Back-up systems needed
In order to meet minimal state standards and prevent a possible disastrous situation, the Town of Crested Butte will spend over $3 million in the next two years for upgrades to the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
The Town Council gave preliminary approval at a recent budget meeting on Friday, November 2 for the Public Works department to spend $200,000 next year for engineering work to begin the massive project that is expected to be completed in 2010.
The town hired HDR Engineering last year to evaluate the operation and condition of the town’s wastewater treatment facility, which is responsible for the treatment and distribution of potable water and the collection and treatment of wastewater. Although the report stated the plant was in “good condition” and had been “well maintained,” it also found there were three major areas of concern, according to public works director Eddy Balch.
“The biggest problem facing the plant is a lack of redundancy in a couple of major components in the plant,” Balch says. “We have no back-up.”
The evaluation found that the plant was not in compliance with two Colorado Department of Public Health policies regarding aeration basins and clarifiers. An aerated basin is a holding and/or treatment pond provided with artificial aeration to promote the biological oxidation of wastewater to remove pollutants. A clarifier helps to remove any final contaminates in the water by using ultra-violet light so it can then be discharged into the Slate River.
State statute requires wastewater treatment plants to have at least two or more aeration tanks, based on the plant’s capacity. The existing facility has one aeration tank.
“If we have a problem with it or we need to work on it, we don’t have any redundancy,” Balch explains.
Redundancy is also of concern for the clarifier. The state requires facilities to have multiple units with a minimum side water depth of 12 to 16 feet. The town’s plant has only one clarifier with a side water depth of only 10 feet.
“We need a second (clarifier); the current one is 30 years old and if something happens, we are in trouble,” Balch says.
Balch says the new elements will help to create more redundant systems for the plant, allowing it to continue operations even if one system is taken down for regular maintenance or in case of an emergency.
Crested Butte town manager Susan Parker agrees and says the upgrades cannot be ignored, not only because the state requires it, but also because of the potential environmental impacts if the plant were to fail. Parker notes that a single-point failure is of concern because the plant currently lacks back-up systems to bypass any blockage or breakdown.
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“A failure would be devastating for our wetlands,” Parker says.
The evaluation also recommended relocating the grinder from the discharge side of the bio-solids pump to the inlet side in order to eliminate plugging of the pump—a $10,000 “design flaw,” according to Balch.
The town’s wastewater treatment facilities were last upgraded in 1997, and have been upgraded three times since built in 1971. The plant is currently operating at 65 percent of its capacity and processes 300,000 to 800,000 gallons daily.
The Town has not determined how it will pay for the project. Parker says the town is considering various options, including community block grants, loans from the state and bonding to cover the estimated cost of $3,125,000.
Although the sewer and water fund balance is over $2 million, Crested Butte finance director Lois Rozman says it’s not an option for funding the project. “When you have $5 million in projects coming up, a fund balance of $2 million isn’t a lot,” Rozman says.
Balch says rate users could potentially feel the impacts of the upgrades as well. The town is planning to increase user charges by $1, from $43 to $44, and raising the tap fees $1,000, from $13,500 to $14,500 next year. The last time tap fees were increased was in 2006.
The increased fees are needed for the $350,000 in capital expenditures planned for 2008, which includes the $200,000 needed for engineering work on the plant, Balch says.
Revenues for wastewater management are usually generated through two charges to customers: connection or tap fees and use charges. Tap fees are charged once to new customers as they connect to the sanitary sewer collection system. Use charges are periodic charges for ongoing use of the system, and are designed to recover operations and maintenance expenses.
Steve Glazer, water director for the High Country Citizens’ Alliance, says despite the cost, the Town should incorporate upgrades that would help prevent system overloads so the plant does not discharge partial or non-treated water. If the plant failed, Glazer says the Town would face problems with E. coli; the excess of ammonia, which could cause nutrient loading into the Slate River; and oxygen levels in the streams, which would encourage algae growth.
Balch says the Town could invest in a portable unit rather than completing the upgrades, but it would take months to install, and cost approximately $500,000.
“It would be a temporary fix,” Balch says.
Balch says in addition to the wastewater treatment upgrades, the town also needs to build a second water storage tank, as the current water storage tank does not have adequate storage capacity. The currently tank’s capacity is 500,000 gallons; however, for the past two summers the Town’s daily water consumption surpassed 800,000 gallons, resulting in the storage tank levels being drawn down by over 50 percent, according to Balch.
Balch has advised the Town to build a second storage tank with at least a one million-gallon capacity. The cost of the second water tank is estimated at $1.5 million.
Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz said he was concerned that adding a second tank would not address the real issue at hand.
“We’re fixing the problem on the wrong end—we need to reduce the gallons of water we are using,” Bernholtz said in the budget meeting.
Balch agreed with Bernholtz and said he is working with the Office of Resource Efficiency (ORE) to possibly develop a program to encourage conservation and reduce consumption through rebates.
Council member Margot Levy said rate increases could also affect consumption, and the town should consider raising fees for use above 7,000 gallons per month, also known as the base rate.
“Getting water to you when you need it is what you’re paying for with the base rate,” Rozman said.
Council members also suggested looking into creating a “gray water” system. Town Council member Ron Chlipala said the Town should look at reusing water and catching it before it reaches the plant.
“Yes, we are looking into non-potable water for various purposes,” Balch said.
Council member Bill Coburn said the potential annexation might push the discussion of the water tank to the front of the council’s agenda, and maybe the annexation could help pay for the new tank.
No final decisions were made regarding the additional storage tank.
The wastewater facility, located off Butte Avenue, has been an on-again, off-again topic of conversation for many years because of problems of stench from the facility. In 2003, the Town hired a private company to ship solid waste to Leadville for processing—a solution still being practiced today to alleviate some of the smell. Balch says the Town is currently evaluating alternatives for shipping the waste.
The town council will review its 2008 budget during it first reading at a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, November 19.