Hw fall 2016 safe water public health

Page 1




Mission in Motion GROWING CAPACITY

Welcome Stephanie Scott CFWE is excited to welcome our newest team member, Stephanie Scott, leadership and education programs manager. She brings a passion for building informed individuals and communities across Colorado. Stephanie joins CFWE after working with Trout Unlimited since 2013. She lives in Thornton with her husband Tyler, their son Talon, and 95-pound lap dog Roscoe. We’re lucky and grateful to have her on board! Welcome Stephanie!

CFWE’s 2016 Water Leaders class spent its first session in Castle Rock in March learning about individual leadership styles and how to build effective teams with coach Cheryl Benedict (eighth from left) of MORF Consulting.

Congratulations 2016 Water Leaders!

Join us in celebrating the accomplishments of the 2016 class (pictured left to right, above): Andrew Kirsch, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District Scott Winter, Colorado Springs Utilities Ryan Christianson, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Meg White, The Nature Conservancy Bill McCormick, Colorado Division of Water Resources Kelly Romero-Heaney, City of Steamboat Springs Shannon Hatch, Tamarisk Coalition Edward Tolen, La Plata Archuleta Water District Jessica Pault-Atiase, City of Boulder’s Attorney’s Office Julie McKay, Boulder County Trisha Oeth, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment April Long, City of Aspen Katy Neusteter, Global Greengrants Fund Korey Kadrmas, RJH Consultants, Inc. Kevin Terry, Trout Unlimited Jayla Poppleton, Colorado Foundation for Water Education Interested in joining the 2017 Water Leaders class? The application period will be open Dec. 1, 2016, through Jan. 15, 2017. Contact stephanie@yourwatercolorado.org for more information. 2

CFWE's Stephanie Scott with son Talon


Expanded Coverage on the Blog Find digital content expanding on this issue’s public health coverage on CFWE’s Your Water Colorado blog! Take a look for: • An update on the PFC challenges in Fountain, Security and Widefield • Perspectives on water and wastewater treatment operators as the last line of defense for water quality • More reporting on progress toward increased water reuse and Colorado’s Regulation 84 Watch for more topics and original reporting coming your way. Visit blog.yourwatercolorado.org.



Congratulations to the 2016 Water Leaders, a talented class from a range of water disciplines who graduated from CFWE’s program in September. These 16 engaged professionals spent four sessions—in Castle Rock, Granby, Salida and Denver—developing their leadership skills through extensive self-assessment, coaching, and peer-to-peer learning. In the context of real-world Colorado water challenges, the program focuses on identifying and cultivating personal strengths in self and others, building functional teams, constructive conflict and communication, emotional intelligence in the workplace, and building a community of practice. These graduates join the ranks of Water Leaders alumni, now 126 members strong!


WATER FLUENCY A professional development course to help you understand water and lead with confidence

Coming to the West Slope in spring of 2017!


Join us for Water Fluency. Come away with tools to navigate the culture, complexity and future of water management and policy issues. Check online for dates and new West Slope locations, with registration opening in January 2017.


• Elected officials • Professionals interested in water • Community and business leaders • Online material • Site visits—guided tours of infrastructure & projects • Group discussions—four half-day in-person sessions

With the support of our partners

L E A R N M O R E A N D R E G I S T E R @ YO U R WAT E R C O L O R A D O . O R G / WAT E R F L U E N C Y


Increasing Water Educators’ Collective Impact Thanks to CFWE’s Water Educator Network (WEN), water educators across Colorado are expanding their effectiveness locally with new knowledge, shared practices, and leveraged resources. After a busy summer of Project WET trainings and a variety of workshops, we welcomed ThinkWater to Colorado in October 2016. There, an engaging session left us excited to further infuse Colorado water education with systems thinking. Stay tuned as we pursue more ThinkWater professional development opportunities in 2017. WEN is partnering with the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education’s annual Advancing Environmental Education conference March 11-12, 2017, with sessions focused on water challenges and opportunities. Here, educators can learn from leaders in Colorado water education. Learn more about CFWE's Water Educator Network at yourwatercolorado.org/water-educator-network.

Participants at an August 2016 Water Educator Network stormwater workshop examine storm drains in Durango. H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


Denver, CO | Round Rock, TX | (303) 455-9589 LREwater.com |





In the aftermath of the Flint lead disaster, certain regulations keep us safe from our own home plumbing, but some are considering where they come up short. RESTORATIVE • 15

A look at the physical and mental benefits of being around water, and the Colorado organizations working to increase public access.




Notes from the Editor

Water quality standards ensure safe drinking water, but do they go far enough? BY SAMANTHA TISDEL WRIGHT



Communities around the globe struggle with water access and sanitation but Water For People makes progress.

Setting the Standard

The Rural Water Conundrum In rural Colorado, water providers struggle to provide clean drinking water, keep up with shifting regulations and pay for advanced treatment, while the many individuals on private wells go it alone. BY NELSON HARVEY


Water on Repeat Opportunities for increased water reuse weigh against health risks and public perception. BY ALLEN BEST


Notes from the Director ABOVE: Many rural Colorado towns, like Hillrose, struggle to keep up with changing water quality regulations in order to reduce health risks. Photograph: Paula Gillen ON THE COVER: After drinking PFC-tainted water in Security, Amanda Massey-Holman, with daughter Jaydyn, lost faith in tap water. Photograph: Matthew Staver

