Aspen official: Sewage fix violates Clean Water Act
A luxury condo building responsible for contaminating Aspen’s stormwater system and the wetlands at Rio Grande Park with sewage this spring still has not been able to pinpoint the source of the pollution, the city’s stormwater manager said Thursday.
However, the temporary solution the Residences at The Little Nell is using to alleviate the problem violates federal law, an official with the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District said Thursday.
“On a short-term or emergency basis, it’s OK,” said Bruce Matherly, the sanitation district manager. “But we can’t do that indefinitely. It’s a violation of the Clean Water Act.”
The city of Aspen issued a cease and desist order to the Residences at The Little Nell last week because officials believed the building was the source of fecal coliform detected in the stormwater system earlier this month. Officials also posted signs at the Rio Grande Park wetlands warning the public that the ponds could contain contamination.
The Residences also conducted tests, and results came back April 5 and prompted engineers at the building to redirect discharge from the “stormwater collection pit” sump pump to the main sewage line, the city and a Residences spokesperson said last week.
Under normal circumstances, that sump pump discharges groundwater collected from around the Residences building’s foundation into the stormwater system when it reaches a certain level, April Long, the city’s stormwater manager, said last week.
The Clean Water Act prohibits groundwater discharge from entering the sanitary sewage system because a storm surge could overwhelm it and cause sewage to flow into streets, Matherly said.
And while the minimal and intermittent current flow from the Residences stormwater collection pit into Aspen’s sewer system is not nearly enough to cause sewage to overflow into city streets, it is not a permanent fix, he said.
City officials don’t know how long the pollution was being pumped into the stormwater system.
A spokesperson for the Residences at The Little Nell did not respond to questions about the situation Thursday.
Meanwhile, the city continues to test the Rio Grande Park wetlands and the Jenny Adair Wetlands near the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies property for E. coli and fecal coliform, Long said. Since last week, those tests have shown levels of the contaminants below state standards, she said.
However, water samples taken from the Roaring Fork River above the Hunter Creek confluence but below the Jenny Adair site have shown wildly fluctuating levels of E. coli in recent days, Long said.
For example, on April 13 and 14, E. coli levels were so low as to be unreadable, she said. But on Monday, a test came back showing very high levels of E. coli, while the next day they were readable but significantly lower than the day before, Long said.
It was not clear Thursday exactly what that meant, Long said. The high reading could have been a false positive or the sample jar could have been contaminated or it might have detected animal waste, she said. However, the wetlands tests showed that E. coli detected Monday was not coming from city drains, she said.
Long reported the test results Thursday to officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and was waiting to hear their recommendations.
Phone messages left Thursday for state public health and environment officials were not returned.
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