Posted on February 1, 2018 by Melissa Rucker
Upon the retirement of former Roxborough Water & Sanitation District General Manager Larry Moore in August 2017, newcomer Barbara “Barb” Biggs took the reins of the special district with a wealth of experience in her wake.
Having accumulated more than 25 years of experience in related fields, Biggs spent about 23 of those years as governmental affairs officer for Denver’s Metro Wastewater Reclamation District. The district served 60 local governments and was the Rocky Mountain region’s largest regional wastewater treatment agency.
More recently, she worked for CDM Smith Inc., for which she handled diverse projects, each of which dealt with Colorado’s water resources. Her work spanned from concept to completion.
In terms of how she plans to apply her in-depth knowledge to RWSD’s needs, Biggs said she will focus on balancing consumer and environmental factors with budgeting and evidence-based information.
“My experience with water issues on the local, state and federal level will benefit RWSD in a number of ways. First, by actively engaging in the development of regulations and other public policies, I can help to ensure the consequences of implementing regulations/policies are considered. It’s critical to protect public health and the environment, but it’s also important to accomplish that protection based on the best-available science and in the most cost-effective manner,” she said.
“I especially want the residents to know I want to be available and transparent, so everyone knows what we’re doing and why. I’m hosting Coffee with the GM on Feb. 16 at 8 a.m. at the district’s offices. If there’s good interest, we can schedule these events on a regular basis. I’ll also be working on a General Manager’s blog for the RWSD website to keep residents informed.”
Biggs has encompassed a full spectrum of duties associated with the field, including but not limited to finances and budgeting, maintaining government relations, project planning and execution, permitting and water quality monitoring and assessment.
“Second, I have long-standing relationships with local, state and federal leaders. Those relationships help me to develop the collaborative approaches to issues that can help control costs and rate impacts for RWSD residents. For example, while serving on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, I was able to assist RWSD in obtaining the easements necessary to regionalize wastewater treatment for the community and allow the old wastewater treatment plant to be decommissioned and sold,” she said.
Biggs has been involved in a number of agencies, boards, commissions and councils dedicated to water quality and conservation, including the aforementioned Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, Colorado Water & Wastewater Facility Operator Certification Board, CWCB Metro Roundtable, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, Colorado Water Trust Board of Directors and Advisory Council member for the One World One Water Center for Metropolitan State University in downtown Denver.
“Similarly, in my role on the CWCB’s Metro Roundtable, I was able to help RWSD and Douglas County obtain grants and loans from the CWCB to help fund the Northwest Douglas County Project we completed in 2017. The Northwest Douglas County Project is a great example of regional cooperation that benefits RWSD residents – by cost-effectively expanding RWSD’s service area and customer base to bring badly needed municipal water to nearby development and expand our ratepayer base,” Biggs said.
What can residents expect from Biggs’ RWSD management in the future?
“RWSD has had tremendous leadership over the years, and my first goal will be to continue that leadership,” she said. “With the completion of the new water treatment plant, RWSD needs to transition from a capital-construction focus to an asset-management focus. The district’s facilities will not last forever, so we need to begin planning now to ensure future fixed-asset replacements do not cause big impacts to our rates.”
The new water treatment plant was completed in late summer 2017. The previous facility, built in 1958, was used for more than 58 years, even though the typical lifespan of such a plant is about 30 years. More recently, stricter regulations, structural failures, increased water demands and increasing repair costs made the need for a new facility imminent.
In addition to planning to meet RWSD’s current and future needs, Biggs said she wants to continue working with Douglas County and nearby areas to expand the service range economically.
“Many people do not realize that for any utility, regardless of size, approximately 80 percent of costs are fixed – fixed costs stay the same regardless of the number of people served or the amount of water treated,” Biggs said. “This is true for large utilities, such as Metro Wastewater and Denver Water, and small utilities like RWSD. By expanding our service area and adding customers, we spread those fixed costs over more customers and reduce the cost to individual ratepayers. All expansions of our service area must comply with the Board’s policy that growth pays for growth, and existing customers do not subsidize facilities needed to serve new areas.”
For example, RWSD entered into an agreement with Dominion Water, which will serve Sterling Ranch’s Special District for Water and Sanitation Services, to build the new water treatment plant. By doubling the size of the plant, the Roxborough community will benefit financially as Dominion Water District will be paying its share of the costs, according to the RWSD website.
Biggs said she wants to keep the communication open between RWSD and the people it serves.