H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


O U R CO N T R I B U T O R S Freelance writer Samantha Tisdel Wright enjoys drinking water straight from the tap at her home in Silverton, Colorado. “Taking a deep dive into the Safe Drinking Water Act and the world of emerging contaminants for ‘Setting that Standard’ (page 19) has really made me appreciate the challenges and complexities of keeping our drinking water safe,” she says. Nelson Harvey is a freelance reporter and editor based in Denver. He has written for Modern Farmer, High Country News and many other publications. He also works as a private investigator for the Kass Research Group. While reporting “The Rural Water Conundrum” (page 26), Nelson was surprised to learn of the uphill battle that Colorado’s rural water managers and private well owners face in keeping their water safe, and the combination of government aid, diligent management and personal responsibility required to meet that challenge. See more of his work at nelsonharvey.com. As a journalist, Allen Best has been writing about water in Colorado since 1977, with a focus on water quantity, though he suspects a shift toward more work in quality issues in years ahead. He’s lived a third of his life on the Eastern Plains, a third on the Western Slope, and now a third on the Front Range. Allen jumped at the chance to work on “Water on Repeat” (page 35). “If incremental in nature, reuse nonetheless represents a substantial shift in the state’s conversation about its water future,” he says. Meg Moritz is a writer and director whose documentary films have appeared on PBS and at numerous international film festivals. A swimmer for more than 30 years, she also enjoys kayaking in Alaska and sailing in Maine. As someone who knows the magic of being in and on water firsthand, researching a piece on the restorative powers of water ("Rx:Water," page 15) was a natural fit. Still, she says, “It was fascinating to discover how much new research there is to back up my personal impressions. Water not only restores us physically, it’s a source of deep solace for the soul." Paula Gillen’s background is in fine art and journalism. She worked as a photo editor and researcher in New York City for 20 years before moving to Boulder in 2008. Paula currently works as a photographer and does photo research, book design, and art. For this issue, Paula did photo research and traveled to Hillrose to photograph Dale Colerick, mayor of Hillrose, for "The Rural Water Conundrum" (page 26). See more of Paula’s work at gillenedits.com. Matthew Staver is an editorial and commercial photographer living in Denver. His photographs have been published in The New York Times, TIME Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine and other national publications. Returning to Security for this issue ("The Rural Water Conundrum," page 26) to add to his previous work documenting groundwater contamination on assignment for The New York Times was a welcome opportunity. “Having access to safe drinking water is something most Americans take for granted,” he says. “It is so important to show the costs that contaminated drinking water inflicts on people—emotionally, financially and physically— to learn why it happened, and to figure out how to make sure our water is always safe.” Find his work at matthewstaver.com.

Colorado Foundation for Water Education Nicole Seltzer Executive Director Jennie Geurts Director of Operations Stephanie Scott Leadership and Education Program Manager Jayla Poppleton Headwaters Senior Editor and Content Program Manager Caitlin Coleman Headwaters Associate Editor and Communications Specialist Charles Chamberlin Headwaters Graphic Designer BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Eric Hecox President Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. Vice President Scott Lorenz Secretary Alan Matlosz Treasurer Gregg Ten Eyck Past President Nick Colglazier Lisa Darling Steve Fearn Greg Johnson Dan Luecke Mara MacKillop

1750 Humboldt Suite 200 Denver, CO 80218 303-377-4433 • yourwatercolorado.org THE MISSION of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote increased understanding of water resource issues so Coloradans can make informed decisions. CFWE is a non-advocacy organization committed to providing educational opportunities that consider diverse perspectives and facilitate dialogue in order to advance the conversation. HEADWATERS magazine is published three times each year by the Colorado

Kevin McBride Trina McGuire-Collier Reed Morris Lauren Ris Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg Andrew Todd

Foundation for Water Education. Its goals are to raise awareness of current water

Chris Treese

issues, and to provide opportunities for engagement and further learning.

Rep. Ed Vigil

THANK YOU to all who assisted in the development of this issue. Headwaters’ reputation for balance and accuracy in reporting is achieved through rigorous consultation with experts and an extensive peer

Reagan Waskom

review process, helping to make it Colorado’s leading publication on water. Copyright 2016 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISSN: 1546-0584 6



Expand your knowledge of public health and water by exploring digital companion content.


your water fluency by 2 Increase participating in CFWE’s first West

Slope Water Fluency class in Spring of 2017. PAGE 3

3 Cozy up with a good book from our reading list of titles that emphasize the importance of being around water and in the wild. PAGE 16

how Water For People, under 4 Read the leadership of CEO Eleanor Allen,

is working to provide safe water and sanitation using its Everyone Forever model.


what’s in your water by 5 Investigate reading your public water system’s consumer confidence report. PAGE 23

the process through which new 6 Map contaminants are regulated and offer your public input. PAGE 24

7 Catch the latest in emerging contaminant research and connect with experts. PAGE 25

control of your health and find 8 Take the resources you need to test your home well. PAGE 34

