New wastewater treatment plant, refined system close to completion
On a recent day in the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District parking lot, the history of wastewater treatment in the village was palpable.
To the right stood one of the first buildings built in Snowmass in the late 1960s, an old wastewater treatment plant that now houses administrative staff, said Kit Hamby, Snowmass Water and Sanitation District manager.
To the far left stood a current wastewater treatment plant, built in 1978, improved in 1996 and operating ever since.
And in the center of the two sat the brand new, 44,000-square foot plant that’s been more than three years in the making and nearing its completion.
By Sept. 16, the new plant — which started being constructed in 2017 and has now been up and treating local wastewater for more than a month — will be fully working in tandem with the newly renovated current plant, creating a refined wastewater treatment system that goes beyond more stringent state and federal requirements and discharges cleaner water into Brush Creek.
“To see the water flow from that plant through this and actually go out to the stream, to actually see the clarity of the water that goes out to the stream is very gratifying,” Hamby said.
As Hamby stood in the sanitation district parking lot looking at the three buildings, he explained that the primary reason for creating this newly refined wastewater treatment system was the need to align with Regulation 85, the state Nutrients Management Control Regulation passed in 2012 to help reduce phosphorus and inorganic nitrogen pollution to Colorado waterways.
According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Safety documents, Regulation 85 established new limits for how much phosphorus and inorganic nitrogen could be in the clean water discharged from state wastewater treatment plants, new and existing, and put new nutrient monitoring requirements in place.
All 44 wastewater treatment districts in Colorado must meet these new requirements by specified dates, with Snowmass being one of the first on deadline due to its size and location in a priority watershed, as previously reported.
Snowmass Water and Sanitation District voters approved a mill-levy tax to help construct the new plant in May 2016 and the district also was able to sell $23.3 million in bonds for the project, Hamby said.
The total cost for the whole renovated system — including construction of the new plant and renovation of the current plant — is around $27.6 million, Hamby said. The district anticipates it will be about 1% over budget when the project is completed this fall, but will be able to cover the extra cost with system development fee revenue from village construction projects, he explained.
And once it is fully up and running, the improved wastewater system will be able to filter out phosphorus to 1 milligram per liter and nitrogen down to 11.4 milligrams per liter, Hamby said. This is even stricter than the state’s limit of 1.75 milligrams of total phosphorus per liter at the 95th percentile (or 95% level of all samples taken in a given year) and 14 milligrams per liter of total inorganic nitrogen for new treatment plants.
From the current plant to the new plant, Hamby, Jason Fineran, wastewater treatment supervisor, and John Bell, the district’s capital improvements supervisor, foreman and operator, walked through how the general wastewater treatment process will flow once both plants are up and running together.
Utilizing aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, the wastewater moves between plants through various aeration tanks, clarifiers, filters, UV disinfecting light and eventually out to Brush Creek. The predominately biological nutrient removal process will take around three days from start to finish and have a multitude of automated data collection and monitoring in place along the way to ensure it all runs smoothly.
“The idea of the process is we go from no air, to very, very little air, to a lot of air … that helps grow different types of bacteria. Different steps get you different nutrient removal,” Fineran explained.
Fineran and Hamby said the type of treatment plant and refined process isn’t unprecedented, but that the district was able to carry out the $3.5 million worth of improvements to the current plant in-house, or without any outside contractors to do the work — a feat the three men are proud of and a part of the district’s cost-effective philosophy.
“I can’t think of another district in the state that would even attempt to do that much work in-house,” Bell said.
“It saves the district money and makes our dollar go a little further, definitely helping us get more done,” Hamby added.
Overall, Hamby, Bell and Fineran said it’s a relief to see the project they’ve been working on for the past several years finally come to fruition. Although officials plan to have the new system in place by the Sept. 16 water and sanitation district board meeting, where there will be a public ribbon cutting ceremony, Fineran said there will be several visits from outside consultants that have designed plants and systems like the new one in Snowmass to help ensure it’s on track and meeting the required criteria.
“It takes awhile to get the biology balanced and working the way we want it to,” Fineran said. “It will definitely be a challenge for the operations, it’s a much more complex system than we’ve ever had.”
But while the new wastewater operations are more complex, Hamby said Snowmass locals shouldn’t notice any difference — all they need to know is the treated water going back into the Snowmass ecosystem is cleaner than before.
“Residents shouldn’t notice anything different,” Hamby said. “They should just have the knowledge that we’re producing a better product here to continue to keep our streams safe.”
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