Dillon source water is leaching lead from fixtures and supply lines, town awaits state approval for methods to raise pH

Dillon townsite prior to construction of Dillon Reservoir via Denver Water

From The Summit Daily (Sawyer D’Argonne):

During recent testing mandated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at 20 different sites earlier this year, the town discovered that seven had lead levels in excess of the state’s maximum allowable limit of 15 parts per billion. The finding comes just months after Frisco discovered a similar issue in their sampling pool.

Dillon officials stress that the town has good, clean surface water.

“We don’t have lead in our source water,” said Scott O’Brien, Dillon’s public works director. “We’ve monitored for that, and it’s not the issue. … The issue is the materials that were used prior to 1987 for constructing homes, copper pipe with leaded solder. In addition to that, a lot of fixtures like faucets were constructed with either brass or bronze — metal alloys that contain lead.”

O’Brien said that because the source water is so “aggressive,” it’s leeching the lead out of older pipes and fixtures at testing sites, resulting in the elevated rates. In determining aggressiveness, the town looks at four main factors: pH levels, alkalinity, temperature and hardness.

The pH level in the water measures how acidic or basic the water is on a scale of 0 to 14 — anything below 7 is considered acidic, and anything higher is considered basic. In general, high acidity means the water is more corrosive, and more likely to leech metal ions like lead and copper. Dillon’s source water is naturally about 7.3, or slightly leaning towards the basic side.

Alkalinity is a measure of the buffering ability of the water, essentially the ratio of hydrogen ions versus hydroxide ions that determines the water’s ability to neutralize acid. O’Brien noted that Dillon’s water has low alkalinity. Temperature is self-explanatory, literally describing how hot or cold the water is — wherein hotter water is more reactive and aggressive than cold water. Hardness measures the mineral concentration in the water, or what it’s naturally picking up as it flows along. Because Dillon uses its source water so quickly, it is relatively soft.

“We’re the first in line to pick it up, and it doesn’t have the chance to pick up these other minerals and other things that help reduce the aggressiveness of the water,” said O’Brien.

This is a problem that Dillon has dealt with in the past. The town’s testing also returned high lead levels in both 2012 and 2014, and officials have been working with the state since to address the issue. In 2014, the town attempted to adjust the pH levels up to about 8.5 on the scale, which appeared to have worked over the last five years. Though, due to recent changes in regulations from the state level — which essentially requires towns to zero in on high-risk testing sites to determine the worst-case scenarios for water quality issues — new issues are being discovered.

“To get a representative sample pool they don’t want us to go over the distribution system geographically, and sample it spread out,” said Mark Helman, chief water plant operator. “They want us to sample these particular sites built from 1983 to 1987 (before the Lead Contamination Control Act in 1988) they know are going to give us the worst results. … This is a process of us learning where the worst sites are that we have, testing those sites, seeing how our water is doing at those sites, and if we have a problem we want to address the worst case scenario.”

Both O’Brien and Helman noted that they already have a plan to try and address the issue of overly aggressive water. The plan is to add soda ash — sodium carbonate or baking soda — during the water treatment process to increase pH levels, alkalinity and hardness to the water to reduce aggressiveness. However, because it includes changes to the plant, the new process must first be signed off on by the state.

O’Brien said that once the state approves the town’s new water treatment methods they’ll be able to implement the new process quickly, though the review process could take between 30 and 60 days.

2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1200 (Reclaimed Domestic Wastewater Point Of Compliance)

Graywater system schematic.

Click here to go to the Colorado Legislature website to read the bill:

Concerning the point of compliance related to the treatment process involved in treating reclaimed domestic wastewater for indoor nonpotable uses within a building where the general public can access plumbing fixtures that are used to deliver the reclaimed domestic wastewater.

SESSION: 2019 Regular Session
SUBJECTS: Natural Resources & Environment Water

BILL SUMMARY
In 2018, the general assembly authorized the use of reclaimed domestic wastewater for irrigation of food crops and industrial hemp and for toilet flushing if, at the point of compliance in the water treatment process, the reclaimed domestic wastewater met certain water quality standards.

