Most residents living in urban density areas of the unincorporated County receive their water and wastewater service from one of approximately twenty five special districts. In contrast, the majority of rural residential and rural areas are served by individual wells and septic systems. Other water and wastewater service arrangements in the County include military facilities, private companies, associations and special arrangements with municipalities.
The State of Colorado through the State Engineer’s Office regulates the number and location of wells but does not require testing or treatment of the water taken from the nearly 10,000 individual residential and small commercial wells in El Paso County. Central water providers and community water systems are required to periodically test and, if necessary, treat their water prior to distribution. Treatment methods may include filtration followed by chlorination, and may involve additional steps such as mixing and iron removal. Subdivisions of more than four lots are required to meet water quality standards as set forth in the Land Development Code.
The County Health Department requires permits for an Individual Sewage Disposal System (ISD). In lower density areas, treatment of wastewater is usually handled on-site. Most of the County’s approximately 12,000 ISD’S are septic systems in which wastewater is given primary anaerobic treatment in a buried concrete tank before being distributed to a leach field through a series of perforated pipes and gravel for final treatment through contact with the soil. For leach fields to function properly, unsaturated and permeable soil conditions must be present.
The adequacy of water and wastewater systems and service is a key consideration in the County’s subdivision requirements and both centralized water and wastewater services are regulated by the State. Additionally, the County participates in a federally-mandated program of wastewater facility planning, coordinated through the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.
Ordinarily, potable water supplies are located uphill from development and utilize storage facilities to provide water pressure. Conversely, the piping which collects wastewater typically runs downhill to treatment plants located downstream from the areas served.
The central wastewater treatment plants which serve higher-density areas use a variety of technologies. Most treatment facilities use a series of settlement basins where wastes are biologically broken down and chemically treated prior to discharge back into a stream or water supply. Although treated waste (effluent) is normally discharged into streams, it may also be held in non-discharging basins or applied directly to the land. The sludge, which is a by-product of wastewater treatment, may be disposed of in a variety of ways, including land filling or applied to land used for agricultural purposes.
Water and wastewater treatment are highly regulated and contaminants, if present, can be easily detected. This however, is not the case with non-point source pollution . The County is in compliance with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) monitoring requirements; however, more monitoring is necessary to determine the actual source of contamination.
ISSUE 10.1 Recognize the Unique Importance of Water and Wastewater Service
Physical, economic, environmental, regulatory and policy factors associated with water and wastewater services and facilities often have a critical influence on the location, mix and density of land use. The adage that "growth follows the pipe" is particularly germane to water and wastewater systems.
Although central water systems have effectively served areas with densities as low as one dwelling unit per five acres, their economics encourage higher densities in most cases. Conversely, as discussed in more detail in Section 6.0 Growth and Land Use, the State of Colorado’s well-permitting regulations effectively limit the densities of areas not served by central systems. County wastewater regulations strictly limit the creation of any new lots of less than 2.5 acres not served by central sewer systems. It should also be noted that a combination of stringent design, treatment, testing, and operation requirements makes it difficult to economically build small central systems. This is especially true with wastewater treatment plants. As a general rule, the costs for service are higher with smaller as opposed to larger central water and wastewater systems.
Goal 10.1 Recognize the unique importance of water and wastewater service provision in the location, type and density of land use.
Policy 10.1.1
Address the implications of water and wastewater service availability as one of the key initial considerations in the development and revision of Small Area Plans.
Policy 10.1.2
Carefully consider the impacts that proposed new developments will have on the viability of existing and proposed water and wastewater systems.
Policy 10.1.3
Consider, where feasible, the use of larger State-permitted septic systems (those over 2,000 gallons per day) as an alternative to the use of individual or smaller central systems for developments in outlying areas.
Policy 10.1.4
Encourage the appropriate use of sewage lift stations connected to an interim wastewater treatment facility as a means of serving areas which temporarily are unable to access central sewage treatment.
Policy 10.1.5
Encourage, when feasible, interconnection to regional wastewater systems.
Policy 10.1.6
Encourage sewage treatment service providers to manage wastewater flows within the same drainage basin where the flows are generated if possible.
