Water plant shutdown a ‘test’ for future fire in Fish Creek watershed

Steamboat residents asked to stop outdoor watering, consider curbing use elsewhere

Fish Creek Water Treatment Plant will close for two months for $2 million in maintenance work.
Mount Werner Water/Courtesy

If a fire ever took Steamboat Springs’ Fish Creek Water Treatment Plant offline, the city would need to rely solely on water from the Yampa River.

It’s never needed to before. But on Sept. 15, the Fish Creek plant will shut down for maintenance for about two months, giving the city a dry run at what life with one water source would be like.

“This will be the first time we have operated strictly on the Yampa wells,” said Frank Alfone, general manager of Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District. “The community would rely on this strategy should the Fish Creek watershed be impacted by a wildfire, and this shutdown will be a good practice test.”

Alfone said they have modeling where they have already simulated what would happen with Steamboat’s water system when the tap is shut off from Fish Creek.

The city and water district are asking residents to curb their water use during the closure, but Alfone said there is still enough water for a potential emergency.

“There wont be any changes to fire hydrant pressures or availability of flow,” Alfone said.

Last month, the district sent a letter to customers asking them to turn off their outdoor irrigation systems and consider other conservation steps by Sept. 15. Stopping outdoor use could save millions of gallons of water per day.

“Outdoor water use in the summer, on a busy day, is anywhere between 3 and 4 million gallons a day, which is right at the capacity of the Yampa Wells Plant,” Alfone said. “By curbing irrigation water — asking people to  turn it off — that demand essentially goes away and we can focus on providing water for interior use.”

The letter suggests residents avoid washing cars, and hosing down sidewalks or other outdoor services. Reducing water inside would also be “extremely beneficial,” the letter reads.

In addition to the letters, Alfone said they have been aggressively calling landscapers as well. He hoped the timing would correspond well with when people typically winterize their irrigation systems anyway.

Customers in the Skyline Tank Zone are required to turn off outdoor watering systems, and “it will be critical other water users do the same,” according to a news release from the city. The city will be turning off non-critical irrigation systems and curbing others.

“Extra efforts to conserve water during this vital upgrade will provide for a smoother project,” said Michell Carr, the city’s distribution and collection manager.

The water from Fish Creek and the Yampa River are treated the same, but some residents may notice a difference in taste because water from the river has more minerals, according to the city.

Alfone said the maintenance work on the Fish Creek plant has been divided into two parts and comes with a price tag of about $2 million.

First, crews will replace the main electrical gear — essentially the power control center for the plant — before adding baffle curtains to a 2 million gallon tank. The curtains will allow for more chlorine contact time before water moves along in the system, meaning better disinfection of the water, Alfone said.

The Yampa Wells Plant has been upgraded recently, adding additional raw water and more capacity to treat it. Alfone said a 2018 upgrade doubled treatment capacity from 1.8 million gallons per day to 3.5 million gallons.

Alfone expects the Fish Creek plant to be ready to ramp by up by Nov. 18, just as the city gets ready for the start of the ski season.

“That’s the goal,” Alfone said.

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