Pueblo County is caught between enforcing water quality upstream and supporting a variance for the City of Pueblo

January 24, 2015

Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo city and county officials are at odds over water quality regulations that could add millions of dollars to city sewer expenses.

The rift was great enough that the Pueblo Area Council of Governments backed down from a vote Thursday to support a variance for selenium and sulfates the city is seeking from the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

PACOG delayed its vote one month, after putting it off in December as well, in order to allow Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart to participate in debate.

Hart, along with Commissioners Sal Pace and Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, raised concerns that the county’s ability to insist on standards from upstream communities in El Paso County under the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System would be compromised if they agreed to support a variance for Pueblo.

“Commissioner Hart is not here, and he wants to have a say,” McFadyen said. “In our future, we will have water quality issues in this county and we need to be consistent.”

That means the city will have to go into a state pre-hearing on Feb. 4 without support from other local governments. The variance itself will be considered by the state in April.

Pueblo City Manager Sam Azad said sewer fees could double or triple if the city is forced to meet numeric standards.

The reach of the Arkansas River below the Pueblo wastewater treatment plant has naturally high levels of selenium and sulfates. If numeric standards are enforced, no additional releases would be allowed.

Pueblo would have to pay up to $92 million and $9 million annually to seal its wastewater lines from collecting groundwater and to treat water released from the plant to remove all traces of contaminants, said Wastewater Director Gene Michael.

Sealing the lines from collecting groundwater, $35 million of the total, would actually increase selenium because existing treatment removes some of it from water that’s released. The disposal of waste from reverse-osmosis treatment would compound environmental damage, Michael said.

“Let me be crystal clear, the county is not in favor of spending $92 million,” Pace said.

One of the conditions of the delay was to give environmental attorneys John Barth of the county and Gabe Racz of the city time to work out a way to gain county support for the resolution without jeopardizing future SDS deliberations.

While Pace said that agreement was close, the city disagreed.

“It’s unlikely John Barth and the city would agree to anything,” said Dan Kogovsek, city attorney.

After an hour of discussion, City Council President Steve Nawrocki agreed to back off a vote until the February meeting in hopes of getting unanimous support from PACOG before the April state rule-making hearing. Pace and McFadyen promised the vote would not be delayed again.

More water pollution coverage here. More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here. More wastewater coverage here. More stormwater coverage here. More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Bureau of Reclamation Releases Funding Opportunity for Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Feasibility Studies

January 14, 2015
The Denver Water recycling facility

The Denver Water recycling facility

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation is providing a funding opportunity for communities in the West which may be seeking new sources of water supplies using water recycling and reuse technologies. Funding made available will assist communities in determining whether water recycling and reuse projects are feasible. This funding opportunity is part of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART initiative, which focuses on improving water conservation, sustainability and helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use.
The Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Feasibility Study Funding Opportunity Announcement is available at http://www.grants.gov by searching for funding opportunity number R15AS00015. It is estimated that $1.3 million may be awarded this year.

Funding will be available in two funding groups. In the first funding group, up to $150,000 in federal funds will be available for smaller feasibility studies which can be completed in 18 months. For the second funding group – including larger feasibility studies which can be completed in 36 months – up to $450,000 in federal funds will be available. It is expected that most of the awards will be made in the first category. Feasibility studies are funded jointly by Reclamation and project sponsors. A cost-share of at least 50-percent of study costs is required.

The studies focus on examining municipal water reclamation and reuse, industrial domestic or agricultural wastewater, and naturally impaired groundwater and/or surface waters. Reclaimed water can be used for a variety of purposes such as environmental restoration, fish and wildlife and groundwater recharge, including municipal, domestic, industrial, agricultural, power generation or recreational use. Water reclamation and reuse is an essential tool in stretching the limited water supplies in the West. Since 1992, approximately $600 million in federal funding through the WaterSMART Title XVI Program has been leveraged with non-federal funding to implement more than $3 billion in water reuse improvements.

Funding applications are due on March 3, 2015, at 4:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. To learn more about the Title XVI Program, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART/title.


State provides $9.5 million for small community wastewater and drinking water system improvements

January 14, 2015

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (Mark Salley):

Fifteen community drinking water and wastewater systems in small communities throughout Colorado will receive a total of $9.5 million to fund planning, design or construction of public water systems or treatment works necessary for the protection of public health and water quality.

