New Rifle Regional Water Treatment Plant near completion
Former Citizen Telegram Editor
After a decade of debate and two years of construction, the city is nearing the end of construction on the Rifle Regional Water Purification Facility.
The approximately $30 million water treatment plant, consisting of eight above-ground structures on an approximately 5 acre campus, will replace both the Graham Mesa plant and the Beaver Creek plant after it comes online.
As things stand, that will likely occur toward the end of the first quarter of 2017.
“All the support systems have to come on before water can begin to flow, so water will begin to flow, we hope, in January,” Jim Miller, Rifle’s utilities director, said after a tour of the grounds in mid-November. “It will still be several months after that before customers would notice anything.”
Ultimately what Rifle municipal water customers will notice starting this summer, according to Miller, is clearer water with significantly less iron and manganese, which will make it better tasting.
Aside from improved water, completion of the plant will largely close the door on Rifle’s largest capital project ever — a matter that garnered a great deal of attention, and at times scrutiny from community members, over the past 10 years and particularly in the past seven when initial plans were first hatched.
The site has changed, and an array of cost estimates and associated numbers have been floated.
In 2014, bids for the project were in the neighborhood of $10 million more than expected. As Miller explained in a memo presented to City Council in October, the cost of the original facility at that time was around $41 million — an unaffordable number.
The city had previously received a $25 million loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, which will be repaid with money generated by a 0.75 percent sales tax approved by Rifle voters in 2012.
Beyond the cost of those initial bids, that facility would have had a capacity of 6.9 million gallons per day (MGD), which was below the 8 MGD other facilities and processes could allow for.
The city decided to switch from the “design-bid-build” approach, opting instead for a “construction manager-general contractor” method.
Later in 2014, the city selected Moltz Construction Inc. as its contractor — a decision that Miller says has been instrumental in progressing the project forward.
That change allowed for flexibility and cost saving measures that, excluding design and consultant fees for the redesigned project, are expected to total $30.5 million, according to Miller’s memo.
Walking through the facilities, Miller says there are a number of cost savings born out of the value engineering that was possible by switching to the construction manager-general contractor approach.
A tank, known as a clean-in-place tank, was initially going to be 6 feet taller, which would have raised the roof of the entire building it’s housed in another 6 feet. The team was able to get a shorter tank that was wider and had the same capacity — effectively keeping the building at the previous height and saving money.
Miller admits that the approach can be confusing at times for those not directly involved on the project, especially with all the numbers and variables involved.
“It may not be the most transparent thing, but it is efficient.”
Along the way, Miller has had to address arguments, such as those suggesting the Graham Mesa plant should have been upgraded, rather than building an entirely new facility from scratch.
The Graham Mesa plant is aging and incapable of meeting certain regulatory standards. Further, it simply does not have the space that would allow for upgrades while having a functional treatment plant — a major flaw in the Graham Mesa plant is the absence of redundancy in the systems.
“They don’t know what they’re talking about,” Miller said of those who argue that the city should have stuck with the Graham Mesa plant.
The new facility will fall just a little short of 8 MGD, much more than the 4 to 5 MGD at Graham Mesa and the ½ MGD at Beaver Creek. Ultimately the plant can be brought to 8 MGD, but some pieces were left out as a cost-saving measure.
Having that flexibility to keep up with population growth is another important feature of the new facility.
As he looked out over the facility in mid-November, Miller was asked what the site meant to him.
“It represents almost four years of my life,” he said. “It represents thousands of decisions. … It represents a lot of discussions on what to do and how to do it, and it’s very clear to me that the city will benefit from it for decades.”