Westminster convened a group of former City Managers and water utility experts at the Recreation Center Feb. 17 to discuss the next steps for the city’s water supply.
Westminster City Council hosted a Water Leadership Roundtable to talk about all things water. Attendees included Bill Christopher, Former City Manager of Westminster, Adam Jokerst, current Deputy Director of Water Resources for the City of Greeley, Jim Lochhead, chief executive for Denver Water, Brent McFall, Former City Manager for Westminster and Tom Settle, Former Water Treatment Superintendent for Westminster.
Conversations around infrastructure, rates, climate change and more all took place at the meeting.
The debate over whether the city should build a new treatment plant remains a contentious one in Westminster. The treatment plant and the city’s water rates were a factor in many councilors’ campaigns in the 2021 election. Councilors toured the aging Semper Water Treatment plant Jan. 4 to see the state that it is in.
The Feb. 17 roundtable was set up as an opportunity for the council to ask experts across Colorado about how they approached infrastructure issues in the past.
Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott asked how much age factors into a new water treatment plant. DeMott said his background is in information technology and he’s always looking for ways to refurbish parts and brainstorms solutions to make things last longer.
It’s a balancing act, Denver Water’s Lochhead said.
“At what point do you sell your car? You want that perfect sweet spot where it’s just about to break and you can then sell it,” Lochhead said.
Councilor Obi Ezeadi asked about the criteria for the last responsible moment to pull the trigger on a new project, such as a water treatment plant.
“Key planning, make sure you’ve got it right, make sure you’ve answered all the questions before you ultimately pull the trigger,” Lochhead said. “It’s not a hesitancy to make a decision, it’s making sure you continually reassess your alternatives and your options so you make sure it’s the right decision.”
Ezeadi said that each project in each city is relative. Population, technology and data are all specific to each municipality.
“Our trigger for replacing facilities is largely influenced by the community’s needs, as demand grows we need to add additional capacity,” Greely’s Adam Jokerst said. “That’s a good time to replace aging infrastructure.”
Jokerst noted wildfires that greatly affected the watersheds Greeley gets its water from. He said the fires were predicted but turned out to be worse than planned. Water flowing from burned sites turns completely black and is untreatable by any treatment plant, he said.
Settle said that for Westminster, the question of wildfires affecting the water supply is not if, but when. But luckily, the water feeders into Standley Lake can be shut off to avoid the contaminated water from entering the lake.
“Greeley historically underinvested in wastewater treatment plants and it led to taste and odor issues that we’ve had to correct,” Jokerst said.
“On our Belleview plant, we did let it go a little too long before we replaced it and really ran into some reliability issues the last couple years before we replaced it,” he said.
He said residents never saw any impacts. Those impacts cost the city more money, due to repairs and other costs.
City Councilor Sarah Nurmela asked whether Greeley and Denver rely on water rates to cover the costs of infrastructure, and Jokerst said yes. A mixture of debt and rate revenue contributes to paying for capital improvement in Greeley, he said. The debt portion helps push the cost onto future residents.
Former Westminster manager McFall noted that he and Christopher, another former Westminster manager, went off the same philosophy, which was to maintain a water rate structure that maintained the water system and was able to fund improvements while balancing affordability.
Christopher and McFall said that it is important to pace growth when it comes to building out the city and to be attentive to how new developments will affect utilities.
Christopher recommended an additional revenue stream to fund water infrastructure to not fully rely on the water rates.