Hot Sulphur Springs water woes simmer into week seven | SkyHiNews.com

Hot Sulphur Springs water woes simmer into week seven

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News

While the town remains under a water-boil order, the Depot, a restaurant in Hot Sulphur Springs, is going through six cases of four-gallon plastic water jugs every three days, says cook Summer Shuster.

Until one is forced to stay clear of the faucet, “You don’t think how much water you put into things while you’re cooking,” Shuster said.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment plans to issue an enforcement order to the town this week “for them to provide us a schedule when they can safely get off of the boil order and stay off,” said Andy Poirot, District Engineer with the Colorado Health Department.

Hot Sulphur Springs residents have been under the order going on seven weeks, a long time in the state’s view.

Comparatively, the highly publicized March salmonella-contamination to the water supply in Alamosa prevented residents from using their water for three weeks.

But Hot Sulphur Springs’ “circumstances are a lot different,” Poirot said.

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With a limited budget, the small town is looking to update its antiquated plant after high levels of turbidity or cloudiness had been found in drinking water. The town is now focused on improving its water distribution system, including rebuilding and re-automating the filtration plant and building a new clear well with new pumps. Work in that direction is already under way, although progress seems slow to the average resident concerned for water safety.

Stage Coach Bed and Breakfast owners Irena and Joy Ha Threats, who run Joy’s Garden Restaurant in downtown Hot Sulphur, say they hope patrons to their establishment trust they are doing everything they can to make their meals and stay safe.

Joy fears publicity about the town’s water problem may have adverse affects on local businesses.

“It’s the third time a water problem has happened here,” he said, a Hot Sulphur business owner only recently. “This is a problem.”

Yet some residents remain pillars of patience in the laid-back town. Although nurse practitioner Diane Marsch, found gardening at her Hot Sulphur home Tuesday, hopes for a conclusion to the crisis soon, she said the boil order is “a little inconvenient, but not that bad.

“I know they’re trying their best,” she said of town officials. “It’s just sort of how it goes.”

Engineering and soil testing are being done for the new clear well, which is a holding tank before water is distributed, and filtration equipment has been ordered, according to Mayor Hershal Deputy.

The town is anticipating a $200,000 relief check in June from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs in the form of a matching grant to be used toward repairs to the water infrastructure; in the meantime, “we’re not sitting around waiting,” Deputy said.

The town, far from being known for its sizable general fund, is exploring other financial avenues, such as the sale of bonds and more available grant funds. And in the vein that everything “water and sewer” must be analyzed during and after the town’s crisis, a re-evaluation of the water-rate structure may also be coming down the pipes, say town officials.

Moreover, the Department of Local Affairs funds are not a sure thing.

“The Department of Local Affairs could say no, and at that point we’ll just have to regroup,” the mayor said. The matching grant in town funds can be tallied from work already done related to the water crisis. So, “we’re keeping good records,” he said.

Another town cost-saving measure recently was to eliminate the position of the full-time public works employee as the town focuses on “cutting back” to make room for hiring a new water plant operator and getting safe water back to the homes of residents. The position was held by Vince Troccoli for less than a year.

Still on the town’s payroll are a part-time public works employee and Town Clerk Sandy White.

In addition, the town hired town management consultant Chuck Reid of R.S. Wells, Denver, formerly the town manager of Fraser before taking a position at Federal Heights.

Reid, who the town contracted for $20,000 for six months, is expected to help the town hire a water plant operator and find funds to improve the town water system.

“He also is helping the board develop as a board, to get better at working together and to get the skills to serve better,” Deputy said.

The board, incidentally, is down one board member. Darin Foran resigned May 16, the day the town’s water was regenerated after being shut off briefly due to an unexpected water-main break. The break has not yet been recorded with the state, according to Poirot.

Foran, town funeral director as well as circulation director of the Sky-Hi Daily News, said among other reasons for his resignation he disagreed with the mayor’s decision to fire Troccoli as the town hires a six-month town manager.

“I don’t feel the town’s money is being managed properly,” Foran said.

Reid’s contracted salary may be reimbursed by as much as half if DOLA funds come through this summer, according to the mayor.

To fill the vacant board seat, town policy stipulates that it collect letters of interest during a two-week period advertised in the newspaper. Candidates are then interviewed by the board, resulting in one individual being appointed.

Although the town is “retrenching” and “redirecting” energies to fix the water problem, the mayor foresees no budgeted programs targeted for cuts. As far as public works projects in the midst of the water crisis, “We’re addressing the worst of the problems,” Deputy said. “If it’s not terribly high priority, it’s going to be below water and sewer.”

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.

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