Recycling water into the Upper Blue |

Recycling water into the Upper Blue

Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

BRECKENRIDGE – Swifter flows in the Upper Blue River around the town of Breckenridge aren’t just beneficial to the general environment and aesthetically pleasing to the senses. They’re a real boon to the local sanitation district treating municipal water supplies.That’s why during times the river is but a trickle into the Iowa Hill Water Reclamation Facility just below town, water engineers and officials get concerned about “dilution flows” available to treat town water supplies.The Breckenridge Sanitation District, who runs Iowa Hill, has a proactive plan to boost those dilution flows, though, and it’s a solution created out of the box, to be sure.They call it the Blue River Pumpback, and in short, it’s a $10 million-plus series of pumps and pipes that would divert water destined for Dillon Reservoir back upstream, where it would be deposited back into the Blue near Iowa Hill.”How can you go wrong by adding water to the river?” asked Andrew Carlberg, manager of Breck San.While the benefits to the town are clear, it is a project conceived, funded and followed through on by the sanitation district. Carlberg and the district’s board have shepherded the pumpback idea from its inception to where it is now – Carlberg says construction of the series of high-grade steel pipes and pumping mechanisms will begin this summer.

The lion’s share of the funding for the project was raised through federally subsidized loans secured last year, at about $8.5 million. Breck San was also able to secure a $500,000 grant from the Energy Impact and Mineral Assistance Program. Carlberg said he anticipated going for more grants to make up some of the balance, and said he thought the difference could be made up with district funds, without raising fees.So why is this whole project necessary?In essence, the district is looking into the future, where they foresee spending millions and millions to offset slighter flows in the river, as well as potential lower levels in Dillon Reservoir. Both problems would require the district to build “nitrification” facilities at Iowa Hill and at their Farmer’s Korner facility – at an estimated $10 million a pop.Final pieces to the project puzzleEven though Breck San is forging ahead with the project, not everything about the plan is set in stone.Always lingering over water projects is the possibility of disputed water rights. A concern is that Breck San will pump additional flows into the Upper Blue, leading to a kind of free-for-all of diversions by stakeholders with rights to water in the Blue – and there are many.

Carlberg said, “We are doing everything in our power to protect the water. We have quite an arsenal that we can draw from.” He cited the district board’s long history of protecting streamflows in the Blue, their limiting of inclusions to the district, and even denial of some tap fees.”Nothing is guaranteed in this world, especially in water court,” he added. “But we have done our homework and we believe that we are on fairly solid ground.”Town of Breckenridge testing the watersAlso up in the air is what role the town of Breckenridge will have in the project, though town leaders have backed the district’s pumpback plan from the start.In late March, the town council agreed to jointly study and fund an engineering analysis of the project. Interestingly, Breckenridge Ski Resort is joining the town to fund the study.What they hope to find out is exactly what benefit there’ll be – above and beyond better dilution flows at Iowa Hill – that the town might see from boosted flows in the Blue. How much of that “extra” water might be available for their use?

“It would help define for us how and to what extent we participate in the project,” said Breckenridge town manager Tim Gagen.Beyond those answers, which they hope to have within the next month or so, the town is certainly looking at a possible expansion of the project – possibly pumping water all the way upstream near The Maggie Pond. That would boost flows through the town’s burgeoning downtown district.To do that would add an additional $5 million to $6 million to the project, Gagen estimated. After the results of the engineering study come in, the town council will have to wrestle with the cost-benefit analysis involved with taking the project to that next stage.Time is of the essence though for that decision, if the project is to stay on schedule. Any decision about the pumpback going all the way upriver to The Maggie would have to be made before construction begins on the basic phase of the project, due to engineering concerns, Carlberg said.Project construction is set to start this summer, and Carlberg hoped that they would be able to complete at least one stretch of the pumps and pipes this year. He envisioned that phase of the project reaching from Farmer’s Korner to the Four Mile Bridge, about halfway to the Iowa Hill facility. Next summer would then see completion of the system all the way to Iowa Hill.Duffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13611, or at

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