State dips into well at Holland Hills to push sewer plan
The actual source of nitrate pollution in wells at Holland Hills is a matter of conjecture, but the contamination may become a political football in the larger issue of development in the midvalley.
Monroe Summers, who heads the Holland Hills Executive Water Committee, which serves about 75 households, said the Colorado Health Department may have a hidden agenda in its publicizing of nitrate contamination in the subdivision’s drinking water last month.
A test of one of the five wells that serve Holland Hills residents showed an unusually high level of nitrates last February. That well is known as the “windmill well” because it is near the windmill-style building at one entrance to the residential area, located upvalley from Basalt.
This information first became public when it was released by a state health official at a Dec. 7 meeting between the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and the Basalt Sanitation District in Basalt. The subject of that meeting was extending sewer service to the Lazy Glen Trailer Park.
But by the time of the meeting, improvements had been made on the well and new test results showing a marked improvement in the nitrate level were available, prompting Summers to suggest state officials may have an ulterior motive for publicizing only the negative information – using it as further justification for extending sewer service.
After the February test, Summers said, the Holland Hills Homeowners Association completed major improvements to the well. A contractor drilled a new well and the existing wellhouse was revamped.
But, perhaps more importantly, during the summer the association had a 4-by-4-foot concrete pad poured at the wellhead and graded the contour of the ground to slope away from the well for at least 20 feet in every direction, allowing surface water to drain away rather than seeping into the well. Summers said these improvements cost the homeowners more than $25,000. Similar improvements will be made on the subdivision’s other wells, he said.
A test done in October showed much improvement over the February test results. Summers said he believes the lower reading after the grade improvements at the wellhead indicates the nitrates came from surface sources, espe-cially manure and fertilizers, and not septic systems.
“We’re part of an old ranch, and we’re downstream from two more working ranches and a commercial nursery,” he said. “I’m convinced that some of the nitrates are introduced that way.”
The state health department’s Dwain Watson said he was not aware of the improved results when he announced the relatively high February levels in December.
The minutes of the Dec. 7 meeting read: “The Holland Hills raw water supply seems to be impacted from the existing septic tank/leach field systems. This is a big concern to Dwain Watson … Based on possible impacts to raw water supply, it is desirable for Holland Hills to connect into a pipeline for wastewater service by BSD (Basalt Sanitation District).”
Summers said the state was being unfair to Holland Hills by relating only the bad test results at the meeting, and not the newer data.
“That added up to a cheap shot by the state,” Summers said. “I have no reason not to believe Mr. Watson when he says he didn’t get the information. But it put us in a bad light when he released only the bad information.”
Summers said he believes that the state wants to put in a large-diameter sewer line from where the line now ends at the Roaring Fork Club golf development near Holland Hills to Lazy Glen. But Summers has said that would be a “magnet for growth” in that section of the valley. Getting Holland Hills homeowners to connect would help pay for the line.
The February test of water from the windmill well was performed by Zancanella and Associates of Glenwood Springs, a water consulting firm that regularly tests water from the subdivision’s wells. That test showed the water contained nitrate compounds at a level of 6.84 milligrams per liter, while on Oct. 19, the well tested at 1.37 milligrams of nitrates per liter.
Watson, environmental protection specialist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division, said the state standard, or acceptable level, for nitrates in drinking water, is 10 milligrams per liter. He said ground water in the western part of Colorado typically doesn’t contain any nitrates.
But evidence that contamination came from septic systems is circumstantial at best.
“We speculated it might be from sewage,” Watson said. He said leach fields, or septic systems, on the slope above the well were thought to be the source. Nitrogen compounds can flow with ground water through the soil to the well. All dwellings in Holland Hills are served by individual septic systems.
Nitrate contamination in ground water can come from one of three sources: sewage, either from individual septic systems or from a treatment plant; manufactured fertilizers from an agricultural source; or manure, either used as fertilizer or from livestock areas.
Summers said he and his fellow Holland Hills residents believe Lazy Glen should be served by the Basalt Sanitation District. He said a small-diameter line, perhaps with a pump to move the effluent uphill in certain sections, would be the ideal approach.
“They want to put in a sewer pipe, and if they have to publish bad information and sit on good information, they may do that,” Summers said.
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