Filtration issues prompt Silt to consider 277% water bill hike to pay for new plant

Casey Carbone-Marron, el operador principal de aguas residuales de Silt, trabaja dentro de la planta de tratamiento de agua de limo el miércoles.| Ray K. Erku/Post Independent
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

If Silt doesn’t replace its overworked water treatment plant sooner than later, there’s a chance the town could go without running water, a municipal official estimates.

“I guess we’ll have to start trucking in water from our neighbors,” Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner said on Monday.

Silt’s water situation has now become so dire, officials are saying it needs to build a $28 million new facility; otherwise its current plant is simply not going to hold up over time. To support impending costs, the town proposes to raise its water bill for customers by 277-288%.

Silt residents right now pay about $45 per month for water. The town looks to increase that bill to about $125-$130 per month, Silt Town Manager Jeff Layman said.

Casey Carbone-Marron, Silt’s lead wastewater operator, points Wednesday to the city’s strainer, which intercepts things like crawdads and fish before water is filtered. A city worker painted the strainer in the form of a minion, a popular cartoon character.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

The city is responding to the situation by hosting a public open house at the Silt Town Center from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday. The town is also hosting an additional open house highlighting concerns over its plant during the same times and location but on Jan. 9.

“The public comment and opinion on all public policy is important,” Layman said. “Obviously, it’s highly technical information and the (town) board has been studying this for a year and a half.”

Silt officials over time have kept close watch on how well its treatment plant has filtered the water it pulls directly from the Colorado River. In Garfield County, Silt is the first municipal user downriver that pulls water from the Colorado River to supply its residents.

Since debris levels measured in what’s called turbidity continue to affect the Colorado River, it’s causing more strain on Silt’s filtration process. When the town spent $48,000 on new filters because the old ones were faltering in December 2021, town officials were already mapping out ways they might garner funds for major improvements and the possibility of a new plant.

“The current setup at the plant that is running doesn’t have enough pretreatment to handle the Colorado River and how dirty it can get sometimes,” Fonner said.

Silt’s current water treatment plant, a $4 million project, first went online in 2005. Back then it served a little more than 2,000 residents. Silt now has 3,300 residents and its water treatment plant is currently unable to reach its capacity of producing one million gallons of water per day.

Layman said this isn’t the first time issues over its treatment plant were addressed by Silt Town Council. An engineering study conducted around 2011 suggested the town build a new pretreatment facility.

“The town chose not to do it,” Layman said. “Now we’re in a situation where the Colorado River has become more turbid and more solids are floating around in it.”

Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner checks a large container of chlorine at the Silt Water Treatment Plant on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Turbidity is specifically measured by what’s called Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU), with normal levels in the Colorado River falling at 200 NTUs or below, according to data gathered by the United States Geological Survey agency water monitoring stations along the middle watershed.

Layman said Silt’s current plant was designed to to handle water that has about 1 NTU. Depending on the day, the plant is taking anywhere from 50-1,400 NTUs.

One major reason why the Colorado River continues to dirty falls on 2020’s Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon. Sediment from the fire’s ensuing burn scar continues to wash into the river during precipitous events, Middle Colorado Watershed Council Executive Director Paula Stepp said.

“When we have runoff or rain events, we’re still pulling sediment off those burn scars into the river,” she said. “That’s increasing the sediment and turbidity all the way down the Colorado River to the (Utah) border.”

In addition to high turbidity, higher levels of manganese and iron periodically turn Silt’s water supply brown when it comes out of the faucet. Sometimes the city flushes out hydrants to mitigate the water color.

Colorado River water issues aren’t exclusive to Silt. The city of Rifle acquired a new $30 million regional water treatment plant that went online in 2017.

And, the Parachute Water District, which also oversees De Beque’s water treatment plant, is incurring higher costs over filtration, as well.

Parachute Public Works Director Mark King said on Monday that De Beque is preparing to replace its plant, saying, “Hopefully, this happens in the next year.”

Parachute itself actually has two water treatment plants, and plenty of its water is actually pulled from a natural spring from a nearby mountain, King said.

“But the turbidity in the river is not helping any of us at all,” he said. “The last two years after the (Grizzly Creek Fire) have been pretty brutal.

“The turbidity has been super high, even in times when it’s normally low.”

A pipe that carries filtered water at the Silt Water Treatment Plant on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Though Parachute right now is not looking to replace any of its plants, King suggested Parachute purchase a separate water source, just so the town can pull from it and avoid issues. His concerns over turbidity found in the Colorado River right now has him wishing Parachute had purchased a nearby private lake — costing anywhere from $2 million-$3 million — to pull water from.

Parachute ORC James Taylor said on Wednesday that it’s not just rain events affecting Colorado River water — it’s the work the Colorado Department of Transportation is doing to repair Glenwood Canyon.

“They really messed up the river doing all that work,” he said. “It’s not just rain events or snow. It’s stayed that way for the last two summers now.”

One positive to keep in mind for Silt’s situation is that it’s hoping to garner up to a $5 million forgivable loan offered through the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress in 2021 to support building a new pretreatment plant.

Fonner said Silt plans to apply for the funds in January and won’t hear back on whether it’s granted the funding until March. If the funds do go through and the stars align perfectly, the plan is to break ground as early as 2023 and have the new pretreatment facility operational by 2025.

“I’ve said to the board a couple times, there’s no good time for this to happen. But it’s the best time it could because we’re in position to get a pretty good loan forgiveness package,” Layman said. “Had it not passed, we’d be on the hook for the whole thing.”

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