From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):
With Mayor Pro Tem Jeffri Pruyn conducting the meeting, the La Junta City Council on Monday evening formally accepted the loan/grant of $246,000 from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to the City of La Junta Wastewater Enterprise of not to exceed $246,000. The loan is to be forgiven at its inception. It is for the purpose of dealing with the problems facing the installation of the new wastewater plant, thus enabling construction to get under way. Construction is unlikely to begin until late winter or next spring, said Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley.
The spill, which Air Force officials said they’re investigating, happened as the Air Force increasingly faces scrutiny as a source of groundwater contamination nationwide.
The surge of waste containing elevated perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — used at military airfields to douse fuel fires and linked by federal authorities to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, low birth weights and other health problems — flowed through a Colorado Springs Utilities wastewater treatment plant before crews could try to block it. Then it trickled into Fountain Creek.
“Even if we would have been able to head it off at the plant, we’re not equipped. I don’t know of any wastewater plants in the country equipped to remove PFCs,” utilities spokesman Steve Berry said. “We would not have been able to remove that chemical before it was discharged back into the environment from our effluent.”
Fountain Creek flows south toward Pueblo and into the Arkansas River.
Pueblo Board of Water Works spokesman Paul Fanning said Pueblo didn’t hear about the spill until reporters made inquiries Tuesday.
“We don’t use any groundwater or surface water from Fountain Creek. We use water from the Arkansas River taken upstream from where Fountain Creek flows in,” Fanning said. “But it is not a good thing to have those contaminants anywhere in our water. There are some reported health effects. It is in our interest to protect our public.”
The PFC-laced waste was held in a tank at a firefighter training area on the base, located at the southeastern edge of Colorado Springs. PFCs are a component in the aqueous film-forming foam used to extinguish fuel fires.
Air Force officials said in the statement that they discovered the spill Oct. 12 during an inspection. They notified Colorado Springs Utilities the next day. The tank was part of a system used to recirculate water to a firefighter training area…
In Colorado, government well test data show PFCs have contaminated groundwater throughout the Fountain Creek watershed, nearly as far south as Pueblo, at levels up to 20 times higher than that EPA health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion.
Public-water authorities in Fountain, Security and Widefield have scrambled to provide enough alternative water. Security has been purchasing millions of gallons of diverted Arkansas River water from Colorado Springs, installing new pipelines and minimizing pumping from contaminated municipal wells. Since Sept. 9, Security has not pumped any water from wells, water and sanitation district manager Roy Heald said. “This spill does not affect us immediately,” Heald said. “Our only concern would be the long-term effect on Fountain Creek and the Widefield Aquifer.”
Some parents south of Colorado Springs began paying for bottled water — to be safe. A contractor delivers emergency bottled water to at least 77 households.
The Air Force has contributed $4.3 million to help communities deal with the contamination.
Colorado Springs utilities crews will work with the military “to keep PFCs out of our system. That is the goal,” Berry said. “How do we protect our customers and our system from this chemical? That is the focus. It goes beyond the Air Force. It is any industrial process that may use that chemical.”
El Paso County Public Health “takes this discharge seriously and will coordinate with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment to collect water samples along Fountain Creek, if warranted,” spokeswoman Danielle Oller said.
CDPHE has been informed, agency spokesman Mark Salley said, adding: “It is under investigation by the Air Force, and the department is waiting for information. … The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing PFC contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide.”
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):
The release last week posed no threat to Colorado Springs drinking water.
The base said the release was discovered Oct. 12. The cause hasn’t been determined, but Fred Brooks, Peterson’s environmental chief, said the holding tank was designed to be difficult to discharge.
“It’s not a direct connection,” Brooks said. “This tank would have to have numerous valves switched to actually discharge.”
Was it intentional?
“That’s a possibility,” Brooks said…
An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of the discharge, said Col. Doug Schiess, who commands Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, in the statement.
Colorado Springs Utilities said the chemical-laden water passed through the utility’s Las Vegas Street sewage treatment plant and was released into Fountain Creek. The plant does not have the capacity to remove the chemical.
“There was no risk to the drinking water,” said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman. “This did not impact the drinking water, the finished water system, in any way. It went directly into the wastewater system.”
While Peterson notified Colorado Springs, base officials didn’t warn others downstream. Brooks said the base isn’t required to issue a wider notification, noting that the chemical is “unregulated” – a term used for substances that haven’t drawn enforceable drinking water standards…
Peterson had scheduled a public firefighting demonstration on Oct. 12, the day the discharge was discovered. The fire training exercise was canceled, with a spokesman at the base blaming the delay on a “bad valve”
Brooks, the base environmental officer, said two mechanical valves and an electric one must be switched to allow water to flow out of the tank, which held the outflow from fire training exercises dating back as far as 2013.
