When skiing stopped, so did pooping. Wastewater workers in Aspen and Vail faced a pile of problems.
On March 15, the day after ski resorts in Colorado were ordered to close, water treatment workers in Vail and Aspen scrambled to deal with a drastic drop in wastewater flowing into plants.
“In Vail, our staff had to basically turn off two-thirds of the plant in only four days,” said Diane Johnson with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.
Turning off a water treatment plant is no pull-a-plug-and-walk-away affair. They are basically ecosystems, where armies of microscopic organisms clean wastewater coming into the plant — influent — so it can be discharged into the local watershed as effluent. So staff in the water treatment plants in Aspen and Vail had to adjust biological processes that involve billions of microorganisms — bacteria, protozoa, metazoa and others — that do all the dirty work removing the organic stuff in wastewater.
It’s a complicated process that can be a challenge to shift, especially unexpectedly. But the biologists and water engineers at two of the busiest resort-area treatment plants in Colorado did just that. The teams at the Vail and Aspen plants are accustomed to sudden shifts. It happens every year in April, when the lifts stop turning for the season and the resort communities transition into the off-season.
But when the shift is unplanned, crews have to hustle. At the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District’s treatment plant, biologists and engineers saw a 40% reduction of inflow on March 15 as hotels emptied and second-homeowners decamped.
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