— David McGimpsey (@DTM1993) February 17, 2015
Water Values podcast: @OndaViaInc CEO Mark Peterman discusses water testing and technology advancementsFebruary 20, 2015
Here’s an in-depth look at the Greeley Water and Sewer Board from Sherrie Peif writing for The Greeley Tribune. Click through to read the whole article and for the sidebar with the details about the current board along with some historic notes:
Most anyone who works closely with the water industry agrees the commodity is taken for granted by consumers, except for in a couple of instances.
“When water doesn’t come out of the faucet,” said Harold Evans with a laugh. “And when they get their bill.”
Evans, the chairman of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, said it is unlikely that most know where their water comes from or how it gets to their faucets.
It is a complicated process involving more than a dozen lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs across Colorado. And in Greeley, seven men oversee it all.
It is so complicated, in fact, that fellow board member Robert Ruyle said it takes several years on the board before a member really understands it.
“Water board members serve 10-15 years before they really know what to do,” Ruyle said. “Even if they come to the board with water experience. Our system is unique, and it takes a while to understand it.”
It is also why, Evans said, the water board needs the absolute power it currently enjoys.
“The primary reason for establishing it this way was to provide for long-term needs in a non-political way,” Evans said.
Not everyone agrees, however, including a former top Greeley official who may take a proposal to the voters to put the power back into the hands of the Greeley City Council.
Many argue the Greeley water board has too much power, and its authority to set rates, development fees and the cost to bring raw water to a new development are all too high and there is no one that can reverse its decisions.
Members of the water board say what most don’t realize is how far ahead of the game Greeley is compared to other communities and water districts in northern Colorado.
And that — they say — is because of the way the Greeley Home Rule Charter is set up, giving board members the power to set rates and fees, acquire water and manage the system that cleans and transports it.
“When you think about what you pay for a cup of coffee, we supply a gallon of safe drinking water for four-tenths of one penny,” Evans said.
Board members all believe they are assuring many more generations to come plenty of the precious resource.
But has the original intention of Greeley’s forefathers outlived its usefulness?
Should voters change the way water has been managed for nearly six decades?
It all depends on who you ask.
WHICH WAY DID IT GO?
From as far away as Lake Granby on the Western Slope, into the Colorado-Big Thompson system, and eventually the South Platte River; or from as far away as Cameron Pass and the Poudre River, spring snow melt from the mountains flows through 500 miles of pipeline into two water treatment plants and into homes and business in Greeley.
It didn’t take long after Greeley was founded in 1869 for its forefathers to realize they needed to secure the rights to the water coming out of the mountains.
W.D. Farr, known to many as Mr. Water, and former Greeley Tribune publisher Charles Hansen are credited for bringing water from the Colorado River across the Continental Divide and to the Front Range. The Greeley water system is among the most elaborate and most rich in the nation, everyone close to the situation says.
Many say that’s thanks to the authority granted the Greeley Water Board when it was formed in the 1958 charter to manage the system.
Norman Dean, who was a member of the charter committee and one of those responsible for the Water Board’s authority, said it was a battle over who to put in charge.
“It was a very contentious subject,” Dean said. “Some guys wanted it to be a department of the city.”
But in the end, a University of Northern Colorado professor convinced the majority, including Dean, that it needed to be separate.
“Water and sewer generates a lot of money,” Dean said. “He did not want it to flow into the general fund for city council to use it as they wanted.”
Technically, it is a department of the city, but it is run by the water board.
The other option, said Leonard Wiest, former Greeley city manager who is now a consultant, would be to make the board an advisory board. Let them continue to do what they do, but leave the final decision to the Greeley City Council.
“We get a chance to vote on the city council,” Wiest said. “If we don’t like what they do, we can vote them out. The only thing the council can do right now to the water board is cut the budget. But they never do that either.”
The seven members of the water board are appointed by city council to serve a five-year term and cannot be recalled by voters. At the end of that term, they must be reappointed to serve again. However, no one can recall a time when the council did not reappoint someone.
“If at anytime they came to one of us and said, ‘We don’t think you’re doing your job,’ we would step down,” Evans said. “We may make decisions that some may not like, but we have to do what is best for the whole big picture.”