9 Visualize the water-multiplying impacts within a community for de


ou are water. More than half of the human body is H2O. Your kidneys, your brain, your blood, your heart—water. Its availability is critical to our lives, and its purity is critical to our health. In Headwaters magazine, we often cover water supply in the context of Coloradans’ values, our needs, our law, our hobbies, our economy, our philosophies and our habitat. Water is all of that, and those things matter, but it’s more. While it has a nexus with all the externalities we care about, water is also deeply personal. Sometimes we focus on the technical and forget that the very same water that we work so hard to conserve, protect, divert, treat, and use is the water that beats our hearts and flows through our veins. It’s not just the water professionals who forget. Most people don’t think about where their water comes from, and don’t feel gratitude for or connection to our water treatment operators who hold our health in their hands and work to provide safe water. We forget about regulators and the rules and processes in place to protect us and our loved ones. It’s easy to eat, drink, shower, pay the water bill and just assume safe water will flow from the tap. When a water quality crisis strikes, those affected are harshly reminded of their health connection with water—it can be worrisome, even heartbreaking. It feels like a betrayal. We’ve seen the aftermath of Flint and the perfluorinated compound contamination near Colorado Springs. We’ve also seen protests to protect physical and spiritual health tied to water supplies. People are activated and agitated when they recognize that their water and health and families are threatened. These situations erode trust and remind us that water is personal. It isn’t easy to find the balance between those two extremes—protection and betrayal—nor is it always easy to remember the personal health and emotional heart connection when you’re focused on engineering or planning or law. This issue of Headwaters is a reminder and tries to tell both stories. We look at the regulations and standards that are in place to help ensure safe water and protect health, and we examine where those rules might be lacking. We explore how we can push existing boundaries with water reuse, while also drawing our attention to risks, crises and health concerns. It’s an issue that really does affect everyone. Join me in learning about public health and water as you read this issue. Let’s celebrate how fortunate most of us are to have access to safe drinking water and work together to solve existing and emerging health challenges. Here’s to health!

facto reuse, nonpotable reuse, and potable reuse.

Caitlin Colema�



Associate Editor

10 Engage with the existing guidelines for water reuse and efforts to advance them. PAGE 39

H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


Many Communities, One Water http://waterreuse.mwhglobal.com




n your hands is my last letter as CFWE’s executive director. We will soon welcome new leadership as I depart to pursue a personal goal to spend more time enjoying Colorado’s mountains. These past nine years have been the most rewarding of my career. It’s hard to leave but I’m looking forward to a change of pace in my new Routt County home. This transition comes at a time of great strength for the organization. Our board and staff are as dedicated and functional a team as I’ve ever seen them. Our finances and membership are more diversified than ever. Our total number of members has doubled, and membership revenue has increased by more than 50 percent over the past decade. Feedback on the quality and impact of programs continues to be consistently positive. These outputs are easy to quantify, but they only tell part of the story. Principles that drive the organization are the true foundation upon which we move together. Thomas Hornsby Ferril’s vision inscribed in our state capitol, “Here's a land where life is written in water,” resides at the core of CFWE’s mission. Water education requires an analysis of the issues with which water has a nexus, not just water itself. As a result, CFWE examines history, economics, technology, science, health, public attitudes, and helps to develop leadership potential...the list goes on. Fundamental information on Colorado water will always be part of our work, but our reach and influence will grow as we embrace more diverse public policy topics and examine them through the water lens. Decisions that include the input of diverse perspectives produce better outcomes. In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls sums it up this way: “In everyday life the exchange of opinion with others checks our partiality and widens our perspective; we are made to see things from the standpoint of others and the limits of our vision are brought home to us.” This also extends to creating professional relationships that cross geographical, cultural and political boundaries. Our mission is more than the presentation of information. We work to develop ties between stakeholder groups, grounded in shared personal and community experience. We move forward by remaining curious and cultivating partnerships. We may not agree on priorities or solutions, but we seek to understand each other better. CFWE has perfected the art of the fun learning event, where persons with differing views spend time gathering knowledge and developing treasured friendships. I truly believe that this “soft” side of our work has as much value to Colorado water management as the top-notch information we produce. I’ve witnessed so much improvement in dialogue and willingness to engage those with whom we don’t agree, as a result of conversations in workshops and on CFWE tours, for example. The point of a guiding philosophy isn’t always to get it just right, but to strive to improve. As CFWE moves into the next chapter, I am nothing but optimistic at its prospects for increased relevance and impact. I’d like to sincerely thank you for the hours of tireless guidance, the many contributions of financial support for our educational programs, and the kindness you’ve extended to this girl from Kansas. I love Colorado. From my new home on the West Slope, I hope to remain as engaged in Colorado water as ever. I will always be an ardent CFWE supporter.

Executive Director

H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


THANK YOU FOR HELPING US SPREAD WATER EDUCATION ACROSS COLORADO Thanks to the valuable contributions of our members and donors, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education has been able to deliver quality, comprehensive water education programs across Colorado since 2002. A sincere thank you to our Fiscal Year 2016 (July 1, 2015–June 30, 2016) members and donors. ENDOWING PARTNERS ($20,000+)

CoBank • Colorado Water Conservation Board HEADWATERS ($5,000+)

Aurora Water • Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment–Water Quality Control Division • Colorado River District • Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority • Denver Water • Larimer County • Leonard Rice Engineers, Inc. • Meridian Metropolitan District • MillerCoors • Northern Water • SGM • Southwestern Water Conservation District • Special District Association of Colorado • Water for the West BASIN ($2,000+)

Board of Water Works of Pueblo • Central Colorado Water Conservancy District • City of Greeley Water Conservation • City of Longmont • Eagle River Water and Sanitation District • Environmental Defense Fund • Rio Grande Water Conservation District • South Metro Water Supply Authority • University of Colorado Office for Outreach & Engagement • Ute Water Conservancy District AQUIFER ($1,000+)

