Multi-day camping event in New Castle called into question after neighbor cites poor water quality

Some New Castle landowners are questioning whether a multi-day camping event held at a nearby community meeting facility in early October adversely affected the quality of their drinking water.

During a Garfield County Commission meeting on Monday, landowners Fred and John Kuersten said they encountered odor and taste issues regarding their well water immediately following the event at the nearby Red Barn.

“The main thing is, we just want good drinking water, because right now it’s getting pretty expensive to buy water to drink,” Fred Kuersten said. “Something needs to be done with it.”

The Red Barn is a 6-unit lodging facility surrounded by orchards and lawns.

According to Red Barn operator Kristine Del Rio, she hosted an eight-day, Biblical Feast of Tabernacles gathering of family and friends that included about 35 overnight guests staying in guest houses, tents as well as five recreational vehicles. She said that guests who brought the RVs did not use Red Barn’s septic systems, two onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) designed and certified by a professional engineer in 2017.

“We were told that the septic system is built for 300 people,” Del Rio said. “It was engineered for that. We never even had close to that capacity.”

The county originally received a complaint on Oct. 9, stating that the Red Barn had been hosting a large event for nearly the past week. In response, the county health department eventually came out to Kuersten’s property to collect water samples.

The first samples collected by the county determined there to be no traces of the contaminants coliform or E. coli.

“I did not witness evidence of system failure at my site visit on Oct. 21 2020 and thus did not issue a notice of violation,” said Garfield County Environmental Health Specialist Anna Cochran. “However, I advise that an inspection from an (onsite wastewater treatment systems) professional is recommended.”

John and Fred Kuersten contend, however, that Cochran’s sampling came after their well water went through a filtration system. Upon additional sampling taken directly by the Kuerstens from the well and tested by Aqua Tec Systems, Inc., a water treatment company based in New Castle, the sample showed traces of coliform.

In addition, they also suspect that Del Rio’s septic system is perhaps being overused.

“We’re just concerned it’s being overused or saturated and getting in contact with the groundwater that feeds our well,” John Kuersten said.

Mountain Cross Engineering professional engineer Chris Hale, who designed Red Barn’s treatment systems, said that the absence of E. coli from Cochran’s original samples suggests the problem isn’t likely coming from Del Rio’s leach field.

“I do think that there might be a different source but there are potential pollution sources with the ditch pretty close to there and maybe the over irrigation of pastures,” he said.

Garfield County Environmental Health Manager Josh Williams cited, however, other possible causes to the Kuerstens’ water issues at play. He said it could be an issue with plumbing or perhaps environment issues.

In addition, he said there are other wastewater treatment systems in the area in addition to Del Rio’s.

“It can come from different places within the system,” he said. “It’s not necessarily an indicator of a septic issue. But I think we also have several factors as well that are — what other systems that are surrounding the well or close in proximity that haven’t been investigated?”

“Theoretically, we’d have to investigate them all,” he later added.

According to Fred Kuersten, however, this is the first time his water well, drilled in 1974, is dealing with poor water quality issues.

“On face value, it appears to me that something new has caused this,” Commissioner Mike Samson said. “So, we have to come to a conclusion as to what the cause is.”

Although the county, which approved and issued a land use change permit to the Red Barn facility in 2018, has no legal obligation to provide any further testing as it’s considered a private matter, the commission entertained the idea of collecting quarterly water samples from the area to try and zero in on the root cause.

“Hopefully we find what the source is, so we don’t have sick people,” Martin said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.