Sanitation district: ‘We are close to an emergency situation’


By Dorothy Elder | Staff Writer

The Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) Board of Directors ratified the purchase of another sewage pump and the rental of a diesel pump at its March 17 meeting. 

We ask the public to help out and ‘Don’t Flush That!’

The sewage pump is an interim pump that will be used until a new pumping system can be installed, Town Manager Andrea Phillips stated. The diesel pump is being rented on a “stand-by” rate at $7,713 per month, which means it won’t be installed or used unless it needs to be in an emergency situation. 

The existing pumps at the town’s sanitation lift stations have long-been problematic, Public Works Director Martin Schmidt explained at the board’s March 1 emergency meeting. 

This knowledge caused the PSSGID to sign a contract to provide all new pumps for the lift stations in August of 2021. In addition, some retrofitted pumps were purchased by town staff two years ago as an interim solution for the pump-problem, Schmidt stated. 

The retrofitted pumps have all failed since their installation. The remaining pumps continue to have issues with seals, bearings and electrical components. Some of the pumps are able to be repaired by a certified pump technician, but some are not able to be repaired due to the way they failed, he explained.

Since the March 1 emergency meeting, the situation has worsened, Phillips explained.

“We continue to have ongoing issues, and in fact it’s evolving every single day,” Phillips said.

According to Phillips, the sanitation system is down to one train operating in each of the pump stations, of which there are two. 

“We are close to an emergency situation,” Phillips said.

In addition, the system now has labor shortages: Chuck Fujimoto, utilities supervisor, gave his two-week notice on March 9 to take a job in the private sector, Phillips reported to the board.

Town staff is actively recruiting to fill this position, along with a newly created senior utilities operator position. As these are hard-to-fill positions, with frequent alarms, emergency callouts and high stress, the salary for these positions has been adjusted upward, Phillips stated.

To alleviate some of the issues, town staff is looking into installing a temporary manual bar screen that would provide a basic level of prescreening of inorganic matter and solids so that they do not enter the wet well and thus further tax the pump, Phillips explained. 

The cost of the screen has yet to be determined, but town staff is hoping that it can be installed within the next three weeks, she stated. 

Town staff is now calling on the public to do their part in alleviating the issue. 

“We ask for the public’s assistance in helping us to care for our sewer collection system,” Phillips wrote in a statement to The SUN. “This goes for our sanitation system as well as in any town. Items that should not go down the toilet include feminine products, flushable wipes, diapers, and anything else that is not human waste or toilet paper. We have found toys, towels, and even a two by four in the system. Flushable wipes have been issue for all sewer collection systems all over the country as they clog the pumps and do not biodegrade. They are marketed as flushable but really aren’t. Grease and cooking fat should not go down the kitchen sink. These collect into “grease balls” in the system along with hair and other items and clog the pipes and equipment. Keeping these items out of the waste stream will help the pumps perform better in the system and prevent them from getting clogged. If the pumps fail a raw wastewater spill could occur and eventually make its way to the San Juan River. We ask the public to help out and ‘Don’t Flush That!’”