CH2M • City of Grand Junction - Utilities • City of Greeley • Colorado Department of Agriculture • Colorado Springs Utilities • Conejos Water Conservancy District • Hydro Venture Partners • Metro Wastewater Reclamation District • Republican River Water Conservation District • San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District • South Platte Water Related Activities Program • St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District • The Consolidated Mutual Water Company • Town of Monument • Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association • TZA Water Engineers, Inc. • United Water and Sanitation District • University Press of Colorado • Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District RIVER ($500+) A Adaptive Resources, Inc. • Applegate Group B Barr Lake & Milton Reservoir Watershed Association • Bishop-Brogden Associates C Carlson, Hammond & Paddock, LLC • Cherokee Metropolitan District • City of Boulder • Colorado Parks and Wildlife • Colorado Water Trust D Ducks Unlimited E Eagle Bend Metro District F John Fielder G George K. Baum & Company H HDR Engineering, Inc. • Greg and Bobbie Hobbs K Knopf Family Foundation • Kogovsek & Associates, Inc. L Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District • Dan Luecke M Maynes, Bradford, Shipps & Sheftel, LLP N Patrick Miller Noto O One World One Water Center P Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board • Porzak Browning & Bushong, LLP R David Rau • Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project S Spencer Fane • John Stulp • Summit County T The Greenway Foundation • Trout Unlimited U Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association • Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District • Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority • Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District V Vranesh and Raisch, LLP W Reagan Waskom • Weld County Farm Bureau • West Sage Water Consultants • Western Summit Constructors • Westervelt Ecological Services • White & Jankowski • Wilson Water Group • Wright Family Foundation • Wright Water Engineers TRIBUTARY ($250+) A Amec Foster Wheeler • Anderson and Chapin, P.C. • Ayres Associates B Laura Belanger • Cheryl Benedict • Black & Veatch • L. Richard and Donna Bratton C CDM Smith • Tom and Grace Cech • Centennial Water and Sanitation District • City of Fort Collins—Natural Areas Department • City of Loveland • City of Thornton • Collins Cockrel & Cole • Colorado Corn • Colorado Livestock Association • Colorado Municipal League • Colorado River Cattle Ranch • Cottonwood Water and Sanitation District D Deere & Ault Consultants, Inc. • Delta County • Douglas County • Rebecca Dowling E ELEMENT Water Consulting • Evans Group, LLC F Fairfield and Woods, P.C. • Forsgren Associates, Inc. G GBSM • Les Gelvin • Thomas Gougeon • Grand County • Guaranty Bank and Trust H Hillary Hamann and Wayne Buschmann • Harris Water Engineering, Inc. • Harvey Economics • HaveyPro Cinema • Headwaters Corporation • Scott Hummer • Hydro Resources K Korey and Erin Kadrmas • Keep It Clean Partnership L Paul Lander • Left Hand Water District • Bruce Lytle M Mallon Lonnquist Morris & Watrous • Alan Matlosz • John and Susan Maus • John McClow • Mark McCluskey • McElroy, Meyer, Walker & Condon, P.C. • McGrane Water Engineering, LLC • Lisa McVicker and Craig Steinmetz • Middle Park Water Conservancy District • Morgan County Quality Water District • Reed Morris N North Sterling Irrigation District • North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District • North Weld County Water District O Trisha Oeth and Ben Keidan P Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District • John Porter R Klint and Jennifer Reedy • Robert Rich • Rocky Mountain Farmers Union S San Luis Valley Irrigation District • Chad and Lindsay Schneider • Jeff Sellen • Simon Land and Cattle Co., Inc. • South Adams County Water and Sanitation District • Stifel Nicolaus T Gregg Ten Eyck • Andrew Todd • Town of Castle Rock • Chris Treese U University of Denver—University College W Water Demand Management • The Water Information Program • West Greeley Conservation District • Kristina and Elliott Wynne



