which has about 300 customers, managed its own wastewater treatment for nearly five decades. Donala has about 2,800 customers and has shown steady growth through difficult economic times in recent years.

“We’ve been talking with Academy about this merger for the last decade,” Peterson said. “We had a wastewater treatment plant already designed with that thought in mind.”

Peterson said that pipes will be laid from Academy’s lagoon on Spring Valley Drive to Donala’s collection pipes. From there, a lift station will pump Academy’s wastewater to the Donala pipes for treatment by the Upper Monument Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Peterson said the process will take some time and probably will not begin take place until the fall 2018, as required by Academy’s wastewater permit.

Academy’s Board was forced to make a change months ago because of new state regulations that could not be met by the district’s current lagoon treatment system. It looked at building a new plant at its current location, but the Board found that option to be much too costly.

Meanwhile, Donala’s General Manager explains why rate continue to increase in this report from Danny Summers writing for the Tri-Lakes Tribune. Here’s an excerpt:

One of Kip Peterson’s main goals as general manager of Donala Water and Sanitation is to keep an open-door policy to the folks in his District.

One of the main questions most residents want to know is why do their water rates continue to go up and why are they restricted on their outside watering?

“That is a big concern for a lot of people,” Peterson said. “And I completely understand why.”

Earlier this month, Peterson and his staff included in its newsletter to its customers a rare comparison with some local water companies. The list included Donala, Woodmoor, Woodmen Hills, Colorado Springs, Monument and Triview.

“I put it out there so folks can see for themselves, Peterson said. “I have a very strong belief that we have to remain transparent.”

Donala customers have been on water restrictions for eight years. Colorado Springs Utilities customers were on water restrictions in 2013, but that was lifted this year.

“I think that was a mistake,” Petersons said. “I think that sends a bad message to the community. Do you really want to conserve water or do you want to make money?

“(Donala’s) rate structure is intentionally designed for conservation.”

More wastewater coverage here.


AWRA Colorado Section: Wastewater as a New Supply, webinar August 20

August 20, 2014

Weld County earthquake: “Just drill new wells and increase recycling” — Ken Carlson

June 8, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

The answer to Greeley’s first earthquake in at least 40 years may be sitting 10,000 feet below the surface in a deep-water trash can that might be overfilling.

The oil and gas boom has put added stress on the industry’s resources, more specifically in deep wastewater injection wells that cut two miles below the surface. But some say the answer may be as simple as water management.

Wastewater injection wells — which take in produced water from fracking jobs — may now go under increasing scrutiny in Colorado, as scientists have found strong connections between them and a spate of small earthquakes across the country in recent years.

Still, most injection wells are not linked to any earthquakes; it’s only a tiny fraction of injection wells that have specifically been cited as the cause of a minor quake. It’s a puzzle that continues to grow for seismologists looking for answers.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder put out seismographic equipment throughout Weld County last week, hoping to cull the earth’s secrets into a database of answers. If injection wells are found to be the common denominator in further quake activity, they’ll capture it.

But in the absence of answers, some would say solutions are not that difficult.

“There are ways to fix this,” said Ken Carlson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State University. “This is sort of a byproduct of too much water being disposed of, but it’s not like we should shut it down. That’s what the activists will say. It just means we need to improve our water management. So if you say this is probably related to disposal wells, it isn’t that hard to change our practices and really fix this. Just drill new wells and increase recycling.”

WHAT ARE INJECTION WELLS

Injection wells have long been handy tools for oil and gas companies to dispose of wastewater in an environmentally friendly way. The water is pumped two miles beneath the surface into porous rock, through which the water disperses — allowing more water to be pumped in. The process is highly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and state oil and gas regulators. Operators must adhere to disposing of water at tested rates and volumes, so as not to overwhelm the well, and they are subjected to annual inspection and well integrity testing every five years, state officials say.

“In a natural system like that, you can do projections. But until you push it to the limit, you can’t really prove it,” Carlson said, noting that he was clearly guessing. “Maybe it’s never been pushed that high.”

For Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which is working to manage its water resources by using municipal effluents, recycling and piping water into sites rather than trucking, officials say they may be coming close to a “limit” on its injections wells, and have been working toward better management to dispose of less.

“The wells are definitely a cause of concern with induced seismicity,” said Korby Bracken, environmental health and safety manager for Anadarko. “We think they’ll continue to be used but it’s something we’re studying quite a bit. There have been multiple studies in Ohio and Oklahoma and other areas where the injection of produced water from oil and gas had the potential to cause induced seismicity. It’s definitely something we’re taking a look at.”

The puzzling part to seismologists is that some areas rife with injection wells for years have no earthquake activity; still others start quaking the minute the well is drilled. There were two injection wells in proximity to the perceived epicenter of the Greeley quake — one was two years old, and the other was 20.

“There are a lot of variables,” said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist out of Menlo Park, Calif., who is chief of the Induced Seismicity Project, which studies man-made earthquakes. “Maybe this earthquake relieved everything that was available to be relieved or maybe it didn’t and there will be more. Maybe the operator said I might be causing earthquakes, I need to stop injection or slow injections. Generally, when you slow or stop injections, earthquakes slow down.”

