A portion of the Eagle River doesn’t meet state standards for temperature in the stream
Local water customers looking at higher bills
This story has been reflected to note that the town of Gypsum is increasing its wastewater rates, not rates for all service.
State regulators have ruled another section of an Eagle County stream is out of compliance with standards. Mitigating the damage will be expensive.
The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission on May 8 ruled that the Eagle River from a point just west of Wolcott to the confluence with the Colorado River will be listed on the state’s list of “impaired” waterways. The reason is temperatures were over the state standard for two of the past four years.
That ruling is going to affect water providers from Edwards to Gypsum. In a May 10 presentation to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District director Siri Roman talked about the increasing cost of keeping up with both customer demand and new regulatory requirements.
In an emailed statement following that presentation, Roman wrote “We’re disappointed to see (the river) listed. The temperature standard has built-in flexibility that wasn’t applied.”
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Roman added that the state commission holds that the standard doesn’t allow for variability due to drought, lower streamflows and warmer air temperatures.
The result, Roman wrote is “our customers paying 10s of millions of dollars to cool (wastewater) effluent for a few weeks (per) year.”
The district, along with the town of Vail, have already put millions into the “Restore the Gore” effort on that stream.
The costs will also hit water customers in Eagle and Gypsum.
“It’s a fascinating challenge,” Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann said In a phone interview. Rietmann noted that regulators haven’t demonstrated a negative impact on aquatic life.
That seems to be reinforced by the “significant prevalence of world-class fly fishing” along the river, Rietmann noted
Rietmann added that state regulators have noted that wastewater treatment plants aren’t a significant factor in the stream’s warming.
“If you have shallower waters in a warming climate, there’s nothing we can do about that,” he said.
Still, Rietmann added, regulators have spoken, although some state officials have acknowledged that the cost of meeting the standards may be prohibitively expensive. Rietmann said he’s heard claims the state will help mitigate some of those costs.
Those costs just keep rising, too. Reitmann said a 2018 wastewater treatment master plan estimated a new treatment plant would cost about $35 million.
“The treatment plant we’re investing in now will be $65 million.” Some of that cost is meeting regulatory requirements. Construction inflation is also responsible for a big part of the increase, Rietmann added.
Residents will pay more for their water and sewer service as a result.
Starting this year, Gypsum residents will see three years of 40% increases in their wastewater rates. A further 25% increase is expected in 2026.
‘No end in sight’
In the upper valley, Roman told the commissioners that district rates have increased in the past three years, with no end in sight.
Between replacing aging infrastructure, serving a growing population and meeting regulatory requirements, it’s going to be hard to control costs in the coming years, Roman said.
“It’s really difficult to meet all these challenges at once,” Roman said. “How do we do all these things without being crippled with debt?”
Talking about costs, Roman noted that it’s easier for the state’s largest providers to spread out their costs. Denver Water, for instance, has 1.5 million customers. Eagle River Water & Sanitation has only a few tens of thousands.
Rietmann said he isn’t sure how smaller providers will be able to keep up with the new regulations.
“We’re looking for ways to (build partnerships) with regulators, but we’re only a community of 9,000 people,” Rietmann said. Those smaller systems may be forced to regionalize to share those costs, he added.
“The scale is the only thing that will help you contend with these regulations,” he noted.