Additionally, there are no limits to the number of terms a water board member can serve. New members are recommended to the city council by the current board, leaving some to refer to it as a “good ol’ boys club.”
Many members have served for decades. Dean, who served 15 years on the board from 1989-1994, said that, too, was thought out by the charter committee.
“It seemed a shame to put term limits on them,” Dean said. “They finally get to understand it all and then they have to leave the board.”
The board controls a $26 million budget. Although city council ultimately has to approve any loans the water board requests, the water board has the authority to borrow money and sell bonds without going to voters, Wiest said.
“It’s taxation without representation,” Wiest said. “The water and sewer board is entirely independent. They do whatever they want.”
The board is responsible for setting water and sewer rates, plant investment fees (which are fees paid by a developer when a new home or business is constructed) and cash-in-lieu charges to get water to a new development.
Council can raise the rates and fees, but has no authority to lower the rates below a minimum formula set by the charter, which includes things such as depreciation and maintenance.
City Manager Roy Otto equates it to buying a car. You have to pay a minimum amount for a basic car, but all the bells and whistles are additional. If the water and sewer board wanted to raise the rates above what the formula says is needed to pay the bills, council could deny that.
“I have never since I’ve been city manager had a disagreement over the budget,” Otto said of the recommended budget versus what the council wants. “We all understand the importance of our rate structure. We have a sound system, I would put our system up against any in the area because the charter language considers depreciation and maintenance.”
Developers, however, have recently threatened to stop building in Greeley because development fees, especially for water and sewer, are too high, they say.
Many developers in the area have asked Wiest to lead an effort to ask voters to amend the Home Rule Charter in November, to make it an advisory board.
Wiest isn’t sure yet if he will, but he’s leaning toward leading the effort.
WHO PAYS THE WAY FOR GROWTH?
Greeley City Council has long charged its staff with the directive that growth pays its own way. In other words, fees should be charged to handle improvements or expansions when new developments come in.
Water and sewer is no different. New developments require the developer to supply the water rights to service the area, and new residential and commercial development must pay plant investment fees to help with maintenance and expansion to the system when it is needed because of growth.
However, the fees set by the water board are the source of disagreement.
At several recent meetings held by the city to discuss increased development fees that go in effect March 1, real estate brokers and contractors expressed concern that development was about to stop in Greeley because they can’t afford to build here compared to other communities. In particular, many believe the water and sewer fees charged against developers are too excessive.
Their contention is the increased fees drive up the cost of new homes in an area continuing to battle with poverty.
A recent attempt to lower those fees failed on a 4-3 city council vote. The argument against lowering the fees is that it puts the burden of paying for growth in the water system on the current users.
“It’s a philosophical belief,” Evans said. “Because on the other hand, you can say new development benefits everyone.”
Wiest said the water and sewer board are more concerned about someone who may move here in 50 years than they are those who live here now.
“The growth factor flies in our face,” Wiest said. “The person who moves here in 50 years will still have to bring their own water. But we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for water for the future.”
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Water board members say they are only trying to continue the logic of Farr, which has made Greeley the envy of many in Colorado for its long-term planning and vision in acquiring water rights.
“When you think about the previous boards and what they’ve done, we have the chance to stand on the shoulders of giants,” Evans said.
He added the land around northern Colorado is drying up, and people need to remember where they live.
“We are an arid landscape, but we want to look like the Midwest,” Evans said. “We have had water restrictions in place since 1905 for a reason.”
Ruyle agreed, adding it is getting more and more difficult every day to acquire water.
“It is a challenge to be able to acquire enough raw water to supply new growth for the city,” Ruyle said. “It is a limited resource in the area we live.”
In fact, 80 percent to 85 percent of the water used in Colorado is still used for agricultural purposes. That is a real challenge, both men said, because changing water use from ag to domestic in water court is a complicated process.
So what happens when Greeley’s economy moves away from agriculture? Evans asked.
“It is predicted we will have more than double our population by 2050,” Evans said. “Where is the water going to come from? What is it going to look like in 2050? Who knows? We’ll figure it out, but it’s going to look different.