The idea of drilling more injection wells to relieve the pressure on existing wells is favored in the exploration community.

Carlson said the water could get dispersed a bit more evenly, reducing pressure with the oil and gas boom going on in Weld.

“It’s not a bucket,” Carlson explained of the rock in which the water is pumped. “It’s more like a sponge. You put the water in and it gets absorbed, then it diffuses through the formation. But you can’t just put in an unlimited rate and keep raising the pressure. Then something would give, and that something might be a fault. With the growth in fracking and unconventional oil and gas in the DJ, there’s certainly greater demand on some of these water disposal sites.”

Rubinstein said he wasn’t so sure drilling more injection wells is the answer.

“In a different perspective, now you’re covering more areas with injections wells, so maybe you’re increasing the probability of finding an area that has a fault,” Rubinstein said. “There are so many variables out there.”

Rubinstein suggested creating mid-volume wells, alleviating pressure that way. “But I don’t know if it gets you out of the problem,” he said.

Anadarko has a permit pending for an injection well. The company has three in Colorado now, all that are running at capacity.

“That being said, we’re looking at other and alternative ways to recycle the fluids that come from the well bore,” Bracken said. “So we don’t have to rely as much on those saltwater injection wells.”

Water, water everywhere

A typical frack job will use 3 million to 4 million gallons of water, but not all of it comes back once the rock is stimulated 7,000 feet below ground. Typically, about 20 percent of the water comes back to the surface during a frack job.

Companies will take that flowback, treat the water on site to take out harmful bacteria from beneath the ground, and truck or pipe it out for recycling or injection. The rest of the water comes out with the oil and gas over time.

Recent years have shown the technology is available to clean up used fracking water, enough to be reused, much like a municipal wastewater treatment system.

“Some operations are pushing ahead with more recycling,” Carlson said. “The more you recycle, the less you’re disposing of and that’s a good thing.”

Anadarko and Noble are big customers of High Sierra Water Services, which operates two recycling facilities in Weld County. Two of their facilities together can recycle about 20,000 barrels a day (840,000 gallons). Both companies have worked on both ends to recycle water.

Anadarko, for example, takes effluent from the city of Aurora’s wastewater treatment plant for most of its fracking operations, then reuses the water over and over.

“If you put down 10 units of something and only get two back, you have to make up eight units for the next well,” Bracken explained. “We’ll recycle what comes back, add make-up water, put it downhole, recycle what comes back and, eventually, you’re recycling the same molecule of water over and over again.”

Both companies are piping recycled water to and from recycling facilities.

But not all water can be recycled. Sometimes it’s too salty. That’s where injection is most necessary.

“Some of the water is very saline,” Rubinstein said. “Some of the water they’re producing in Oklahoma is … 15 percent salt. Salt is highly corrosive. They really can’t reuse it.”

Though reusing the water is the ideal, there’s simply not enough storage out there to hold the water.

“I guess I’d say there is the ability to now recycle probably 15 to 20 percent of the 100,000 barrels a day coming out of the DJ,” said Josh Patterson, operations director for High Sierra. A third recycling center is in the planning stages.

“Logistically speaking, there wouldn’t be a reservoir large enough to store every barrel (of wastewater) for it to be re-used,” Patterson said.

Costs of recycling are high, but so are trucking costs. If companies can eliminate trucking in new water, and recycle existing water, that takes trucks off the road and reduces those expenses.

Patterson said the demand for water recycling continues to grow, however, with both of High Sierra’s facilities contracted out for the next five years.

From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The Greeley Tribune reported Friday that [geophysicist] Anne Sheehan and a team of graduate students have been deploying seismographs to study the magnitude 3.4 quake. The U.S. Geological Survey determined the epicenter of the quake was believed to be 5 miles beneath the surface about 4 miles northeast of Greeley.

The suspected epicenter is near two injection wells. The May 31 earthquake caused no damage.

“If we find out something useful about whether injection causes earthquakes, it might be something that the industry can use to do a better job of injecting, if that turns out to be a problem,” Sheehan said.

Weld County has 28 injection wells for oil and gas waste, or “Class II” disposal wells.

State drilling regulators said earlier this week they were skeptical that the wells caused the earthquake.

The epicenter is difficult to determine, said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist in Menlo Park, California, who has studied the increasing phenomenon of man-induced earthquakes for the past three years.

More oil and gas coverage here.


Denver Water recycled water for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal? CDPHE says not so fast.

May 20, 2014
Rocky Mountain Arsenal -- 1947

Rocky Mountain Arsenal — 1947

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Even with Colorado’s push to rely more on recycled water, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge will spend another summer using millions of gallons of Denver’s drinking water to fill lakes and irrigate fields after a recent decision by state health officials.

Federal wildlife biologists calculate they’re drawing more than 82 million gallons of Denver drinking water a year to fill three once-toxic lakes at the refuge, formerly a nerve gas and pesticides plant that became an environmental disaster.

