From snowmelt to Glenwood Springs’ taps: cool, clear water
Glenwood Springs residents probably seldom think about where their water comes from, but Jerry Wade has every day for almost three decades.
Wade has been working for the city of Glenwood Springs since he was 18 and managing its water system since 1980. In the process, he’s overseen a lot of change in the way water is handled, both physically and politically. It’s a legacy that will last well past his retirement even if he works for 30 years longer.
“Glenwood is in such a great place with their water quality, treatment and storage,” he said. “Even fully built out in 2050, we’re still going to be in good shape.”
Wade would be the last person to take all the credit for himself. He cites the support of the city, a dedicated crew and, most of all, a pristine source.
Glenwood gets most of its water — up to 12 cubic feet per second — from No Name Creek, with an additional diversion of up to 8 cfs out of neighboring Grizzly Creek, for a total of about 13 million gallons a day. The actual demand is more like 3 million gallons on an average day, with the occasional peak over 4 million.
Coming almost directly from snowmelt on the Flat Tops and passing through largely untrammeled public land, it’s about as pure as you could ask for.
“We’re at the top of the hill,” Wade said. “You could take a glass of water from No Name and a glass from the tap and if I didn’t tell you which was which, you wouldn’t know.”
The city also owns additional rights out of Ruedi Reservoir and has the infrastructure in place to pull it right out of the Roaring Fork River if the main supply was impeded or contaminated. It’s part of a forward-thinking, “backups to backups” approach that shows in the City of Glenwood Springs Source Water Protection Plan.
Approved in late 2014 following a process of more than two years, the plan looks at an array of potential impacts, from grazing and recreation to wildfire and plane crashes to deliberate sabotage, and considers how to prevent or deal with them. The full text is available online at http://tinyurl.com/GWSsoucewater.
Even with a pure and well-protected source, treatment is essential to remove dirt and potential disease-causing contaminants. That process, as well as the intervening transport, has changed several times since the construction of the original flume, which is still visible on the canyon wall along the lower section of No Name.
Indeed, one of Wade’s first duties for the city was to resurrect and operate a 1960s vintage microstraining system when the old water plant was condemned. It was needed for only another year, but it still occupies a blasted-out cave just downstream from the main intake.
WATER UNDER THE RIVER
After that, the water gets piped underground through a pair of storage tanks perched on the rim of Glenwood Canyon, down and across the river near the train station, and up to the modern treatment facility on Red Mountain.
There, an array of chemicals are added to kill any microbes and screen out dirt and other contaminants. Rather than try to treat or filter for everything, the system relies mostly on forcing anything dissolved in the water to settle out. As it passes through a series of concrete chutes and languidly spinning turbines, you can see the clumps form and fall to the bottom, where they’re scraped away.
“The idea is to take a small particle and make it bigger,” Wade explained.
Glenwood Springs was the first municipality in the state to use polyaluminum chloride for the purpose. Now in common use, it was cutting edge when Wade opted to make the switch.
“I’ve learned so much doing this,” he observed. “I spent a lot of time reading.”
The city opts not to treat the water for its moderate hardness, which is cheaper for users to filter on their own end if it bothers them.
Besides, Wade said, “minerals are good for you to a certain extent.”
One addition is fluoride, which was approved by popular vote in 1986. While he’s aware that there’s some controversy about the whether the dental benefits are worth any potential health impacts, Wade says he’ll simply follow the community’s will.
“We’ll continue until people don’t want it anymore,” he said.
AS GOOD AS BOTTLED
The city’s water treatment system also hosts a backup generator, a portable water pump trailer and an older facility that still provides some office space, a monitoring station and a testing lab. Glenwood’s water is tested at least 850 times a month, both at the facility and on site. That’s a much higher standard than federal regulations for bottled water, Wade noted.
“We’ve got bottled water right out of the tap,” he said.
And at about .018 cents per gallon, the city doesn’t get a lot of complaints.
In addition to quality, reliability is a concern. Not only is the city obligated to provide domestic water, it’s also on the hook for fire protection water. It can’t afford to go down in a power outage. Luckily, with plenty of elevation to work with, the vast majority of the system is gravity-fed, with only two pump sites to serve some of the higher subdivisions.
The pipes themselves have undergone major improvements in recent years to detect and prevent leaks. As a result, water consumption is actually down in recent years despite population growth. It’s an ongoing success story further chronicled in the city’s Municipal Water Efficiency Plan, http://tinyurl.com/GWSwater.
“People are more water conscious. They want the resource to be there for their kids,” Wade observed. “They may not even think about it, but they care about it. The best compliment we can ever get is the kid who gets up in the middle of the night, drinks a glass of water, and goes back to bed.”
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