Seeing a significant need for infrastructure repair, the Louisville City Council on Tuesday approved a 13 percent water utility rate increase for 2017, with city ratepayers projected to see their bills rise much higher over the next five years.
The average Louisville ratepayer currently forks over $63 combined for water, wastewater and stormwater services, and the newly approved schedule will see that figure bumped up to $71 on May 1, through the end of 2017. Unofficial projections from the city suggest the average could be in the range of $93 by 2021. And 10 years from now, citizens may be paying twice what they pay now.
According to staff from the city’s Public Works Department, the extra money will fund improvements at the Louisville wastewater treatment plant that bring the city to compliance with mandatory federal and state standards. The rate increases will also provide revenue that staff believes is needed to properly operate and maintain city utility systems.
Though the City Council unanimously approved the hike, several lamented the rising cost burden on citizens.
“We’re at the point now where we have to make significant reinvestment,” Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lipton said. “But we’re looking at raising rates another 48 percent over five years. Some people can afford it, some people are going to be challenged by it, but we’ve always got to keep this in mind. … We’re continuing to increase the cost of living here in a variety of ways.
After many years of struggling to provide enough clean water for the town’s growing population, Larino reported Feb. 24 that Wiggins now has more than enough for several years to come — even taking into account the two new housing developments that will begin construction this year.
Much of the water system’s success can be attributed to improved filtration methods, new wells the town has added over the last few years and some recent water deals with the Front Range. But although the water system is in better shape today than it has been in years, Larino said there’s still room for improvement.
“A lot of people don’t recognize, I think, over the last couple of years, how (the water system) has changed and diversified,” he said.
Wiggins gets most of its water from three wells that pull from the Kiowa Bijou basin, and two more recently dug wells that pull from the South Platte River.
The town also owns permits for two more Kiowa Bijou wells that have not yet been drilled. These wells are augmented by a 112-acre recharge pond facility north of town, shares in Weldon Valley ditch water and a recently approved lease agreement with the city of Castle Rock for augmentation water over the next three years.
The town also has two more recharge ponds and a few more Weldon Valley shares pending court approval.
Larino also pointed out that, thanks to an improved cleaning and filtration system, Wiggins’ water is well below the state limit for nitrates and other chemical content.
The water’s quality, particularly its nitrates level, has been a problem for the town in the past, but Larino said those days are over.
In 2015, the town pumped about 182 acre feet of water out of the 256 available acre feet. Thanks to the new water agreements, Larino said they will be able to pump up to 737 acre feet in 2016 and for the next two years.
“We have a lot of water,” he said. “Three times the town, basically.”
Eldorado Springs, Colorado, has won the top prize for U.S. tap water at an international tasting contest.
The judges gave out two gold medals for Best Municipal Water on Saturday at the 26th annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting in West Virginia. They awarded the top prize among U.S. entries to Eldorado Springs, while Clearbrook, British Columbia, won first place for best in the world.
The award for best purified water went to Bar H2O of Richmond, Michigan.
An entry from Karditsa, Greece, Theoni Natural Mineral Water, won the top prize for bottled water, while the best sparkling water was awarded to Tesanjski Kiseljak of Tesanj, Bosnia.
Ten judges tasted and selected from among dozens of waters from 18 states, seven Canadian provinces and five foreign nations.
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacey Marmaduke):
In light of the Flint water crisis and national concern on the safety of drinking water, the Coloradoan submitted a public records request to the Water Quality Control Division of the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment earlier this month.
The request asked for three data points:
1. Water test results for lead submitted to the state by public water systems in 2013-2015;
2. A list of public water systems out of compliance with drinking water standards;
3. The number of lead service lines in the state classified by the lowest level of geography available – whether by city, zip code or water system.
The Water Quality Control Division responded to the Coloradoan’s request on Tuesday. A list of public water systems out of compliance was included in the response.
The first request was fulfilled for free because it will take less than an hour to collect the data. After the first hour of work on a request, state agencies are free to charge requestors up to $30 an hour to fulfill requests.
For the third request, the state is asking for $61,200, equivalent to 2,040 hours of staff and attorney time the state estimates will be needed to compile the data.
The Department of Public Health and Environment charges $30 an hour for all staff time associated with locating and producing records for those who request them, in accordance with Colorado open records law.
Officials at the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators indicate that if a water system has a lead action level in exceedance, then the water system “must submit the detailed inventory system.” Colorado has had water systems with lead action level exceedances.
The state reports drinking water systems in Colorado don’t have to submit to the state the number of lead service lines within the system. Instead, they must identify their sample locations and indicate whether the sample was supplied by a lead service line or if the sample location contains lead pipes or copper pipes with lead solder.
The Water Quality Control Division is prohibited from releasing the addresses of public utility users, so staff would have to retract all individual homeowner addresses from the sample location data, according to the division’s response to the records request.
