County continues search for septic system disposal solution

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County should keep working with officials from the city of Rifle to try and figure out a reliable and less expensive way for county residents with septic systems to dispose of septic waste, according to Pitkin County commissioners.

However, they said Tuesday they don’t want their staff to put a lot more time into that regional solution until they know if Garfield County commissioners can get behind the proposal.

If Garfield County isn’t interested in helping build a septic pretreatment facility to supplement Rifle’s current wastewater plant, Pitkin County will need to look at other options, Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said. And even if Garfield County commissioners are interested, Pitkin County commissioners said they’d need a lot more information about costs and benefits before making any decision.

Still, commissioners thought the regional idea had promise.

“I like the regional solution,” Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley said. “We are going to have to look at that for the landfill, too.”

County officials estimate that 28 percent of homes in Pitkin County have septic systems, while the rest are connected to sanitary sewage systems. That amounts to about 4,000 homes in the county with septic systems, according to a memo from Cathy Hall, the county’s solid waste manager, and other county officials.

Options for treating septic waste in the Roaring Fork Valley “are extremely limited and costly,” the memo states. Pumping out a septic tank costs about $700, Hall said Tuesday.

That cost and the lack of area treatment facilities means many of those septic systems don’t get serviced often enough, which can lead to system failure and the release of sewage into the water supply, according to the memo.

So back in 2013, the county began exploring building a septic wastewater-treatment facility at the county’s landfill. In order to find out if that will work, wastewater-treatment-equipment manufacturers recommend a pilot study to determine whether and how it will work, the memo states. That would cost $1 million, Hall said.

Instead of that option, Hall said she and other staff members believe a regional partnership with Rifle is preferable. Rifle currently accepts septic waste, but the strength of that waste is damaging the plant, according to the memo.

Rifle has the room to build the added septic-treatment infrastructure and is open to doing so, Hall said. Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director, said Pitkin County could help build such a facility and then come up with an agreement with Rifle on disposal.

Jim Miller, Rifle utility director, told commissioners he would be willing to approach Garfield County commissioners about the proposal.