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.

Report: Salinity Cycles in Lower #ColoradoRiver Caused by Precipitation Patterns in Upper Basin — @USGS

Click here to read the release from the USGS (Jennifer LaVista):

A new study shows that mysterious cycles in salinity in the lower Colorado River are a result of precipitation patterns in the headwaters of the upper basin more than a thousand river miles away. The salinity levels generally repeat about every 10 years.

Beginning in the late 1970s, these decadal-scale salinity cycles were observed at monitoring locations on the lower Colorado River in the U.S., hampering the Bureau of Reclamation’s efforts to manage salinity in the river for delivery of water to Mexico to meet obligations under an international treaty.

The Colorado River provides water for more than 35 million people in the U.S. and 3 million in Mexico. The river also sustains agricultural production of food for millions in both countries. Mexico uses nearly all of its Colorado River allotment for irrigation. High salinity in irrigation water can reduce agricultural productivity and may preclude growing crops such as tomatoes and lettuce.

The new findings published in the Journal of Environmental Management were conducted by the USGS in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation.

“It’s important for Reclamation to be able to understand and forecast changes in salinity in the lower Colorado River as management actions may be required,” said Fred Tillman, lead author of the study. “Understanding the causes of the salinity cycles will provide Reclamation with about 4 years of advance notice on future changing salinity cycles in the lower river.”

USGS scientists tracked salinity cycles from the northern international boundary with Mexico, upstream through Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon, to Lees Ferry using extensive streamflow and water- chemistry datasets. Scientists first hypothesized that evaporation in Lake Powell may cause the cycles. However, evaluation of lake water levels, evaporation data and salinity results from Lake Powell eliminated the reservoir as the cause. Scientists continued their search even farther up the basin, finding that monitoring data from the Green, Colorado and San Juan Rivers in the upper basin all showed salinity cycles that were similar to those seen on the lower river. Cyclical patterns in precipitation in the upper basin were discovered to be causing the cyclical salinity patterns in the river that then travel downstream relatively unchanged.

The Colorado River at the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge near Cabin Lake, Arizona. Photo credit: USGS

Water treatment hub to bridge research, commercialization — @coschoolofmines

From the Colorado School of Mines:

Colorado School of Mines celebrated today the grand opening of a new 10,000-square-foot research facility in Denver that will pave the way for greater collaboration with industry, government and academia to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing society today – access to clean water.

The WE2ST (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology) Water Technology Hub will accommodate large-scale research focused on developing innovative treatment technologies for produced water from oil, gas and mineral production, groundwater contaminated with emerging contaminants (including toxic poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances), saline and hypersaline streams, municipal water, wastewater and more — leading to sustainable water reuse.

“Colorado School of Mines was founded almost 150 years ago to help industry grow and thrive and since those early years, solving water and wastewater treatment challenges have been a key part of its research mission,” said Stefanie Tompkins, vice president of research and technology transfer. “As we approach our next 150 years, we want to continue to be a go-to place for the use-inspired research and innovation needed for society’s big challenges. This new facility is an important step in that direction, allowing our amazing researchers – in partnership with other research institutions, industry and government – to bridge the gap between lab-scale and commercial-scale water treatment technologies.”

Located off Interstate 70 and Quebec Street in Denver, the WE2ST Hub includes full analytical and wet labs for water analysis, a fabrication facility and a flexible research bay, with capacity for 30,000 gallons of water and rail line access for bringing in those water samples from anywhere in the U.S.

The industrial facility was previously operated by NGL Energy Partners, a midstream oil and gas company, which donated the entirety of the facility’s equipment to Mines, a gift valued at approximately $800,000.

“For over a decade, NGL Energy Partners has been treating oilfield waste water, creating clean water for use in irrigation, municipal and industrial applications, and, in addition, returning substantial amounts of clean water to the surface for beneficial use,” CEO H. Michael Krimbill said. “We are proud to be a part of this project and look forward to an ongoing collaboration with Colorado School of Mines through serving as a partner to assist in efforts to pilot and commercialize innovations that flow from the WE2ST Water Technology Hub.”

A gift of $1.5 million from the Colorado-based ZOMA Foundation will seed the facility’s operations and support several undergraduate and graduate research fellowships.

“ZOMA is excited to support the WE2ST Water Technology Hub and hopes the facility can help accelerate innovations that improve access to clean water and further sustainable water reuse,” said Luis Duarte, chief philanthropic officer of ZOMALAB.

The hub’s inaugural projects include a U.S. Department of Energy-funded collaboration with UCLA on solar desalination and a smaller project in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on hydrokinetic – or ocean wave – energy desalination. The hub is also one of the core research facilities of NAWI, the National Alliance for Water Innovation. Dr. James Rosenblum, a former postdoctoral fellow at CU Boulder and staff scientist at Jacobs Engineering, will oversee daily operations of the facility.

“We want to thank NGL Energy Partners and the ZOMA Foundation for their help in making possible a facility of this size dedicated to developing innovative technologies for the treatment and reuse of municipal and industrial wastewater,” said Tzahi Cath, director of the WE2ST Water Technology Hub and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines.

“To better partner with industry and municipalities and help them solve the real-world water treatment challenges they face, we needed more space than is typically available on a college campus,” Rosenblum said. “We’re excited to get to work at a much larger scale than ever before.”

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.

Paonia turns the water back on

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Paonia began restoring water service Monday to residents affected by an outage resulting from leaks and poor production from the springs that provide the town’s raw water supply…

The town began restoring service Monday morning but was doing so slowly to avoid pressure spikes. Knight expected that by the end of Monday most people who weren’t getting water would be seeing some water pressure, although that might not be the case for homes at higher elevations or at the end of water lines.