The bill authorizes the water quality control commission (commission) to adopt rules requiring a point of compliance for disinfection residual related to the treatment process for reclaimed domestic wastewater used for toilet flushing within a building where the general public can access the plumbing fixtures used to deliver the reclaimed domestic wastewater. If the commission adopts the rules, the rules must establish a point of compliance for disinfection residual at a single location between where reclaimed domestic wastewater is delivered to the occupied premises and before the water is distributed for use in the occupied premises.

Facing $billions in costs for #PFAS cleanup the Pentagon is lobbying for reduced standards

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The Pentagon is reportedly lobbying for a more lenient standard for cleaning up toxic chemicals used for decades in firefighting foam that have been found in drinking water in southern El Paso County and around the country.

Even if the Pentagon is successful, the Air Force appears unlikely to get off the hook for cleaning up the contaminated Widefield aquifer serving tens of thousands of residents south of Colorado Springs, state health officials said.

The Defense Department’s push to revise safety standards comes as it faces billions of dollars in cleanup costs tied to its decades-long use of a firefighting foam laced with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals, known as PFAS, are tied to cancer, liver disease and low infant birth weight.

The lobbying appears aimed at influencing the Environmental Protection Agency’s groundwater cleanup standard — a level at which cleanup would be required of polluters.

In a report to Congress, the Pentagon said an appropriate level is 380 parts per trillion, the New York Times reported. It’s at least five times what the EPA says could be harmful to people, and dozens of times higher than another federal agency says is toxic to people.

At that level, the military could avoid paying to clean up many contaminated sites across the nation, said David Andrews, senior scientist for the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group.

“Even if it’s the same number of sites, the amount of cleanup you’re doing at each site would be drastically reduced,” Andrews said. “The likely impact is that DoD is really trying to pass on the responsibilities and the cost for cleaning up this contamination. Which is dreadful.”

In a statement, the Pentagon said it takes its cleanup responsibility “seriously.”

“DOD is not seeking a different or weaker cleanup standard but wants the standard risk-based cleanup approach that is based on science and applies to everyone,” the statement said.

Still, one of Delaware’s Democratic U.S. senators, Tom Carper, claimed in a letter to the EPA that the Defense Department is currently only cleaning up sites where groundwater readings exceed 400 parts per trillion, and only removing the chemicals to 70 ppt. The Pentagon was joined by NASA and the Small Business Administration in lobbying for more relaxed standards, the senator said.

The Pentagon report only referenced two PFAS varieties — PFOA and PFOS — even though thousands of other varieties are known to exist. The report was issued last year, and reported Thursday by The New York Times, along with Carper’s letter.

The Defense Department’s maneuvering is expected to have little impact on cleanup operations around Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado health officials say.

State regulations would still force the Air Force to clean up the tainted Widefield aquifer to a more stringent standard that is in line with the EPA’s current health advisory, according to Kelly MacGregor, a Colorado Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman.

The state’s Water Quality Control Commission voted unanimously in April to adopt a site-specific groundwater quality standard of 70 ppt for the same two chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — combined.

Even without the state standard, the aquifer’s contamination downstream from the base is so bad that cleanup efforts around Peterson would likely go unaffected by the Pentagon’s lobbying.

Seven wells drilled about three years ago in the Widefield aquifer showed PFOS at levels of 400 ppt or greater. One well drilled at the Colorado Springs Airport found the chemical at 1,600 ppt.

Neither the state’s adopted groundwater standard, nor lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., touch on the thousands of other types of chemicals, also called perfluorinated compounds.

For communities affected by use of the foam, such as Security, Widefield and Fountain, that could be a significant problem, Andrews said.

For example, another type of chemical called PFHxS is often associated with use of the firefighting foam. And no other type of perfluorinated compound was as common in drinking water samples taken from Security or Fountain wells as PFHxS, nor present at such high levels, according to EPA drinking water data.

A couple of other chemicals were reported as frequently in wells serving Widefield. But again, none were as consistently high as PFHxS.

