If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. When your water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking.
Additional information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800.426.4791 or at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/lead.
For more information about Estes Park’s water, go online to http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/townofestespark/consumerconfidencereport.
The water that Estes Park residents drink is among the cleanest, highest quality water in the state, according to town officials.
Recent testing seems to confirm that.
That’s comforting to know since a regional newspaper story last Sunday – citing test results of high levels of lead found in drinking water at four sites in the Estes Valley – had many people around town wondering what might be coming out of their tap.
“We’re very proud to remind the community that the town works around-the-clock to provide high-quality water to our customers,” said Estes Park Town Administrator Frank Lancaster. “We continually surpass strict federal and state standards to provide the very best drinking water possible.”
So what’s being done to ensure that the town’s drinking water is clean and rid of contaminants like lead?
According to Estes Park Public Information Officer Kate Rusch and Estes Park Laboratory and Water Quality Supervisor Diana Beehler, the town, as a water utility, is required by federal law to have a corrosion control program to minimize lead in drinking water and is required to do annual testing.
The corrosion control program began in the late 1980s and involves adding a chemical which coats pipes and plumbing fixtures to prevent water from corroding the metals. This program includes on-going monitoring of the treatment chemicals, the distribution system and households in our community to ensure that the corrosion control is effective.
The most recent annual testing of town drinking water occurred in 2015. The town sampled 23 homes that were built between 1982 and 1986. Homes were tested, instead of businesses, because lead poisoning is a chronic condition that occurs over long periods of time, and most people are drinking water from their homes daily.
Federal requirements mandate that the town reports the value at the 90th percentile, which was 2.3 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. The highest value in all the homes tested in 2015 was 6.5 ppb, Rusch and Beehler said. On the other hand, 14 of the 23 homes sampled were below the detection limit of 1 ppb.
The federal action level for lead is 15 ppb.
The local samples were taken after the water sat undisturbed in the plumbing for at least six hours to give the water an opportunity to react — allowing a “worst case” scenario for our testing, they said.
So, how safe are the town’s current and older water lines and pipes?
“The town’s main distribution lines are made of ductile iron, cast iron and galvanized steel, which are not a concern when it comes to lead,” Rusch and Beehler said. “The town has no lead main lines and is unaware of any lead service lines on private property. In addition, our corrosion control program is designed to coat the pipes and lead solder to reduce the amount of lead, anywhere in the system that is able to leach into the water.”
If concerned about the possibility of lead in drinking water, homeowners or business owners can test and mitigate the concerns themselves, Rusch and Beehler say.
A licensed plumber can inspect fixtures to determine if any lead sources are present, and a state-approved laboratory can test private water services to determine if lead is present in the water. When the levels are 15 ppb or higher, the EPA recommends taking precautions like flushing the tap for 15-20 seconds, using only cold water for drinking and cooking, and considering purchasing bottled water or a water filter. Flushing the tap is the easiest and most cost effective way to reduce lead if the customer is concerned.
While the town’s water and water system is closely monitored for quality, even the four sites cited by the Fort Collins Coloradoan in its Sunday story — the YMCA of the Rockies, Covenant Heights Camp and Retreat, Prospect Mountain Water Company, and Ravencrest Chalet — have each taken measures to ensure the quality of their drinking water is up to the levels required by state and federal agencies.
According to documents that the Coloradoan was able to obtain, each of those sites had test results that equaled or exceeded the federal action level of 15ppb in recent years.
Wwater samples tested at the YMCA of the Rockies, 2515 Tunnel Road, were found to have exceeded 15ppb four times since 2012, the Coloradoan reported. Those tests involved 10-60 samples taken around the property. The Coloradoan also reported that at least one sample each year since 2012 has tested at or above 15ppb.
YMCA of the Rockies collects water from the Wind River Stream diversion, not the Town of Estes Park. It then disinfects the water, and distributes it to guests and staff.
Martha Sortland, the Communications Director at the YMCA of the Rockies, told the Coloradoan that she believed the elevated levels of lead in drinking water were caused by water left in pipes too long.
When contacted on Wednesday, Sortland told the Trail-Gazette that providing safe drinking water for guests was a high priority, one that the business takes seriously. She added that a lot of time and money is invested in the operation of the water system to ensure water quality.
“The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides regulations for safe drinking water,” Sortland said. “Our water falls within those regulations and always has.
“We are committed to adhering to Colorado state water regulations and we will continue to do so unequivocally.
“We have five full-time certified water treatment operators on staff at Estes Park Center, and we have partnered with the experts at JVA Consulting, an independent, third party contractor with expert credentials and experience in water quality management.”
The Coloradoan also reported that lead in drinking water at the Covenant Heights Camp and Retreat, 7400 Colorado Highway 7, tested 117ppb and 143 ppb in 2015, the highest levels of lead in Colorado drinking water recorded since at least 2012.
The high lead levels were attributed to lead soldering in staff cabins. Retreat officials told the Coloradoan that they quickly relocated staffers who had been in the cabins and have retrofitted the water pipes with PEX plastic piping.
Prospect Mountain Water Company (PMWC), also mentioned in the Coloradoan story, is a private community water system that serves about 124 residents.
The company has struggled for years and is now in bankruptcy. It has had lead levels in its drinking water that ranged from 91 ppb (in 2012) to 28 ppb (in 2014) to 15 ppb (in 2015).
Lead pipes and lead soldering are being blamed for the high lead levels.
The water company recently signed a temporary intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Town of Estes Park to provide water and run the water system until a new company can be contracted.
Rusch and Beehler said upgrades to the PMWC water system are being planned. They include distribution lines, water tanks and water pumps. The cost of these upgrades will be absorbed by fees paid by the PMWC customers.
In addition, Rusch and Beehler point out that PMWC lead tests have vastly improved since the Town of Estes Park began providing treated water including corrosion control.
Ravencrest Chalet, a bible school located 501 Pole Hill Road, had a high lead test of 16 ppb in 2013. However, that dropped to 4ppb in 2015.
Officials at Ravencrest could not be reached for comment to explain what measures they took to lower their lead level.