Gunnison City faces sewer problems, treatment plan may reverse damages
By Robert Stevens
GUNNISON—“Well here is a crappy problem for you to write about,” Gunnison City Councilman Blake Donaldson told Gunnison Gazette Publisher Mark Heinline in a council meeting last week.
Donaldson’s statement was an astute double entendre in the form of a pun, delivered during a discussion about addressing problems with the sewer system that were discovered by Phil Harold, a wastewater technician with the Utah Rural Water Association. Harold reported his findings at a city council meeting Wednesday, May 2.
Harold told Gunnison Mayor Lori Nay that he had good news and bad news.
On the positive side of things, the city’s sewer system was running with Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) values of roughly 20.
BOD is the amount of dissolved oxygen needed (i.e. demanded) by aerobic biological organisms to break down organic material present in water.
Harold said levels at a value of 35 were deemed unacceptably high, and in his experience, the BOD levels in Gunnison city were “textbook” for what they should be at.
On the negative side, there are multiple issues the city leadership will have to address to avoid more extensive and expensive sewer system overhauls later.
Harold emphasized three issues plaguing the Gunnison sewer system, but perhaps the strangest of the issues was a white build up in city pools No. 1 and No. 3, which Harold said indicated death of aerobic biological organisms. He said pool No. 1 had a more extensive build up than pool No. 3.
This biological death was indicative of some potent toxin being dumped in the sewer system, he said. A common cause is someone flushing large amounts of methamphetamine down a toilet to dispose of it quickly and conveniently. He also said there had been numerous times when large corporations have been caught dumping their toxin waste materials in the sewer system of a smaller rural town.
When the city asked Harold if the exact cause could be determined, he said it was possible to find the root cause, but it took a large influx of very toxic chemicals to cause serious organic death, and due to dilution, the large amount of money it would take to test for the exact toxin might better be spent solving the problem.
The second issue that Harold said should be addressed is the buildup of solids, or “sludge,” wet mud made up of natural and unnatural liquid and solid components.
The sludge buildup is a problem that when not addressed, robs sewer ponds like the kind Gunnison has of their capacity and effectiveness.
To combat both the bio-death and sludge issues, the council discussed Harold’s recommendation for a treatment of probiotics and potassium manganate, which will help with both the biological death and sludge build up. The treatment, if effective over its one-to two-year life span, could potentially improve both issues dramatically, he said, and might avert having to take more aggressive actions.
The council liked the idea of the probiotic treatment, but it can’t fix the sludge problem entirely.
The remaining problem is that too much trash is going down the sewer system, Harold said. This affects the sewer system’s headworks, the mechanism meant to pull solid, often inorganic materials out of the sewer system.
Nay said the council was aware the prison was a possible source of the trash getting into the system. She said they have some kind of filter for trash, but “maybe some kind of redundancy is needed.”
Harold said another factor could be in play, which impacts nearly every community in America: People flushing moist hygiene napkins marketed as “flushable wipes.”
He said most of the manufacturers of these wipes were facing litigation to remove the claim of being “flushable” because of the damage that many of them do.
“You can flush a toy,” Harold said. “It doesn’t mean you should do it. Harold said the wipes do not dissolve like traditional toilet paper, and wreak havoc on a city’s sewer. He encouraged educating the community on the matter at any opportunity.
All the trash coming through the sewer system not only damages the headworks, it makes sludge build up faster.
A solution for the trash problem needs to be found, he said. He suggested that if funding could be found, newer, more effective headworks, equipped with a lab to test sewer levels on site, could be a benefit to the city.
The council and mayor said the headworks, and the trash problem would have to be figured out, but it was too early to make a commitment to an immediate solution.