The town is expecting full pressure systemwide to be reached by this afternoon.

A notice to boil the water before drinking it remains in place as the service is being restored to allow time for lines to be flushed and chlorine to make its way through the system. Knight said if things go well, water samples may be able to be taken today. Still, it will take about 24 hours to get test results to the state to determine whether the notice can be lifted.

The town last week cut service first to about a third of the 1,800 people it serves, and then to about 200 more taps. That happened after it found and fixed some leaks, but its spring water supplies weren’t able to replenish the lost water in its main tank. Knight believes those springs were affected by last year’s drought.

The town continued service to what it considered essential areas, such as those serving school, urgent care center and nursing home facilities, and downtown businesses.

The town is now restoring cut-off service thanks to a number of factors. Mount Lamborn Ranch agreed to make water available from Roeber Reservoir, and state officials helped the town find additional water in the town’s springs, Knight said. Also, a few more large leaks were found.

Knight said a leak-detection crew from the city of Westminster found one of them, and the city of Montrose sent a construction crew to fix it. It’s one of numerous examples of support Paonia has gotten from state, county and local governments. Others who have helped include plumbers who have offered to check residents’ pressure relief valves on their hot water tanks in preparation for water service to be restored.

Knight said the town had been processing as little as 135 gallons a minute, but now is up to 550 gallons a minute, which far exceeds even normal usage of the system and is letting the town refill tanks. Still, its springs are producing about half of normal for this time of year, so it is continuing to encourage conservation.

The town is planning another community meeting today at 6 p.m. at the Paradise Theatre to update residents on the situation.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The problem started on Feb. 17, when Paonia’s water operators noted a loss of water in a 2 million gallon storage tank. A team went out looking for a leak, but could not locate it. As the leak continued, the town’s water system lost enough pressure that the state of Colorado imposed a boil order. In response, town officials declared a state of emergency.

A potable water tank arrived soon after, on loan from the National Park Service, which affected residents could use to fill up vessels to take water back to their homes. A team, aided by the city of Westminster, was sent out to locate the leaks. They found one in a supply pipe that was spilling into the North Fork River. After locating the leak, the town’s water delivery system came back online on Feb. 22.

Four days later, town officials discovered that its water customers were consuming more than what was being produced at its water treatment plant. A series of 22 springs at the base Mount Lamborn serves as the town’s raw water supply. Because of record-breaking dry conditions during much of 2018, the springs are running at half their normal volumes for this time of year.

To avoid seeing the town’s entire supply dip to a dangerous level, town administrator Ken Knight chose to shut down some water users to allow the system to recharge. First he denied water to 27 mostly rural providers who purchase water from the town to deliver to customers within Delta County. Then Knight turned off the majority of the town’s residential users, choosing to maintain service at Paonia’s schools, town buildings, downtown business district and other facilities deemed critical to the town’s operations.

Since then, Knight says the town has been working with a local rancher association to tap into a privately-held reservoir to fill the town’s system. That’s allowed most of Paonia’s downtown core to keep receiving water while the rest of the community has been out of water or on a boil notice.

Even when water service returns, which could come as early as Monday, the town will remain on a boil order until the town can flush its system, pull samples of the treated water, and send them to a lab for testing. If those samples show the water is safe to drink, Knight says Paonia residents could get service back without a boil order in place by Wednesday afternoon.

If samples come back positive for contaminants, that process would be delayed until the water is deemed safe.

Paonia: “We realized we simply were using more water than we were able to produce based on the raw water supply” — Town Administrator Ken Knight

Paonia. Photo credit: Allen Best

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The town of Paonia was forced Tuesday to cut off water to about a third of its users in the second phase of a water emergency that began when it issued a boil order last week due to leaks and resulting low pressure.

Although the town believes it has fixed the leak problem, it’s now struggling to build back up storage in its main, 2 million gallon tank because its spring-fed water supply was diminished by last year’s drought.

Town Administrator Ken Knight said the town’s springs are producing about a quarter of what they currently do this time of year, and the water tank had only about a foot or foot-and-a-half of water left as of Tuesday morning.

“We realized we simply were using more water than we were able to produce based on the raw water supply,” he said.

The town decided to cut off service to 27 water companies it serves, and continue to supply areas that include downtown businesses, school facilities, and an urgent care center and nursing home. The town is providing bottled water, and the National Park Service also has loaned a potable water truck from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to give people drinking water. Delta County also is providing a truck that supplies raw water for uses such as flushing toilets and other nonconsumptive uses, Knight said.

The town’s water problems began early last week due to two major water leaks Knight said weren’t immediately noticeable because the leaked water ran underground to the nearby North Fork of the Gunnison River, rather than surfacing on streets as leaks typically do. Knight suspects at least one leak, which occurred in the area of a fire hydrant, was caused by the freeze-thaw cycles this time of year, but he said the cause isn’t yet known.

Due to low pressure and the potential for backwash in the system, the town had a state-mandated boil-water order in place from Monday through Friday of last week.

Service was back to normal over the weekend, but then the issue with the low spring water supply surfaced.

Knight said the problem is that last year’s low snowpack was compounded by a lack of rain later in the year, so heading into winter the springs never had the chance to recharge…

The water system serves about 1,800 people. Knight said it could be 24 to 48 hours before water service is restored to those who have been cut off, but that’s an educated guess and the town should know more this morning.

Once service is restored, a boil order will be in place for a while for those currently not getting water until tests of the restored water supply are completed. Knight said Mesa County health officials provide that testing and have been doing so in a timely manner amidst the current crisis. He credited Mesa County’s health and emergency management officials along with the Park Service, Delta County, state officials and others for their assistance to the town, and also praised town residents for their patience and understanding.

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.”