Fishing in the Big Thompson River or splashing in the water at the Lake Estes Marina are just two of the many blessings of clean, safe water. Clean water is essential to life. The Upper Thompson Sanitation District (UTSD) is a valued community asset, owned by its customers, and performs an invaluable environmental service by treating polluted water from homes, businesses, and industries, and returning safe, clean water back to the environment. Throughout the Estes Valley the District manages a vast network of collection pipes, manholes, and pump stations that work together quietly and without interruption, delivering up to 2 million gallons of raw wastewater daily to the District’s treatment facility. The treatment facility removes many contaminates like organic material, fats, oils, greases, ammonia, nitrogen, phosphorus, heavy metals, and harmful bacteria. Born out of the expanded EPA clean water act of 1972, the District’s treatment facility was constructed in 1973 and considered, at the time, to be state of the art technology. Treatment processes included, ozone disinfection, and additional processes utilizing pressure filtration, and biological polishing of the effluent before discharge to the Big Thompson River.
The treatment plant and collection system have survived three major floods and have met the challenges of sustaining environmental stewardship for almost fifty years. Today the District faces the challenge of an aging treatment facility approaching a fifty-year service life and unable to reduce nutrients (total nitrogen, total phosphorus), metals, and temperature to anticipated future water quality standard effluent levels. Although staff have maintained District resources in excellent condition, the wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) and lift stations lack operational flexibility, do not meet 2020 building codes (building, electrical, and fire), standards and regulations, and are approaching the end of their useful life, with deteriorating structures and equipment and hard to find replacement parts. District Manager, Chris Bieker notes, “As wastewater flow and loadings continue to reach rated capacity, it will become increasingly difficult to remove structures from service for maintenance. ” The current WWTF resides on approximately three acres of Bureau of Reclamation land. Existing site constraints were a major factor in the District’s decision to look elsewhere for solutions. “We just don’t have the space to add modern treatment technology, ” Bieker said. “The cost to maintain as well as retrofit existing structures for new purposes, require significant modification and investment,” Bieker added.
Cost of Service Study Completed, Rate Increase adopted
To meet the challenges of tomorrow, the District initiated in 2019 and completed in the spring of 2020, a cost of service study using utility financing consulting firm, Raftelis Consultants, Inc. The goals of the rate study were to develop a financial plan for the District to ensure financial sufficiency, meet operation and maintenance costs, ensure adequate funding for capital replacement and refurbishment needs, and improve the overall financial health of the District. “We needed a plan for future financial challenges, including debt service coverage requirements and capital needs, specifically the construction of a new treatment plant,” Bieker said. The District’s system development fees were also updated for new development. Utilizing the cost of service study findings, at the May 19, 2020 District board meeting, the Board of Directors voted unanimously to adopt an 11% rate adjustment for the years 2021, 2022, and 2023.
In 2018, the District purchased 9 acres, located just east of Mall Road as the site of the new wastewater treatment facility. Preliminary site work and facility design is in progress with construction start date tentatively scheduled for spring of 2022. “Acquiring the property for the new wastewater treatment facility was a pivotal event and the culmination of years of planning and hard work,” Bieker noted. When completed, the new treatment facility will meet upcoming strict water quality standards, incorporate much needed operational flexibility, provide state of the art function, design, growth, and sustainability. Most importantly, the District can continue its mission of serving its customers and protecting the environment. “You need clean water to support wildlife, and preserve natural habitat,” Bieker said. “Clean water is critical to the Estes Valley and is one component that makes this a great place to live, work, and play. With five million people a year visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Valley, our economy relies on a healthy natural environment. As the environmental pressure on the valley grows, we must neutralize that impact. We are really excited,” Bieker said. “The UTSD stands ready to serve our customers and this community, now and into the future.”