Montrose, CO – The drinking water in the Riverwood Subdivision has become so questionable for consumption that residents there have resorted to using bottled water for drinking and cooking. A joint effort between the City of Montrose and Montrose County is underway to explore ways to bring relief to the residents of the subdivision.
The Riverwood Subdivision is a 35-lot residential neighborhood located off of Marine Road in Montrose County. Potable water for residences within the subdivision is currently supplied by a common groundwater well situated on a property immediately adjacent to the subdivision. The lot, well, and property are owned by an out-of-state third party.
As a water supplier, this third party is required to register with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and meet regulatory requirements for the system, which include routine public safety tests.
According to City Engineer Scott Murphy, "that system is registered with CDPHE; however, the system has been out of compliance with operational, disinfection, and reporting requirements for many years."
If the issue of the water system is not addressed, Montrose County could be faced with condemning the subdivision due to lack of safety standards even though Riverwood residents pay this third party a monthly charge of $100 for water services. Recently this fee was raised from $60, according to Murphy.
Murphy told City Councilors Monday that many residents have contacted him about a "fear of contamination" and have "indicated that they are not able to drink their water and rely on bottled water for both cooking and drinking."
"The lack of a safe, reliable water source has negatively impacted their property values and quality of life," Murphy said.
Murphy said residents of the Riverwood Subdivision have three options. The first, Murphy said, "is to do nothing."
"This alternative would maintain the status quo with the hopes that CDPHE would ultimately force the well owner to bring the system into and maintain compliance. If the system cannot be brought into compliance, there exists the possibility the CDPHE would issue a cease and desist order on the neighborhood’s water distribution, at which time the county would be required to condemn the houses until a safe, reliable water system is in place," Murphy said.
The second option is for the residents of Riverwood to team up and buy the water system from the owner. Murphy told the City Council that the residents have said they are unable to get in contact with the third-party owner.
"This alternative would involve forming a homeowner’s association, purchasing the well and water system from its current owner, and taking over the operation and maintenance of the water system," Murphy said.
The third option is to extend the city's water utility to the subdivision.
"Riverwood residents have expressed little interest in annexing into the city; furthermore, the city does not have a strong interest in annexing the neighborhood as its remaining infrastructure does not meet our standards," Murphy said.
Although the subdivision is not located within the City of Montrose limits, it is located near the outermost extents of the city's municipal water service. A conceptual design includes extending the city's water main supply to the subdivision. The plan is the early stages of design; final costs analyses have yet to be completed. Murphy estimated the project could cost nearly $600,000 to complete.
Montrose County Planning and Development Director Steve White told councilors the county could allocate funds to help the city complete the project.
White said those funds could come from the county's road and bridge budget to help the city fix and resurface the roads in and around the Riverwood Subdivision. Those roads, which are under the county's authority, rest above utility trenches that would have to be excavated to install the city's water utility.
"The county could approve funds to fix roads in an effort to help,” White said.
About a dozen residents of the Riverwood Subdivision were in attendance Monday to hear any news about their water system.
Murphy said the subdivision’s residents would reimburse the costs of the project through their monthly utility bill payments. Conditions would be placed on the titles of the Riverwood properties transferring the monthly payments to the future owners or renters of the Riverwood properties until the payments were complete.
"Because they are not within city limits, capacity fees, and their monthly water usage would also be billed at 1.5 times the normal rate, per city code," Murphy said, adding that the increase could be as much as $100 per month to help pay for the project.
Murphy said 27 of the 35 households in the subdivision have been contacted and have expressed support for the project. The city has been unable to reach the remaining households to gauge their support for the project.
Still, Murphy said, if there was a solid majority of Riverwood residents, "75 percent or more," then the city and county could have enough support to move forward.
"Seems like a good thing to do, to be a good neighbor for these people," Montrose Mayor Roy Anderson said. "I appreciate the county working with us as much as you can."
Montrose City Manager Bill Bell said there could be enough funds in the city's reserve fund for "large capital projects and unexpected things like this."
The neighborhood was created under Montrose County subdivision regulations in 1978 and has remained part of Montrose County.
Residents attending the Monday work session expressed gratitude as they were leaving the council chambers with smiles and handshakes. One woman mouthed "thank you" to members of the City Council as she departed the meeting.
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