It also has been found in the drinking water of dozens of other water districts across the country, EPA results show. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says it could cause liver damage and a decreased ability to respond to vaccines.

Several other types of PFAS also have raised health concerns while being found in water systems across the country.

“Really we’d like to see the EPA and the DoD focusing on reducing the total PFAS contamination … shifting into high gear and taking responsibility for cleaning up all of this contamination,” Andrews said.

Judge Matsch pauses #ColoradoSprings #stormwater lawsuit until April 12, 2019

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

Colorado Springs and the four parties suing the city now have an extra month to either settle a longstanding lawsuit over federal stormwater permit violations or agree how to continue the case in court.

U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch in December ordered the case paused until this month so the parties could find common ground. The lawsuit was to restart last week, but Matsch extended the break by more than a month.

Now the parties have until April 12 to agree on next steps, or the case goes back to court.

The request for a break in the case came from the plaintiffs — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District — after Matsch ruled that Colorado Springs violated federal stormwater regulations at three development sites.

Colorado health officials, utilities hit pause, again, on high-stakes lead lawsuit — @WaterEdCO

Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

State health officials and Colorado’s largest water utilities have agreed for a second time to hit pause on a major lawsuit over how to keep lead out of Denver’s drinking water, citing progress in talks that began last fall.

“The main point is that everyone has rolled up their sleeves and is working hard to come up with the best solution that we can that minimizes the lead that folks will be ingesting in their tap water,” said Ron Falco, safe drinking water program manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Last April, the City of Aurora, the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, and the Denver Greenway Foundation sued the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to block an order it issued directing Denver Water to install a phosphate-based treatment system to reduce corrosion in old lead pipes. That corrosion can put lead into drinking water in homes and businesses served by lead supply lines and in-house fixtures. Denver Water joined the suit weeks later.

Avoiding lead contamination in drinking water is of paramount importance for water providers and state health officials, as no level is considered safe to ingest. But heightened levels of phosphates in wastewater and irrigation runoff create issues for reservoirs, lakes and streams. This prompted Metro Wastewater and other entities who must treat the phosphate-heavy water to sue, citing damage to the environment and dramatically higher treatment costs.

Denver Water had proposed an alternative, after several years of pilot studies, to use chemicals that would adjust the PH levels of its drinking water, something which the CDPHE determined did not reduce lead corrosion enough to meet the federal standards it is required to uphold.

Among the plaintiffs’ concerns is that phosphate levels in water that is discharged to the South Platte River have to be tightly controlled under provisions of the Clean Water Act. If phosphate levels in treated drinking water rise, wastewater treatment protocols would have to be changed to correct the problem, potentially costing millions of dollars, if not more, according to a report by the Denver-based, nonpartisan Water Research Foundation.

From an environmental perspective, any increased phosphate in the South Platte River makes fighting such things as algae blooms, which are fueled by nutrients including phosphorous, much more difficult and could make the river less habitable for fish.

Denver Water, and other plaintiffs, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. But in a statement, Denver Water Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead said, “We are committed to taking the right steps to reduce the risk of lead leaching into water through customers’ plumbing…As we are fully committed to protecting public health, we are also looking for opportunities to minimize downstream impacts from the use of orthophosphate.”

After filing the suit, last summer the parties agreed to engage in talks, placing the lawsuit on hold, giving themselves until last November to agree on a set of treatment protocols.

When that deadline passed, the utilities and the CDPHE requested more time to work, citing progress in the talks. In January, a Denver District Court judge agreed to give everyone until September 20, 2019 to find an acceptable solution.

Under the CDPHE’s original order, Denver must begin using the new treatment protocol by March 20, 2020. To ensure it can meet that deadline, Denver Water is spending $1.2 million to upgrade its water treatment plants so they can implement the new treatment protocols.

Denver is not in violation of the federal law that governs lead in drinking water, but it has been required to monitor and test its system regularly since 2012 after lead was discovered in a small sample of water at some of its customers’ taps.

Lead has continued to appear at taps in some customers’ homes, according to court filings.

