South Granby water woes trickle down to customers
March 4, 2014
GRANBY—A change in state water regulations means residents in south Granby could be flooded with hefty rate increases.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment notified the Granby/Silver Creek Water and Wastewater Authority last spring that it's reclassifying one of its three wells as "under the direct influence of surface water." While local water managers say it hasn't changed the water's quality, the new classification has left the water authority scrambling for ways to bring its water up to snuff and meet the new requirements.
After consulting with an engineering firm, the authority decided the most feasible alternative is constructing a new water treatment plant for around $8 million, a cost that will be passed on to water consumers. The plant will not only address the well's new filtration requirements, but authority officials said it should address inevitable problems down the road.
"We're trying to address a lot of issues that have been swept under the rug for the last 30 years," said the Granby/Silver Creek water superintendent Doug Bellatty. "We want this to last and be everything it should be for the future, because it's the viability of the community we're talking about here."
Still, the costly plant has been a tough pill for water customers to swallow. To help finance the engineering design of the new plant, board members voted last December to increase service charges by 25 percent, taking the quarterly rate for a singe family home from $51 to $63.75. That rate hike took effect on Jan. 1, but to finance actual construction of the proposed new plant, they'll need to raise rates even more—meaning residents in south Granby could see their current rates double.
Still, the authority argues it has little choice.
To supply water, the Granby/Silver Creek Water and Wastewater Authority uses three wells, called Well 2, Well 3 and Well 4. Well 4 has high levels of iron and manganese, so the authority only uses the well as a backup. That leaves just two wells to supply water to the authority's 1,700 taps, including Granby Ranch's snowmaking operation.
All the authority's wells are located at similar distances between the Fraser River and Ten Mile Creek. By mandate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state must re-evaluate its water quality standards every five years. In its latest round of re-evaluations, the state upped its standards for determining whether wells were influenced by nearby surface water bodies. Routine testing on Granby/Silver Creek's Wells 3 and 4 in 2012 found Well 3 didn't meet new standards. The state notified the water authority last spring that it had 60 days to address the issue. The authority decided to shut down Well 3 last July, which had formerly been its primary water source. It now relies on Well 2 and occasionally Well 4, but according to town and water officials, this is only a temporary fix.
"We had developed a very large cone of influence for underground water (in Well 3) that was bringing water in from Fraser itself," said Granby town manager Wally Baird. "The way our system is set up, ultimately any of those wells we use will have the same result."
Wells 2, 3 and 4 are all sandwiched between the Fraser River and Ten Mile Creek, roughly the same distance between the two water bodies. Water officials figure any future testing will ultimately find all its wells under the influence of surface water, requiring more intensive filtration.
The authority board explored the idea of seeking a new water supply farther away from the river, but found it would involve several years and thousands of dollars seeking rights for new wells in water court. Even with all that expense, the outcome would still be uncertain. Although they have yet to make a final decision, the authority board and Granby town staff determined a new treatment plant was the most effective and economical solution.
The proposed new plant will address other issues the water authority must currently juggle, like treatment of the high iron and manganese in Well 4. It would bring the latest technology in water filtration. It would address future needs of a growing community. It would eliminate the need for outdated and dangerous high-pressure water treatment. It would also eliminate the need to inject chlorine down the wells as part of treatment, a process that's banned in the state of Colorado for environmental reasons. The state granted a waiver on injection treatment for Granby/Silver Creek Water and Wastewater Authority decades ago, but it wouldn't be allowed in any new water treatment systems.
The authority held public hearings on its water issues and proposed treatment facility in late December and late February. Two concerns regularly emerged—whether the proposed system was adequate enough to meet future water needs or whether it was a bloated waste of water consumers' dollars.
"I would say all their concerns are valid," Bellatty said. "Every concern I've heard will be addressed, but I can't say everyone will ultimately be happy."
Bellatty said the authority will continue working to communicate with the public and solicit feedback on its proposed solutions. They're targeting spring 2015 to begin construction on a new plant, although the authority board has yet to make a final decision on how to best address the water concerns.
"We'll get through this," Bellatty said. "It's imperative that we provide best quality drinking water that community can afford, and that's really what it comes down to, what we can afford."
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.