A day in the life of clean water …
BRECKENRIDGE – When “it” hits the fan at the Iowa Hill Water Treatment Facility in Breckenridge, a crew is ready to tackle it.Actually, “it” rarely hits the fan at the Airport Road plant. That’s because the $20 million facility is so state-of-the-art – so completely automated the district actually has fewer employees today than it had 10 years ago, said director Andy Carlberg.The plant was built in 1996 when town officials and sanitation board of directors decided to build a new facility at the Iowa Hill location rather than expand the facility at Farmer’s Korner.”We thought in the best interests of the community and the Blue River, it should be built in town,” Carlberg said. “That goes against the grain of most thinking. They’re usually built as far away from the community as possible.”It took four years before the facility actually opened, mostly due to its complicated design. All but the administrative portion of the entire facility is 32 to 38 feet underground – most plants are above-ground – and embedded deep into the hillside.The facility can treat 3 million gallons of wastewater a day, Carlberg said, although during peak periods – from 8-10 a.m. during the Christmas holidays, for instance – up to 5 million gallons of water can pour through. When that occurs, plant operators can store wastewater in huge storage tanks and treat it later that evening.
The treatmentAdditionally, the board wanted technology within the plant to be so great it would operate not just as a wastewater treatment plant but as a water treatment plant, which has higher standards.”A lot of this technology we observed in Europe,” Carlberg said. “In America, operators are more conservative. They don’t want to step out of the box. We saw that (in Europe) and said, ‘Yeah, we can make that work.'”The first step in the process is determining how much waste water to divert from a pipe that runs from the town of Breckenridge to the treatment plant at Farmer’s Korner.That water then pours through a rotary screen that extracts things that aren’t supposed to be poured, dumped or otherwise disposed of in toilets, sinks and drains. The list can be left up to the imagination, but it’s extensive, Carlberg said.This week, plant operators had to remove a 3-foot-long railroad tie.
“You tell me how that got in here,” Carlberg said. “I don’t know how people get stuff into the system.”On the other hand, Carlberg said, it’s virtually impossible for operators to find a lost object – say, the wedding ring Junior might have flushed down the toilet.”It could be out there for weeks or months,” he said. “We’d never find it.”Once the foreign debris has been sifted from the effluent, the water moves to two aeration basins, where air is pumped in to encourage bacterial growth. It then goes through a process of clarifying, phosphorus removal and filtering, until a chemical sludge is separated and transported to the Climax Mine property near Leadville. The next process involves pumping in air to grow another type of bacteria that removes the nitrogen from the water. The water then flows through a second set of filters before it is put back in the Blue River.It typically takes 24 hours from the time the wastewater flows into the plant until it is dumped into the Blue River.Effluent poured back into the river helps dilute mining contamination that flows into the Blue River from French Creek, and keeps streamflows at levels to enhance aquatic life. At times of higher streamflows – say, in June during the spring runoff – plant operators might even opt to not divert wastewater into the plant and instead let it continue on its way to the Farmer’s Korner plant.
Summit County is world-renowned for the technology used in the treatment plant and the cleanliness of the water that pours back into the river.”By the time water leaves this facility, we don’t even have to add chlorine,” Carlberg said. “It’s that clean.”The entire system is run by computers that monitor the concentration levels of chemicals used to treat the water and the water itself. Those computers can alert operators immediately if something dramatically changes, like when a homeowner forgets to dechlorinate their pool, or when an employee drains an entire resort’s hot tubs. P-U?And OK. Everyone asks about the smell, Carlberg admitted. In truth, the plant’s more noisy than smelly.A third process takes all the air – particularly that over the aeration bins where the biological treatment takes place – and chemically treats it before releasing it to the outside. Odor control, Carlberg said, is a big priority.
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