Treating lead and copper in water systems is a complex undertaking governed by the federal Lead and Copper Rule. There is no lead in the water supply when it leaves Denver Water’s treatment plants. But it can leach into the supply via corrosion as water passes through lead delivery lines and pipes in older homes. Denver has 58,000 lead service lines in its system and is gradually replacing them. It also advises customers whose homes are serviced by lead lines to use filters to remove any potential contamination.

It is the ongoing concerns about lead that have prompted the state to push for the phosphate treatment, because it reduces lead that reaches customers by 74 percent, compared to less than 50 percent using a PH-based process, according to court filings.

Despite the environmental concerns, the CDPHE maintains that its first job is to protect the health of the thousands of children served by Denver Water in the metro area. Children are most vulnerable to lead contamination.

Falco said he is optimistic that a solution can be found. New pilot studies underway indicate that Denver Water may be able to use roughly one-third the amount of phosphates originally thought were needed and still achieve the same level of lead reduction, CDPHE officials said.

“We have a very engaged group of stakeholders working hard to develop the best solution. This this is going to come to a resolution, certainly by March of 2020. We are going to get there,” Falco said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

[Graywater] Water-saving rule, passed with high hopes, goes nowhere — @WaterEdCO

Graywater system schematic.

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

More than three years after state health officials okayed the use of so-called graywater in homes and businesses [HB13-1044 (Authorize Graywater Use)], the public has shown no interest in using it, a fact that has baffled water conservation advocates and government officials.

“Unfortunately it’s had very little impact,” said Jon Novick, an environmental public health administrator for the City of Denver.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment approved Regulation 86, as it is known, in May of 2015. It requires that counties opt into the program, creating their own standards and enforcement mechanisms. But Denver, which adopted the rule in 2016, and Pitkin, which adopted it nearly a year ago, are the only two of Colorado’s 64 counties that have chosen to do this. And despite the two counties’ enthusiasm for water conservation, neither the homeowners nor the businesses they serve have sought permits seeking to capture graywater for a second-time use.

Graywater flows out of bathroom sinks, tubs, showers and clothes washers. Nearly half of water used in homes on average goes to these purposes. Reusing it would generate significant water savings, something health officials and water conservation advocates say is critical as Colorado faces escalating water demands—and potential shortfalls— due to population growth, drought and climate change.

Under Regulation 86, homeowners and businesses can capture graywater and then use it to flush toilets and urinals and to water lawns if those lawns have subsurface irrigation systems. Graywater cannot be used in above-ground sprinkler systems.

Graywater is different than recycled water because it requires little treatment. Recycled water, on the other hand, is heavily treated before it is reused because it contains waste water from toilets and other sources.

Brandie Honeycutt is an environmental protection specialist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. She said it’s important that the regulation be widely adopted. To that end the state is planning a series of meetings in the first quarter of this year to examine how the program might be changed to broaden its appeal.

Colorado is among 20 states nationwide that allow use of graywater, according to Berkeley, Calif.-based GrayWater Action.

But Colorado’s Reg. 86 has numerous requirements, in some cases making it more burdensome than it is in other states. To use graywater indoors, for example, a home or office needs a dual plumbing system, with one set of pipes carrying treated drinking water, and the other set carrying graywater. Even new developments in Colorado don’t typically incorporate these dual-pipe systems, because they are expensive.

And retrofitting older homes and buildings is costly as well, Honeycutt said.

“You’re never going to see this in old construction because you would have to do a whole lot of rework,” Honeycutt said.

In addition, under the regulation, graywater has to be disinfected and cannot be stored for more than 24 hours.

Douglas County is among the dozens of counties statewide who have opted not to adopt the new rule. Officials there declined to comment on that decision, however a statement on the county’s website cited high costs, possible exposure to pathogens, as well as difficulty enforcing the rules as reasons for their decision not to allow the program in the county.

But those concerns did not prevent Pitkin County from moving forward with the new rule.

