Fraser Valley wastewater treatment plant getting $6M filter to remove metals

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News Workers from Conroy Excavating begin to dig a new channel for the Fraser River near Tabernash.
Byron Hetzler | Sky-Hi Daily News

FRASER — Amid changes to state regulations regarding nutrients in water, Fraser, Winter Park and Grand County Water and Sanitation District No. 1 are working together to add a new filter process at the Upper Fraser Valley Wastewater Treatment Plant, a $6 million addition.

Currently, the three entities are negotiating the addition of a large sand filter, which would constitute a tertiary treatment process that would remove phosphorus from the water, as well as copper and zinc, which enter the water from pipes and taps.

“It’s approaching what we do for drinking water treatment,” said Jeff Durbin, town manager for Fraser, which is in charge of the addition since they manage the wastewater treatment facility on behalf of all three entities that use it.

According to Joe Fuqua, supervisor of the wastewater treatment plant, the point of removing the metals is to protect the fish in the Fraser River, which are affected by metals getting stuck to their gills.

“Our water up here is exponentially clean,” Fuqua said. “The reason the metals are a problem is because the water is so clean. The dirt in the water picks up metals and holds them in the water, so with our water being so clean there’s no dirt.”

The filter would cost around $6 million, to be split between Fraser, Winter Park and Grand County, as well as the Northern Colorado Water District, which also uses the Fraser Valley treatment plant.

There will be some changes to rates for customers of Winter Park, Fraser and Grand County District #1, but Durbin said the exact amount is not known yet since negotiations are ongoing.

“I think we are well-positioned financially for this project,” Durbin said. “Definitely with the negotiations with Northern, which is a great thing for our ratepayers.”

Once the negotiations finish, Durbin expects the filter to be built next year.

The new state regulations also lowered the acceptable level of nitrogen in water, so the treatment plant will be working with Northern Water to build a nitrogen removal facility after the nutrient filter is put in place, but at their own expense.

“We already meet (the nitrogen) requirements, so (Northern) is trying to remove more than what we remove, so they would pay for all of that,” Durbin said. “The great thing for our ratepayers is that before long we’ll have to remove more nitrogen and we’ll already have the system in place and our ratepayers won’t have to deal with it.”

The state regulates nutrients in wastewater because high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen can cause environmental and human health issues, like algae blooms and impaired drinking water supplies, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Fuqua said all water needs a certain amount of nutrients, but the goal of filtering nutrients from the water is to get the right levels of each nutrient.

“All living organisms, me, you, even from the smallest thing to the biggest thing, we all need a certain amount of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus,” he said. “In our rivers, if that gets out of balance then algae comes on. Some algae is good, too much algae is bad.”

However, Fuqua said more information is needed to figure out what nutrient levels are best for different types of water.

“We haven’t really got it narrowed down to which part and how much of that part is an issue,” he said.

In the meantime, the additional filters will make the wastewater clean enough to drink, though Fuqua doesn’t suggest that.

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