A group of 22 interested town residents and officials accepted the invitation for a guided tour of Cedaredge's new sewage treatment plant last week.
The plant, built by Moltz Construction of Salida, has recently gone fully online, taking the town's sewage, treating it to current health and environmental standards, and discharging the resulting effluent flow into Surface Creek.
Though tour guide and project engineer Josh McGibbon of Boulder's JVA declined a good-natured offer to take a sip of the plant's outflow from a beaker, an observation later revealed clear liquid streaming into Surface Creek from the plant's discharge point at Jay Avenue Bridge, 400 feet uphill and a mile away from the plant itself.
The new plant uses a combined process of well-known biological interactions and mechanical processing. For decades, the town's sewage waste has been treated by four large aeration lagoons. The lagoons are being reclaimed, de-sludged, and two of them will be reconditioned to remain as part of the new treatment process.
Completion of the new sewer treatment plant unburdens the town from problems imposed by the near-capacity lagoons. It also relieves the wider community of environmental problems that had been linked to the old lagoons almost since they were put into service in 1978.
The former lagoon system discharged its less-than-pristine outflows into Fruitgrowers Reservoir via the Alfalfa Ditch. In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency reported, "In the 1950s, Fruitgrowers Reservoir was a popular recreational area. Local residents enjoyed swimming, boating and fishing. The [Town] of Cedaredge constructed a wastewater treatment plant in 1978 that discharged into Alfalfa Ditch. Users of the reservoir began noticing a decline in the water quality soon thereafter."
It is held by some today that the town's lagoons were responsible for only a minor portion of water quality degradation at Fruitgrowers, even though over 30 years of recreational use preceded their opening. The 2012 EPA report states, "Anecdotal information indicates that water quality in FGR declined rapidly after the Cedaredge [sewage treatment lagoons] began discharging into Alfalfa Ditch a short distance upstream from the reservoir."
The EPA reports further, "In 1984, the Delta County Health Department began receiving complaints from reservoir users regarding disagreeable odors, potential health problems following water contact activities, and fish kills ... In 1989, the Delta County Health Department closed Fruitgrowers Reservoir to all water contact activities after testing indicated coliform bacterial counts exceeded state water quality standards for natural swimming areas. A year later, Fruitgrowers was drawn down to very low levels, and the game fish died."
The town lagoons were linked to other environmental problems. In 1996 there was a raw sewage spill from one of the lagoons. Water quality in Fruitgrowers continued to degrade relative to several measures including dissolved oxygen, absence of aquatic life, and more stringent health department standards.
In 2009, the Orchard City Irrigation District learned that the reservoir had not been holding as much water as previously thought. A report states that, "In 2006, to the surprise of reservoir managers, Fruitgrowers ran dry during late season irrigation. A large fish kill also resulted from the reservoir draining."
A Bureau of Reclamation survey of the reservoir's decreased capacity laid blame not on siltation from upstream flows, but rather on a previous capacity estimate that was too high.
In 2010 the reservoir was designated as "impared" for aquatic life, recreation, and agriculture.
The old lagoons were able to process 180,000 gallons per day of inflow. That amount will be doubled by the new plant. The facility has up-to-date, high tech remote monitoring capabilities and will require only part-time direct observation, monitoring and maintenance, town official said.
The new plant began processing raw sewage last month and began discharging into Surface Creek around May 1.
The town accounts engineering and design costs for the new facility at $453,710; total construction and administration costs come to $4.83 million.
A June 6 official ribbon cutting is being organized, the DCI was told.