Wastewater overflow shows need for town sewer plant upgrade

Still hoping for federal stimulus funds.

Six weeks ago, on April 20, about 400,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater effluent overflowed into the Slate River from the Crested Butte wastewater treatment plant. Spring conditions of an early snowmelt, combined with a rising water table and a wastewater treatment clarifier that can handle only about 600,000 gallons of liquid a day, made for the unpleasant situation.



The overflow continued on that Monday for about 12 hours. The state and the Gunnison County Environmental Office were notified. The Slate River was running high and fast at that time of year so the dilution factor was good. By the time tests of the river were taken the next day, there was little or no sign of the spill and the town did not receive a notice of violation from the state.
“There was a hydraulic overload at the clarifier, which is designed to handle just 600,000 gallons of liquid a day. It’s definitely time for a new clarifier,” said Crested Butte public works director Rodney Due. “The overflow situation can happen in the spring but this one was worse than normal.”
A new clarifier is exactly what the town is hoping to get with federal stimulus funds. The town is still on track to receive some of the federal money, and Due feels confident Crested Butte will qualify.
The town is hoping those funds will pay for a new clarifier at the wastewater plant, along with refurbishing 23,000 feet of sewer pipe that contain asbestos and upgrading 20 manholes. The town will “slip-line” the pipes in town. That will avoid the need for digging trenches and make for shorter downtimes in the system. The $2.3 million request is in the state and federal pipeline and Due has met all the grant deadlines. The monies are being funneled through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
There is $30 million up for grabs statewide and there are $23 million in prioritized category 1 requests. Crested Butte’s application falls into the next category.
“I honestly believe that there will be one or two towns in category 1 that didn’t make the cut,” Due said. “We’ve hit all our deadlines and one of the biggest hurdles was the project plan, which the state has approved after we made a few changes.”
Due said another problem is infiltration of the system. There are times of the year when infiltration into the Crested Butte system is more than twice what is allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The current town clarifier is 35 years old and doesn’t meet state design criteria. Due had hoped to get a new clarifier this year but decided that getting the $1.9 million cost covered by the feds made the wait worthwhile.
The cost of the entire wastewater upgrade is estimated at $2.88 million. The town will pick up the difference in what is not awarded by the grant request.
Crested Butte had originally applied for federal stimulus funds toward upgrading the water distribution system in town as well. But that request was designated a low-priority category 5 project which meant there was no realistic hope of getting the money. “We felt it best to put all of our energy into the wastewater application, which we had a better chance of getting stimulus funding for,” Due said.
In the meantime, the town is hoping the current clarifier won’t be stressed to the extent it was last April.

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