Community comes together to fix Red Cliff’s water woes
What might be called a little Yankee ingenuity and technical expertise is helping Red Cliff out of its water woes – and best of all, it’s free.The state health department has repeatedly ordered Red Cliff’s 300 residents to boil drinking water because the town’s 2-year-old water plant has operated intermittently at best and water lines have often been filled with untreated water. The cash-strapped town’s budget is tiny, about $500,000, so any major repair would be a budget buster.The problem has been a huge leak in the town’s 190,000-gallon steel water tank, which is next to the water plant on Turkey Creek. It had a huge leak in it that caused the water plant to work overtime trying to keep up with demand and the leak.By one estimate, one third of the capacity of the plant was literally going down the drain.But expert help and some ingenuity may make those water woes a thing of the past. It came from the Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District that manages much of the eastern half of Eagle County’s water and sanitation services; and from Bob Bates, a Denver engineer who specializes in water tanks.But how do you drain and weld a community’s water tank without creating a health and fire hazards? That’s where the ingenuity comes in.”To keep the town’s water service going while the water was drained, we ran a line from the water plant through a fire pumper truck into the town’s mains,” said Dennis Gelvin of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. The truck, from the Eagle River Fire Protection District, kept the water flowing and the firefighters were watching for any wayward welding sparks. The innovation kept the water plant operating and town residents weren’t inconvenienced by not having drinkable water running from their faucets. In the mean time, a welder fixed the leaking tank.Late Thursday, the source of the leak appeared to be a drainage pipe that had separated from the floor of the water tank, Gelvin said. It was expected the tank will be back in operation Thursday night. The Water and Sanitation District crew also flushed out the tank and cleaned it so the welder could make the repairs. Gelvin said he estimated the donated service and repairs would have cost “tens of thousands” of dollars. The state health department has ordered Red Cliff to fix its water and sewer plant or face fines. Last week the Water and Sanitation District cleaned out the settling tanks at the town’s sewer plant. That, too, was done without cost, Gelvin said. Thursday, Dave Myers – of Brown and Caldwell Engineers in Denver – made a preliminary inspection of the sewer plant to determine what can be done to make it work better. That too, was without charge and a report on what can be done is expected sometime later this month, said Bob Trueblood, special and capital projects manager for the Water and Sanitation District.Trueblood estimated the sludge in the holding tanks had not been emptied in three or more years, which kept the plant from operating as efficiently as it could. Trueblood said he estimates the sludge tanks should be emptied every six months.That plant uses chlorine to treat sewage. Before the wastewater is released to the Eagle River, it is de-chlorinated and solids are allowed to settle.