STREAM ($100+) A Marlene Accardo • Tom Acre • Tammy Allen • Richard Alper • Allison Altaras • Jamie Alvarez • Don Ament • Erik and Tammy Anglund • Animas River Wetlands, LLC B Andréa Bachman • David Bailey • Jeff Bandy • Miranda Bandy • John Bartholow • Amy Beatie • Rich Belt • Big Thompson Watershed Forum • Barbara Biggs • Peter Binney • Matt Bond • Caroline Bradford • Ginny Brannon • Paul Branson • Buffalo Creek Water District • Logan Burba • Peter Butler C Lynette Cardoch • Josephine Carpenter • Anne Castle • Ron Childs • Coalition for the Upper South Platte • Bill Coleman • Nicholas and Tiffany Colglazier • Amy Conklin • Elizabeth Conover • Jeff Crane • Ronnie Crawford • Sean Cronin • Ken Curtis • Mario Curto D Casey Davenhill • Frank Daviess • Louann DeCoursey • Jerilyn DeCoteau • Jody Dickson • Todd and Margaret Doherty • Don and Crystal Dutton • Jamie and DJ Dutton • Dynotek E Evan Ela • Angie Ellenwood F Fairfield and Woods, P.C. • Paul Fanning and Sylvia Fanning • Foothills Park and Recreation District • Angie Fowler G Jay Gallagher • Pam Gardiner and Lyle Geurts • Ashley Garrison • Kevin Gertig • Mike Gibson • Dala Giffin • Lorie Gillis • Lloyd Gronning H Bruce Halloran • Debi Harmon • Mary Hattendorf • Jim Havey • Taylor Hawes • Roy Heald • Eric and Nilmini Hecox • Mary Heffernan • Arista Hickman • Martin Hill • William and Eliza Hillhouse • Charles Howe • Tom Huber J Torie Jarvis • Dawn Jewell • Greg Johnson K Katie Knoll • David Koch • Dave Koop • Chris Kraft L Don Langley • Mark Levorsen • Topher Lewis • Matt Lindburg • Lutin Curlee Family Partnership, Ltd. • Laura Lynch M Steve Malers • Tyler Martineau • Joseph Martinez • Donald Martinusen • Mark Mathisen • Murray McCaig • Jack McCormick • Dennis McGrane • Trina McGuire-Collier • Julie McKenna • Jeanne Meardon • Blair Miller • Diane Mitsch Bush N MaryAnn Nason • Noah Newman • Daniel Niemela O Ellen Olson • John Orr P Kay Paris • Brian Payer • Bob Peters • Hensley Peterson • Chris Piper • Allison Plute • James Pokrandt • Susan Pollack • Steve Price R Jerry Raisch • Ken Ransford • Emma Reesor • Dianna Reimer • Patty Rettig • Ann Rhodes • Frank Riggle • RiverRestoration. Org • William Robbins • Ellen Roberts • Rocky Mountain Agribusiness Association • Steven Rogowski • Fred Rothauge • Cheryl Rountree • Donny Roush • Denise Rue-Pastin • Ashley Rust S Rick Sackbauer • Chris Sanchez • Alyson Scott • Thomas Sharp • Jeff Shoemaker • Karla Shriver • Jay Skinner • Maureen Smith • Tod Smith • South Canon Ditch Company • Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District • Alicia Sprague • Richard Sprague • Randy Spydell • Stantec Consulting • Heather Stauffer • SWCA Environmental Consultants • Jennifer Tanaka T Town of Frederick • Town of Windsor • Jean Townsend • Bill Trampe • Larry Traubel • Mark Truax • Daniel Tyler W Michael Weakley • Patti Wells • Brian Werner • Bruce Whitehead • Tom Williamsen • Kay Willson • Troy Wineland • Fred Wolf • Ken and Ruth Wright Z Mickey Zeppelin INDIVIDUAL ($50+) A Emilie Abbott • Steven Acquafresca • Craig Adams • Gerald Adams • Vic Ahlberg • Dave Akers • Zach Allen • Frank Anesi • Sue Anschutz Rodgers • Jim Aranci • Jeni Arndt • Jolene Arnold • Jeffrey Arthur • Lena Atencio B Carl Bachhuber • Dianne Bailey • Balcomb & Green, P.C. • Vicky and Pat Barney • Jeffrey Barnier • Jill Baron • Tony Barrie • Joseph Barsugli • Steve Basch • Matthew Bates • William Battaglin • Jacob Bauer • Bear Creek Water and Sanitation District • Beattie, Chadwick & Houpt, LLP • David Beaujon • Drew Beckwith • Dan Ben-Horin • Jeff Berlin • David Berry • Mike Berry • Michael Bevis • Tillie Bishop • Patricia Blakey • Linda Bledsoe • Josh Boissevain • Melissa Botteicher • Dave Bower • James Boynton • Larry Brazil • Norman Brooks • Natalie Brower-Kirton • Matt Brown • Rob Buirgy • Kathleen Butler C Michael Calhoun • Joanna Capazzi • Robert Case • Castle Pines Metropolitan District • Paula Caswell • Vicki Cataldo • Keith Catlin • Gretchen Cerveny • Jim Clare • Clay and Dodson, P.C. • Kelly Close • Michael Cohen • Debbie Cokes • Ted Collin • Kevin Collins • Colorado State Archives • Colorado State University - CSURF Real Estate Office • Dave Colvin • Bill Condon • Theresa Conley • Mike Connolly • Alice Conovitz • Jason Cooley • Carrie Cordova • Craig Cotten • Neomi Cox • Chris Crosby • Rita Crumpton • Kirkwood Cunningham • Margery Curtiss • Adam Cwiklin D Lisa Darling • Kirk Davidson • Lisa Dawson • Brian Devine • Jordan Dimick • Sarah Dominick • Ryan Donovan • Matthew Downey • Heather Dutton E Eagle County Government • East Grand Water Quality Board • Rodney Eisenbraun • Geoffrey Elliott • Lindsay Ellis • Pam Elsner • Patrick Emery • Enercon Services, Inc. • Lewis Entz • Environment, Inc. • Environmental Process Control • Robert Enzaldo • ERO