Flooding, sewer issues reported in area


Update: Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District issued a warning this afternoon that people should stay out of the ponded water in the Pagosa Lakes area as the water is contaminated with sewage.

By Randi Pierce | Staff Writer

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) announced Wednesday morning that last weekend’s rain-on-snow event is causing flooding and sewer issues in the area, with the continuing wet weather expected to worsen the problem.

“Rain on Snow (ROS) events occur when rain falls onto an existing snowpack,” a press release from the agency explains. “The result is runoff that includes both rainfall and melted snow, which can overwhelm drainage structures causing flooding. This flooding saturates the soils, enters basements and crawlspaces and infiltrates the sewer system.”

It further notes that the ROS event has led to regional flooding in the community, and PAWSD crews are monitoring the situation and assuring pump stations are working at their highest capacity.

In an interview Wednesday morning, PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey explained the sewer system discharged out of one manhole in the Pagosa Lakes area and there had been one house where the sewage went into the house, while other houses were “on the brink.”

“There’s multiple houses that are experiencing very slow drainage from fixtures … which means that those houses are on the brink of backflowing, of having sewage backflow into it,” he said.

Archuleta County Manager Derek Woodman explained there was a culvert outside the house where sewage backflowed where water was pooling “rather heavily” and where some of the sewage was believed to be backing up.

He noted county employees cleared the culvert out, allowing the water to recede.

PAWSD has also reported the overflows to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, according to the press release.

It adds Archuleta County crews are working to unclog culverts and maintain drainage structures to reduce the inundation of flood waters.

“PAWSD and Archuleta County realize this is a terrible situation and will only be [exacerbated] by the upcoming storms,” it notes.

Ramsey explained the only way to help alleviate the situation is to “reduce or at least minimize” the amount of water getting into the sewer lines.

“They’re at max capacity,” he said. “The ground is completely saturated.”

Ramsey noted it was reported to him that 18 inches of standing water was covering multiple manholes prior to the county cleaning one culvert drain.

“When there’s 18 inches over a manhole, … water’s gonna seep into the manholes; there’s just nothing … that anybody can do about that,” he said, adding any time there’s a break or root intrusion into a line, stormwater will get in and overflow those lines.

He added PAWSD usually flows about a million gallons a day at this point in the year, while it is at about 4.2 million gallons a day currently.

“We’re doing what we can,” he said, reiterating in an email, “The sewer lines are at or above capacity and cannot handle any additional inflows into the lines.”

Andrea Phillips, manager for the Town of Pagosa Springs, wrote in an email that the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District is also seeing high infiltration and inflow due to the spring runoff and recent moisture.

“This means increased flow through our system and the pump stations, but we have not experienced any sewer lines or manholes overflowing. Our utilities staff is inspecting manholes, keeping an eye on known problem areas, and using grit removal and flushing where needed to address roots and other items that could cause clogs,” she wrote. 

What can home and
business owners do?

PAWSD’s press release also lists ways that home and business owners can help reduce infiltration and inflow.

The press release explains, “Infiltration refers to groundwater that seeps into sewer pipes through holes, cracks, joint failures, and faulty connections. Inflow is stormwater that quickly flows into sewers via roof drain downspouts, foundation drains, storm drain cross-connections, and through holes in manhole covers.” 

Those ways include:

• “Do not connect sump pumps to the sanitary sewer.”

• “Do not connect roof drains and gutters to the sanitary sewer.”

• “Do not connect foundation drains to the sanitary sewer.”

Earlier this week, PAWSD sent a notice to customers asking customers to “remove any and all illegal connects, such as sump pumps that are dumping into the sanitary sewer lines. Sump pumps must be discharged outside of the house to the yard or drain way. Improper connections can cause serious health and safety concerns. Due to an increase in snow melt that is causing some areas to flood, we ask to please disconnect and move such devices immediately to avoid further issues or any penalties.”

That notice further points out that PAWSD’s Rules and Regulations 13.3.1, on illegal discharge, states that “Any person making an illegal discharge into the District’s water or wastewater system shall be penalized a minimum of five-hundred dollars ($500.00), plus any costs incurred by District as a result of such discharge.”

“We never want them to do that, but right now it’s extremely important,” Ramsey said Wednesday, “because it’s turning from where you can get floodwaters in your house to now floodwaters and sewage, which is certainly a worse situation.”

Additional tips included in the press release are:

• “Keep all cleanouts capped, both inside and outside. This will help keep unwanted water out of the sanitary sewer system.”

• “Avoid planting trees/shrubs over your sewer lateral, as tree roots can damage sewer piping.”

• “Keep driveway culverts and bar ditches clear allowing snowmelt and precipitation to flow off your property and out of your neighborhood.”

• “Report clogged roadway culverts and bar ditches to the county.”

Woodman explained Wednesday that there are thousands of culverts throughout the county and residents can help the county know when drainage structures need to be cleared.

He noted the structures are being cleared on an as-needed basis.

“People need to be aware and cognizant of their culverts,” he said, adding that people within unincorporated Archuleta County should call Archuleta County Road and Bridge if they see pooling in an area where there’s a culvert.

Archuleta County Road and Bridge can be reached at (970) 264-5660.

If you live in an area that is prone to flooding and sewer backups, the PAWSD press release notes that PAWSD recommends installing a check valve on your sewer service. Sewer service check valves can be purchased at plumbing stores or directly from PAWSD. These check valves allow sewage to flow only in one direction — away from your home. 

It explains that if the sewer main becomes surcharged, the check valve will close and not allow sewage from the main to reverse flow up your service line and into the home. 

“Keep in mind these check valves do need maintenance, over time solid materials can build up not allowing the check valve to operate correctly,” it reads. “These solids must be removed routinely to assure the check valve is protecting your home.”

Why does it matter?

The PAWSD press release explains, “All of the water that enters the sewer system goes to the Vista Wastewater Treatment Plant. Neither the sewer system nor the treatment plant was designed to handle stormwater, so when all that additional water enters the sanitary sewer system it can lead to multiple problems.”

Those problems, according to the press release, include:

• The stormwater takes up capacity in the collection system and treatment plant and ends up at the wastewater treatment plant, where it must be treated like sewage, resulting in higher treatment costs.

• The stormwater contributes to sewer system overflows in local homes and the region’s waterways, negatively impacting public health and the environment.

• It results in more energy usage to pump the flow and the unnecessary treatment of stormwater.

• Infiltration and inflow can lead to funding a plant upgrade, because those flows are exceeding permit and design capacity of the treatment plant.

More moisture
in the forecast

The National Weather Service (NWS) is forecasting several more days of wet weather ahead for the area.

For Thursday, March 16, snow showers are likely, with the NWS putting the chance of precipitation at 70 percent. The high is expected to be near 44 degrees with 1 to 2 inches of new snow accumulation possible.

The chance of moisture will continue into the night, with a 50 percent chance of snow showers and new snow accumulation around an inch possible. The low is forecast to be around 17.

The NWS predicts a 30 percent chance of snow showers Friday, mainly after noon, and partly sunny skies with a high near 30.

The extended forecast shows a 50 percent chance of snow showers Saturday, mainly after noon, with partly sunny skies and a high near 40.

The chance of snow showers continues into early next week.