Rural water systems face myriad problems

A picture named waterfromtap.jpg

Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Water service has been out for more than a week in the Zinno subdivision on St. Charles Mesa; Olney Springs was under a state boil order last month; and Rye came off a yearlong boil order in May. The problems faced by those water systems could affect numerous others in the Arkansas Valley and around the state. While the number of incidents statewide is not alarming, there are common problems that should be addressed…

There are almost 2,000 water systems in the state, and nearly half of those are community water systems – cities, districts or private companies that provide water to multiple households – according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. About 90 percent of those serve less than 10,000 customers. Many, like the Joseph Water Co. that serves the Zinno subdivision, have small populations around 100 customers or fewer. Some companies serve only 15 or 20 customers. Zinno residents found themselves at the mercy of a faulty pump without a backup plan last week. The problem is complicated because the water system is operated by an out-of town company. Once the problem is corrected, the system must be certified by the state health department…

The state health department investigates about 50 cases a year where water quality might be suspect, and about three-fourths of those result in boil or bottled water orders, said spokesman Mark Salley. Currently, there are 13 water systems in the state under such orders, including Zinno, affecting about 2,000 customers. There are about 60 companies statewide doing the same work as H2O consultants, the Woodland Park company that has managed Zinno since July 1. Most have more than one client and are not always located near the water systems they serve.

“They provide certified operators, who are becoming harder to find,” said Hayes, who sits on the state board that certifies operators. The level of certification depends on the type of water treatment and size of plant. Some of those in the private consulting businesses are retired from or even actively employed by the larger municipal systems in the state. A small system usually can’t afford to hire or train its own operator to the level of certification needed…

…when salmonella was found in the Alamosa water system last year, the city’s 8,500 residents were under a bottled water order. The situation took the tone of a relief operation, as outside agencies – including the Pueblo water board and the Rural Water Association – sent people to Alamosa to get the system up and running again.

More stringent state regulations also are putting pressure on the smaller systems. Many of the wells rural customers rely on will be subject to new standards on radium and uranium levels and are looking at potentially spending millions of dollars to treat the water to standards…

Coupled with an aging infrastructure – about $1 trillion in repairs to water systems are needed nationwide – and the difficulty in finding trained workers in rural areas, small water providers face a daunting task. While larger systems are looking at expanding, smaller districts may be just trying to survive. Hayes said the current economic conditions have slowed growth in some areas, and noted larger systems have to be maintained as well. The large municipal providers may be better equipped to maintain them than smaller communities with aging populations.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Leave a Reply