Resources Corp. F Joanne Fagan • Stephen Fearn • R. Scott Fifer • Michael Fink • Judy Firestien • Thomas Flanagan, Jr. • Tom Fletcher • Jack Flowers • Birna Foley • J. R. Ford • Alesha Frederick • David Freeman G Julia Gallucci • Marilyn Gary • Jonathan George • Gary Gianniny • Daria Giron • Steve Glammeyer • Kirk Goble • William Goosmann • Marshall Gordon • David Graf • Kristin Green • Pete Gunderson H Harriet Hageman • Pam Hamamoto • Wendy Hanophy • Linda Hanson • Floyd Harlan • Eric Harmon • Paul Harms • Christine Hartman • Bob Hastings • Shannon Hatch • Alan Heath • Brendan Hedel • Sue Helm • Paul Hempel • Carla Hendrickson • William Hendrickson • Mark and Sara Hermundstad • James Hickman • Donald Higbee • High Line Canal Preservation Association • Jeannette Hillery • Glenn Hirakata • Jim Hokit • Allen Holcombe • Constance Holland • Diane Hoppe • Barbara Horn • Larry Howard • Joan Howerter • Ch'aska Huayhuaca • Terry Huffington • Emily Hunt • Phyllis Hunt • Eileen Hyatt • Hydros Consulting, Inc. I David Inouye • Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe, P.C. • Julio Iturreria J Nancy Jackson • Katie Jagt • Steven Janssen • Amy Johnson • Christine Johnston • Adam Jokerst • Alix Joseph • John Justman K Laurna Kaatz • Julie Kallenberger • Anthony Kerr • Keystone Policy Center • Gailmarie Kimmel • Frank Kinder • Douglas Kirby • Stan Kloberdanz • Lisa Knerr • Theresa Kohls • Betty Konarski • Aimee Konowal • Leann Koons • Krage Manufacturing, LLC • Robert Krassa • Adam Kremers • Adrianne Kroepsch • Rod Kuharich L Lambert Realty • Birgit Landin • Brendon Langenhuizen • Donna Larson • Lee Ledesma • Cindy Lefever • Margaret Lenz • Katryn Leone • Art Levine • Patricia Locke • Robert Longenbaugh • Steve Lundt M Kristin Maharg • Zach Margolis • John Marr • Ren Martyn • Kevin McBride • Bryan McCarty • McCarty Land and Water Valuation • Gerald McDaniel • Caitlin McHugh • Charles McKay • Bill McKee • Patricia Meakins • Meeker Regional Library District • Joe Meigs • Erin Messner • Louis Meyer • Steve Miles • Steve Miller • Minion Hydrologic • Joy Minke • Erin Minks • Harold Miskel • John Misuraca • Allen Mitchek • Liza Mitchell • Martha Moore • Donna Moreno • Larry Morgan N Julie Nania • David Nelson • Kelley Neumann • Peter Nichols • Josh Nims • Northwest Colorado Council of Governments • Notis Global • Chelsey Nutter O Blake Osborn • David and Linda Overlin P Dick Parachini • Kathy Parker • Tom Parks • Christine Patoff • Larry Patterson • PC Johnson Attorney at Law • Jack Perrin • Tom Perry • Pikes Peak Library - Acquisitions • Deborah Polich • Peter Pollock • Jayla Poppleton • Mary Presecan • James Pribyl • PS Systems, Inc. • Kira Puntenney • David Pusey R Kim Raby Lennberg • Aron Ralston • Realtors Land Institute—Colorado Chapter • Gene Reetz • Chris Reichard • David Reinertsen • Melvin Rettig • Gigi Richard • Rachel Richards • Lee Rimel • Laurie Rink • Vicki Ripp • Collin Robinson • Roxborough Water and Sanitation District • Ken Rutt • Susan Ryan S John Sanderson • Michael Sawer • Wayne Schieldt • Ben Schloesser • Donald Schwindt • Stephanie Scott • Nicole Seltzer • Stephen Seltzer • Shursteen Sharpe • Erika Shioya • Nona Shipman • George Sibley • Jack Sibold • Lisa Sigler • Nicole Silk • Kevin Sjursen • David Skuodas • Gregory Smith • James Smith • MaryLou Smith • Zachary Smith • Southern Ute Water Resources Division • Shannon Spurlock • Laurel Stadjuhar • Pavlos Stavropoulos • Timothy Steele • Jenelle Stefanic • Joe Stepanek • David Stiller • Gordon Stonington • Luci Stremme • Brian Sullivan • Summit Global Management T Peter Taylor • Richard Tocher • Mick Todd • Milt Tokunaga • Luis Tovar • Town of Firestone • Town of Severance • Carl Trick • Curran Trick • Tri-County Water Conservancy District • Molly Trujillo • TST Infrastructure, LLC • Turkey Creek Conservation District • Ken Turnbull • Howard and Lisa Tuthill U University of Colorado Boulder—Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems V Melissa Valentin • Paul van der Heijde • Jean Van Pelt • Wayne Vanderschuere • James VanShaar • Hayes Veeneman • John Verploegh • Tom Verquer • Linda Vida • Jodi Villa • Robert Viscount • Amy Volckens W Marc Waage • Shelley Walchak • Robert Ward • Russell Waring • Water Center at Colorado Mesa University • Heather Waters • Bert Weaver • Robert Weaver • Gaythia Weis • Weld County Commissioners Office • Weld County Underground Water Users Association • Jennifer Wellman • Michael Welsh • Wendy Wempe • WestWater Engineering • Nik White • Richard White • Rob White • John Wiener • Jody Williams • Kathleen Williams • Lacey Williams • Laura Wing • Shannon Wirtjes • Karen Wogsland • Richard Wojciechowski • Dick Wolfe • Connie Woodhouse • Pam Wright • W-Y GW Management District X Xcel Energy Foundation Z Viviana Zavala

