A new and improved regional wastewater treatment plant may cost $60 million over the next 15 years, according to Karen Guglielmone, Telluride environmental and engineering division manager. 

“That’s not meant to scare you, but it does give you pause,” she told regional elected officials as part of an update on the Telluride Regional Wastewater Treatment Master Plan Monday afternoon during an intergovernmental meeting at Mountain Village Town Hall. 

Gugliemone explained that the price tag is a “conservative” (aka “likely high”) estimate, and the engineering team is looking into alternative wastewater-treatment technologies that could possibly cut the cost by $20 million. (“That would be nice,” she said about the possible price reduction during her presentation.) 

Stantec Inc. — a design and consulting company headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta — is the engineer under contract, Gugliemone said. The company’s slogan is “We design with community in mind,” according to its official website (stantec.com). 

Gugliemone added that the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village recently tabbed Financial Consulting Services to complete a financial analysis, along with a Financial Analysis Task Force and the town councils. The analysis will “lay out how the community might best meet the financial obligations before us,” she said.  

Water and wastewater projects are covered through separate enterprise funds, which use taxes and service fees to raise capital. At a June 2017 wastewater treatment plant update, Telluride Councilman Todd Brown theorized there most likely would be a utility rate increase to help with project costs.

At Monday’s meeting, Mountain Village Mayor Laila Benitez pondered whether setting up a special taxing district for the treatment plant would be another funding option. Gugliemone said the financial consulting company is looking into that, but nothing has been suggested — let alone decided — yet.

The current wastewater treatment plant at Society Turn serves the communities of Telluride, Mountain Village, Eider Creek, Sunset Ridge, Aldasoro and Lawson Hill. 

The plant is reaching its originally designed capacity, officials have explained. Plus, Department of Public Health and Environment regulations through the Colorado Discharge Permit System have been altered over the years. (Colorado Water Quality Control Division stipulations regarding acceptable metal levels in the water also changed in 2017.) 

Those variables, in conjunction with an increased waste stream and new treatment options, make updating and eventually expanding the current plant paramount within the next decade. (A 1.5-percent annual population growth has been used to calculate increased wastewater loads until 2047. Basically, if the plant isn’t expanded, the San Miguel River would run with waste, which is a disgusting, vile thought.)

Gugliemone called it a “very important regional project” with “many different parts.” She added the current facility is near the end of its “useful life” and needs to be rehabilitated or replaced. 

Moving the facility to somewhere other than Society Turn — like Ilium — would require “extreme costs,” Gugliemone said. 

“It made sense to use infrastructure that we already have,” she added. 

Mountain Village Councilman Bruce McIntyre asked if the project would require acquiring more land. Gugliemone said more land would be necessary at some point, and that cost may be separate from the currently calculated project total. 

The San Miguel Valley Corporation owns the land immediately around the current plant. Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud has previously said there have been “very preliminary” talks with corporation officials about possibly acquiring more land.  

Gugliemone explained the project has entered the “implementation phase,” which includes “immediate improvements,” like copper levels compliance, oxidation ditch maintenance and biosolids management. Near- and long-term goals, which are outlined until 2027, include structural repairs and plant expansion to meet new state nutrient regulations, among other objectives. 

Officials talked about releasing a “watch what you flush” memo, especially for visitors that may not be familiar with the best methods of disposal. 

“It’s not always obvious what does and doesn’t go down the drain,” Gugliemone said. 

She added there will be several future project discussions in order to provide proper updates and direction. 

“We still have a long road ahead of us,” she said.