He said the water wasn’t tested for levels of the firefighting chemical.
A second tank on the base holding fire training residue wasn’t discharged.
The Air Force banned use of the foam outside fire emergencies last year and last month announced a plan to replace the product at all of its bases around the globe. Brooks said the foam at Peterson will be replaced in about two weeks.
The water contamination in Security, Widefield and Fountain has drawn a pair of lawsuits against the manufacturers of the firefighting foam alleging they sold it to the Air Force despite its toxic risks.
Although downstream, no drinking water supplied to Pueblo residents by the Pueblo Board of Water Works comes from Fountain Creek, said Paul Fanning, the agency’s spokesman. The Pueblo Reservoir does not pull from Fountain Creek.
The Widefield Water and Sanitation District is the only water system immediately downstream of the treatment plant now using the Widefield Aquifer, which leaches water from Fountain Creek, where the chemicals flowed.
Widefield officials have previously said they plan to shut off their wells by sometime in October.
Other communities have shut off their wells to the tainted aquifer.
All the water flowing to homes supplied by the Security and Fountain water systems now comes from the Pueblo Reservoir – meaning that last week’s spill should not affect those communities.
“The long-term effects would be concerning,” said Roy Heald, Security water district’s general manager. “But short-term immediate effects – there wouldn’t be any for us.”
The EPA said it wasn’t involved with the spill.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gave the Air Force a vote of confidence despite the chemical discharge.
“The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing (perfluorinated compound) contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide,” the state agency said.
The city plans to take out a $62 million loan this month to pay for a sewage-treatment plant remodel in Santa Rita Park.
Work at the plant is expected to start in May, and it will require about two years, said consultant Bob Bolton, a vice president with Dewberry.
Work on aeration basins will be accelerated to meet the February 2018 deadline to remove more nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and ammonia from water the plant puts back in the river, he said.
Design work has been ongoing all summer, and a team of consultants on Tuesday presented drawings and site plans to the Durango City Council.
The actual construction of the plant is expected to cost about $53.8 million, Bolton said. The additional money the city will borrow is needed to cover related costs, such as design, said Mary Beth Miles, assistant to the city manager.
Voters approved a $68 million bond question to use for the plant and other improvements. This will give the city a little flexibility in case the bids come in higher than expected, Miles said.
At public and stakeholder meetings, odors at the plant have come up as a major concern, Bolton said.
“We’re going to contain it and take care of it,” he said.
Air coming into the buildings will be ionized to help purify it to make it more tolerable for employees, and air coming out of the building will be filtered.
“You won’t know that it’s a wastewater plant,” Bolton said.
As part of the design process, the consultants factored in the Animas River Trail and Santa Rita Park, and they plan to use landscaping to help buffer some of the plant. In addition, the consultants are planning to use stone, metal and concrete on the outside of the buildings to make them more muted.
This fall, Red Rocks Community College makes Colorado history by offering a bachelor of applied science degree in water quality management technology.
Red Rocks is the first community college in the state to offer a BAS degree, the result oftwo years of work by college faculty.
“The accreditation to offer a BAS will expand the learning opportunities for the students,” said Chelsea Campbell, faculty lead of the Water Quality program, in an email interview. “This accreditation gives us the ability to offer more hands-on training for students and help them become better prepared for a career in the water industry.”
The water quality management technology program focuses on applications, regulations and technologies of water, and has been around since the 1970s, Campbell said. The campus’ water quality building contains a hard, wet lab for the two water and wastewater analytical classes, and an outdoor distribution lab. The outdoor distribution lab is a live lab where students are able to experience all of the elements seen within the distribution system. The curriculum is directed in a specific way to increase likelihood of employment in the industry.
“The BAS allows us to be pioneers in creating educational pathways that perhaps have not yet existed in this industry,” said Linda F. Comeaux, vice president of instructional services at the college. “Our students will get, what I believe, is the best learning experience, the elevated/upper division knowledge and hands-on, applicable experience to go right into the workforce and secure in-demand jobs.”
“I am most looking forward to the growth of opportunities for students, especially since the water industry has very few degrees that are specific to water,” Campbell wrote. “Most degrees are focused around the environment or more generic sciences. This degree provides students courses that match their specific interests. Employers can now hire graduates that match their specific needs and the graduates can get the degree they really want.”
As with most programs at Red Rocks, Water Quality is designed to be affordable and flexible — classes are offered in a variety of modalities including online, traditional classroom and hybrid.
“We already have Ph.D. and qualified faculty on staff that will be able to teach some of these upper division courses,” Comeaux wrote. “I am looking forward to the faculty having the opportunity to utilize additional parts of their spectrum of knowledge and do what they do best — give our students exceptional experiences.”
