Columns » As the Village Turns

As the Village Turns

Testing the water


Sure, the new Utilities Laboratory looks fancy, but you - should see their urinals! - RICH TOSCHES
  • Rich Tosches
  • Sure, the new Utilities Laboratory looks fancy, but you should see their urinals!

Down on Las Vegas Street at our village's wastewater treatment plant, just a few hundred feet from the gigantic, swirling -- and here I use the common Latin phrase -- stincei poolus dodom ("stinky pools of doo-doo"), rises a majestic structure of steel and stone and sparkling blue glass.

It is our brand-new, $11.3 million Utilities Laboratory, a place where scientists in white coats work tirelessly each day to keep sewage and other unpleasant things from pouring out of our kitchen faucets. Later this month the scientists will briefly turn their attention to an even more important project: strapping enraged District 11 School Board member Eric Christen to a laboratory table and replacing the bolt in his neck.

Seriously, our new lab brings together the 42 scientists and support staff employed by our Utilities to test our water supply and also to test the wastewater before they pump it into Monument Creek and deliver it to our friends in Pueblo.

The new facility was needed, according to Utilities, because for years the lab workers toiled in three buildings separated by several miles. This made it difficult to share scientific findings about wastewater and obtain important feedback from each other, such as shoving a beaker under a colleague's nose and asking, "Whoa, Howard, does this smell like %^&*, or what?"

Chosen at random

The new building contains 48,500 square feet of labs and office space, enabling the staff to "ensure the safety of our drinking water and wastewater," according to a Utilities fact sheet. As a bonus, workers in the new lab can move the furniture out of the way during their lunch break and have a stress-relieving game of rugby.

I was given an hour-long tour of the huge new facility last week, starting with a brief discussion of the massive steel canopy that extends some 25 feet over the main entrance. Utilities' architectural supervisor Bryan Aumiller explained that the canopy was designed to protect people from rain and snow as they delivered "samples of sludge" to the lab.

Because -- and I think I speak for all of us -- what you definitely don't want is a guy walking into a shiny new lab carrying a bucket of snow-covered sludge.

Aumiller and I, along with Tom Wuertz of the Denver architectural firm that designed the building and Utilities spokesman Steve Berry, then made our way into the lobby and reception area. That is where, as it was explained to me, one of every four visitors -- a person chosen at random -- is vigorously strip-searched.

After I got my shoes and socks back on, I asked about the breathtaking etched glass landscapes and towering atriumlike design of the lobby, and was, in keeping with security regulations, strip-searched again.

Urine lite

We then proceeded down a long hallway that contained file boxes, including one labeled "Liquid Waste Load Tickets." I don't know what that means, but I do know that given a choice, I'd rather have liquid waste load tickets than Colorado Rockies baseball tickets.

Aumiller then led me into one of the restrooms, pointing out that Utilities saved money on the wall tiles because they were made from "recycled windshield glass." I looked closely at one of the tiles; I could make out the words "Rolls-Royce" in between the flattened moths.

Back in the hallway, I was told the floors were covered with "an inexpensive product" that looked like linoleum but was actually called "Marmoleum," which, as I understand, is a recycled blend of linoleum and marmots. (The manufacturer claims it's 40 percent quieter and softer on the feet because of the fur.)

In another restroom, architect Wuertz talked about the environmentally friendly urinals that are "water-free." The disposal process, he said, involves a "lighter-than-urine liquid." We know this liquid by its common name: "Coors."

Eventually the tour arrived at the actual labs, enormous rooms filled with high-tech testing equipment, including a mercury analyzing device that came with the printed motto: "Applying the Power of Atomic Fluorescence." The same motto, as you recall, was the cornerstone of City Councilman Richard Skorman's last campaign.

Environmental scientist Janet Fortner, now working in the new lab after five years at the outdated, run-down Mesa Street lab, talked about the water-testing procedures that detect parasitic protozoa in our village. These include giardia, cryptosporidium and the worst parasite of all, coloradospringscitycouncilum.

Powerful sucking

Another laboratory had a scale that can detect weights down to a minuscule 1/10,000th of a gram. Things that weigh 1/10,000th of a gram would include trace metals, liquid contaminants and the amount of original nose remaining on Michael Jackson.

As you might imagine, a facility that tests for things such as human waste has a powerful ventilation system. Our new Utilities lab has three monstrous fans on the roof, sucking the air from the building and blasting the smelly fumes hundreds of feet into the atmosphere via a series of towering smokestacks.

That's where the tour came to an end -- on the roof, among the ventilation fans, with my eyes watering like crazy, likely due to the fumes from the lab samples.

Although my doctor says it's also possible I'm allergic to the fur in the Marmoleum.


Listen to Rich Tosches Thursday mornings on the "Coffey in the Morning" show on KVUU-FM, 99.9.

Add a comment

Clicky Quantcast