“I especially want the residents to know I want to be available and transparent, so everyone knows what we’re doing and why,” she said. “I’m hosting Coffee with the GM on Feb. 16 at 8 a.m. at the district’s offices. If there’s good interest, we can schedule these events on a regular basis. I’ll also be working on a General Manager’s blog for the RWSD website to keep residents informed.”
“I’m also excited about working with our small, close-knit team where everybody understands they need to back each other up …”
One of Biggs’ previous employers, Metro Wastewater, is a wholesale provider of wastewater treatment for 60 local governments in the Denver metro region. Among her responsibilities at Metro Wastewater was managing relationships with each of those governments, which ranged in size from large districts like Denver to ones smaller than RWSD, she said.
“So I’ve always been sensitive to the challenges faced by smaller districts,” Biggs said. “One of the things I’m most excited about is putting that understanding of the challenges faced by smaller districts into action at RWSD. For example, working closely with the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant to understand their budget and the impact on our rates.”
One of the perks she sees of working for Roxborough’s district is the pared-down size of the staff and thus the relationships that can be formed within it.
“I’m also excited about working with our small, close-knit team where everybody understands they need to back each other up, rather than a large utility where people become more and more specialized,” Biggs said.
However, even with her extensive background in related fields, she expects a few hurdles along the way.
“The biggest challenge will probably be addressing unanticipated issues that come up while controlling the budget impacts and managing rates,” she said.
RWSD has several projects planned for completion in 2018, the largest of which is the conversion from chlorine disinfection to chloramines in the plant’s processes, Biggs said.
“We use ultraviolet (UV) light as the primary disinfectant at the new water treatment plant. UV is a great process that is the most effective way to treat naturally occurring pathogens present in all water,” she said. “But we also have to maintain a disinfection residual in the pipes that bring the finished water from the plant to homes and businesses. We currently use chlorine to maintain that disinfection residual. This spring, we will be converting to chloramines, which is a more stable process that will maintain the disinfection residual but reduce the risk of disinfection by-products.”
Other projects in 2018 will include demolition of the old water treatment plant and completion of the fencing and driveway at the new plant. This spring, residents can expect an open house, during which they can tour the newly constructed facility and meet the operations team.
A long-term project in the works involves the district working with Rampart Range Road property owners to construct a water line that would supply several properties; however, the construction would be funded by those property owners, Biggs said.
“Most importantly, we will continue to work to anticipate future projects so they can be included in the budget in a thoughtful manner that mitigates the impact on rates, but in general we’re finished with the large capital projects and will be shifting our focus to maintaining our facilities and planning for future replacement needs well in advance,” she said.
Ongoing maintenance of the sewer system includes annual cleaning and closed-circuit TV inspections of the lines. By this method, Biggs said, the entire system is reviewed every three years and problem areas are identified in advance of necessary repairs. RWSD does not plan to replace or repair any sewer lines in 2018.
A number of water lines, however, will be overhauled in the Westside Circle area during the spring and summer. This project is in Phase 2 of the 2017 undertaking to replace aging water lines that have previously broken, according to Biggs.
“We have closely coordinated this work with Douglas County so that the County can come in and pave all of the streets once the water line replacement is complete,” she said.
The district will schedule public meetings with the affected residents in February. A 48-hour notice will be posted at homes before scheduled work later this year, and a district representative will issue a door-to-door warning between 30 minutes and an hour before water is shut off, according to the Water Pipeline Replacement page.
Residents can be proactive about water conservation by following a few simple practices. Biggs recommends rain barrel usage to collect rainwater.
“It’s been a dry winter, so we all need to be committed to water conservation. One relatively new way to cut down on your irrigation water use is to use a rain barrel to collect rain to water your plants,” Biggs said.
Until May 2016, it was illegal to capture rainwater for personal usage because state law deemed the water property of Colorado. Now, residents may use up to two rain barrels for a combined storage capacity of 110 gallons. The water is collected from the roof and then runs down into the barrel from the gutters. RWSD recommends the resulting collection be used for landscaping and indoor plant watering but never for consumption because of likely contaminants gathered on the way down the roof.
For more detailed information on rainwater collection, including rules and exceptions, visit the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Division of Water Resources website.
Another water-conservation method – and water-contamination prevention practice – consumers can employ concerns car washing.
“I also try to discourage washing cars at home – you actually tend to use more water than a car wash, and all of the soap and grime goes straight into our nearby rivers and lakes,” Biggs said. “It’s important to remember that runoff is not treated before it flows into rivers and lakes.”
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