Funding for the grants was provided by the state Legislature under Senate Bill 09-165 and SB14-025. Governmental agencies, nonprofit public water systems and counties representing unincorporated areas of fewer than 5,000 people were eligible to apply for grants of up to $950,000.

cdphewastewaterpotablewaterprojects012015

This list is subject to change based on contract negotiations. In the event a recipient cannot accept the grant in whole or part, the available funds will be distributed per the request for application and the small community grant program rules, Regulation No. 55.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Four projects in Teller County intended to improve water quality and wastewater treatment have received a hefty financial boost from oil and gas tax revenues. Colorado water officials recently awarded $9.5 million for 15 grants to small communities across the state – nearly $2.7 million of which will be spent in Teller County.

The money will go toward a mix of projects, including upgrades that could increase water capacity for one subdivision, and improvements that could assuage water quality concerns by some state regulators.

The state fielded 80 applications, making the grants very competitive.

“It was a very popular program this year,” said Tawnya Reitz, a project manager for the Colorado Water Quality Control Division’s grants and loans unit.

Tranquil Acres Water Supply, which serves a subdivision near Woodland Park, received $791,198 to upgrade its 1950s-era water infrastructure. It plans to re-drill wells, install new pumps and build a 100,000-gallon storage tank that could help alleviate water capacity issues, Reitz said.

The state awarded $498,870 to help finance water treatment upgrades so the City of Cripple Creek can meet new chlorine residual standards, she said.

The Florissant Water and Sanitation District received two grants, one for a drinking water project and another to better treat wastewater.

A $200,000 grant will help pay for the installation of a new filtration system, Reitz said.

A $950,000 grant is expected to partially finance new pond liners and a sequencing batch reactor for wastewater treatment, she said.

More water treatment coverage here. More wastewater coverage here.


Salida’s treatment facility wins award — The Mountain Mail

December 5, 2014

Salida Colorado early 1900s

Salida Colorado early 1900s


From The Mountain Mail (Ryan Summerlin):

The Salida Wastewater Treatment Facility was recently recognized in an article by Treatment Plant Operator magazine for winning the 2013 Wastewater Treatment Facility of the Year award.

TPO magazine is the industry’s go-to publication, said Randy Sack, wastewater plant manager.

“We were given this award because Salida was proactive on staying up to date with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment mandates for effluent water quality,” said Dan Poole, a plant operator at the facility.

“And our success is largely due to the level of experience of our crew,” said Sack.

Sack is going on 37 years of wastewater treatment experience in Salida. The three employees under him have 30 years, 20 years and 5 years experience.

“We do the maintenance, run the lab, do the reporting – we even take turns doing the lawn outside,” Sack said.

“We’ve also been without a lost-time accident over the last 13 to 14 years. And we work in a very dangerous environment with poisonous gases and acids.”

The facility has also recently implemented a new treatment process called IFAS (integrated fixed-film activated sludge), which creates an environment for microorganisms that break down the waste.

The facility saw instant improvements when it implemented the new system, Sack said.

Before, the plant had been using a “trickling filter” system, which consisted of large tanks with rocks lining the floor where the microorganisms lived. With the new system thousands, if not millions, of half-dollar-size discs containing the microorganisms float in the wastewater and consume the waste before the water flows to the facility’s next compartments.

“With this new process, we were also able to get away from using chlorine gas in our disinfectant stage during final treatment,” Poole said. “Now, we use ultraviolet light for disinfectant.”

The measure of the facility’s success is clean water flowing back into the Arkansas River, said Sack. His crew runs a variety of tests on the water in their lab, covering biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, E. coli testing, pH levels, temperature, phosphorus levels and many other useful measures.

In addition, flathead minnows and ceriodaphnia, a species of water flea, are tested in the water to make sure they can survive in the effluence, Sack said.

“Unfortunately, you don’t achieve that success without some pretty high energy bills, but we’re working to cut those costs where we can,” he said.

More wastewater coverage here.


Sewage lagoons to be upgraded below ski resort — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

November 25, 2014
Wastewater Treatment Process

Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Work to upgrade two sewage treatment lagoons below Powderhorn Mountain Resort could begin soon with state officials monitoring the process closely. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a notice of violation in September to Grand Mesa Metropolitan District No. 2 for concentrations of ammonia in the lagoons that exceeded the limits of the permit for the facility. There are no allegations that the district released polluted water into a nearby stream.

“We did receive the notice and we knew it was coming,” said Larry Beckner, attorney for the district.