“But we are fortunate to have the system we have. It allows us to do things others can’t do. When 2100 rolls around, I hope people look back on us and say, ‘Those guys in 2015 did a great job for us.’ ”
More Greeley coverage here.
From Radio Colorado College (Maeve Conran):
Coloradans pride themselves on the quality of their drinking water, most of which originates high up in the Rocky Mountains. But many communities on the Eastern plains have water that not only tastes bad, it’s out of compliance with federal drinking water standards.
Many diners at the J and L Cafe in downtown Sterling are sipping on glasses of tap water as they enjoy lunch on this December morning. That was not the case just a year ago.
“You couldn’t hardly drink it,” says Kathy Orchid, who says she never used to drink the tap water. “You could hardly drink it. It’s much better.”
The difference lies in the new multi-million dollar water treatment plant, less than a mile from the diner.
“The EPA…put the city on an enforcement order where we were basically told we had to fix the problem,” says Jeff Reeves, Sterling’s utilities superintendent, who supervises operations.
The city and the state had long been aware of problems with the drinking water, specifically that it contained radium and uranium, contaminants that can lead to kidney problems and bone cancer.
“All of these problems are naturally occurring,” says Ron Falco, who manages the Safe Drinking Water Program for the State of Colorado. “So this problem happens in the ground water as it’s moving through formations that may just have naturally high levels of radium or uranium.”
Falco says dozens of other communities, all on the Eastern Plains, are also struggling with water quality because like Sterling, they rely on ground water.
The EPA issued new drinking water standards in 2008, which meant those locations were now out of compliance with federal standards. Falco and other state health officials started working with the communities to improve the water systems.
“Historically, about 55 systems in the state of Colorado serving about 32000 people have struggled with uranium and radium in their drinking water,” says Falco. “By 2008, that number was at about 37 systems and about 21000 people.”
Sterling’s new water treatment plant is about a year old, and has put a dent in those numbers. This town of about 15,000 people in the South Platte River Basin was the largest municipality in the state facing this water quality issue.
The plant uses reverse osmosis to remove the uranium and radium. Reverse osmosis forces the water through a membrane, trapping contaminants which then form a concentrated brine.
But there are a couple of challenges. One is a 15% loss in usable water due to the treatment process, a significant figure for a region grappling with water quantity AND quality. The other problem is what to do with that wastewater.
Utilities manager Jeff Reeves says they’re storing that wastewater in an underground reservoir. “That’s down below an impermeable layer so it can’t get back up into the drinking water.”
Despite those two challenges, Reeves says the city of Sterling now has water that is well within federal standards. In addition, the reverse osmosis process has also improved the taste.
“We thought that we might as well make the water much more aesthetically pleasing,” says Reeves. “If you’re going to produce a product that people are going to have to pay for it’s a lot easier to get along with the customers if the water is good.”
More water treatment coverage here.
Pueblo County is caught between enforcing water quality upstream and supporting a variance for the City of PuebloJanuary 24, 2015
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.
From the Town of Breckenridge via the Summit Daily News:
For the first time in recent memory, the town of Breckenridge will raise water usage rates by 5 percent for residential and commercial customers across town.
In an effort to both encourage conservation and kick-start funding for a proposed new water plant, the town council last year approved a higher water utility rate for 2015. Historically, water fees have increased at a low pace of 1 percent annually. Beginning this March, the town’s water usage rates will increase by 5 percent and plant investment fees (PIFs) will jump by 10 percent, the steepest hike since 2007, according to town records.
“Rapidly increasing demands, especially in the drought-prone West, are placing an immense strain on this limited, precious resource,” Mayor John Warner said. “It is our duty to address this critical issue for our community.”
The 5 percent rate increase for residential and commercial users will raise the base residential usage charge from $31.26 to $32.81 over a two-month billing cycle, an increase of $1.55. That translates to a $9.30 increase annually per customer.
For customers beyond town limits, such as homes in the Blue River neighborhood, the two-month rate is 50 percent higher, according to the town’s 2011 water plant feasibility study. Those customers will pay $18.60 more per year.
