Gypsum sewage backup impacts nearby homeowners, Eagle River |

Gypsum sewage backup impacts nearby homeowners, Eagle River

Blockage comprised of ‘things that should not be flushed down someone’s toilet’

A sewage backup in Gypsum on Sunday, July 10, was caused by blockage of "things that should not be flushed down someone’s toilet."

Just after 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, residents notified the town of Gypsum that there appeared to be a backup in two manholes in the Eagle River Estates neighborhood. Ultimately, the blockage would impact around eight residences and the nearby Eagle River.

Once town public works crews arrived onsite at the manholes — located on River View Road and Porphyry Road in the town — they became aware that a blockage was causing impacts to the sewage system.  

According to Taylor Slaugh, Gypsum’s marketing and communications manager, crews were able to locate and remove the blockage by around 12:40 p.m. The blockage, she said, was “a slew of things that should not be flushed down someone’s toilet,” including grease, rags, mini liquor bottles, feminine products and more.

The manhole covers remained on during the incident, preventing a “full discharge,” Slaugh said. However, the blockage created a backup of the sewage system with the wastewater going out any opening it could. Ultimately, this led to a runoff of wastewater into some residents’ basements, onto the street, into nearby storm drains and, therefore, the Eagle River.

Slaugh said the exact amount of wastewater that was discharged into the river is unknown at this point and “still under investigation.” 

While river users were notified via EC Alerts yesterday afternoon that there may be sewage in that particular area of the river, Slaugh said the river was still safe for users.

The town has reported the incident to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, complying with state requirements to report any sewage that reaches an impervious surface.

The blockage was located nearly two feet from the town’s nearby wastewater lift station, which is a pumping station that takes sewage into the wastewater treatment plant. Slaugh said that the blockage was keeping the pumps at the station from functioning properly, specifically disabling the ability for sewage to enter the plant. Following Sunday’s cleanup, crews remained on-site to make sure everything was running correctly, she added.

The town of Gypsum routinely cleans its sewage system to prevent such blockages. Slaugh said the town’s sewage system is divided into three zones, which are jetted — a method of cleaning out sewer lines by using high-pressure water streams — on a rotating basis. Every three years, the town rotates through each of those zones.

According to Slaugh, the zone in which the most recent blockage occurred had just been jetted this past fall.

“So that was all build-up of things that shouldn’t be flushed since then at least,” Slaugh said. 

Once the blockage was removed, crews “were able to start going into cleanup mode,” Slaugh said.

This included putting down lime “on basically all of the soil areas that were adjacent to that storm drain to try and soak it up and clean it up, so the least amount made it to the river.”

The lime was also added to any soil areas impacted by the discharge to “absorb anything that may be left,” Slaugh said.

Additionally, a number of “mitigation crews” were on-site with pumps to clean up what was on the surface and pump “some of the sewage back into the dump site,” Slaugh said.

All in all, Slaugh said public works crews were on site until around 4 p.m. to clean up the area.

“It’s cleaned up as much as it can at this point. I think at this point they’re just trying to figure out how much was discharged,” she said.

When asked if there were any anticipated long-term impacts of the incident, Slaugh said that “there shouldn’t be, because there wasn’t a full discharge, because those lids remained on those manholes.”

However, for nearby homeowners, the impacts feel greater. The town, Slaugh said, has been notified of seven or eight homes that had sewage backup in their basements.

“Unfortunately, those are homes that are at the lowest point along the system,” she said. “We’re working with those families now to figure out the full extent of the damage.”

One of those homeowners is Rick Cole, who lives along Porphyry Road. In the around 30 years that Cole has lived there, he said this is the fifth time this has happened.

He said that yesterday there was “for hours on end, raw sewage running down the side of my house,” later adding that during the nearly two hours the crews searched for the blockage “basically all we could do was just sit there and watch.”

Now, the next day, Cole said: “I cannot go in my backyard, I cannot cut my grass, I can’t go to my garden, I cannot go down to the river.”

The reason, Cole said, was the unknown danger that he felt still existed “out there right now.”

Due to the runoff in the river, Cole said that he and his neighbors did file a report with the Environmental Protection Agency.

We don’t know what kind of action is going to be taking place, but we just filed it anyway,” he said.

In the aftermath, Cole reported that he and his neighbors were getting conflicting reports from the town surrounding the cleanup itself and where the financial responsibility lies.

“We had Service Master and several other companies out here yesterday,” Cole said. “They’re still doing cleanup, and yet no one has gotten any straight answers from the town on who’s going to pay for what.”

However, according to Slaugh, the onus is on the homeowners.

“We’re certainly sensitive to everybody’s situations and trying to do what we can,” Slaugh said. “Their homeowners’ insurance policies, sometimes depending on what they’re signed up for, may help cover some of those things. It really is a case-by-case basis depending on what the homeowner has.

“We’re certainly here to support in any way that we can, we always are; that’s what Gypsum does. We do as much as we can, but there is a certain point where the responsibility does fall on the homeowner, unfortunately,” Slaugh added.

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