Despite historic rainfall, Glenwood Springs water infrastructure performed ‘beautifully’

Glenwood Springs mayor, staff express confidence in $3.2 million water system investment in wake of 2020’s Grizzly Creek Fire

Standing above a series of new, stainless steel settling plates on Thursday, Glenwood Springs Water Treatment Plant Chief Operator Mike Hedrick explains how recent upgrades helped the city avoid a full treatment plant closure during recent storms.
Ike Fredregill / Post Independent

Recent upgrades to Glenwood Springs’ water infrastructure likely prevented a July 31 and Aug. 1 deluge from overcoming the city’s water filtration system, Glenwood Springs Public Works director said.

The record-breaking rainfall, which dumped up to 2 inches of precipitation in an hour near Coffee Pot Road and caused severe mudslides, pushed a significant amount of sediment-laden water toward the city’s water intakes at Grizzly Creek/No Name Creek and Roaring Fork River within a matter of hours.

“The water we had simply wasn’t usable at that point,” Public Works Director Matt Langhorst said, explaining the water’s turbidity levels during the storms shot up to 4,000 Nephelometric Turbidity Units, a measurement of water cloudiness.

The city’s intakes typically experience a turbidity level of about 4-7 NTU in a system that treats about 4.5 million to 4.7 million gallons of water daily during the summer. It might have taken days to drain the storm-induced sediment out of the city’s settling tanks without the city’s $3.2 million infrastructure upgrade, Langhorst said.

“We likely would have had to put residents on an ‘essential-water-use-only’ restriction for an underdetermined number of days until we could clear out the system again,” he said.

Mayor Jonathan Godes said the storm proved the investment was worth every penny.

“I know there were some people who weren’t happy we restricted outdoor watering at the time,” Godes said. “But if the worst water impacts our residents have to experience during a freak storm like that is not watering their lawn for a couple days, then I consider that winning.”

City staff did everything in their power to prepare the city for a catastrophic event related to heavy rainfall on the Grizzly Creek burn scar, he said, and the most recent rains, dubbed a “500-year event” by some meteorologists, proved the city’s efforts were not wasted.

“We brought in a lot of water experts before the fire was even put out,” Godes said. “We took it deadly serious, and some thought we were going a bit overboard. But we found out overreacting, in this case, was a good thing.”

Below is a look at the city’s upgrades at work during the storms:

• Bank armoring at the No Name and Grizzly Creek intakes stabilized the earth around the intakes during the heavy rain and mud events.

• The automated gate at No Name Tunnel quickly gauged elevated levels of sediment in the intake and closed off the pipeline to the water treatment plant, preventing water lines from becoming inundated with mud.

• The treatment plant’s stainless steel settling plates, which replaced plastic settling plates, increased the settling area square-footage by 28%, allowing the new sediment pumps to push sediment out of the water system at a much faster rate, according to Glenwood Springs spokesperson Bryana Starbuck and Water Treatment Plant Chief Operator Mike Hedrick.

“The upgrades worked beautifully,” Hedrick said.

At one point during the storms, water was entering the system at about 2,000 NTU and exiting the system for distribution to the public at about 0.019 NTU, he explained.

Starbuck added the city takes precise care to ensure that no matter how much debris falls into the city’s water sources, the water exiting the treatment plant is clean and safe.

“These upgrades saved our butts,” Langhorst said. “The entire process — design, build and implement — was done in a staggering seven to eight months. A lot of people put a lot of hard work into making this happen.”

More upgrades in the works

The next major upgrade slated for the city’s water supply is a $3.2 million supplementary pipeline running from the Roaring Fork River intake to the water treatment plant on Red Mountain as well as a new water mixing vault at the plant. The pipeline will allow treatment plant staff to simultaneously pull water from the Grizzly Creek/No Name Creek intake, which is gravity fed, and the Roaring Fork River intake, which requires a pump station.

Currently, only one pipeline feeds the treatment plant, and if it breaks, the entire system is shut down until it can be repaired, Glenwood Springs Public Works Director Matt Langhorst said. The redundancy of a second pipeline could ensure residents have fewer water service interruptions as well as provide staff the ability to service either pipeline, preventing some future disruptions.

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at

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