Red Cliff tackles waste woes
July 10, 2010
RED CLIFF, Colorado – Red Cliff has taken charge of its human waste problem – and the region’s streams could be safer because of it.
The town’s new wastewater treatment plant should be finished in mid-September, Mayor Ramon Montoya said.
“If we had not acted on this, literally the federal government had the abilty to come in and close down the town,” he said. “That’s what I was threatened with when I first became the mayor.”
The current plant has been violating environmental regulations for 20 years, Montoya said. It had been dumping inadequately treated human waste into the confluence of Homestake Creek and the Eagle River.
“We are correcting an environmental problem, making the water safer for both the fish and recreational use,” said Donna Davis, operations manager for the water quality control division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Grant money will cover the $5.1 million project. R.N. Civil Construction based in Centennial has been working on the treatment plant since September.
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Long considered a scourge to the environment, the current wastewater treatment plant dates back to the early 1970s.
Pipes that carry waste from Red Cliff’s 145 homes to the treatment plant are riddled with holes, allowing groundwater to dilute the waste. That throws off the biological processes used to clean the waste, in which involves bugs essentially eat it, Davis said. Adding to the problem, many Red Cliff residents leave their faucets dripping during the winter to prevent pipes from freezing, she said.
“There is more flow going into the treatment plant than is optimal, which compromises the level of treatment,” she said.
During storms and snow melt, the treatment plant also has been known to overflow, Davis said. Designed to hold about 127,000 gallons of wastewater per day, Red Cliff’s plant has peaked at up to 213,000 gallons per day, she said.
As a result of those problems, the plant has exceeded the levels of biochemical oxygen demand spelled out in a permit, Davis said. Translation: microbes from the plant use oxygen in the stream, making less oxygen available for fish, she said.
Also troubling, the plant had been dumping unsafe levels of coliform into the stream, Davis said. That bacteria could cause gastrointestinal disease for fishermen, swimmers, boaters or rafters if they swallow it.
If the town had failed to address those problems, environmental officials could have shut down the plant – which, in turn, would have closed the town, Montoya said.
It never came to that.
Federal stimulus dollars from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funded a majority of the project. Western Pipeline Utility Construction, based in Palisade, started work this week on repairing the pipes that transport the waste. The plant should be fully online by Sept. 15, Montoya said.
“It’s a great thing not only for the town but for the region,” he said. “The old plant has been on the violator list for the E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency) for years. It’s a great thing to get the water standards back up to where they need to be.”
The system will replace the current plant off Water Street, under the bridge.
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.