“This refuge needs water, and using recycled water to fulfill a portion of our needs is a wise choice for the future,” refuge manager Dave Lucas said. Denver recycled water “meets our needs and allows millions and millions of gallons of drinking water to be put to better use by Denver residents.”

But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last week reaffirmed its position that the refuge must go through a process of proving why it should be allowed to use water that is not as clean and submit to an Environmental Protection Agency review.

A $2.1 billion cleanup of toxic pollution included restoration of the lakes for catch-and-release fishing and to store water, which wildlife managers use to irrigate the 27-square-mile refuge — habitat for bison and other species.

Until the drought of 2002, High Line Canal agricultural water trickled into the lakes. Groundwater pumping added more water. CDPHE at some point — it was not clear when — reclassified the lakes as water supplies, and refuge managers made a deal with Denver to use drinking water, which started in 2008.

Then, in 2009, CDPHE reclassified the lakes as water bodies, meaning “an important social or economic development” reason for allowing lesser-quality water must be demonstrated. State officials, on an emergency basis in May 2013, agreed to remove the water supply classification on the refuge lakes but still require the proof of a public purpose before water quality can be reduced.

Frustrated refuge managers, backed by Denver Water and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, have been pressing to use recycled water and putting in the plumbing to do so.

Denver Water has spent more than $197 million installing a citywide 80-mile network of pipelines that distribute partially treated recycled water to parks, golf courses and the Denver Zoo. The museum uses recycled water in its new heating and cooling system.

All sides agree that using more recycled water is a priority.

But CDPHE Water Quality Control commissioners on May 13 voted 5-4 to reject a request to reconsider — so the refuge must go through a “necessity of degradation demonstration” review to be able to use recycled water.

“We want to support use of recycled water. But we cannot do it by bending the rules,” CDPHE water quality standards chief Sarah Johnson said. “The best solution is for them to complete the necessity of degradation determination. It isn’t a heavy lift. We have promised to help.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers of the refuge say the analysis for the review would not cost much but would require spending $10,000 to $15,000 a year more for water monitoring. They said new analysis would have to be done every three to five years, tied to permitting, creating uncertainty because state officials could ask for operational and infrastructure changes during reviews.

Lucas said even if they were to have something to present by the June commissioners’ meeting, it would be October at the earliest for the water switch if everything was approved.

Denver Water officials have been working aggressively since 2004 to increase use of recycled water, saving 7,000 acre-feet of drinking water a year, utility recycled water director Jenny Murray said.

Switching to recycled water at the refuge is the correct solution, Murray said. “It’s the right use because we are trying to preserve drinking water supplies for a growing population in a water-scarce region. Using drinking water for uses that do not require drinking water is wasteful.”

Denver Water attorneys in a May 6 letter to CDPHE argue that state lawmakers have ordered efforts to “encourage the reuse of reclaimed domestic wastewater.” Denver Water contends CDPHE decisions undermine state policy, waste public resources and defy common sense by imposing a needless bureaucratic burden.

One of Denver’s new recycled water pipelines runs by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to the refuge. A steady, year-round flow of recycled water in that pipeline is required to ensure sufficient flow to run the museum’s innovative new geothermal heating and cooling system, which was funded by a federal grant to boost energy efficiency.

“When we designed our system three to four years ago, both Denver Water and the refuge folks felt that obtaining a permit to discharge recycled water into the lakes at the refuge would not be a problem,” said Dave Noel, museum vice president for facilities, capital projects and sustainability.

CDPHE’s stance “has got all of us scratching our heads,” Noel said.

Museum officials sent a May 8 letter to CDPHE arguing that “the loss of 17,000 acres of thriving wildlife and fish habitat due to lack of water would be a severe blow to the state and the Front Range, and simply does not make sense when a logical solution seems readily available.”

At the refuge, future water needs are projected as high as 456 million gallons a year. Beyond Denver Water, wildlife managers rely heavily on pumping water from underground aquifers into the Mary, Ladora and Lower Derby lakes — pumping they are trying to reduce by using more recycled water, which is cheaper than drinking water. They calculate the federal water bill could be cut by $30,000 a year.

A thriving bison herd is growing, with 11 calves born this spring, pushing the population to 81. An adult bison can eat around 50 pounds of grass a day. A team of biologists recently had to reduce the herd to prevent exhaustion of the short-grass prairie. Plans call for expanding bison habitat to allow a herd of 209 bison, which would roam up to the road to Denver International Airport, where a visitor viewing station is envisioned. Not having reliable recycled water will limit the bison herd and lead to decreased numbers of waterfowl, fish and grassland birds, Lucas said.

“We’re probably not going to irrigate this summer, which is bad for habitat restoration,” he said, “or we will have to drain down the lakes to irrigate.”

Lucas remains puzzled by the entire process.

“We’re talking about the same recycled water used everywhere. But somehow the refuge is different? Lots of smart people are looking at this, and no one can figure it out,” he said. “We engaged in this year-long process with hopes of fixing their error — the water supply change. Why would we want to engage in another unknown and uncertain process that will last months, if not years?”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


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