BAYFIELD – In 2020, Bayfield plans to “tear up the town.” Construction crews will be replacing old asbestos-reinforced water pipes on both sides of U.S. Highway 160 – but first, town staff needs to secure a million dollars in funding this week.
The town board has allotted $3 million to replace aging water pipes next year, one of the biggest upcoming projects in the town’s preliminary budget. Asbestos-reinforced concrete pipes, mostly installed in the 1950s, crack as they age – potentially causing main line breaks or, in rare cases, hazardous repair operations. Town staff members are pursuing $1 million in state grant funding this week so the town can start the pipe replacement process in April.
“We’re going to Alamosa on Wednesday to do a seven-minute presentation,” said Chris La May, Bayfield town manager. If the grant is funded in full, each of those minutes will be worth about $143,000.
The town will learn in December whether it received the $1 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Energy and Mineral Impact grant program. Bayfield would then finalize a $2 million low-interest loan application with the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.
“If we can get (the project) done, at least according to our latest master plan, we’re in pretty good shape for the next 20 years,” La May said.
Bayfield loses about 10% of its water because of leakage, and replacing antiquated pipes would reduce the likelihood of water line breaks. It would also ensure that the town’s water infrastructure can withstand future population growth, according to a needs assessment in the town’s 2018 Water Plan.
The water line replacement would also increase the water system’s reliability by looping pipe connections so repairs on broken lines would impact fewer water users, La May said.
The proposed project will replace almost 10,000 linear feet of old AC pipes and thin-walled PVC pipes, including a large section along Mountain View Drive and some areas south of Highway 160.
“There are some concerns about having the whole town essentially torn up, if you will, on both sides of 160,” La May said, adding that the town will try to minimize traffic and other impacts from construction.
The town does not expect to raise water utility rates because of the project, and construction will not close traffic on Highway 160 or affect the Schroeder irrigation ditch north of the highway.
“For most people, it’s an expectation that as soon as I turn that valve, there should be water coming out of there,” La May said. “That’s an expectation that we’re trying to make sure we meet.”
AC piping makes up the majority of the pipe that needs to be replaced, about 8,700 linear feet. While asbestos is dangerous if it enters the lungs, the asbestos in the concrete does not impact consumer health, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
However, cracks in the asbestos-reinforced concrete pipes could expose treated water to contaminants. Also, if a construction crew cuts the concrete pipe during repairs, asbestos particles would become airborne and cause health impacts, according to CDPHE.
La May said the town has other ways to repair pipes that do not require cutting.
Crews will add new pipes next to the old asbestos-reinforced concrete pipes, which will remain in the ground. Leaving pipes in the ground is common practice, according to La May and CDPHE.
“If we have better material in there, then we are able to provide more reliable water services,” La May said.