Here’s the release from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (James Wilkins):
The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District issued $23.3 million of new bonds to fund required improvements to its wastewater treatment system. The bond issuance was authorized in May 2014, when district voters passed a ballot measure (70 percent in favor) approving the new general obligation debt, to be paid back by property tax within the district boundaries.
The mill levy associated with the new debt will begin in 2017, after an existing mill levy expires. According to finance director James Wilkins, the district is paying off a 1998 bond this year. “The mill levy assessed for the ‘98 bonds for the 2015 property taxes, which are paid in 2016 by real property owners within the district’s boundaries, was 0.621 mills,” said Wilkins. “With the new bonds’ annual payment, that mill would drop just a bit – based on last year’s valuations – to 0.619 mills, so it’s a slight tax decrease.” Similar to the mill levy expiring this year, the new one is tied to an annual debt service payment, so the mill levy may fluctuate up or down to generate the exact amount needed each year.
Prior to the 2014 election, the district indicated to the public that the new bond issue’s repayments would be timed with the payoff of the 1998 bond, such that the impact to property taxes would be nominal. “With the payment on the new bonds almost matching the ones paid off this year, the taxes paid to the district for general obligation bonds will be almost identical,” stated Wilkins.
The 2014 ballot language restricted spending of the bond proceeds to capital expenses related to the district wastewater master plan, which was developed to meet newly enacted statewide regulations that limit the discharge of nutrients from wastewater treatment facilities to waterways. That plan is being implemented in phases, with the first large project at the Edwards wastewater treatment facility scheduled for completion this fall.
The current low interest rate environment allowed the district to finance the improvements at an average interest rate of 3 percent. Additionally, due to the current market appetite for high quality municipal bonds, Wilkins said the district received a coupon discount of nearly $2 million, which covered the issuing costs and allowed the district to realize a full $25 million in proceeds.
Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services assigned its ‘AA-’ rating to the bonds, noting the district’s “favorable service area economy, extremely strong wealth and very strong income levels, and strong liquidity position” as well as “relatively stable utility operations, strong underlying economy, and favorable debt profile” in its ratings report.
The bond sale closed March 31; Wilkins noted its success was due in part to buyers wanting bonds from well-managed local governments. The proceeds will fund a substantial component of the next phase of the wastewater master plan, which is closely evaluated at each step, so the district meets the nutrient regulations goal of improved stream water quality in a fiscally responsible manner.
Double-digit increases in Denver’s storm drainage and sewer fees moved a step closer to reality after the proposal on Tuesday cleared its first vote 9-3 before the full Denver City Council.
But the measure, which would hike the storm drainage and sewer fees over five years, still faces pointed questions from council members before a final vote June 13. The council also has set an hour-long public hearing that night that is sure to draw pointed comments from critics who question the city’s approach, the largest project that would benefit from the fees and its link to the state’s Interstate 70 project through northeast Denver.
Under the proposal, the annual combined bills for an average single-family home would increase by $116 by 2020 to pay in part for six-year project plans and some operating costs. Storm drainage rates would increase 66 percent, while sanitary sewer rates would go up 24 percent. Otherwise, both are pegged to inflation.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m 100 percent for a $383 million investment into our stormwater enterprise fund and our infrastructure,” Councilman Rafael Espinoza said, given the city’s extensive drainage needs.
But as he worked his way down a list of questions he still had for officials from Denver Public Works and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, Espinoza was among council members who focused on whether the controversial Platte to Park Hill project should take up the lion’s share.
Of the total storm drainage projects, $206 million raised through borrowing would go toward that project in northeast Denver, supplementing other sources to cover estimates that range between $267 million and $298 million.
The project, which drew the ire of attendees who wore signs on their shirts saying “NO To Storm Water Fee Increases,” is aimed at improving drainage in basins that lack natural waterways. But opponents have focused on the lack of benefit for some areas while the greatest protection would be closer to I-70, which the Colorado Department of Transportation plans to lower below grade in coming years.
Last year, the city and CDOT struck a cost-sharing agreement that includes state money for the city’s drainage projects, which would supplement the new I-70 drainage system.
Some council members said the connection troubled them. But Robin Kniech portrayed it as the city smartly responding to CDOT’s inevitable request for a contribution to the I-70 project by offering to undertake a needed project that would benefit neighborhoods as well as the highway.
“We have been chronically underfunding this infrastructure,” she said. Jolon Clark, also speaking in favor, noted that the fees proposal doesn’t specify any projects, and those planned by Public Works — including the bonds for the Platte to Park Hill project — will need future approval.
Joining them in voting yes were Kendra Black, Albus Brooks, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Herndon, Mary Beth Susman, Debbie Ortega and Wayne New — the final two characterizing their votes as tentative until after the public hearing. Espinoza, Kevin Flynn and Paul Kashmann voted no, and Paul Lopez was absent.