Paonia returning to normal after water crisis

By Tamie Meck


The emergency is over, water is flowing to all the taps, and the boil order is lifted. But the Town of Paonia is asking Paonia water users to continue being conservative in their water use.

"This is the time of year when we have the least water," Mayor Charles Stewart told the roughly 100 citizens attending a March 5 community information meeting at the Paradise Theatre. While the town will soon produce more water than it needs, the system is producing "about half of what's normal for this time of year," said Stewart. "That's pretty scary."

Representatives of the town, state and county health departments, Delta County Emergency Management and the Southwest Incident Management Team gave brief updates on the emergency, responded to questions, and stayed after the meeting to address public concerns.

Stewart thanked the community for its handling of the emergency. The outpouring of support, he said, relieved his concerns over how the town would respond to an emergency. When the town declared the emergency on Feb. 18, dozens of individuals stepped up to help, Delta County and state emergency response teams were activated, keeping the emergency from becoming a crisis and ensuring that everyone had drinking water and the needs of the most vulnerable were met.

"I'm impressed with the community," said Stewart. He thanked a long list of individuals, companies and agencies that went out of their way to help, among them, district water commissioner, Luke Reschke and Mt. Lamborn Ranches.

Reschke identified the 100-acre-foot Roeber Reservoir at the head of Reynolds Creek at the base of Mt. Lamborn as a source of raw water. The town contacted reservoir owners Steve Kossler and Mark Roeber with Mt. Lamborn Ranches. The cattle ranchers agreed to allow the town to divert water to the one-million gallon Clock treatment plant for treatment, allowing the two-million gallon tank to recover.

This is the first time that they've worked with the town to provide water, said Kossler. The town agreed to replace the water, estimated at two acre feet or about 652,000 gallons, at a later date.

While the emergency occurred in a wet winter, Kossler said that even in a dry year, they would have honored the request. "We've always gotten along with the town and we want to keep it that way," said Kossler. "It works out well for both of us."

Town leaders now begin the process of working with local and state agencies to ensure another shortage doesn't occur. Paonia's entire water treatment and delivery system covers a 25-square-mile area, said Stewart. That is "a massive area" for a small system. The town's raw water supply comes from 32 springs at the base of Lamborn Mountain through 20 miles of pipe to one of two treatment plants.

Historically, with late winters comes a reduction in flow from the springs. Because 2018 was one of the worst drought years in recent history, the problem was compounded by extremely low spring flows and major breaks in un-metered lines that were difficult to detect.

One thing working in the town's favor was the more than $5.7 million invested in "substantial upgrades" to the treatment and delivery system between 2012-2018, said Stewart. The Clock plant was out of service since 2015 and was brought on-line in time to provide water early in the emergency and process raw water from Roeber Reservoir. "All improvements dramatically helped us deal with this current water crisis," said Stewart.

During the two informational meetings and one board meeting held since the emergency began, members of the public have raised numerous questions related to water conservation, water rate structures, the lack of raw water storage, and what, if any, plan the town has to prevent another emergency.

Stewart explained that the board of trustees has had held previous discussions on rates, which has the final say on rate changes. If changes are recommended, they would hold community meetings to discuss them in public, said Stewart.

In the foreseeable future the town will continue to replace aging pipelines, and will look at raw water storage options. All of it will happen over time, he said. In the immediate future, "We can only do so much."

Water issues will be discussed at future board and community meetings, said town administrator Ken Knight. He encouraged everyone to check the bi-monthly meeting agendas (meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. second and fourth Tuesdays of the month) for water-related items. Agendas are posted at Town Hall and on the town website, townofpaonia.com, on the Friday preceding each meeting. Citizens can sign up to receive notification of town meetings by emailing paonia@townofpaonia.com.