CARBONDALE, Colorado - The town of Carbondale is moving forward with an estimated $1.7 million worth of wastewater treatment plant upgrades next year, after receiving assurances from engineers that the town won't need to start worrying about replacing the facility for at least another five to 10 years.
State health standards require that municipalities begin planning for larger treatment facilities whenever an aging plant reaches 80 percent of its capacity.
At the current rate of growth, the plant, which is situated along the Roaring Fork River just downstream from the Highway 133 bridge, is not expected to reach full capacity until 2028, according to Carbondale Town Manager Tom Baker.
In 2008, the town was awarded a $500,000 Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant to help pay for a range of plant improvements that have been needed for some time.
However, the town has been trying to determine whether it would be more efficient to upgrade the existing sewer plant, or put the money toward a brand new plant, at an estimated cost of $12 million or more.
Initial lab tests had indicated the plant may already be at 85 percent capacity, but the tests were inconsistent, according to an engineers report presented at the Dec. 22 Carbondale Board of Trustees meeting.
A problem was detected that was believed to have resulted in the higher readings, and subsequent tests indicate the plant is actually at about 55 percent capacity, the report indicated.
As a result, "The present plant will be capable of treating present and future growth flows for the next five to 10 years as a result of these interim improvements," the report stated.
Also reinforcing the town's decision to proceed with the plant upgrades rather than a new plant at this point was an engineer's determination that the quality of the water coming out of the plant and going into the river is better than most treatment plants in the area, Baker said.
Another factor working in the town's favor to extend the life of the existing plant is a decrease in demand on the facility, and lower costs for some of the work related to the economy, he said.
"With the economy like it's been, I think it has served to increase the expected lifetime of the treatment plant," Baker said. "We are making these improvements to ensure quality operations for the near term."
The DOLA grant, which has been extended multiple times, does require that the work be done by June 30, 2010, he said.
Approximately $123,000 worth of work was done on the plant this year, mostly to address an odor problem that became noticeable around the north end of town and in nearby unincorporated Satank last winter. So far this winter, the odor has not returned.
The $1.7 million worth of upgrades will be able to be paid for out of the town's existing wastewater fund, which had a $3.9 million fund balance going into 2009.
Town trustees have also been considering an increase in tap fees for new development as a way to pay for an update to Carbondale's 14-year-old water and wastewater master plan, which would help determine when exactly a new treatment plant would be needed.
A number of new development proposals currently in the town's review process, including the Overlook Neighborhood, Village at Crystal River, Thompson Park and a proposed affordable teacher housing project on the old Carbondale elementary/middle school campus, combined, would add several hundred new residences to the town over the next two decades.