That process, along with research, retrieval, review and production of the records, would take more than 2,000 hours – or nearly a year of working weeks if a single staff member carried out the work.
The Coloradoan is seeking to collect the state data as part of a national project in conjunction with the USA TODAY Network on drinking water safety across the U.S.
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):
Residents in Security-Widefield who have private wells near Fountain Creek should check their water for excess chemicals, federal officials said Monday.
The perfluorinated compounds are commonly found in surface protection products for carpets, but should not be in the local drinking water. The chemicals were found during water quality tests done in January.
They don’t fall under water quality regulations, but they are on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of things to monitor and keep out of a water supply. Since the amounts of chemicals are trace, the water supply meets the health standards for drinking water, although the effects of consuming the chemicals are largely unknown.
“The EPA has set health advisory limits,” said Brandon Bernard, the water department manager for the Widefield Water and Sanitation District. “The amounts that were detected in our aquifer were well below that. We are talking about (less than) one part per billion, which is like a teaspoon in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”
The EPA, with the help of the El Paso County Public Health and its state-level counterpart, the Department of Public Health and Environment, must determine where the chemicals are coming from and how they got into the aquifer. Until that mystery is solved, it’s unlikely that officials will be able to stop the flow of chemicals, said Tom Gonzales, the deputy director of the county’s health department…
The chemicals came from the Widefield aquifer, which parallels Fountain Creek and is the source for nearly half of the Widefield district’s water. The district has nine wells that pump blended aquifer water, which is mixed with water from Pueblo Reservoir before it goes to local homes.
At least six of those wells showed low concentrations of the perfluorinated compounds, but no levels in other tests. Since the results have varied, more tests will be done, Bernard said.
“There isn’t enough data at this point, really, to get a good idea of what’s going on,” he said.
The state and EPA are putting together a plan to test groundwater and trace the chemicals back to their source. Meanwhile, since county labs can’t test for the chemicals, residents in certain areas who get water from private wells are being asked to get their water tested. The area of concern runs along Fountain Creek from Interstate 25 to the Colorado Springs Airport, between East Fountain Boulevard to the city limits of Fountain. It includes the Widefield water district, which serves 25,000 customers, and water sources in Fountain and Security.
Since the discovery of the chemicals, Widefield has not shut down its water supply, Bernard said. Treatment systems can remove the perfluorinated compounds , and residents who use water from private wells can buy treatment equipment at local home improvement stores, officials said.
Officials are edging closer to recommending a Superfund listing in the wake of the Gold King Mine spill after closed-door meetings Friday.
Gov. John Hickenlooper met with officials from Durango, Silverton and San Juan County late Friday afternoon. After the meeting, the governor said it appears stakeholders are on board to pursue the designation.
“These communities have made it clear that a Superfund designation is the most viable path to address pollution in the affected area and protect our public health and environment,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re all working around the clock to ensure that remaining points of negotiation are resolved in time for the March Federal Register listing in order to move this process forward.”
The governor has until Feb. 29 to meet a deadline extension to propose a new Superfund site in San Juan County.
Local officials are also hopeful that they are getting close to offering a formal opinion on the Superfund designation, which would culminate in a vote by Silverton and San Juan County elected officials. The communities delayed a vote in late January.
There are some outstanding issues to work out, including securing assurances that impacts to the town would be mitigated and ensuring a seat at the table for local governments. But San Juan County Administrator William Tookey believes the area has gone through a bit of an evolution on the subject.
“There’s been a perception that because we haven’t gone out and requested Superfund that we were somewhat anti-clean water, which we haven’t been,” Tookey said, underscoring that the local governments simply wanted assurances. “We recognized that … if in fact a treatment plant is a solution, the resources weren’t there without a Superfund site.”
Also Friday, the EPA met separately with tribal, state and local government officials for several hours to update them on the spill and plans for monitoring the affected waters.
La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff, who represented the county at the meeting, said it was the first time that all stakeholders got together in one room since the spill, including representatives from Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.
Even though the meeting concerned public safety, including discussing next steps for a water monitoring plan, the agency opted to close the meeting, citing a legal opinion.
“We reviewed potentially applicable laws and did not find anything. The Sunshine Act does not, by its terms, apply,” an agency spokesperson told The Durango Herald in an email when asked why the meeting was not open to the public.
At the Friday meeting, EPA researchers released a preliminary analysis of water quality to describe the release, transport and final destination of the acid mine drainage. Results must be peer reviewed by an external panel during the week of Feb. 22. The report is expected to be completed by mid-March.
“We estimate that, by the time the plume reached the lower Animas River, the metal load in the plume was roughly equivalent to one day’s worth of high spring runoff,” the preliminary report states.
