Saturday, September 30, 2006

Blue River "Pumpback" a No Go

The Breckenridge Sanitation District last week suspended plans for a proposed $10 million Blue River pumpback after negotiations with the Board of County Commissioners failed to resolve issues related to the county's permitting authority over the project.

According to district manager Andy Carlberg, talks collapsed after the county added "unreasonable and unlawful" language to a hotly debated Memorandum of Agreement.

As approved by the BOCC, the agreement would subject the district and its board of directors to civil and criminal penalties, Carlberg said.

The permitting negotiations have been complex, but essentially, the county wants to ensure that it retains what it believes is a state-mandated responsibility to review and regulate any "unintended consequences" resulting from operation of the pumpback outside the parameters outlined by the agreement. At issue during the district's Sept. 21 board meeting was language that would have established a "strong presumption of immediate and irreparable harm," from operation outside those parameters, according to county attorney Jeff Huntley. "We have to have a remedy in the event there is a violation," Huntley said.

That clause was unacceptable to the district board, Carlberg said, sounding frustrated but still passionate about the pumpback's upside.

"It's too good of a project to go away," Carlberg said, continuing to tout the potential benefits to water quality and quantity in the Upper Blue Basin.

As proposed, the pumpback would shunt up to 17 cfs of water from near the district's Farmer's Korner treatment facility through a pipeline back upstream to Breckenridge. The exact point of discharge back into the river hadn't been determined. But Carlberg said all along that the project would boost water in a depleted section of the Blue, where minimum streamflow standards set to protect aquatic life frequently go unmet, especially during snowmaking season. As well, the recycled water would have helped meet treatment needs at the district's Iowa Hill facility, and potentially even provided a source for a new reservoir in Breckenridge that is on the drawing board. Carlberg said the pumpback could also help address a sticky well water issue by providing an augmentation supply for groundwater users in the Upper Blue. Finally, he said the project would save a substantial amount of money by eliminating the need for costly upgrades at the Farmer's Korner plant, foreseeably needed to address water quality impacts within 10 to 15 years.

Carlberg said the district would now start to look at making plans for those improvements. "What was really sad was, we never liked the agreement, but we were at a point where we were going to sign it anyway," Carlberg said, explaining that the "presumption of immediate and irreparable harm" clause was the monkey wrench that gummed up the deal.

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