What we do with water after we use it | SummitDaily.com

What we do with water after we use it

Shanna Koenig

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If you would like to learn more about wastewater, or experience it firsthand, the Blue River Watershed Group will host a tour of the Blue River Treatment Plant at 5:30 p.m. today.

The plant is located just north of the new Silverthorne Elementary School off of Highway 9.

Summit County is considered the “Best of the Best,” especially when it comes to wastewater treatment.

We don’t often think about what happens to our wastewater after it leaves our homes, but treatment is a serious and expensive business.

The cumulative annual operating budget for all wastewater treatment plants in the county is about $8 million and it would cost close to $170 million to replace the facilities.

There are more than 250 miles of sewer pipeline, and about 5.2 million gallons of water are treated in the county daily.

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Despite all this, few of us know where our treatment plants are located, even though we might drive by them every day.

Of the water that’s treated, 99.9 percent makes it back into our lakes and rivers. Most of the county’s wastewater comes from drains, dishwashers, car washes, restaurants and toilets.

The treatment process is mostly biological, similar to what naturally occurs in a river.

First the wastewater (influent) goes through a screen to remove inorganic matter. Things such as money, rocks, cell phones, bar straws, goldfish, two-by-fours, and sand are screened out.

The water then goes to an aeration basin where influent is mixed with microorganisms and oxygen.

The influent is then moved to a clarifier where there is no mixing at all. Influent contains food for the microorganisms, which are busy eating substances that need to be removed from the water.

The microorganisms then settle to the bottom with full bellies and additional substances caught externally on their bodies.

This creates biosolids, aka, “sludge,” a term treatment plant managers don’t like to use in public.

The biosolids are then remixed with new influent coming into the plant.

Ten percent of the biosolids must be removed from the plant daily, as the microorganisms multiply at an alarming rate.

A skimmer runs over the top of the treated water to remove any froth that might develop. Water is in the treatment plant for a total of about four hours.

For most treatment plants, the process ends here. However, Summit County goes one step further to remove phosphorus.

The process of removing phosphorus is done to limit nutrients that lead to algae growth. This helps to keep Dillon Reservoir, in particular, clear and blue, improving the health of the reservoir as well as the appearance.

“It keeps the jewel of the county a jewel,” said Butch Green, manager of the Frisco Sanitation District and its treatment plant.

In addition, it creates incredibly clean water and ensures that our streams and surrounding lakes and reservoirs remain pristine. It also eliminates the need to add chlorine for disinfection.

To eliminate phosphorus, aluminum sulfite is added to the water, which combined with phosphorus creates a solid and is removed.

If that were not enough, here is where Summit County can really be proud of its sewage.

In addition to the extra step in treating our wastewater, all the treatment plants are part of a program, loosely called the Climax Mine Biosolids Partnership.

Biosolids, that 10 percent that is removed daily, are taken from the treatment plants and carted up to the Climax Mine on Fremont Pass where about 200 acres of land has been re-vegetated through a composting process.

This is a public-private partnership that has received national recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Climax Mine, in particular Bryce Romig, has been a delight to work with, and they believe in the program as much as we do. The program has been an incredible success,” said Zach Margolis of the Blue River Treatment Plant, part of the Dillon/Silverthorne Joint Sewer Authority.

Shanna Koenig’s “Got Water” column appears about once a month to inform Summit County citizens about the precious resource of water. She can be reached at (970) 468-0295, ext. 117 or qqwater@colorado.net.