Edwards wastewater plant: Taking water from cloudy to clear, with little odor | VailDaily.com

Edwards wastewater plant: Taking water from cloudy to clear, with little odor

EDWARDS — The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District's expanded wastewater treatment plant in Edwards is a number of things, including an example for future facilities. But its main job is turning wastewater into water clean enough to return to the Eagle River.

All of this was on display Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an open house hosted by the district.

The plant expansion was functionally complete in 2016. The open house, though, was scheduled to show off the plant's distinctive landscaping.

Pedro Campos, of Zehren Associates, was the landscape architect on the project. Looking south from the plant's buildings toward the street — Lake Creek Village Drive — and then a bit farther to the river, Campos said the landscaping is intended to preserve water quality into the river.

One of the problems with building near rivers is that storm runoff from structures, parking lots and roads tends to wash pollutants into the streams. The landscaping at the plant is intended to soak up that runoff before that water flows into the river.

Those landscaping ideas may be brought to the district's Vail campus, Campos said, and could be used at the wastewater treatment plant in Avon. That facility is in line for an expansion, expected to cost $28 million.

Recommended Stories For You

Years of planning

That work may take a while. Siri Roman, the district's wastewater division manager, said work on the Avon plant expansion could take four or five years to complete and is now in its very earliest stages.

It took about five years to complete the Edwards plant expansion. That work — like just about everything a water and sanitation district does with its operating facilities — requires a remarkable level of planning. It takes not just planning, but precise execution to expand an operating plant, since those facilities have to run every minute of every hour of every day.

Parker Newbanks has worked at the Edwards wastewater plant for about 20 years, and Roman is quick to credit Newbanks with the success of the project. Newbanks said some of the operations at the plant could be switched from old processes to new as construction and testing was complete. Other systems, though, required more careful attention.

Newbanks said in some cases, one of two holding tanks would be taken out of service so work could continue alongside operations.

Dave Frazier ran the construction side of the project for MWH Constructors, the general contractor.

While careful planning was required, Frazier said perhaps the project's biggest challenge was simply finding workers.

"We had to bring in people from out of state," he said.

Once the crews were assembled, they had to contend with tight schedules, weather and other factors, including the site's rocky ground. Roman said scores of concrete piers were sunk into the ground to stabilize the buildings.

Besides staying in constant operation, the plant also had to meet state environmental regulations. Jeff Hlad, of the Colorado Department of Public Health, was at Tuesday's open house. Hlad said the plant staff kept up the water quality standards of what is put back into the Eagle River.

"The staff here is doing a phenomenal job," Hlad said.

From cloudy to clear

The Edwards plant takes raw wastewater and puts clean water into the river. What's left over is known as biosolids, an odorless, dirt-like material. Most of the material is trucked to the Eagle County Landfill. But the biosolids also make a good soil amendment. Campos said a bunch of the material was used in the plant-unfriendly soil around the plant. Locals can also get biosolids for their own garden and landscaping projects.

Perhaps the best news from the plant expansion is how it smells — or, more precisely, how it doesn't smell.

At the Tuesday open house, people would occasionally get a whiff of something district officials described as a "spoiled milk" smell. But the smell was faint, and it wasn't the smell of raw sewage.

The lack of smell is on purpose. During the design phase, the district did studies including analyzing wind patterns around the plant in addition to working on technology that would keep smells to a minimum.

That was good news to Pat McDonnell, who lives nearby.

McDonnell is a retired science teacher and came to the open house out of her own interest.

"We talked about water in class and how to keep it clean," McDonnell said. The plant used to smell from time to time, she said, often when streamflows were low. That's changed, she added.

In fact, Roman said, there hasn't been a formal smell complaint about the Edwards plant since February 2015.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

Four facts

What: Eagle River Water & Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment plant in Edwards.

Expansion cost: $25 million.

Funding source: A combination of increased rates and increased property taxes in the district.

Odor complaints since early 2015: None.

Source: Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.