By Judy Lehn
Wednesday’s Citizen First forum on Berthoud water drew about 50 residents who wanted to hear what Town Administrator Michael Hart had to say. The subjects covered ranged from the annual foul smelling and tasting water, to the “exorbitant” water bills paid by town citizens.
Hart began by saying that the Town is doing a full assessment of anything that has to do with water quality. The reservoir “went upside down” a month early this year, which did not give the town quite the time it needed implement the approved procedure for improving the water. “Our reservoir is over one hundred years old, and we don’t know what’s growing in the bottom of it, other than the algae, but we do know it’s getting worse,” he said.
The work, which has already been contracted, involves moving the carbon filtration to a position earlier in the treatment process and increasing the time that the water is in contact with the carbon. This will be accomplished by changing the “plumbing” rather than physically moving the carbon filter. The time in the carbon will be increased from 10 minutes to over 2 hours.
A temporary trial of the system shows that it greatly improves the quality of the plant output.
Hart emphasized that the water that comes from Carter Lake to the reservoir needs to go directly into the treatment plant. The Little Thompson Water District (LTWD) treats their water at Carter Lake and the water requires less chemical treatment. The town has hired five consultants to study the problem and a plan should be ready to present to the Trustees by late September or early October. Those in attendance seemed to be pleased by the efforts being expended for water quality, but there was definitely a “wait and see” attitude.
Jane Clevenger of Berthoud asked if everyone in town was getting the improved water. Hart responded that the LTWD opened an 8-inch tap at the cemetery and is providing 20-25% of the community’s treated water. The town was most interested in providing the water to the restaurants so that their businesses would not suffer. Everyone else is getting the improved water from the Berthoud water treatment plant.
Dana Foley expressed the opinion that going completely with LTWD water was the answer. We would save money on treatment and could lease our water shares back to “Little T.”
The group was not as receptive to Hart’s explanation of the utility bill, which he said is the second highest in the state.
Key to the issue is the bond indebtedness for the Water Treatment Plant. Those bonds will not be paid until 2037. The current charge for water is $3.93 per 1,000 gallons, but only $1.00 of that goes to repay the debt. The rest of the utility bill is divided into water treatment and transportation. He said, “If we were able to attract more users, the rate would come down. Mary Cowdin, Berthoud Town Clerk, re-emphasized that wastewater usage fee is determined by the amount of water used in January and February.
Scott Sarbaugh of Prairie Star Development asked for clarification that over 50% of water fee is in the maintenance. Administrator Hart affirmed that to be a correct assessment, but restated that the number could be changed with more users. Sarbaugh also commented on the recent TV media attention to the Town’s water problem, calling it a “public relations nightmare.” He said “I can’t sell houses with this kind of bad publicity.” Hart explained his own interaction with the TV stations, having found only one of them to be cooperative by letting him explain the problem and actually having them sample the water as it is now.
Dorian Ryan-Tacy responded that the people who live in the town are the best public relations medium. If the problem is resolved, the world will know because everyone who lives here will tell them. In addition, the town can conduct their own public relations campaign.
Hart explained that he is focusing only on water quality this year. Next year he will present ideas for lowering the utility bills.
Other town officials attending the meeting were Trustees Dick Shepherd and Tom Jones, former Mayor and Utility Advisory Board Chairman Milan Karspeck, and Berthoud Public Works Director Stephanie Brothers.