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Monday, March 20, 2023

Big Improvements Coming to Big Dry Creek

Big Improvements Coming to Big Dry Creek


Phase two of construction at Big Dry Creek near City Park is expected to begin in late fall. As frequent trail users already know, construction has been underway in the area since late 2020, but 2023 marks a new milestone as the sewer improvement project wraps up and the streambank restoration project begins. Here’s everything you need to know about the projects happening along Big Dry Creek. 

What’s been done so far? 

In 2020, Westminster embarked on a large-scale project to repair and replace sections of aging sewer pipe throughout the northern part of the city, also known as interceptors. A key component of the city’s sewer infrastructure runs underground along Big Dry Creek, near City Park.  

Rather than replacing the entire system, the City was able to use cured-in-place pipe technology, saving money and reducing disruption to the area. Rudy Archuleta, a senior engineer with the City of Westminster who oversees the project, said the repaired sewer interceptor benefits residents in multiple ways. 

“As that infrastructure ages, it may not necessarily fail and be a catastrophic environmental event,” Archuleta said. “But rather over time, the pipe faces obstacles inside it and around it. For example, inside, materials build up, and around it, over time, roots and water can enter the pipe through cracks. All of this creates additional costs for the maintenance of the collection system and treatment costs at the plant.” 

Additionally, the City was able to add a parallel sewer pipe to make the entire system more resilient and able to support the area for decades to come. 

“That allows us to change how wastewater flows to the treatment plant, or use one or the other sewer pipes depending on time of day or other factors,” Archuleta said. “This helps prevent either failures or backups into commercial properties. Additionally, as wastewater flow levels change due to residential and commercial development within the Big Dry Creek basin, the interceptor can accommodate for those new levels as the city develops.” 

Throughout the project, City staff has used a variety of tools to minimize disruptions to daily life in Westminster. One example of this was using a tunnel boring machine to dig underneath Sheridan Boulevard rather than closing down the entire road for an extended period of time. 

Although the teams working on the Big Dry Creek Sewer Improvement Project encountered several challenges, including supply chain disruptions and quality control issues from manufacturers, the sewer work is expected to wrap up this summer — just in time for the Streambank Restoration Project to begin making major improvements to the trails and ecosystem around the creek over the next few years. 

What’s next? 

The City of Westminster is teaming up with Mile High Flood District to improve Big Dry Creek’s water quality, address safety concerns, and improve the overall ecosystem around Big Dry Creek Trail. The Big Dry Creek Streambank Restoration project is slated to start in fall 2023 and will transform the area with trail improvements for residents as well as make the ecosystem more resilient. 

“It’s going to create a better floodplain,” said Andrew Hawthorn, Westminster’s stormwater utility administrator. “This helps with diversity of the ecosystem. You get better plant life, better bugs, more bunnies. People are able to walk through the area more safely, the trail system is better, and commuters will be more connected."

A key part of the project is restoring the streambanks and adding length to Big Dry Creek itself. Decades of flash flooding have resulted in erosion of the slope alongside the stream, leaving hazardous 20 to 30-foot vertical embankments. 

“Old design, old building practices decades ago didn’t require detention of stormwater runoff,” Hawthorn said. “So you get these big flows coming off a large subdivision that doesn’t have any detention, and it hits the creek carrying all the loose gravel and silt, washing it all away. This happened for decades, so now we’re left with these huge embankments.”  

Frequent trail users might be aware of one of the primary concerns of the project: removing the small pond near the Westin hotel that captures debris.

“All of that stormwater runoff, that stuff that picks up from the parking lots, the oil, the grease, the sediments, the trash, that stuff ends up here in that pond,” he said. “It was designed decades ago, and it served its purpose then.” 

Although that pond will be removed and replaced, the large fish-shaped pond next to City Park will see some major upgrades. Currently, the pond receives both stormwater runoff and reclaimed irrigation water, and that water cannot be discharged once it is mixed. To solve this issue, stormwater runoff will be directed around the pond, which will be drained and re-lined to hold only reclaimed irrigation water. This water can then be used to supplement the irrigation needs of City Park and the surrounding area. Additionally, the banks of the pond will be made more gradual to improve safety for residents. 

In addition to the environmental improvements, residents will notice major upgrades to the trail system along Big Dry Creek. The current proposal will add new pedestrian bridges, create separate routes for bicycle commuters, and include a new boardwalk over wetland areas for wildlife viewing. 

“This is going to transform the area. This is going to be an amazing final product,” Hawthorn said. "The trail system is going to be hugely improved. There’s going to be so much more access. So many different ways to get from one side of the creek to the other. This is setting the stage with Public Works to piggyback off of what they’re doing underground. That’s essential to making all this work.” 

The Mile High Flood District is funding half of the work on restoring Big Dry Creek, as well as funding all of the work occurring upstream and downstream of City Park. The City’s partnership with the district greatly reduces the overall cost of these projects, saving millions in taxpayer dollars. 

The Big Dry Creek Restoration Project is scheduled to start this fall and wrap up in 2025. During this time, residents can expect more trail closures in the area, which will be communicated as they occur. 

“You can’t have improvements without going through construction,” Hawthorn said. “But a couple years after that it’s going to be amazingly different. More than worth it. We’re just asking for a little patience.” 

To learn more about the upcoming Big Dry Creek Streambank Restoration Project and see renderings of what the completed area will look like, visit www.cityofwestminster.us/StreambankRestoration

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