The metro district began working about four months ago with Westwater Engineers in Grand Junction to upgrade the lagoons to meet current standards, Beckner said. The 1968 sewage-treatment system was to have been replaced by a new system to accommodate expected growth. That growth, however, hasn’t taken place. The treatment system, meanwhile, was to have been upgraded to meet standards that took effect in July 2010. The permit was administratively continued in 2012, Beckner said.

The current permit for the water-treatment system included a compliance schedule to meet ammonia concentration limits, said Megan Trubhee, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division.

“The metro district failed to complete those upgrades,” she said.

The district is completing an evaluation of the facility, Trubhee said.

Metropolitan districts are established under state statutes to finance community planning and infrastructure projects, including initial construction of streets and some utilities.

Treated water from the lagoons is discharged into nearby Big Beaver Creek, which runs through pasture and farmland below, Beckner said.

There has been no discussion about whether the health department would levy a fine in the case, Beckner said.

The health department’s primary focus is to work with ​the district to ensure that compliance with the discharge ​permit ​requirements ​and Colorado’s Water Quality Control Act​ is achieved in a timely manner​ and no evaluation of potential penalties had yet been made, Trubhee said.

Violations of the Water Quality Control Act can result in fines of up to $10,000 per day.

More wastewater coverage here.


Water reuse: “It’s not a question of ‘Can we do it?’ We can do it” — John Rehring #COWaterPlan

November 23, 2014

Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

Reverse Osmosis Water Plant


From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado water providers facing a shortfall…are turning to a long-ignored resource: wastewater.

They’re calculating that, if even the worst sewage could be cleaned to the point it is safe to drink — filtered through super-fine membranes or constructed wetlands, treated with chemicals, zapped with ultraviolet rays — then the state’s dwindling aquifers and rivers could be saved.

Colorado officials at work on the first statewide water plan to sustain population and industrial growth recognize reuse as an option.

“We need to go as far and as fast as we can on water-reuse projects,” Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund said.

But there’s no statewide strategy to do this.

Other drought-prone states, led by Texas, are moving ahead on wastewater conversion to augment drinking-water supplies.

Several obstacles remain: huge costs of cleaning, legal obligations in Colorado to deliver water downstream, disposal of contaminants purged from wastewater, and safety.

Local water plans recently submitted by leaders in five of Colorado’s eight river basins all call for reuse, along with conservation and possibly capturing more snowmelt, to address the projected 2050 shortfall.

Front Range utilities will “push the practical limit” in reusing water, according to the plan for the South Platte River Basin, which includes metro Denver. The Arkansas River Basin plan relies on reuse “to the maximum potential.”

Western Slope authorities in the Gunnison, Yampa and Colorado river basins contend Front Range residents must reuse all available wastewater as a precondition before state officials consider new trans-mountain projects.

The emerging Colorado Water Plan, to be unveiled Dec. 10, remains a general guide, lacking details such as how much water is available. Nor does this 358-page draft plan specify how much of Colorado’s shortfall can be met by reuse.

Water industry leaders urge an aggressive approach. Colorado officials should determine how much water legally can be reused and analyze how this could boost supplies, WateReuse Association director Melissa Meeker said in a letter to the CWCB. Colorado’s strategy “should be crafted to encourage innovation and creativity in planning reuse projects.”

Cleaning up wastewater to the point it can be reused as drinking water long has been technically feasible. Water already is recycled widely in the sense that cities discharge effluent into rivers that becomes the water supply for downriver communities.

Cleaning systems

In 1968, utility operators in Windhoek, Namibia, a desert nation in Africa, began cleaning wastewater and pumping it into a drinking-water system serving 250,000 people.

Denver Water engineers in the 1980s pioneered a multiple-filter cleaning system at a federally funded demonstration plant. From 1985 to 1991, Denver Water used wastewater to produce 1 million gallons a day of drinking water, which proved to be as clean as drinking water delivered today.

Delegations of engineers from Europe and the Soviet Union visited.

“There was a sense we were ahead,” said Myron Nealey, a Denver Water engineer who worked on the project.

But utility leaders scrapped it, partly out of fear that customers would object to drinking water that a few hours earlier might have been flushed from a toilet. They also were struggling to dispose of thousands of gallons a day of purged contaminants — a super-concentrated salty mix that must be injected into deep wells or buried in landfills. [ed. emphasis mine]

So Denver Water has focused instead on recycling wastewater solely for irrigation, power-plant cooling towers and other nonpotable use. An expanding citywide network of separate pipelines distributes this treated wastewater — 30 million gallons a day.

