The community of Bluff is close to receiving a recommendation from the State of Utah regarding the creation of a community sewer system.
This is the latest in a long line of steps as the community determines how to deal with waste water issues.
“Nothing comes easy in Bluff, but they are coming together and moving in the right direction, which for Bluff is a community facility,” said David Ariotti, the District Engineer for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
Ariotti and several state officials discussed the issue at the August 27 meeting of the San Juan County Commission. In addition, a number of Bluff residents and San Juan School District officials attended the meeting.
Ariotti said there are three options being considered for the community, with an estimated price tag between $3.5 and $4.2 million.
All three options would utilize a septic tank at each building site to filter the effluent. Extra effluent would be transfered to a containment lagoon.
This is known as a “small pipe” system. Investigation has determined that the community does not need and could not afford a “big pipe” centralized system that would treat all of the wastewater created by the community.
The first option, also the least expensive, would be to create a single centralized containment lagoon which would cover about 15 acres.
The second option would create two facilities to process effluent, one on each side of Cottonwood Creek.
The third option would create several facilities (three to five) located in key locations around the community.
In all three cases, Skip Meier, a member of the Bluff Service District board, said that the wastewater would be treated to a high level, including exposure to ultraviolet light to kill e-coli.
An additional decision that the community will need to make is how to discharge the treated water. The least expensive method would be to discharge the treated water downstream.
A more expensive alternative, but one that appeals to a number of Bluff residents, is to create subsurface drip fields to disperse the treated water.
After a recommendation is made, public meetings will be held to determine the next steps.
Ariotti suggested that the Bluff Service District submit applications for state funding so they can get ino the funding cycles with the Community Impact Board.
Commissioner Lynn Stevens expressed frustrations at the one to two year time frame before any system can be implemented. Stevens said the timeframes are “shockingly long.”
San Juan School District Superintendent Doug Wright addressed concerns about the school in Bluff.
The largest building in the community is the Bluff School, which serves approximately 70 elementary school children. The school installed a new septic system in 2001.
School officials state that because all of the school district land surrounding the school has been used as a leech field, the school district would not be able to replace a failed system with a new septic system.
Wright said that there has not been any problems with the septic system at Bluff Elementary and there is no indication that the system is failing. However, Wright said that the district is concerned that the system is beginning its seventh year of service and that no other options are available.
Wright said that when the system was built, both Ariotti and the private engineering firm concurred that the new system was a “short-term solution with a life expectency of five years or less.”
Wright said that it is important that the citizens of Bluff know that if the system should fail, the district may have to take steps to educate children in alternate locations.
Wright said that in the case of a system failure, students would most likely be bussed to Montezuma Creek Elementary School until a solution is in place.
Commissioner Bruce Adams said that while the Bluff Community wants to expand facilities, “they also should be concerned about the dramatic impact on the school if the current septic system should fail.”
Stevens said “People need to realize the need to be quite urgent in solving the problems, because no one wants to close the schools, even temporarily.”
School officials have received a number of suggestions about extending the life of the current system at the school, including decreasing watering the grass, pumping the tanks more often, and keeping a close eye on the system. Records show that the school generally puts about 1.7 million gallons of water on the lawns each year. The school’s leech field is in the middle of the large grass playground at the school.