“We recognize that a number of other counties haven’t adopted [Reg. 86],” said Kurt Dahl, Pitkin County’s environmental health manager. “Being a leader [in water conservation] we thought it was important to go ahead and adopt them. But since we don’t have any takers, we’re going to have to regroup and see how to move this forward.”

Denver’s Novick and Dahl have several ideas they believe will help the graywater program catch on.

Among them is a tweak that would allow an innovative toilet system — one that doesn’t require dual-piping — to be used. Often seen in other states, the new toilets have a direct connection to a sink, so that once someone finishes washing his or her hands, for instance, the water flows into the toilet tank so that it can be reused for flushing.

This new-age loo eliminates the need for a separate tank to store graywater for toilet flushing, something now required under Reg. 86.

Another idea is to create a grant program that would provide low-interest loans or rebates to encourage homeowners and businesses to install these new toilets and sub-surface irrigation systems.

Similar programs exist to encourage installation of solar energy systems and other green technologies.

“We really need folks to install graywater systems so we can start to prove that they are not going to be a risk to public health,” Novick said. “This will increase the state’s comfort level and then we can come up with other technologies to use. We really want to see this program work.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water Leave Military Families Reeling — The New York Times #PFAS

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From The New York Times (Julie Turkewitz):

When Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Fortune returned from Iraq, his body battered by war, he assumed he’d be safe.

Then the people around him began to get sick. His neighbors, all living near five military bases, complained of tumors, thyroid problems and debilitating fatigue. Soon, the Colorado health department announced an unusually high number of kidney cancers in the region. Then Mr. Fortune’s wife fell ill.

The military, it turned out, had been leaching toxic chemicals into the water for decades.

Mr. Fortune felt “stabbed in the back,” he said. “We give our lives and our bodies for our country, and our government does not live up to their end of the deal.”

That was 2016. Since then, the Defense Department has admitted that it allowed a firefighting foam to slip into at least 55 drinking water systems at military bases around the globe, sometimes for generations. This exposed tens of thousands of Americans, possibly many more, to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of man-made chemicals known as PFAS that have been linked to cancers, immune suppression and other serious health problems.

Though the presence of the chemicals has been known for years, an announcement last week from the Environmental Protection Agency for the first time promised regulatory action, a significant acknowledgment of the startling scope of the problem that drew outrage from veterans and others living in contaminated communities.

Acting administrator Andrew Wheeler said that the agency would begin the process of potentially limiting the presence of two of the compounds in drinking water, calling this a “pivotal moment in the history of the agency.”

The admission drew some praise, but many said that it was not enough and that millions of people would keep ingesting the substances while a regulatory process plods along. “It should have been called an inaction plan,” said Judith Enck, a former E.P.A. regional administrator appointed by President Barack Obama.

While the military has used the chemicals extensively, it is far from the only entity to do so, and in recent years, companies like DuPont have come under fire for leaching PFAS into water systems.

All told, 10 million people could be drinking water laced with high levels of PFAS, according to Patrick Breysse, a top official at the federal Centers for Disease Control. Mr. Breysse has called the presence of the chemicals “one of the most seminal public health challenges” of the coming decades.

The residents of Fountain, a mountain-flanked suburb of Colorado Springs, were told of the contamination by local officials who had been required by the E.P.A. to test the water for the substances, a step toward possible regulation. Soon dozens of communities from New York to Washington State discovered their drinking water was also polluted with PFAS.

Many people began demanding that state and military officials test their blood for the chemicals, hoping to learn the extent of their presence in their bodies.

The military has started an expensive cleanup effort that has involved shifting entire municipalities to new water sources and assessing toxic plumes that continue to spread for miles.

Maureen Sullivan, the military’s deputy assistant secretary for environment, said the government had moved “aggressively” to tackle the problem, assessing cleanup duties and looking for alternatives to the firefighting foam, a version of which the military still uses.

“I’m proud of what the Department of Defense has done in the past two-plus years,” she said.

But frustration persists. The military never alerted all of the people who drank polluted water, meaning some are still in the dark. When asked how many people were affected by contamination, Ms. Sullivan said she “couldn’t hazard a guess.”