At the base of Mount Lamborn, water from a series of mountain springs feeds the Upper Lamborn Mesa Water Treatment Plant through a pipeline. Once treated, the water is stored in a two-million gallon tank and fed into a distribution system to residences and businesses.
Public works director Travis Loberg is certified to operate the Class C plant and also has a Level D wastewater certification. Loberg has worked for the town for 11 years, has run the water plant the past six years. He has been public works director the past five years. The plant is run by computer and typically requires one to two man hours a day to maintain and monitor, said Loberg. In the event Loberg is unavailable, public works employee Kirk Morgan is also a certified plant operator.
After the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reclassified Paonia's raw water supplies from "groundwater" to "groundwater under the direct influence of surface water" in 2012, the plant was deemed inadequate for meeting federal clean water and safe drinking water laws, and the state mandated updates to the system to bring the town into compliance.
Construction of the $1.6 million project, which went online last March, was funded by grants and low-interest loans from the Department of Local Affairs, the Colorado Water Resources Power Development Authority, the Gunnison Basin Round Table and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It replaces a 33-year-old "pressurized conventional system," said Loberg.
The 2,500-square foot plant, which went online last March, serves some 1,600 in-town residents, and another 1,850 out-of-town residents via 26 private water companies. Its state-of-the-art ultra-membrane filtration system, manufactured by Filter Tech, treats about 180,000 gallons of water per day and is rated at 468,000 gallons per day.
Every detail of the plant, including turbidity and chlorine levels and the volume of water through the filtration membranes is monitored by computer. Loberg said that when the system senses something is wrong, his cell phone rings.
Each month, data is pulled from the computer and submitted in a report to the CDPHE. The plant also undergoes a sanitary survey by the CDPHE every three years, and every five years the storage tank is inspected and disinfected. Last March a diving team with CW Divers of Albuquerque, N.M., sent a diver into the tank to inspect it. The town is also required to complete regular testing for a long list of contaminants.
The system also neutralizes alkalinity/acidity, or pH levels, in the water. That reduces the leaching of lower levels of lead and copper from older pipes, which increases as acidity levels increase, and which has been blamed for the lead problems in Flint, Mich. The required pH balance has an acceptable range of 6.5-9, said Loberg, and the water that leaves the plant is a baseline 7.5. "We have very good water to start with," said Loberg.
The town also operates the one-million gallon Clock Water Treatment Plant on Lamborn Mesa Road, which was upgraded in 2011.
The delivery system is also aging. Last year the town replaced the pipes that carry water from the springs to the plant. They are currently about halfway through a four-phase project to replace 17,800 lineal feet of pipe on Lamborn Mesa, much of it 70- to 80-years old.
The projects are part of more than $5 million in water system upgrades that are expected to be completed this year. Original plans also called for construction of additional water storage, which was determined to be unnecessary. The town redirected funding to replace 3,250 linear feet of in-town water main from Grand Avenue to the railroad tracks on Third Street, then to Lamborn Avenue, and across to Second Street. The winning bid is expected to be named by the board of trustees at the March 14 public meeting.
Thanks to the efforts of state Rep. Millie Hamner, House District 61, Colorado State University plans to re-open the Rogers Mesa research site.
The facility was taken out of operation in 2011, due to budget cuts throughout the CSU system.