ISSUE 10.2 Coordinate planning and management
The County has a well-developed set of regulations which addresses the requirements for water and wastewater service for proposed new developments, however, because the County is not in the business of directly providing these services, regional coordination often poses a challenge.
Current regulations do not necessarily apply to upgrading existing inadequate water and wastewater systems in developed areas. Problems associated with system upgrades and/or replacement generally include very limited options which may not be economically feasible.
Regional planning among wastewater service providers is formalized through the federally-mandated "208" Water Quality Management process. El Paso County Water Authority was recently formed to coordinate water resource planning, although not all water providers have joined.
Goal 10.2 Promote planning and management approaches which protect the integrity of the County’s water and wastewater systems and ensure that the levels of water and wastewater service are adequate to meet the needs of existing and future County residents.
Policy 10.2.1
Encourage regional approaches to planning for water supply and wastewater treatment.
Policy 10.2.2
Carefully consider the availability of water and wastewater services prior to approving new development.
Policy 10.2.3
Promote cooperative ventures such as water authorities which maximize water supply options and economies through the pooling of resources.
Policy 10.2.4
Encourage the linking of systems among water providers in order to provide the highest assurance of available service.
Policy 10.2.5
Allow for the use of shared wells only if arrangements for ownership and maintenance are formalized and clearly communicated to all affected parties (prior to development or sale of property).
Policy 10.2.6
Encourage the design and use of central water delivery systems which meet or exceed industry standards for parameters such as treatment, back-up systems, fire flow, pressure, looping and maintenance.
Policy 10.2.7
Develop and implement County-wide standards that apply both to individual and community water and wastewater systems.
Policy 10.2.8
Consider the impact that land use patterns and densities will have on the ability to provide effective centralized water and sewer services.
ISSUE 10.3 Address Environmental and Health Concerns
Environmental and public health concerns are fundamental factors in the design and operation of water and wastewater systems; however, addressing these needs often requires choices to be made between environmental concerns and the need to provide community services. For example, water or wastewater treatment plants which are meant to provide a regional public benefit may have adverse environmental impacts and devalue surrounding properties. Water withdrawals or discharges may also have broader impacts on natural ecosystems. While the specific impacts of individual well and septic facilities may be minimal, their cumulative environmental and health effects may be more significant. Cumulative impacts are an especially significant issue with non-point source pollution from septic systems and other land uses, such as streets, parking lots, and lawns. New federal regulations are requiring some liquid wastes from agricultural operations to be treated as point-source wastewater. Due to the difficulty of identifying the causes of non-point source pollution, addressing clean up is complicated, and even the current array of water and wastewater testing and treatment systems and technologies will not completely address the more subtle but pernicious impact of non-point source pollution. Finally, the water quality in individual wells is not routinely tested because this practice would be cost-prohibitive for the County or residents.
Goal 10.3 Design and operate water and wastewater treatment, distribution and collection facilities in an environmentally sensitive manner.
Policy 10.3.1
Coordinate the siting of major wastewater treatment facilities through the 208 management process early in the planning and development process.
Policy 10.3.2
Adequately buffer new wastewater treatment facilities from surrounding development, and allow sufficient areas for their expansion.
Policy 10.3.3
Reduce the adverse visual impacts of water storage tanks and other facilities through a combination of careful site selection, design, screening and use of natural colors.
Policy 10.3.4
Minimize and mitigate the disruption of riparian areas caused by sewer lines which are located within stream corridors.
Policy 10.3.5
Promote monitoring and assessment techniques to identify critical sources of non-point source pollution within the region.
Policy 10.3.6
Encourage land use approaches, mitigation techniques and Best Management Practices that reduce non-point source pollution such as runoff from roads, parking lots and lawn chemicals.
Policy 10.3.7
Provide educational and informational programs which promote the wise use of water and the safe and effective disposal of wastewater.
Policy 10.3.8
Encourage reuse of non-potable water for irrigation where allowed by augmentation plans.
Policy 10.3.9
Encourage the development and implementation arrangements for regularly scheduled septic system inspection and maintenance.
Note: See corresponding Sections: Section 3.0 Water Resources, Section 6.0 Growth and Land Use, Section 11.0 Drainage and Flood Protection, and Section 12.0 Other Utilities and Services.

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