The science of keeping the flora in a sewage treatment system balanced was knocked out of kilter when coronavirus shut skiing down and water use dropped 50% in two of Colorado’s most popular ski communities.
On March 15, the day after ski resorts in Colorado were ordered to close, water treatment workers in Vail and Aspen scrambled to deal with a drastic drop in wastewater flowing into plants.
“In Vail, our staff had to basically turn off two-thirds of the plant in only four days,” said Diane Johnson with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.
Turning off a water treatment plant is no pull-a-plug-and-walk-away affair. They are basically ecosystems, where armies of microscopic organisms clean wastewater coming into the plant — influent — so it can be discharged into the local watershed as effluent. So staff in the water treatment plants in Aspen and Vail had to adjust biological processes that involve billions of microorganisms — bacteria, protozoa, metazoa and others — that do all the dirty work removing the organic stuff in wastewater.