H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


Corrosive > Restorative > Global

WATER IS VITAL Safe drinking water is critical for health and is the essence of life. On a July 2016 evening in Widefield, Colorado, residents replenish their drinking water supplies at a filling station that was erected to meet the needs of those whose groundwater was reported contaminated with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). Many residents in the towns of Security, Widefield and Fountain have temporarily relied on bottled water or installed filters in their homes to avoid health risks associated with contamination. While Americans may take drinking water for granted, often forgetting too about the slew of invisible regulations, regulators and operators who work tirelessly to protect public health, this basic need is so imperative that communities find a way to bridge the gap when things go wrong. 12



H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


Registered nurse Brian Jones draws a blood sample from Grayling Stefek, 5, at the Eisenhower Elementary School, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 in Flint, Mich. The students were being tested for lead after the metal was found in the city's drinking water.

Leading on Lead Water providers step up to protect against the leaching lead that could reside in residential plumbing, but do the rules need to be strengthened as well? By Caitlin Coleman ore than a year after the 2015 disaster in Flint, Michigan, abruptly brought lead and water quality threats to top of mind for many Americans, the health effects and the national dialogue about lead exposure continue to rage, turning up new worries and distrust—are we at risk? Is there lead in our water? How can we protect ourselves? In Flint, an estimated 8,000 children and more adults were exposed to high lead levels and other toxins when the city switched its drinking water source from Detroit’s Lake Huron supply to the corrosive Flint River in an effort to save money. Without treating the river water with corrosion inhibitors, lead from city-owned pipes, service lines and household plumbing leached into drinking water. Children developed rashes and illnesses, some were diagnosed with lead poisoning, and the water was deemed dangerous. Flint has since switched back to using Detroit’s water, but plumbing and service lines must be replaced before it’s safe to consume the tap water—and any long-term health damage already done is considered irreversible.



It’s scary and as personal as it gets. People across the country have heightened water quality concerns—not without reason— while water providers and governments are taking a hard look at the rules meant to protect us. “Lead is changing the discussion,” says Melissa Elliott, Denver Water’s director of public affairs. “Flint has changed our customers’ engagement on this [lead] issue. They’re a lot more aware than we could have made them on their own, so we’re taking this as an opportunity to have conversations.” Lead in drinking water has been a longstanding issue, but it took Flint’s alarm to jolt populations to attention. Lead pipes, service lines, lead solder and alloys are common in older construction. In 1986, an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act prohibited the use of pipes, solder and flux that were not “lead free.” The definition of lead free tightened with the 2011 Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which lowered the maximum lead count of plumbing parts that come in contact with water—like pipes, fittings and fixtures—down to a weighted average of 0.25 percent. The water itself, as well as infrastructure

and community needs, varies from place to place, but utilities for the most part have been working to remedy leaching through corrosion-control treatment, replacement of old water mains, education, and testing. In 1991, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Lead and Copper Rule, regulating lead differently than other contaminants. Because lead does not come from the water, but instead leaks out of household plumbing and service lines, water utilities work with a pool of homeowners who have lead service lines or lead solder plumbing at home to take samples at their household faucets. If lead concentrations in tested water exceed 15 parts per billion in more than 10 percent of the taps sampled, the water provider must respond through prescribed steps, like completing more testing, working to refine their corrosion-control treatment, and publicly alerting customers. In Colorado, 32 water systems managed by HOAs, towns, cities, and major water utilities have exceeded allowable lead levels in drinking water over the past four years, according to data from EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System database. Denver Water is one of them, despite the fact that the finished water exiting Denver’s drinking water treatment plants is lead free. Denver Water’s mains and utility-owned infrastructure? Also lead free. The lead exposure some customers face is brought on by their own home plumbing and privately owned service lines. “It’s difficult for utilities to comply because they don’t own all of the infrastructure—they don’t have control of everything to address [contamination], and our tools to enforce it are limited,” says Jennifer Robinett, compliance and assurance section manager for the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division. The only ways to remedy lead contamination are through corrosioncontrol treatment or by changing out the plumbing and service lines to remove all sources of lead. Corrosion control can be complicated. Sometimes a slight change in water chemistry will push another contaminant out of compliance, which means further refining the utility’s corrosion-control approach. It can be expensive and complex, Robinett says. But replacing service lines and plumbing is often more of an invasive challenge. The service line problem varies from town to town—some communities have



Water is Corrosive

Water is Restorative

no lead service lines, some are publicly or utility owned, some are privately owned, others have split ownership, Robinett says. In Denver there are an estimated 60,000 lead services lines, all of which are privately owned. Nobody in the city has tracked when homeowners have replaced service lines, so until now, Denver Water’s lead service lines have been unmapped. That’s changing. Today, when a Denver Water crew does water main work that structurally changes a lead service line, the water provider will replace the service line and communicate with the customer so they know what steps to take once the line is installed. In cases where construction isn’t happening and a customer replaces a service line, Denver Water encourages the customer to let them know so they can map it—through these tracked encounters, Denver Water will slowly fill in the city’s map to have a more accurate assessment of the problem and progress to replace lead lines. The cost of playing it safe and replacing lines can be prohibitive, averaging around $6,000–$7,000 per connection. “For many homeowners that’s not in their household budget,” says Elliott. At the same time, Denver Water can only reach about 1,000 lines each year and can’t cover the cost of replacing 60,000 service lines, and there aren’t grants available to give customers the financial boost they need for replacement, she adds. “As a community we have to figure this out.” Concerned customers can, since June 2016, receive a free sampling kit from Denver Water. For those who uncover lead but can’t fork over the cash for a new service line, the less expensive option is to install a water filter. But a real solution may be on its way. EPA is updating its Lead and Copper Rule, with a draft of the revisions expected in 2017. A set of 2015 recommendations from an advisory committee might indicate what’s to come. “We believe the rule will move more toward lead service line replacement and public education,” Elliott says, and requiring service line replacement will require a budget to make it feasible. Meanwhile Robinett hopes for easier sampling and implementation of the rule—and resources to help communities remove lead. “Awareness is bigger with Flint, but I think that perspective is really the only difference,” she says. “If we want to remove the lead, we need money to remove the lead.” n

