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New Boxelder Plant Expansion Helps Keep Waterways, Future Clean

Wastewater isn’t something we typically discuss in everyday conversation. In Fort Collins, that’s often reserved for what’s new in town or what weekend adventures are on the horizon. But with the news that Boxelder Sanitation District recently completed the expansion of its new wastewater treatment plant, wastewater is suddenly a topic relevant to both of those Fort Collins staples. After seven years in development, the newly expanded facility is perfectly positioned to service future growth in the area, while also helping ensure residents have clean waterways for adventures to come.

Stellar service and the stewardship of our natural areas are two commitments that have driven the core mission of Boxelder Sanitation District over the years (the District’s name does come from one of our local waterways, Boxelder Creek, after all).

Beginning as a lagoon treatment system that serviced 100 accounts in the early 1960s, the District has kept in step with the rapid growth of Colorado’s Front Range for more than 50 years. With the development of a state-of-the-art facility in 2013 and the final phase of enhancements completed this summer, the new facility boasts increased operational efficiencies, meets evolving regulatory demands, and accommodates future growth.

Today, Boxelder is excited about its continued commitment to the return of clean water into the Cache la Poudre River and being able to do that more efficiently.

How are the enhancements funded? 

The construction of upgrades and improvements to the Boxelder Sanitation District Wastewater Treatment Facility were financed by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA) State Revolving Fund Program. What does that mean, exactly? Great question.

The CWRPDA is a program administered by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) and provides low-interest loans to wastewater treatment programs like Boxelder. CDPHE works with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Colorado to sell bonds, the proceeds of which turn into loans for service providers like Boxelder. These loans allow for the undertaking of large-scale projects in order to keep up with growing demand, the flexibility to improve expensive equipment or processes, and the ability to fund enhancements that bring facilities up to evolving regulations.

To date, Boxelder has taken out two of these loans. The first loan—funded by monthly service charges and plant investment fees—was used to enable the development of the new facility in 2013. The second loan, which was applied to the most recent improvements completed this summer, was funded by new development fees since the additions were sparked by a need to keep up with growth and we believe that growth pays its own way.

What are some of the exciting new developments at the facility? 

While the first loan created a new facility to match current demand, the second loan funded the upgrades and creation of essential processes to support future demand, including additional oxidation ditches, clarifiers, an expanded ultra-violet disinfection system and a new biosolids treatment system. In total, the new facility is able to treat wastewater in a way that creates cleaner water and trades out chemicals like chlorine—a win for residents and our natural areas.

The new biosolids treatment system has more control over the treatment process and is more efficient, which supports the goal of creating superior clean water, but also makes for a pretty interesting lesson in science. In the previous lagoon system, solids would sink to the bottom of the water. Every couple of years, a contracted company would come to pump the sludge out of the lagoon, which was an expensive but common and necessary solution. This system also complicated the overall treatment plant process with the potential release of phosphorous into the water.

How the Treatment Plant works: A very short lesson in wastewater treatment 

 At the plant, wastewater enters the headworks facility and engages the primary treatment, which removes inorganic materials and grit via screens that rotate. The waste then enters oxidation ditches and clarifiers. In the oxidation ditches, microorganisms deconstruct matter and consume waste materials through a biochemical process.

Two types of microorganisms (we call them “bugs”), those that thrive in oxygen-rich environments, and those that prefer oxygen-deficient environments, do the heavy lifting here. Through the careful regulation of airflow, an environment that promotes aerobic and anaerobic activity is created, spurring along a faster and more efficient breakdown of solids than, say, naturally in a lake or river.

The next step involves the calming act of clarification. New clarifiers intake the wastewater directly from the oxidation ditches and make room for the water to slowly pool. This placid environment allows the properties of water—primarily density—to go to work. All of the once-suspended pieces of matter eventually begin to drop to the bottom of the clarifiers. Once those particles are safely on the bottom, the clear water leaves the clarifier and travels to an ultra-violet light disinfection system to eliminate any potential leftover organisms. Finally, the clean water flows back into our waterways.

Not only is this overall process safer for the environment, it’s also up to the newest regulations like Regulation 85, a nutrient regulation concerned with total nitrogen and phosphorous in the water released back into the wild.

Setting up a clean, healthy future 

Higher density development means more wastewater in the District. While it’s not typically something people discuss in everyday conversation, it is something Boxelder is committed to addressing day-in and day-out, like it has for the last 50 years. That’s because in order for area residents to enjoy a clean, healthy future, there needs to be a service committed to transforming our wastewater into clean, healthy water.