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.


Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s “Urban Waters Bike Tour” recap

May 17, 2014


It was a grand time the other day cycling along the South Platte and hearing about current projects, operations, hopes and plans.

The tour was from the Confluence of Clear Creek and the South Platte River to Confluence Park where Cherry Creek joins the river.

Along the way we heard about Clear Creek, water quality in the South Platte Basin, infrastructure investments, and education programs.

A recurring theme was the effort to reach out to a younger generation through the school system.

Darren Mollendor explained that the program he honchos attempts to get the students to connect to their neighborhood parks. This includes an understanding of pollution, pollution abatement, and habitat improvement. He invited us all to go camping at Cherry Creek Reservoir when students from the upper and lower Cherry Creek watershed get together later this summer.

Michael Bouchard (Denver Parks and Recreation) detailed planned improvements along the river through Denver. Most of the new facilities will also have an education focus, including native flora at some locations.

Metro Wastewater is one of the largest clean water utilities in the nation, according to Steve Rogowski. The Metro District is directing a huge investment to comply with tougher treatment standards.

At the Burlington Ditch diversion Gray Samenfink explained operations under the ditch. The ditch is a supply for Barr Lake, other reservoirs, and direct irrigators. Several municipalities also take water off the ditch. The new diversion and flood control structure replaced the old dam at the location.

Caitlin Coleman (Colorado Foundation for Water Education) was tasked with keeping the tour on track. That was no easy task. When you get young and older, students, water resources folks, educators, conservationists, scientists, attorneys, engineers, and ditch riders together there’s going to be a lot of stuff to talk about.

Click here to go to the CFWE website. Become a member while you are there. That way you’ll know about these cool events in advance so you won’t miss the fun.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.


Animas River: e.Coli is a culprit in water quality

May 15, 2014
E.coli Bacterium

E.coli Bacterium

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The main focus of the San Juan Watershed Group research is E. coli and nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus. Certain strains of the former can cause nausea, fever and vomiting. The latter, in excess, robs water of oxygen needed by aquatic life.

The group tested only for E. coli last year. This year, nutrients were added. So far this year, the E. coli level has been well within limits at the New Mexico line, May said.

A Colorado partner, the Animas Watershed Partnership, which works on water-quality projects in New Mexico and with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, also is following the work of May’s group, now in its second year, said Ann Oliver, coordinator of the Colorado project.

Oliver said her group is searching for funding for similar research at two points upstream – on the Animas upstream of the Florida River and on the Florida before it reaches the Animas, she said…

The hope is to get enough money to test for E. coli and nutrients at the Animas and Florida sites and pay for genetic testing at Bondad to determine the source of E. coli contamination, Oliver said. May’s volunteers measure the amount of E. coli and nutrients at the site here, but the organization can’t afford the cost of source analysis.

Last year, May’s volunteers sampled water once a week from April through October on the Animas at the state line (Bondad), Aztec and Farmington and on the San Juan River at Farmington and Hogback Canal, the point where the San Juan enters the Navajo Nation…

Laboratory tests can determine through DNA analysis if E. coli bacteria come from animals – and which animals – or from human sources. Tests last year in Colorado showed that E. coli met the state’s standards, indicating that contamination was originating downstream in New Mexico.

In fact, all 40 samples collected at Hogback Canal tested positive for human bacteria found in feces, the report said. Nearly all 40 samples from Farmington and 26 from Aztec tested positive for the human bacteria.

A story in the The Daily Times of Farmington quoted Mike Stark, the San Juan County operations officer, as saying that officials know that aging septic systems and illegal septic dumping are potential problems.

David Tomko, retired from the New Mexico Environment Department, now the San Juan Watershed Group coordinator, is cautious. Tests for human fecal matter in the Cimarron and Rio Grande rivers found no human waste, so conclusions about the Animas and San Juan readings require confirmation, he said.

The heavy metals leaching from shuttered hard-rock mines around Silverton present no problem at the state line because of dilution, Tomko said. The level of those metals never has exceeded the limit, he said.

Peter Butler, former chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Board and a coordinator of the group looking for a solution to the toxic waste draining from Silverton mines, said heavy metals are diluted enough to be below limits by the time the Animas River reaches Durango.

Even heavy-metal contributions from Lightner Creek don’t push Durango over the limit, Butler said.

May’s group also tests water for turbidity, pH, optical brighteners (detergent additives that brighten colors) and total dissolved solids.

