Legislature will provide financial assistance to some of the state’s water management systems

The wastewater treatment plant in Milner, seen here in 2011, is one of two lagoon-style plants in Routt County built in the 1980s that now need to be upgraded.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today archives

Projects in Routt County are on a list of eligible projects to receive state funding as part of a bill that aims to support safer and greener water management projects.

The bipartisan bill, which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law on Feb. 24, will not only help fund new water management projects, but modify plans and even get rid of existing infrastructure.

Sen. Dylan Roberts and Rep. Meghan Lukens both sponsored the bill, with Roberts being a prime sponsor. 

The communities of Phippsburg, Milner and Hayden are on the Water Projects Eligibility List, with all three adding green infrastructure to current water management projects. 

Projects on the list will be eligible to receive financial assistance from the Drinking Water Revolving Fund created by Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority. The Water Quality Control Commission has developed additions, modifications and deletions of projects on this list.

Legislators said the bill aims to preserve, protect, conserve and develop the state’s water resources. In addition to this, it was enacted to create and preserve employment opportunities, in an effort to improve the economic welfare of the people of the state.

“I appreciate the legislature sending this bipartisan bill to my desk, sponsored by the vast majority of Colorado’s General Assembly with the goal of providing clean and safe water to the people of our state,” Polis said in a recent news release.

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In November 2021, Phippsburg and Milner wastewater plants were under fire when Routt County officials acknowledged a need for an upgrade of outdated ‘lagoon-style’ plants. It was first back in 2001 when Phippsburg residents began to notice a brown tinge to their water. It was not until 17 years later that the local water management system met basic state regulations prompted by the plant seepage requirements.

In 2021, Milner’s plant faced issues with meeting biological oxygen requirements, which would require draining the lagoon. Lagoons are a 50- to 75-year-old technology known for not working well in cold weather. 

Hayden’s water treatment plant, built in 1978, has undergone major improvements over the last three years to mitigate increases in heat-induced algae, according to town officials. Officials say the town put $2.3 million into the water system and plant upgrades.

The town’s water tank near the Yampa Valley Regional Airport contains 500,000 gallons of water.

During his State of the State address to The General Assembly, Polis said ensuring Colorado has the necessary water resources for farms, communities and industries to thrive as a primary focus for his administration.

Population growth and climate change have posed serious threats to Colorado’s water. The Legislature put together a water plan in 2015 following yearslong droughts, fearing that Colorado might reach a point where it does not have enough water. The Colorado River provides water to over 40 million people in the West.

The state has come up with proposed projects over the years, such as building new reservoirs and environmental restoration projects, to prevent the worsening of Colorado’s water issue. In 2019 some of the state’s water projects began to use funding from a tax on sports betting.

In an updated draft of the Colorado Water Plan, anaylsis shows that cities, towns and industries in Colorado could be short 230,000- to 740,000-acre-feet of water annually by 2050. That amount could provide water to approximately 500,000 to 1.5 million homes.

The Polis administration said the governor’s budget proposal includes new and ongoing resources for climate action and preparedness for water quality.

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