Excess usage rates will also increase in turn. The base rate for maximum usage will drop from 12,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons per two-month billing cycle. Rates for excess usage will increase from $3.11 per 1,000 gallons to $5.00 per 1,000 gallons. These measures were put in place to encourage conservation efforts, according to a town release.
To assist customers with conservation efforts, the town will send individual water usage history reports shortly after the rate increase. These reports will detail two-year usage history for each customer. Town officials hope the reports can help guide and track conservation efforts, and they come paired with a link to water conservation tips on the town website.
Over the past 10 years, water has factored heavily into council discussions about the town’s future. After noting that water is essential to the community’s economy, natural environment and quality of life, the council made water-related issues a priority and in 2014 completed a comprehensive study on the town’s water system, which strongly recommends the addition of a second water plant.
The PIF increase of 10 percent for 2015 is double the historical annual increase rate of 5 percent. This rate hike is the first step for financing a new plant. Only new customers connecting to the municipal system pay PIFs.
The 2014 water study indicated that the town’s sole water treatment plant, a 41-year-old facility, will not be able to meet future demand. As a result, the town has started the process of planning for a new facility that will help the town meet future water demand as the town continues to grow.
While the town has made strides in conserving water and management efficiency, the current water plant is nearing 80 percent capacity. The current plant will not be able to support new customers outside the current service area, which is supplied by private wells with a high likelihood of failure.
Another benefit of a new plant is emergency readiness. In the event of a wildfire, natural disaster or mechanical malfunction at the current plant, a second water plant would provide a critical back-up system.
The study also found that the Breckenridge system supplies high-quality drinking water at a low cost to customers in comparison to other communities in Colorado. Funding currently comes from user fees, tap fees and water system maintenance fees. The upcoming usage rate and PIF increases are the first such increases. The town council and utility department have not yet decided on any future increases.
“The town is working with water system consultants, engineers and water rights attorneys to secure our community’s water future,” Warner said. “Increased water rates are just one part of taking steps to improve our water utility system. The council and staff are aware that increased rates are rarely welcome news, but we believe that our citizens will understand the critical needs for water conservation and system improvements.”
The Breckenridge Water System study and an informational Q&A on the rate increase are available on the town website at http://www.townofbreckenridge.com.
More infrastructure coverage here
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.
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.
From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Heather McGregor):
Crews are setting foundations, erecting racks and installing solar panels in a wave of activity at the Silt Water Treatment Plant. The 234-kilowatt solar array is slated to be in service and powering the plant by Dec. 31, according to Katharine Rushton, commercial sales associate for Sunsense Solar.
The new solar array will offset 100 percent of the plant’s electrical use on an annual basis.
It’s being financed with a power purchase agreement and renewable energy credits from Xcel Energy, so it cost the town just $3,500 in upfront fees.
The solar system will save the town an estimated $102,000 over the next 20 years, or about 15 percent of the plant’s total annual electric costs, and it will lock in electric rates for 20 years.
Work on the project started Nov. 3. It’s the first of three major solar energy systems being installed in Garfield County in 2014 and 2015 by Sunsense, a Carbondale solar developer and contractor. Together, the systems will add up to 1 megawatt of renewable energy capacity.
Next up after the Silt project are arrays that will power the Battlement Mesa Metro District water treatment plant and Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.
The Silt array includes 756 solar panels, each capable of generating 310 watts of electricity. A bank of eight inverters will convert the direct current electricity to alternating current, so the power can be used by the plant’s equipment or fed back onto the Xcel Energy power grid.
Facing a tight, two-month timeline, the crews are closely following each other for all three phases of building the ground-mounted array, Rushton said.
The foundation contractor, Lyons Fencing of Rifle, set the footers. The Sunsense crew erected the framework and solar panels, and is now finishing off the electrical wiring. Expert Electric of Rifle is handling the alternating current aspects of the project.
Sunsense is also partnering with Garfield Clean Energy to install an energy data logger at the plant as part of the project. It will measure electricity use and solar production in 15-minute intervals for display on the Garfield Building Energy Navigator website.
More water treatment coverage here.