Rifle City water, wastewater study aims to determine rates for the next ‘13-year period’ | PostIndependent.com

Rifle City water, wastewater study aims to determine rates for the next ‘13-year period’

While Glenwood Springs’ water rates could jump by more than 50% come 2021, the city of Rifle isn’t necessarily in the same boat.

Following Rifle City Council’s approval Wednesday to hire outside firm JVA, Inc. to conduct water and wastewater studies, which include analyzing potential capital improvements, utility maintenance and infrastructure needs, city manager Scott Hahn said it’s likely residential and commercial rates won’t see a heavy increase.

“I think you probably won’t see a decrease (in the water rate) unless the council chooses to do so,” Hahn told the Citizen Telegram on Friday. “We’ve got a nice, healthy balance in the water fund. It may need to be higher – I don’t know. But it all depends on the values.”

Over the next several months JVA will determine where water rates and reserves should be and do a full financial assessment of where city “water and wastewater stands,” Rifle civil engineer Craig Spaudling told city council on Oct. 21. According to the project’s timeline, a final presentation is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Among the certain areas of assessment, however, chances are wastewater rates will receive the most attention.

“We’ve got issues with copper that is going through the wastewater plant and going into the river that we need to try and mitigate,” Hahn said. “And I don’t know all the codes that we’ve faced over the last 15 years, but I know from my experience as city manager… that the EPA keeps handing down tighter and tighter restrictions.”

There are two major causes to certain levels of copper leaching into the Colorado River, Hahn said. One, typical household plumbing systems are made from the red-brown metal. Once water drains through the pipes, it carries small increments of copper, which then collects at the municipal wastewater treatment plant. 

“I know the wastewater plant’s relatively new, but there are some more items that we need to do down there,” Hahn added. 

Another reason, natural copper ore is commonly found in the sedimentary rock in the river itself.

“There’s various compounds in various wastewater facilities where the wastewater discharge is in an area of heightened concern because of a certain fish,” Hahn said. “The copper levels we have are higher than we want, so we have engineers trying to devise a system to reduce the levels.”

The city’s current water and wastewater master plan is based from 2006, according to JVA’s proposal. Residential and commercial rates have increased annually at relatively low increments – with city code stating no more than a 5% increase each year since 2006.

“We have not had those annual increases certainly for the last several years as an automatic increase,” Hahn said. 

By 2014, Rifle’s sewer and water rates increased to $40.71 and $25.20 per month respectively. Today residential and commercial monthly sewer and water base rates stand at $57.16 and $30.63, according to the city.

With a relatively minimal future sewer rate projected by Hahn, it’s partly due to how Rifle has managed the impact of COVID-19. 

“They’re hurting more than we are because our money relies more on our residents and not tourism,” he added. “So, I would then guess that our unemployment rate probably is lower than the average for the rest of Garfield County.”

Hahn also said that although some rates might be high now, they’ll likely settle down over time.

“People should actually feel good that this community has new and modern facilities that have the capacity to handle significant growth,” Hahn said. “Whereas other communities, some of them may not cost the customers as much, but their community is hampered when it comes to their ability to serve these growths.” 

Go to the city of Rifle’s website to view the entire utility maintenance, capital improvement and rate study.

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