No timing announced for decision
By Mark Reaman
While about 20 people attended the state’s public hearing on the draft discharge permit for the Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District on Monday afternoon, only about eight actually spoke at the hearing.
The Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment held the physical hearing in Crested Butte at the request of the nearby Saddle Ridge Ranch Estate Water Company and the Moon Ridge Homeowners Association, which are both located below the Mt. Crested Butte wastewater treatment plant.
The CDPHE Water Quality Control Division administration personnel running the meeting explained the hearing would take input but people could continue to comment for another 48 hours. It was made clear that no state feedback or decision would come at the meeting.
The permit writer, Christine Wehner, explained to the crowd what the permit was meant to do and how water quality standards were viewed for Woods Creek, Washington Gulch and the Slate River. “We will listen to all of the comments and respond to them,” she explained. “But we have no time estimate on when a decision will be made on the permit.”
As for the public, comment was restricted to three minutes and people were held to that limit. Skyland resident Arlene Edwards said the Slate River by Skyland was not a healthy mountain stream. “Without changes, the problems will worsen,” she said. “I think we all know that we can expect to see more visitors coming here in both the summer and the winter. More people create more wastewater. We need tighter water quality control standards.”
George Gibson, also of Skyland, said he wanted to see improving water quality in the Slate. He made the point that the state “simply needed better data” in its determinations concerning the water quality of that section of river.
Consistent public critic of the Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation discharge situation, Joe Knox of Moon Ridge, said he has observed the water quality degradation in Washington Gulch over the last two decades. “The sewage inflow into the plant is only monitored at point of intake; effluent outflow is not monitored. It is not known what the outflow is at any given time,” he said. “The district’s past permits have adjusted the mixing zone water available from 12.5 CFS [cubic feet per second] to the current proposed permit to 0 CFS until it can be determined what the real number is.”
Knox said he supported the state’s draft permit that tightened up water quality standards for discharge into Woods Creek, which he claims sometimes does not even have measurable flow.
That was disputed at the hearing by several people associated with the district. Caroline Byus of Leonard Rice Engineers said the allegation of a zero flow at Woods Creek was not accurate. “The district submitted stream flows for Woods Creek and Washington Gulch based on widely used modeling methodology. We do not agree with the zero flows and that needs to be corrected,” she stated.
District manager Mike Fabbre said he cares deeply about the water quality and local environment and said the district meets its discharge permit limits and works diligently to produce the cleanest discharge water possible. “I understand that some members of the public have concerns that the treatment plant limits are not protective of the water quality on Woods Creek and Washington Gulch,” he said. “This is simply not true. Discharge permit effluent limitations are based off of water quality standards put in place to protect these downstream users.
“Our discharge permit has to be based off of sound scientific data and evidence, otherwise we could be spending our constituent’s money on treatment processes that are unnecessary and do not improve water quality in these streams,” he continued. “The District has made significant investments in water quality and stream flow monitoring over the last three years and that data shows that Woods Creek and Washington Gulch flow year-round and that the water quality is actually very good.”
District wastewater manager Bryan Burks agreed. “The district deeply cares about water quality,” he said. “We are concerned with the perception the district is a source of E. coli, when the data shows otherwise.”
Local water quality consultant Ashley Bembenek of Alpine Environmental Consultants said she has worked with the district since June 2016 and collected water samples every month in the time period. She indicated there was water flowing in both Woods Creek and Washington Gulch every time a sample was taken. As for E. coli, she said there were several “red flag” results in the 2017 and 2018 samples collected by the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition. But she emphasized the E. coli data indicate that nonpoint sources (camping, dogs, cattle, wildlife, storm water runoff, etc.) are the source of E. coli. Bembenek said samples collected over the past five years from the town and district wastewater treatment municipal facilities show that both facilities effectively remove E. coli from the water that they discharge to local streams.
Grant Bremer of the Skyland Metro and East River Sanitation Districts said the Skyland water wells were 200 feet deep and “not under the influence of surface water.” He said the wells at Buckhorn were only 80 feet deep and were under direct influence of surface water. He said relatively inexpensive filtration systems were installed on those wells to deal with surface water impacts.
The state’s public hearing lasted less than an hour. As promised, there was no indication of how the public comment would influence the ultimate discharge permit decision or when such a decision would be made.