Officials trim costs for water treatment plant

Chris Michlewicz
Posted

A water treatment plant set for construction near Rueter-Hess Reservoir will cost ratepayers $50 million, but is seen as a major step in shifting from a reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.

Decreasing water levels in natural underground aquifers have the Parker Water and Sanitation District planning to use more renewable surface water, like that from Cherry Creek. The treatment plant will incorporate many of the newest technologies and eventually be able to process 40 million gallons per day. It will be built in phases, with the first incarnation having capacity to churn out approximately 10 million gallons per day.

The PWSD has a wastewater treatment plant near E-470 and South Parker Road, but does not have a facility to treat surface water, since it uses mostly water pumped from aquifers. But the ratio is about the change.

The district has permission to pull 8,000 acre-feet from Cherry Creek each year, including 3,000 acre-feet in exchange flows; creek water is taken from upstream, and reclaimed water is put back in further downstream, said Jim Nikkel, project manager for the PWSD. Rueter-Hess now stores more than 5,000 acre-feet of water and captures flows that have traditionally been lost to downstream users.

“I’m trying to store as much in Rueter-Hess as I can,” he said. “I can’t use it without a water treatment plant.”

Parker customers use an average of 8,000 acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot, depending on the region and conservation efforts, is generally enough to serve a family of four for a year.

A $50 million revenue bond approved by the water district board in November 2010 is expected to cover the cost of construction, permits, engineering and the pipelines that move water in and out of the plant. One of the reasons the board of directors acted to approve the bond when it did was to secure a Build America Bond, which has a low interest rate and interest rebate, but was set to expire that December, said Mary Spencer, a member of the Parker Water and Sanitation District board since 2006.

The water provider also wanted to capitalize on reduced construction costs, but because the economy has gained steam, the price tag for the treatment plant jumped to $55 million. District staff members, including Nikkel, are trying to eliminate parts of the plan that are not critical to initial operation. So far, $3 million has been cut by taking out a conference room and break room and delaying construction of a testing lab. The district will move samples off site to be tested, Nikkel said.

The construction project is scheduled to begin later this summer and be completed in late 2013, however, six months of intensive water quality testing and operational assessments will push the official opening to spring 2014.

Some residents have expressed frustration that the $50 million bond was approved without going to voters. A revenue bond, which is repaid from water district revenues, does not need to go to a public vote, as opposed to the $105 million general obligation bond approved by voters in 2004 for the reservoir. Some of the new board members have also questioned the timing of the bond.

Rick Coe, a Parker resident and husband of a Parker Town Council member, said he was upset that the plans have not been discussed publicly. Nikkel said the district has held the plans close to its chest because of the need to protect the town’s water supply from potential terrorists.

When asked how she would respond to Parker water customers who might be upset about adding $50 million to the existing $200 million worth of debt for which ratepayers are already responsible, Spencer said water is essential to sustaining a community.

“People have to be able to turn on their faucets and flush their toilets and know they’re going to work,” Spencer said. “Without a steady supply of water, Parker’s not going to make it.”

She pointed out that a home worth $350,000 would suddenly be worth nothing if Parker was without water. She said the 72,000-acre-foot Rueter-Hess Reservoir and treatment plant are management tools that will enable the PWSD to store water from Cherry Creek and other resources. The district, along with a coalition of other water providers from throughout the state, is still considering water from Flaming Gorge in Wyoming. Hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars would be needed to build infrastructure to move the water to communities along the Front Range.

The district and its partners are still considering an agreement to purchase 100,000 acre-feet of reclaimed water from Denver and Aurora as part of the WISE project, but a disagreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over whether reclaimed water is allowed in Rueter-Hess has stymied negotiations. Spencer said treated water was among the sources approved by the Army Corps as part of the supplemental environmental impact study conducted by the federal agency when the district requested to expand the reservoir from 16,200 acre-feet to 72,000 acre-feet.

The PWSD established partnerships with Castle Rock, Castle Pines and Stonegate, which collectively paid $60 million in cash for storage in Rueter-Hess. Spencer said the district is still paying down its $105 million portion. She also defended the decision to borrow $50 million for a plant that will help keep up with summer demand and be able to serve Parker Water and Sanitation District customers at full build-out.

“People complain that we spend too much money, but sometimes it’s better to spend more and have a product that lasts and have an overall cost savings,” she said.

By the numbers:

Cost of treatment plant: $50 million

Gallons processed per day: 40 million

Acre-feet used per year: 8,000

Acre-feet needed for full build-out: 16,000

Acre-feet now in Rueter-Hess: 5,000

Cost for Rueter-Hess: $160 million

PWSD portion of reservoir: $105 million

Total PWSD debt: approximately $250 million

Total district assets: $750 million