Outlying county towns cope with sewage problems

Wastewater treatment plants are falling into disrepair across Mesa County.

De Beque, Powderhorn, Mack and Collbran all face major issues.

De Beque is trying to get ahead of the curve by building a new wastewater treatment plant and upgrading a facility in anticipation of more energy workers and population, once the economy rebounds.

At Powderhorn, the ground shifts every spring, and every spring the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issues a “boil water” order.

In Mack, the lagoon system has leaked wastewater into the groundwater for years.

And in Collbran, the whole system is simply falling apart from lack of maintenance.

“It has definitely been a busy time in the county,” said Mark Kadnuck, district engineer for the water quality control division of the Mesa County Health Department.

Kadnuck could not provide estimates for how much it will cost to fix each of the facilities. But he said the county and Collbran are applying for federal dollars through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In Collbran, deferred maintenance has gotten the better of the waterworks.

“The water plant had not been maintained as it should have been,” Kadnuck said.

The wastewater treatment lagoon is OK, he said, but the underground web of pipes, both drinking water and wastewater, is in dire need of replacement.

“When you start getting sewer-line breaks, you are impacting the environment,” he said.

Ute Water took over control of the drinking-water system for a time and made some improvements before the town hired and trained a new waterworks director.

The former town manager of Collbran, Bruce Smith, is now the town manager of De Beque, which has its own issues with sewage.

“We are about 55 percent of capacity (at the town’s wastewater treatment plant), but we are planning a regional wastewater treatment plant,” Smith said. “In light of the proposals we have in front of us right now, our time schedule has moved up.”

Those proposals include energy-company structures, retail and housing subdivisions. De Beque is the gateway to the energy-rich Piceance Basin.

“We can foresee some sewer problems, but right this second that is not the situation in De Beque,” he said.

The town has a $350,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which will pay for rehabilitation of a wastewater plant this summer. De Beque has another $50,000 grant for the design work required for a larger, regional wastewater treatment plant. The plant is needed to serve future residents and businesses in the Blue Stone Valley, which is south of De Beque on the opposite side of Interstate 70.

“We are under the gun to get out ahead of these wastewater plants,” Smith said.

At Powderhorn, the mountain is having its way with a section of the area’s water and sewer system. A subdivision that is used primarily for vacation homes on the east end of the system has continual water-quality concerns, Kadnuck said.

“Just about every spring when runoff starts and things start getting wet, they start getting a lot of movement in the soil,” he said. And since the pipes are in the soil, the pipes break.

Every spring for the last few years, including this year, the Health Department issued a boil-water alert for residents. Once the soils settle, repairs are made.

“They are kind of scratching their heads to figure out a long-term solution to this. It is a tough one,” Kadnuck said. “We don’t even have an idea what a good solution is.”

In the west end of the Grand Valley, Mack has had problems with its wastewater treatment lagoon leaking an estimated 3 million gallons of wastewater each year into the groundwater.

Mesa County took control of the lagoons four years ago. The county is applying for $2 million in federal stimulus funds to offset the cost of building a mechanical batch plant.

The Health Department is ranking several requests for federal assistance for sewage problems and is preparing to send its prioritized list to Washington, Kadnuck said.

“We have got, unfortunately, way more requests for stimulus money than we’ve got stimulus money,” Kadnuck said.


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