The tale of the trail of water in Carbon County
Water has been called the life blood of the west, and it is as true as the day is long. A look around Carbon County will tell anyone that is true. Without water Helper, Spring Glen, Price, Wellington and East Carbon would look much like Clark Valley; rabbit, sage and cheat grass, with a scattering of juniper trees.
While much of what we see growing in the valley is nourished by untreated irrigation water, the people that live in the confines of Castle Country need clean, healthy water to drink. A lot of that is provided by the Price River Water Improvement District and their water treatment plant just below Castle Gate rock in Price Canyon. The water that is fed into this plant comes from the Price River; water that flows down from the mountains miles above.
Price city also has a plant in the same vicinity that they use during the warm weather when they cannot supply all their needs with well water.
Once the water in the river reaches the plants location the first step of treatment is the diversion structure, which is located just up the canyon from the main plant. This structure catches the water from the stream and diverts it into a pipe toward the main plant.
The treatments used for culinary water supplies fall into three basic categories; mechanical, biological and chemical.
The diversion structure itself is a mechanical means of treatment; it removes large objects from the water to be treated with screens and steps. Natural objects such as logs, leaves, branches and other items are removed along with unnatural objects such as cans, bottles, paper, plastic and even diapers.
Looking at some of the catch grates and basins it is obvious some people don't respect the watershed as they should.
"One of our biggest problems, at this point in the process, is the logs and sticks that come down the stream from the beavers who are busy up stream," said Richens. "Their work in waters above the plant plugs up our intake portals and may even block flows of water that we need up stream."
The water is then piped to the initial treatment building which is called the sand trap building because it traps all the heavy silt from the water by slowing it down and allowing the silt to settle to the bottom of the pit, where it is scraped and washed out.
"We have some of the most soiled water in the state to treat," said Ken Snook, water treatment plant superintendent. "The low vegetation on the hills allow a great deal of erosion, and that material ends up in the river's water."
The water is then sent to the pretreatment basin, where the water is slowed down even more, and more silt is removed. These are big cement pond like structures where the water almost comes to a dead stop in the eyes of the beholder. These structures can be seen from Highway 6 by motorists as they pass by.
But one shouldn't be fooled by the seemingly slow pace of the water that passes through; the plant itself can produce six million gallons of water a day. However, even during the warmest weather the western and central part of the county usually only uses about four million.
The water is then fed into the main plant where it is put through the third floor chemical feed process. In this process alum, lime and polymers are added to remove algae and other types of pollutants as the water passes into the flocculation basin.
In this basin, and in the next step, the sedimentation basin, the algae and heavy materials are taken out of the water.
"Algae in the water is one of our big problems," said Snook. "The river gets a lot of algae in it, especially this time of year."
That's because stream levels drop in the fall, algae dies and it is flushed downstream toward the valley.
Snook says that they can remove a lot of the algae, but this isn't done easily, and without using power activated Carbon, even with the removal the water can have an odor.
As the water flows through each of these processes, one can observe the water getting clearer and clearer as it heads off to the filter tanks inside the plant.
As the water flows to the final filtering process, the sludge that is taken off during the sedimentation process, as well as previous processes, is pumped to the sludge building farther down the canyon.
The water filled with sludge is then placed in a very large basin where it is allowed to settle out all the particulates that can be removed. Then the sludge is taken off the floor of the tank and run through a belt press which squeezes out all the water.
A truck is housed in this building which is filled with dried sludge. When it is full the sludge it is hauled away to the landfill or used for fill. The sludge itself is not very good for growing plants. That's proven by a few mounds of sludge around the plant, some of which has been there for years. These mounds show that little vegetation can grow on them.
The water that is being cleaned is taken through its final filtering process as it runs through a tank, which consists of an anthracite coal and sand filter. This filtering system works by pushing the water through filters that are filled with gravel that is gradually sized down to sand size grains. This process takes the final solid pollutants out of the water.
In the basement below the filter tanks is the clear well where the water has chlorine added to it for disinfection.
Chlorine strength is measured in parts per million. The chlorine that is added at this point can be measured at two to three parts per million, which is quite strong by drinking or swimming pool standards. It is added that strong because the water is about to start the long journey down the canyon towards PRWID's customers through an intricate distribution system.
"The water we take out of the Price River has a very large Giardia count," said Snook. "This protozoa comes from the bodies of warm blooded animals. For some reason it is the highest in the fall and winter. We have done studies to find out why, but we haven't figured that one out yet."
How water is being treated at the plant is changing however. New standards, new regulations and new concerns are always being put out by the federal government and drinking quality regulating bodies.
"The processes are changing and we will need to keep up with them," said Richens. "As our county grows in population the requirements also can change. There will be transitions to make in the future throughout our water system."