“Reuse is definitely a way to maximize the use of the water we have,” said Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water and former natural resources director for the state.

“We’re in the exploration stage of trying to analyze what are the options for various types of reuse,” Lochhead said. “What’s the most effective? What’s the least costly? What’s the most secure?”

Meanwhile, drought and population growth in Texas have spurred construction of water-cleaning plants at Wichita Falls and Big Spring. Engineers have installed water-quality monitoring and testing systems sensitive enough to track the widening array of pathogens, suspended particles and hard-to-remove speciality chemicals found in wastewater.

A Texas state water plan calls for increasing reuse of wastewater eightfold by 2060. The New Mexico town of Cloudcroft is shifting to reuse as a solution to water scarcity. And California cities hurt by and vulnerable to drought, including San Diego, are considering wastewater conversion for drinking water.

Costs can be huge, depending on the level of treatment. Water industry leaders estimate fully converted wastewater costs at least $10,000 per acre-foot (325,851 gallons).

By comparison, increased conservation, or using less water, is seen as the cheapest path to making more water available to prevent shortages. The most costly solution is building new dams, reservoirs and pipelines that siphon more water from rivers.

Colorado also faces legal constraints. The first-come-first-serve system of allocating water rights obligates residents who rely on diverted water from rivers to return that water, partially cleaned, to the rivers to satisfy rights of downriver residents and farmers.

However, much of the Colorado River Basin water diverted through trans-mountain pipelines has been deemed available for reuse. Western Resource Advocates experts estimate more than 280,000 acre-feet may be available. In addition, water pumped from underground aquifers — the savings account that south Denver suburbs have been tapping for decades — is available for reuse.

Indirect reuse

While nobody in Colorado has embarked on direct reuse of treated wastewater, Aurora and other cities have begun a form of indirect reuse that involves filtering partially treated wastewater through river banks. This water then is treated again at Aurora’s state-of-the-art plant. Cleaned wastewater then is blended with water from rivers to augment municipal supplies.

The most delicate challenge has been dealing with safety — making sure engineered water-cleaning systems are good enough to replace nature’s slow-but-sure settling and filtration.

While industry marketers focus on semantics to try to make people feel more comfortable — rejecting phrases such as “toilet to tap” to describe reuse — engineers are honing the systems.

They envision early-detection and shut-off mechanisms that quickly could stop contaminants left in water from reaching people. They aim for filtration and other advanced treatment sufficient to remove the multiplying new contaminants found in urban wastewater. Cleaning water increasingly entails removal of plastic beads used in personal-care products; mutating viruses; resistent bacteria; synthetic chemicals such as herbicides; ibuprofen; birth control; anti-depressants; and caffeine.

“That’s the whole job of treatment and monitoring, to remove pathogens and other contaminants to where it is safe to drink,” said John Rehring of Carollo Engineers, a Denver-based expert on water reuse.

“It’s not a question of ‘Can we do it?’ We can do it,” he said. “And because of growing affordability and public acceptance, we’re starting to see it implemented.”


San Juan Basin: “Compliance with [federal salinity discharge standards] is impossible” — Ron Rosen

November 20, 2014
Wastewater Treatment Process

Wastewater Treatment Process

From the Farmington Daily Times (Dan Schwartz):

A city contractor says Farmington is seeking an exemption from a federal law regulating San Juan River salinity levels.

Compliance with the law — which the city is violating — is impossible, said Ron Rosen, project director for CH2M Hill, an agency contracted to operate the city’s water and sewage treatment plants.

“We’ve been really aggressive. We’ve done everything (the Environmental Protection Agency has) told us to do,” Rosen said.

The main cause of the pollution, he said, is domestic water softeners. They discharge salt into the city’s sewer system, which the Wastewater Treatment Plant then discharges into the San Juan River.

The city is currently testing whether softening water at its treatment plants could reduce its drinking water’s hardness, allowing residents to shut off their water softeners.

In 2005, the EPA began regulating the levels of salt that industries and cities discharge into the Colorado River Basin. The largest river in the basin, the Colorado River, winds about 1,400 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California. The San Juan River is one of its major tributaries.

The regulations date back to the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty and were amended many times before they became law in 1974, when Congress enacted the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act.

Now, for Farmington to consistently comply with the law, it would have to spend $60 million to $70 million — an engineering firm’s estimate — and the city can’t afford to do that, Rosen said. The EPA could fine the city $27,500 a day for the violation, but it hasn’t yet, he said.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.


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