Wastewater Town Halls

Re: Upcoming Town Hall Meetings- Monthly Sewer Rate Payers

Dear Rate Payer:

The City of Pueblo Wastewater Department is reaching out for your input regarding an upcoming renewal and review period for treatment variance options. We are inviting you to discuss the impacts of the variance the Colorado Water Quality Division, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has supported previously with the Pueblo’s James R. Dilorio Water Reclamation Facility (Pueblo WRF). The variance term is expiring in 2028, with a review by the Colorado Water Quality Division occurring this year in 2023 which will assist the City of Pueblo’s planning for the future.

We are seeking to provide you with information and your input in planning Pueblo’s future. Pueblo’s Wastewater Department is funded by fees charged to customers and does not receive any revenue from property taxes or sales tax. We strive to ensure investments in our infrastructure do not have widespread negative economic impacts on our residents, which is why we are inviting you for your participation.

The EPA Clean Water Act requires states to adopt water quality standards to protect public health and the environment. The State of Colorado has adopted standards for all of the state’s water bodies including the Arkansas River, which receives wastewater treated by Pueblo WRF that generally meets or exceeds water quality standards mandated by federal and state laws. Your monthly sewer fees are set based on fully funding this service as required by law.

Many pollutants are regulated and tested for prior to being discharged to the river, including selenium and sulfate that are controlled to protect aquatic life. Parts of the City of Pueblo were built on the Pierre Shale formation which contains these naturally- occurring elements. When groundwater comes in contact with the shale, selenium and sulfate become dissolved and are allowed to enter the city’s sanitary sewer system through cracks and joints in pipes and manholes. This groundwater flows through the treatment works along with municipal wastewater where approximately 50% of the selenium is removed and very little sulfate reduction is observed. The remainder is discharged in the treated effluent to the Arkansas River.

In 2018 the State of Colorado- Water Quality Control Commission adopted a Discharger Specific Variance (DSV) for selenium and sulfate that represents the highest degree of protection for aquatic life that is feasible for the Pueblo WRF. The variance was supported by the Colorado Water Quality Division (Division), Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the EPA and the reason for it is as follows:

  1. It is not technologically feasible to reliably meet the statewide water quality standards for selenium or sulfate at the Pueblo WRF. Several alternative methods were considered outside of the City’s control, considered to be not applicable, would not be effective at reducing selenium, or would result in more environmental damage to correct. The remaining alternatives were evaluated for pollutant removal and costs.
  2. It is not economically feasible to reliably meet the statewide water quality standards for selenium or sulfate at the Pueblo WRF. The capital and operating costs of a remaining alternative would require the City to invest upwards of $200 million in additional treatment mechanisms without a certain substantial environmental benefit. Such an investment could cause user fees to exceed 1.5% of the median household income (MHI) and result in substantial and widespread social and economic impacts.

The terms of the approved DSV included implementing a $10 million management program in 2018 to reduce concentrations as much as feasible. The management program includes:

  • lining and replacing sewer pipe and service lines
  • sealing manholes
  • implementing a sump pump removal requirement for homeowners
  • investigating additional treatment options

The management program has resulted in some measurable reduction in sources of selenium and the City will continue to implement the program during the variance term. Despite these efforts the selenium and sulfate concentrations still do not meet state water quality standards without the variance.

The variance term expires in 2028 and the City is currently preparing for a review in 2023 by the Division which will assist in planning for the future. Unless the variance is renewed in five years, the City may be required to make a significant investment in additional treatment technologies. The cost would be bared by rate payers and your monthly sewer fees could increase dramatically as a result.

Please join us at one of the following town hall meetings to learn more about this issue and what it means to you as a sewer fee rate payer within the City:

Monday, July 10 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. located at Lamb Library 2525 S. Pueblo Boulevard
Tuesday, July 11 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. located at Barkman Library 1300 Jerry Murphy Road
Monday, July 17 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. located at Lamb Library 2525 S. Pueblo Boulevard
Wednesday, July 19 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. located at Rawlings Library 100 E. Abriendo Avenue
Friday, July 21 from 12:00-1:00 p.m. located at Rawlings Library 100 E. Abriendo Avenue

Please contact Andra Ahrens, Wastewater Director for additional information at 719-553-2896 or aahrens@pueblo.us.