On Monday, the Animas River water didn’t look as cloudy when May poured it from the dipper into sample bottles as it did flowing in the channel.

Last year at about the same time – the spring runoff – the Animas water registered 13.5 turbidity units, May said. During the later monsoon season, she found upward of 600 units.

Turbidity is measured by a nephelometer, an apparatus that records size and concentration of particles in a liquid by analyzing the refraction of light beamed into it.

More Animas River coverage here and here.


Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs all utilize non-potable irrigation in city operations

April 29, 2014
Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation

Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Marija B. Vader):

Colorado Springs Utilities, along with Denver Water and the city of Aurora, all reuse a significant amount of water after it has gone through a treatment plant. It’s called non-potable water and as such is not acceptable for public consumption, cooking or bathing.

The wastewater system collects all the water from homes and businesses, then treats it to conditions set by the state health department. In most treatment centers throughout the state, the treated, non-potable water is then released back to the river or source whence it came. In Colorado Springs, Denver and Aurora, that water is recaptured and reused to water golf courses, public parks, cemeteries and the like. The systems do not extend to residential uses.

“The cost is extremely prohibitive to build such a system,” said Steve Berry of CSU. “Most customers would not tolerate the rate impact.” A system would cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars, he added…

The non-potable system in Colorado Springs provides a capacity of 13 million gallons a day during the summer. The Colorado Springs system has 26 miles of distribution pipelines that stretch to Bear Creek Regional Park, Kissing Camels Golf Course, Patty Jewett Golf Course, the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, El Paso County, Memorial Park, Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado College, Valley Hi Golf Course and others. This program was put together beginning in 1961. Utilities’ charge for non-potable water is significantly less than for treated water.

Aurora’s non-potable system is used to irrigate parks, said Greg Baker, manager of public relations for the Aurora Water Department.

“It’s 5 million gallons a day we can save from potable use,” Baker said. The city’s irrigation season stretches from May 1 through Oct. 30.

“It makes perfect sense,” Baker said. “We don’t always want to apply potable water for irrigation.”

Denver’s non-potable system has a current capacity of 30 million gallons a day, expandable to 45 million gallons a day. The distribution system includes more than 50 miles of pipe with two major pump stations and storage tanks, according to Denver Water’s website. The system began operating in 2004, and when the recycled water system build-out is complete, Denver Water’s recycled supply will account for about 5 percent of the city’s total water volume annually, according to Travis Thompson, media coordinator for Denver Water.

More wastewater coverage here and here.


It’s Wastewater Worker Recognition Week

April 21, 2014

Salida: Wastewater treatment plant earns Waste Water System of the Year from the Colorado Rural Water Association

February 12, 2014
Salida Colorado early 1900s

Salida Colorado early 1900s

From The Mountain Mail:

The Salida Wastewater Treatment Facility received the 2013 Colorado Waste Water System of the Year Award from the Colorado Rural Water Association Feb. 5 at the Colorado Rural Water Association’s annual conference. The award follows the completion of the city’s wastewater plant overhaul and construction project, which was completed in 2013 and was the largest capital project to date for the city of Salida.

Randy Sack, plant manager, said about winning the award, “We really appreciate this award. It makes us proud that our hard work has been recognized. The crew really deserves this recognition.”

More wastewater coverage here.


Craig: Water and sewer rates climb in 2014

January 12, 2014
Yampa River east of Maybell March 2008

Yampa River east of Maybell March 2008

From the Craig Daily Press (Erin Fenner):

Craig City Council did its first reading of an ordinance Dec. 10 that would permit the city to raise water rates by about 6 percent and wastewater rates by about 12 percent.

The average water-use fee for residents is approximately $55 per month and $20 for wastewater, Craig City Manager Jim Ferree said.

Charter Communications req­uires the city to perform an annual review of their rates, Ferree said. Red Oak Consulting studied the rates, but the city worked to push the rates up less than what was suggested by the study, he said.

“We’ve been raising rates consistently, especially ever since we put in the water treatment plant,” Mayor Terry Carwile said.

The city has to make sure they’re keeping up with changing regulations and keeping a sufficient reserve for their water and wastewater fund, he said.

The rise in water and wastewater rates is because of new environmental regulations, paying back loans on the new water treatment plant and because of the increasing cost of treatment chemicals, Ferree said.

More infrastructure coverage here.


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