Partially treated sewage spills into Dillon Reservoir
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY ” An electronic malfunction Tuesday night at the Farmer’s Korner wastewater treatment plant was one of the factors resulting in a discharge of about 100,000 to 150,000 gallons of partially treated and diluted sewage into Dillon Reservoir.
Breckenridge Sanitation District director Andy Carlberg said early test results showed there probably isn’t any human health risk associated with the contamination because the discharged wastewater was highly diluted. The wastewater did pass through a chlorine contact tank and mingled with dilution flows on its way to the reservoir.
The partially treated flows started bypassing the treatment facility at about 11 p.m. and continued for about six hours, according to Carlberg.
“We don’t believe it’s significant,” Carlberg said. “The results we’re getting show there was some level of treatment. We’re doing the best we can to determine what happened.”
“The risks are probably pretty low,” said Ron Falco, engineering section manager for the Colorado Water Quality Control Division.
Comprehensive test results will be available in five days, Carlberg said.
Denver Water officials said there were no plans to shut off the Roberts Tunnel in response to the incident.
“It’s similar in some respects to the spill last week (a paint spill into the North Fork near Arapahoe Basin), with dilution working on our favor,” said Denver Water spokesperson Trina McGuire-Collier. Routine water sampling is done daily by Denver Water, but the wastewater discharge “pushes everybody into high gear,” she added.
“We’ve had spills of this kind before, and they haven’t really caused us problems,” said Kevin Keefe, superintendent of Denver Water’s source of supply section. “We don’t anticipate any problems.”
Of concern with regard to human heath are fecal coliform bacteria, which can indicate the possible presence of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria, viruses, and protozoans that also live in human and animal digestive systems, according to the EPA.
Keefe said Denver Water’s testing would focus on looking for coliform.
“I don’t want to downplay this. We are taking it very seriously,” Carlberg said. “There are no solids getting through,” he said, after visiting the site and taking water samples.
The Blue River inlet, where the facillity discharges treated water, is a popular fishing area, but Carlberg said he’d be very surprised if there was any impact to aquatic life.
Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists searched the area Wednesday and didn’t find any dead fish, but a division spokesman said anglers should avoid the areas just downstream of the facility for a couple of days.
Carlberg said operators got an automated warning about a pump failure at the plant late Tuesday night. At the time, the warning was considered to be a false alarm, but it turned out to be an accurate warning, he said.
Normally, such a warning would be taken at face value he said, saying it was premature to speculate about potential operator errors.
But state investigators said they want to know why the pump-failure warning was treated as a false alarm.
“We would be looking for some sort of report on how that happened, whether it was training, or procedures, so that it can be prevented in the future,” said Falco, of the Water Quality Control Division.
Carlberg said the last time there was a similar incident was in 1997, as a result of high runoff. With significant dilution flows, that spill did not result in any human health hazards, he said.
“The pumps couldn’t handle everything,” Carlberg said of the 1997 discharge.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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