Researchers say “hot spots” of metal contaminants in the lower Animas and San Juan – unrelated to the spill – may warrant further investigation.
“It may not be possible to isolate the specific effects of the GKM event from the ongoing cumulative effect of multiple sources of metals from past or future runoff,” the preliminary report states.
In September, the EPA released a draft monitoring plan to evaluate pre- and post-event conditions. Sampling activities include water and sediment quality and biological and fish analyses in Cement Creek and the Animas. Cement Creek is a tributary of the Animas.
The EPA plans to collect the data for one year to review results.
Westendorff, however, said outstanding concerns remain with how the monitoring plan will take into account spring runoff, which could begin in as few as six weeks.
“My takeaway is there isn’t a plan now,” Westendorff said. “I hope they can get something worked out because people downstream are getting restless.”
The EPA says it is working on a long-term, robust strategy.
The EPA spokesperson, in emailed responses to questions, added: “Attendees also assessed tribal, state and local interest in collaborative approaches to monitoring water quality and solicit ideas for structuring a water quality monitor program across the watershed going forward.”
Environmental experts say spring runoff not a concern for dredging up sediment laced with metals from Gold King Mine spill
“When you have more spring runoff, you have a lot more turbulence, so sediments can get remobilized,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group.
“However, usually the lowest metal concentrations we see throughout the year are during spring runoff, and that’s because you have so much dilution. So I’m not really expecting an issue.”
Scott Roberts, an aquatic biologist with Mountain Studies Institute, said water samples from the Animas during storms in October show little sign of increased metal concentrations.
“I think most people were concerned with the sediment not only deposited around the river margin, but also at the bottom of the channel,” he said. “But it’s amazing how much it seems to already have washed off with the few storms we’ve had. You don’t see a lot of evidence left.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary water treatment plant can handle 900 to 1,200 gallons per minute. Currently, the facility treats only discharges from the Gold King Mine, which averages 525 gallons per minute.
Mine discharges usually increase in the spring because of more ground water movement but are diluted in the runoff.
“But we may be dealing with a whole different ground now,” Butler said. “Nobody really knows what the flows are going to be like. That’s why the EPA oversized the treatment there, so they have the capacity to handle it.”
In the meantime, state health officials are developing a notification stakeholder group to address how best to notify local governments and agencies if a spill occurs.
Health officials added a second monitoring station on Cement Creek above the confluence with the Animas River. The department is coordinating with federal agencies on a long-term monitoring plan for the entire watershed.
“We’re very lucky the disaster did not have a long tail,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told The Durango Herald. “The consequences aren’t as dire as many of us first thought.”
Still, state water experts say they don’t have a full picture of the impact the spring runoff might have.
“I don’t know, and that’s a problem for me,” said Patrick Pfaltzgraff, director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division. “I want to have some certainty, and where I don’t have certainty as a water quality professional, I want to have some process in place to respond to that.”
Photo via the @USGS Twitter feed
Cement Creek remains lined with orange sediment after the Gold King Mine spill. The Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered the release of orange wastewater laced with heavy metals into Cement Creek on Aug. 5. The creek flows into the Animas River at Silverton, and eventually crosses into New Mexico and Utah
The EPA’s wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015 — photo via Grace Hood Colorado Public Radio
The Environmental Protection Agency’s new water-treatment facility at Gold King Mine is expected to begin treating mine runoff on Friday via Steve Lewis/The Durango Herald
The confluence of Cement Creek, at right, and the Animas River, left, as seen September 2015 in Silverton, Colo. This is where the plume of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine entered the Animas River. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)
Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter
Acid mind drainage Cement Creek watershed
Cement Creek August 8, 2015 — Bruce Finley via Twitter
Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)
Broomfield City Council gave the green light for the wastewater treatment facility to seek proposals for expansion to their laboratory and administrative office space.
Councilmembers unanimously passed six consent agenda items Tuesday night without discussion…
The Environmental Services Division in Public Works provides laboratory services to the Water and Wastewater Treatment facilities. The laboratories share staff, space and equipment between the two facilities to comply with all water and wastewater regulations in an efficient and cost effective manner.
“The laboratory at the water treatment facility, constructed in 1997, is adequately seized for the staff and work load,” a memo reads. “The laboratory at the wastewater treatment facility, constructed in 1987, has not been expanded to keep up with the additional staff and work lead increase over the last 28 years.”
The lab was built with work space for two staff member, and does not support the five employees and equipment added since 1987.
Burns & McDonnell, a Denver-based engineering firm, was retained in late 2014 to complete a study for the facility, east of Lowell Boulevard on West 124th Avenue, and determined the existing space was about half of the size that is typical for the staffing and testing performed at the facility.
Construction costs are estimated between $3.7 million to $3.8 million, according to a city memo. That amount is included in the 2016 budget.