Treatment plant returns water into Price River drainage system
In Carbon County, residents live literally at the top of the chain - the water chain. Or at least, people do geographically.
The water that runs down the drains at homes and businesses in the area flows to the Price River Water Improvement District (PRWID) treatment plant in Wellington.
That water eventually ends up in agricultural areas in Arizona and southern California and in cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Above the Price area are many users and the water shed that affect the quality of water.
For instance, there is the town of Scofield. As small as it, it still uses water and returns wastewater to the supply system. Then there are the many cabins in the mountains. They have wastewater that is mostly returned through septic systems.
The mines in the mountain above also affect local water quality. Most do a good job of keeping the water shed clean of fuel spills and contamination, but the mines are there.
People also need to consider that most of the water that western Carbon County uses flows down the Price River before it is treated. Therefore, it is exposed to runoff from both U.S. Highway 6 and the railroad tracks that run along side it.
Finally, residents have to look at all the animals that exist in the mountains where the local watershed is. This means considering not only wild animals, but also livestock, particularly sheep.
In realistic terms, even though Carbon County consumers are high on the water chain geographically, residents are closer to the middle when the local area's place in usage is considered.
If residents really think about the flow of water into the county, they should feel responsibility for each and every drop.
According to the compiled data, every person in America produces 50 to 100 gallons of waste water per day. This is a lot of fluid, but examining what is contained in that flow is more important.
The chemicals and materials are poured down the drain just don't disappear into thin air. Even with the treatment plant that lays between the drains in buildings and the Price River, it is still dangerous to pour certain kinds of materials in the sink and watch it flow down the pipe.
If chemicals such as paint, pesticides, solvents, motor oil and other toxic substances are disposed of down drains, it disrupts or destroys the treatment process at the Wellington waste water plant.
"More and more, we are being forced to police what goes down the drain in this county," explains Jeff Richens, the district manager for PRWID. "The worst thing a homeowner or business owner can do is to pour petroleum based products down the drain. It causes a great many problems at the plant."
Dumping certain kinds of things down the sink is not only damaging, but illegal and possibly dangerous. There have been numerous instances in past years of flammable materials catching fire in the sewers of cities. The situations created nightmares for both residents and firefighters.
In the waste water plant, the final stage in the return of water to the drainage from which it originally came, must meet certain federal and state treatment standards. Each day millions of gallons of water are put back into the Price River, and somewhere downstream that water will be used by someone else, in some important way.
The operation of a sewage treatment plant basically works in two different stages, according to Richens.
The first stage is a mechanical stage that catches large objects such as sticks and paper that may be in the effluent that comes into the plant through the main sewer line.
The fluid that is left after this step is aerated and the water is slowed down so that the sediments that are in it will either settle on the bottom of the tank or they will, in the case of some materials, float to the top where they are skimmed off. These steps account for about 30 percent to 40 percent of the water treatment process.
The other 60 percent to 70 percent of the process is done biologically, with microorganisms that literally eat the remaining pollutants that are in the water. This is where the problem of pouring inappropriate materials into the sewer system can do damage to the treatment process.
Petroleum products, for the most part, will kill many of the organisms, thus destroying the pollution control processes. If left unchecked, the effluent flowing out of the plant would then, biologically and in terms of toxicity, be as polluted as the material coming into the facility.
Fortunately, engineers at the plant monitor the effluent contents with various kinds of tests. Some of those tests are conducted daily, others less often. If they discover problems caused by an unwanted substance they can take steps to mitigate the situation. However there is only so much they can do. Even just a quart of motor oil dumped down a sewer can destroy millions of microorganisms and pollute up to 70,000 gallons of water so it is undrinkable and very hard to clean up.
"When we get high levels of petroleum in the effluent coming into the plant we call it slug load," indicated Richens. "This means we must take measures to control it before it destroys our biological processes. We use absorbents such as what you see when an oil spill on the ocean is reported on television. But the best way to stop the problem is to not have it happen at all."
The individuals or companies responsibility for "solution pollution" however, does not end with the liquids that go down the drain; it includes runoff water from our driveways and parking lots, as well as any substance that might be spilled or dumped onto the ground. Sometimes that runoff becomes a problem not only for the storm sewers but for the sanitary sewer system as well.
"When rain water or other runoff invades our sanitary process we call it infiltration," said Richens. "Some infiltration comes from places where manholes are low and water runs in or from old masonry or wooden pipes that leak and the water runs into them through cracks. But some of it comes from illegal hookups where buildings with roof drains or down spouts are hooked into the sanitary system."
A few years ago the water district found a building in downtown Price that had apparently had it's roof drain hooked up to the sewer system a long time ago.
"The tenant of the building had no idea that it had been hooked up that way," revealed Richens. "Obviously, it isn't hooked up that way anymore."
Understanding the basics about how chemicals are moved in the natural environment is important for every citizen to know. There are four basic means by which it happens: runoff, leaching, food chain contamination, and volatilization.
â¢Runoff is when a chemical can flow across a surface in a medium such as water and contaminate air, soil, living organisms, or other water. People can visualize the process by walking across a parking lot on a rainy day. As the water flows towards the storm sewer drains, it has a glazed, rainbow appearance. This is oil and other spilled chemicals from the parking lot's surface literally going down the drain.
â¢Leaching occurs when water or some other medium carries dripping or spilled chemicals into the ground.
If a chemical leaches down into the soil to the point it contacts ground water, it can pollute that water, which will then be picked up by plants and animals. This is what occurs when people pour anti-freeze, motor oil, raw pesticides or other materials on the ground.
In many areas of the world where farming has been going on for decades, the use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides are declining because when these materials are used in great abundance, the ground water in the area becomes undrinkable. The so-called "green revolution" of a few decades ago has turned into a case of farmers poisoning their own drinking water to grow food and their business.
â¢Food chain contamination takes place when some level in the chain is contaminated by a chemical that shouldn't be there. In the plant world, this can take place when contaminated water reaches crops, either through irrigation or flooding. When these plants are eaten by wildlife or man, the contamination is passed along.
â¢Volatilization or evaporation takes place when chemicals that disperse in the air move into other types of mediums, such as water and soil. This contamination occurs through rainfall, snowfall, the attachment of the chemical to dust particles, or even a direct contamination of a medium through the air.
Spraying pesticides directly around water sources is one way to directly pollute water. Under certain conditions, such as when temperatures are high and wind speed becomes moderate, these types of actions can become deadly and costly.
While all these types of problems are important to the water districts. But most importantly, the PRWID staff cannot police every home in a community.
"We have to rely on the common sense that people have to help us solve these problems," commented Richens.
The water chain begins with each individual's actions. What people pour down the drain affect each and every Carbon County resident everyday.
(Editors note: This is the fifth and final installment on the story of how culinary water is supplied, collected and treated by PRWID in Carbon County.)