Major construction is happening throughout Norwood. The town is in the middle of implementing one of its biggest projects yet: a raw water system.
For decades, town officials have wondered if a raw water system might be possible. Now — after three years of study, group collaboration, grant applications and awards, engineering, numerous public meetings, and more — Norwood will complete its raw water system by end of summer. That means next spring, many people (those that purchased raw water taps for their residences) will be running a sprinkler, watering a garden, planting vegetable patches and growing flowers. And the system, officials say, also has other benefits.
WHAT IS RAW WATER?
Compared to tap water, raw water is untreated, meaning it has not been filtered with chloramine or other chemicals. Essentially, it’s ditch water — in Norwood’s case, Gurley Ditch water — a precious natural resource used for irrigation and agriculture.
Experts say that for farming and gardening, raw water is ideal. Raw water attracts pollinators, like bees and butterflies, and plants and flowers flourish quite well with the microbes and other naturally occurring particles present in it.
“Putting treated water on a plant, we take out the ingredients that a plant likes, the things that are good for them,” Norwood’s Public Works Director Tim Lippert said. “Using treated water on plants and vegetation isn’t a good thing. Raw water already has the nutrients in it.”
Because it doesn’t go through the treatment process, it’s a cheaper utility to deliver than potable water. Lippert said that in addition to being affordable, raw water is easy to manage, because no regulation of it is needed (other than making the pipe it comes out of purple, to distinguish it from treated water). Raw water is a seasonal product, available only during the growing season.
Nucla has had raw water as a town utility for years; Dove Creek also implemented a system a few years ago. Now, Norwood is following suit.
HOW NORWOOD’S SYSTEM CAME TOGETHER
It’s taken a community of people and organizations coming together to make Norwood’s raw water system possible. From the beginning, officials in the Norwood Water Commission and the Public Works Department had wondered if the town could make the project plausible. Lippert said the town explored the idea some 20 years ago, but citizens weren’t ready for it then.
He said that in the last few years, officials began to revisit the idea and wondered if the town’s existing water shares could be put to use as a raw water utility service for residents. The town does own 119 shares of Gurley water (managed by Farmer’s Water Development).
In 2015, town officials reopened the conversation with members of the Norwood Water Commission, Farmers Water and other regional water groups.
The first step included the Colorado Water Board Conservancy awarding a $47,000 grant to the Town of Norwood in 2016 to support a feasibility study on the project. (SGM, of Durango, did the study and continued with the engineering work.)
Along the way, the Norwood Lawn and Garden Group, spearheaded by Clay Wadman, who owns a home in Norwood and who wanted to see the project succeed, worked on education and outreach in town. The garden group worked to help the town sell residential raw water taps and supported Norwood in the fundraising process.
Soon, grants began rolling in from the Southwest Water Conservation District ($175,000), San Miguel Water Conservancy ($5,000), the Telluride Foundation ($5,000) and San Miguel County ($25,000). In 2017, the Department of Local Affairs made a decision to give Norwood’s project around $690,000 in a matching grant to make raw water in Norwood a reality.
The Town of Norwood also put money in — around $68,000 for final engineering — from the town’s reserves to move the project along. In 2017, town officials also budgeted $25,000 for the project; they’ve earmarked another $200,000 from the capital improvement fund if those funds are needed.
Norwood’s Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer said seeing the raw water system come to fruition is quite an accomplishment for the town.
“The idea of a raw water system has been discussed for many years, but with the help of a grant from CWCB, Norwood was able to complete a feasibility study. From the feasibility study came the grassroots Norwood Lawn and Garden Group, which became the public outreach group that assisted the Town of Norwood and Norwood Water Commission in this project,” she said. “There are so many people who were key players in this project. This project is the product of teamwork. So many people have shown their support for the raw water system.”
OTHER BENEFITS OF UNTREATED WATER
While it’s true that utilizing raw water makes flower and vegetable gardening possible, officials say it offers additional benefits, such as helping to increase property values.
The Kurtex Management Company, which owns Norwood’s Cottonwood Creek Estates, purchased 31 residential taps for raw water. Wadman has said the system there will no doubt transform the look of the neighborhood: rocky areas that comprise the lots can be replaced with landscaping, and raw water at each residence will sustain the lawns. At the same time, Cottonwood Creek Estates’ residents will have the option of gardening and producing their own food.
Grafmyer said another bonus of Norwood’s project is the high-speed fiber cable that will be laid in the trenches during the construction process. Bringing broadband internet to residents also helps property values.
Lippert and others from the Norwood Water Commission have said that giving residents access to raw water can also free up space for potable water at the treatment plant, making for stronger water reserves, which will be helpful for economic development and, especially, drought. (Already this summer, the town is planning for outdoor watering restrictions with domestic water.)
“During the summer time, people use treated water for outside water — for gardens, trees and such — and the raw water system right now will encompass the Town of Norwood, and will take what they’d use for outside watering and free that treated water up,” he said. “It will absolutely help.”
Wadman said untreated water is ideal for soil health. He said the garden group believes that getting raw water to the people is a goal because it’s a resource that can preserve the landscape.
“Someday we will be gone, but the trees and lilacs … they will remain forever,” he said. “Healthy gardens will supplement people’s pantries, and miniature reservoirs of humidity will be stored in shaded lawns. It’s about sustainability, and building a permanent foundation from which a healthy community can thrive.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Overall, it’s costing Norwood approximately $1.3 million to deliver raw water to its residents.
So far the town has sold 135 raw water taps. Another 20 signed “tap commitments” are set to be paid for by May 1, and Grafmyer said that people continue to purchase them. The town has 300 total raw water taps available.
So far, tap prices have been $2,500. The cost will jump to $3,200 on May 1, due to the construction process. Once the project is complete, taps will cost $4,800.
The project manager of Norwood’s raw water system is Ron Gabbett, who was hired in March, when construction began. Gabbett is a five-year member of the Norwood Water Commission, and is a construction contractor who owns his own business. Norwood town officials said they hired Gabbett with confidence; he inspected Norwood’s water treatment plant during the town’s 2014 upgrade.
Telluride Gravel has been awarded a $1,254,631 contract for construction. Already, the company has laid 3,500 feet of 12-inch PVC pipe and 2,600 feet of 8-inch pipe on the south side of town.
Telluride Gravel is currently working on improvements to the raw water reservoir, and tying the main line into that reservoir.
The crew is also working on construction of the water shack, a building for raw water pick-up that is under construction just south of the Cottonwood Creek Estates neighborhood. Those who’ve purchased “remote taps” will be able to use a type of card that will be read electronically for them to get their share.
This enables those outside of town limits to get in on the project and have access to raw water. Wadman and the garden group have also purchased a water wagon to help those who need a trailer to haul water.
Gabbett said Telluride Gravel may be working on laying the pipe in town to serve the residences there as early as next week. Two crews will work the east and west sides of town to get the job done efficiently.
He agreed that collaboration between town officials and other groups, such as the water commission and Farmers Water, has been essential in making the project succeed.
“Farmers Water has been really good with us,” he said. “We had to change the diversion point, and Wilton Barrett was happy with it and steered us in the right direction.”
Lippert said he thinks it’s “taken a village.”
“Over a million dollars — that’s a lot of money to water a plant, but people are on board, and the time was right, and we’re doing it,” he said. “It will be a good thing, and it will green up the community and make it a better place. I don’t really care about property values. I have a home, and this makes it nicer for my neighbors and family. To me, this isn’t a business, it’s a community.”