How much pollution is OK?
FRISCO – More than one third of America’s lakes contain fish contaminated with mercury, PCB’s, dioxin and pesticides, and Frisco Sanitation District is working to make sure it doesn’t contribute to the problem.The district is collaborating with the state to determine how much pollution – particularly metals – it can discharge into Dillon Reservoir without harming the environment.”There’s a certain amount of metals we’re allowed to put out into Lake Dillon, and it gets stiffer and stiffer every year,” said Butch Green, district manager.The Federal Clean Water Act requires any facility that discharges into a waterway to obtain a new permit every five years. Frisco Sanitation is renewing its permit which should be finalized in December.
The permitting process sets limits on pollutants such as ammonia, copper and mercury that may enter the water.”In our business, the standards are set to protect fish and aquatic bugs,” said Upper Colorado watershed manager Bill McKee, who works for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Metals sometimes settle out in lakes down into the sludges. But if it’s in solution, it could be toxic to fish and other biota, which is why we limit the amounts.”Brown trout, rainbow trout and everything in front of them in the food chain in Dillon Reservoir are the primary concerns for state. “Cattle can drink quite a bit of metals, but fish and other aquatic species are very sensitive,” McKee said.
In high concentrations, metals can be toxic to larger animals and humans, but such levels would not result from existing discharge rates. Metals enter the sewage system from a variety of sources, including plumbing, dental offices, photo finishing facilities and mercury thermometers. “I don’t want to terrify everybody. The amounts are nowhere near being a problem for folks who are drinking the water,” Green said.One of the difficulties in determining allowable limits on metals in Frisco Sanitation’s effluent is that the facility is one of only three in the state that discharge into a lake. Others discharge into moving bodies of water like streams.”They don’t really have a template for lake discharges. This is all new to them,” Green said. “They’re being understanding to the point that they’re the ones guarding the environment. We’re just trying to get it worked out so it’s fair to us and fair to them.”
Further complicating the issue is Dillon Reservoir’s potential for extreme water level fluctuations. Green’s discharge area is limited to a small percentage of the very shallow Frisco Bay arm of the reservoir. When the water levels recede during drought or high usage by Denver Water, Frisco Sanitation’s discharge area shrinks.Green worries that if the state comes up with substantially lower allowable metals levels for Frisco Sanitation discharge, the existing facility might not do the job.”My mercury number is almost zero, my copper is 5 parts per trillion – we’re dealing with some very small numbers. We can make all the interim numbers in our permits, but they keep making the numbers smaller and smaller,” Green said.
The state arrives at its numbers through a barrage of tests during which aquatic species are exposed to various concentrations of pollutants. And stringent pollution requirements carry a price. The district is now in good financial shape after paying off all its debt last fall, but the addition of pollution control devices to its existing facilities could cost millions.”We’d probably have to use a reverse osmosis system. It’s pretty spendy to build and pretty spendy to run,” Green said.Regardless, those costs are a few years down the road, since the district will have until December 2007 to comply with the new permit levels.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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