Water, Water Everywhere. Part Three: The Future
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
This year’s late, and bountiful, spring run-off season has prompted many water conversations: how much of it there is, where it’s headed, and whose got the right to use it. In today’s post, Leadville Today continues with its “Water, Water Everywhere,” series with the final, Part Three: The Future for Parkville Water District.
In this story, Parkville Water District’s General Manager Greg Teter discusses future plans and projects in the works that are prompting a proposed water rate increase which will be considered at the Parkville Water Board meeting tomorrow, July 9.
Part Three: The Future for Parkville Water District
While many Colorado communities look to the future and wonder – where are we going to get our water? – Lake County looks to its past.
First in Use, First in Right. That’s how Colorado’s very complicated water laws work. And once again, it’s Leadville’s mining heritage that catapults it to the top of the heap. Before Colorado was even a state, miners were settling in these parts, looking for their fortune and using water to do it. And since they were some of the first users, they also secured some of the first rights when it comes to water.
“If you look at the state’s water rights tabulations,” explains Teter. “It starts off on page one with the most senior rights and Parkville’s water rights are on page one.”
The water rights that Parkville owns in Iowa and Evans Gulch are 1860 water rights. That’s almost as far back as things go, but after that first page, there are about 300 pages of other calls on the river. And with appropriation law, it’s the senior water rights that get satisfied before anybody else’s. First in Use, First in Right.
“We are always going to be guaranteed access to our water rights,” concluded Teter. And with 2013 regained access to the Canterbury Tunnel water (See Part Two of this series) the glass got a lot fuller.
Remember, Leadville does not get its surface water supply from the Arkansas River Basin, but rather high to the east side from the Mosquito Range, in Evans Gulch. Those snow-filled basins melt into rivulets, that feed into tributaries, and finally reach Big Evans Reservoir, east of Leadville. Eventually the water is brought to the Big Evans Water Treatment Plant on East 7th Street, just below the famous Matchless Mine.
And it’s at Big Evans Reservoir that Parkville sees its most looming project, put off for decades due to budgetary constraints. But eventually state inspectors are going to force the upgrades.
When Big Evans Reservoir was first developed in the early 1900s, a wooden flume was built adjacent to it which would allow a diversion of dirty water from mining operations up in Stumptown, Evansville and other east side mining camps. This waterway is known as the Elkhorn Pipeline and every spring it experiences heavy use when the run-off comes roaring down Lake Creek, re-routing that high turbidity (i.e lots of debris and sentiment) water around the drinking supply in Big Evans. It’s worked pretty much that way for over one hundred years. Of course, you can only imagine the concern from state water inspectors when they see the century-old, wooden flume box, compared to the new million dollar facilities they are familiar with inspecting.
“They’ve been telling us for years that it needs to be replaced,” stated Teter. And the recent County Road 3 culvert blowout on June 17 is a perfect example of why the flume needs to be replaced with a more advanced system. When the Lake County Public Works culvert above Big Evans blew out from above-average, spring run-off pressure, it sent a rush of debris-ladened water rushing into Big Evans Reservoir. The situation led to a murky surface water supply that could have had Parkville customers on low – if not no – water supply levels, since the treatment plant would not have been able to process the water fast enough to keep up with demand.
Presently, Parkville uses a year-round average of 700,000 gallons of water daily; during the summer that usage increases up to 1.2 million gallons a day during peak season. During this recent situation, Parkville was able to switch up its system, bringing more water up from the Canterbury Tunnel to meet demand. However, prior to that source coming on line in 2013, it would have been a completely different story.
Parkville plans on replacing the old wooden Elkhorn Pipeline bypass with two 48” Polyethylene pipes. The project budget is coming in at $479,000. And it needs to be done soon – patience is running out with state officials. Of course, while that work is being done, Teter says they will probably drain and dredge Big Evans Reservoir at the same time to remove more than century-old sediments.
Some local residents may remember Parkville dredging the Diamond Lake back in 2006 after noticeable taste and odor problems were reported. While never in danger of any health violations, Parkville choose to take that water source off line, and drudge it. Not only did this clean up an historic water supply, but in doing so, increased the reservoir’s capacity for future needs. Now with the regained Canterbury water source, the same can be done with Big Evans Reservoir without interrupting service to customers.
“That’s something we’ve never been able to do because it’s (Big Evans) always had to be online,” explains Teter. After 100 years, there’s probably 6-8 feet of sediment on the bottom of Leadville’s primary surface water source.
And while big projects like the Elkhorn Pipeline and drudging Big Evans are necessary, just keeping up with maintenance on the OLDEST water system in the state is enough to keep the Parkville crews busy. Of course, bringing the Canterbury’s warm water back into the system was helpful in eliminating freezing pipes (none this past winter: a record). But there are still 100-year-old pipes soldered together with silver (!) in the ground, and crews are always at the ready for a bust due to erosion or decay.
One of Parkville’s most recent projects will help the water company get a sense of water loss in the system due to leaks and breaks. Last month (June 2015) a master flow meter was installed in the shack off of E. 7th Street about 500 feet below the water treatment plant. This new system will allow Parkville to get a better idea of water usage, as well as water loss, within the system. Simple math (water amount out at meter, less metered customer usage) should help define exactly how much water is being lost due to leaks, dead-end pipes and other seepage issues. It’s a solution Parkville has been working on for years.
Of course, recent and pending projects cost money. Therefore, tomorrow July 9 the Parkville Water Board will be voting on a 10% rate increase to be effective the first of next year. For customers, rate increases are never welcome, but for the Parkville Water District to be eligible for project grants and low-interest loans, increasing water rates to meet the state’s average is essential. The reasoning here is, why should we help you, if you’re not willing to help yourselves by bring your rates in line with the rest of the water market.
“We’re in the business of selling water,” said Parkville’s GM Greg Teter who is advocating for board members to approve the rate increase, although it seems there may be a divide on the issue when it comes to a formal board vote. The public is encouraged and invited to Parkville’s Board of Directors meeting tomorrow, July 9 at 5:15 at their offices at 2015 N. Poplar, next to Pizza Hut.