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Carbondale sewage spills into Roaring Fork River

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE ” The Carbondale sewage treatment plant dumped partially treated sewage into the Roaring Fork River on Feb. 22, alarming neighbors of the plant for the second time this year.

But state health officials said on Friday that the spill, which they termed a “plant upset,” was not a cause for alarm.

A resident of the Satank neighborhood, which sits on the high ground overlooking the river and the plant, reported seeing what was described in an e-mail as “a large discharge from the sewer plant.”

According to the e-mailed account, which does not name the man who saw the spill, it appeared to be “brown water, was a very large amount, smelled very bad and was discoloring a portion of the Roaring Fork River.”

The e-mailed account of the sighting was sent to The Aspen Times by Satank resident Elliott Fey, who in late January was complaining, along with others, about strong odors emanating from the plant. Fey did not see the spill, he said Friday.

The spill was reported to the Colorado State Department of Health and Environment, but not until midday on Feb. 23, said district engineer Mark Kadnuck from his office in Grand Junction.

By that time, Kadnuck said, “there wasn’t much we could do.” He said he has had no reports of fouled water or other problems from communities downvalley from the plant, including Silt and Rifle, which he said both take drinking water from the river.

According to Mark O’Meara, utility director for the Town of Carbondale, the cause of the spill was a failed pump, which his crew fixed within about an hour after the spill was recorded.

Kadnuck and O’Meara both said the failed pump was connected to the “clarifier,” which Kadnuck said is “one of the final stages in the treatment process. So it wasn’t raw sewage” that went into the river.

O’Meara, who was not at the plant when the spill was reported, said he was unsure how much of the sludge actually made it into the river.

And by the time his office got the report, Kadnuck added, “Who knows where it was in the Colorado River?”

Kadnuck said departmental procedure calls for notification of any communities or properties located downvalley from a spill that take water directly from the river, but that in this case it was deemed unnecessary.

Kadnuck said his office also is aware of the complaints about what some say is an unacceptable level of odors coming from the plant periodically.

He said there is little his department can do about that, either, because “sewage treatment plants do stink sometimes” and as far as he knows, “they (the Carbondale plant crew) are working to keep on top of it.”

Kadnuck said his department typically inspects plants the size of Carbondale’s once every three years, and that the last inspection on July 30, 2008, did not show any abnormalities in the plant’s operations.

O’Meara noted that the town is working on plans to upgrade the plant and build in “some redundancy” so that when systems fail there is a backup to prevent spills.

Town Manager Tom Baker has said the town talked about building a new plant a couple of years ago, and that estimates at the time put the cost at around $12 million.

But a study showed the plant was only slightly above 52 percent of capacity, serving a population of 6,400 people and the “commensurate commercial” customers, Baker said.

Because state standards indicate no need to begin planning for a new plant until an old one reaches 80 percent of capacity, Baker continued, “to build a new plant didn’t make sense” at that point. The town has projected it has at least five years before growth catches up with the plant.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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