Rx: Water The rejuvinating health benefits of being near water and the efforts in Colorado to increase access By Meg Moritz n elixir that sustains life through hydration and hygiene, water since antiquity has been a highly valued means of migration, transportation and commerce. Today, Colorado citizens and lawmakers alike are increasingly aware of how powerfully water not only supports life but also enhances it. Poets, painters, photographers, filmmakers as well as advertisers, realtors and hoteliers have long recognized that oceans, rivers and ponds impact us emotionally. In our market-driven economy, water is used to sell everything, including water itself. As a recent issue of Conde Nast Traveler proclaimed, “In, on and by the water… everything is better. “ The health benefits of exercise in water are well documented. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), swimming not only provides the benefits of aerobic activity but also engages and tones almost every muscle in the body. Studies show that water-based workouts can be sustained for longer periods with less joint and muscle pain than land-based ones—and people report enjoying them more. Furthermore, the CDC notes, water aerobics and hydrotherapies can benefit people suffering from asthma, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and fibromyalgia as well as aged and frail populations. The psychological effects of water are only starting to be systematically examined but the work is wide-ranging and extends far beyond the swimming pool. Neuroscientists, mental health clinicians, sociologists, geographers, anthropologists and naturalists today are engaging questions on the restorative qualities of water. Yet as a subject of scientific inquiry, water presents a huge research challenge. It can refer to an ocean or a hot tub, a fountain, fish tank or flood. It also exists in solid, liquid and gaseous states. Because of its ubiquity and complexity it is often conceptualized as “blue space” and studied in contrast to “green space,” where much of the


H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016

early research on the benefits of nature has been focused. In his 2014 book Blue Mind marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols was one of the first to argue that water soothes our turbulent 21st-century souls in profound ways that can be measured and quantified. The most comprehensive investigations Nichols points to come from the University of Exeter Medical School in Britain. Launched in 2009, the “Blue Gym” project examines the impact water environments have in both urban and natural settings. One of their early findings: People living near seacoasts are “healthier and happier” than those living inland. A later Exeter study attempted to understand the impact of marine environments on people who don’t normally encounter

“In the arid West, we’re innately drawn to water. It can soothe and inspire us.” JIM PETTERSON, TRUST FOR PUBLIC LAND

them by sending subjects to an aquarium. Researchers found that viewing sea creatures for as little as five minutes resulted in lowered heart rates, drops in blood pressure, and increases in the mood-lifting hormones dopamine and oxytocin. And the more varied and populated the tank, the more beneficial it is for the viewer. This year, an additional Exeter study carried out in New Zealand and published in Health and Place concluded that people are happiest outside in nature and happiest of all when near water. Exactly why this is the case remains an open question. Is it the visual of moving water with its waves, ripples, tides and eddies? Is it the sound of sea crashing against rock or lapping onto shore as gulls gather and call out? Is it the color blue? Or is it all 15

Water is Restorative

A recent study concluded that people are happiest when near water, providing one more reason why work to preserve, restore and provide public access to Colorado’s waterways is crucial.


is always exciting, people love to be around water, and applications with water components often rise to the top,” says Jake Houston, GOCO’s local government program manager. Along the Front Range, water recreation gets additional support from the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. Established in response to the massive 1965 flood that claimed 21 lives and brought devastation all along the South Platte River, the district serves Denver and 39 other municipalities from Boulder to Castle Rock. Rehabilitating the blighted banks of the South Platte has been an important part of its primary flood control mission. Urban Drainage projects have created river parks with beach entries that serve kayakers, tubers, and families wanting a day by the water; slowly, and in collaboration with groups such as The Greenway Foundation, this work has started turning an urban eyesore into a prominent asset. Statewide, a key issue going forward will be access to rivers and streams that are “an important part of our identity,” says Jim Petterson, Southwest and Colorado program director at the Trust for Public Land, an organization that works to create parks

and protect land for the public. “In the arid West, we’re innately drawn to water. It can soothe and inspire us. The same reasons that drew our forefathers to these waters— reasons of sustenance and migration—still linger in us today.” Recognizing this innate value, Exeter scientists say the broader goal of their work is to give citizens information they can act on. This includes making sustainable fish choices, reducing the use of plastics, protecting the “richness and beauty” of wild waterways, and encouraging the development of blue spaces in our increasingly urban environments. Science, says Nichols, will provide compelling reasons for “preserving, protecting and enhancing public access to safe, clean water in its myriad forms.” n TAKE THE NEXT STEP Learn more about the importance of being around water and in the wild, especially as it applies to youngsters, by diving into this reading list: How to Raise a Wild Child, Scott D. Sampson Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv Blue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols



of the above in combination? Whatever the reasons, one thing is clear: Water benefits us in far-reaching ways that have yet to be fully documented or understood. In Colorado, water is a highly valued natural resource. World-class waterways include 158 named rivers, more than 5,000 natural streams, and 81 waterfalls that are heralded by both residents and visitors from across the globe. Protecting these resources has become a top priority. The 1992 constitutional amendment that created the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund (GOCO) is a prime example of this commitment. The ballot initiative, approved by 58 percent of voters, mandates that half of the proceeds from the state lottery be used to “preserve, protect and enhance Colorado’s wildlife, park, river, trail and open space heritage.” Since its inception, GOCO has provided $917 million in grants and investments for close to 5,000 projects across the state. GOCO has provided funds toward obtaining water leases to fill reservoirs, restoring dams, and building river parks, fishing piers, water features, splash pads and outdoor pools. “We don't outright evaluate or favor water in reviewing grants, but water

Water is Global


Water For People’s Eleanor Allen


n July 2015, Eleanor Allen traded her job running a global water business to take up the reins at a global water nonprofit. Deeply affected by an early-career Peace Corps experience, Allen has always looked for ways to be most impactful with her life. Now, as Water For People’s CEO she’s part of changing lives across Latin America, Africa and India through the organization’s Everyone Forever model, where the endgame is sustainable, safe water and sanitation for every home, clinic and school in partner districts. Headwaters senior editor Jayla Poppleton interviewed Allen about her role in advancing an organizational strategy to meet the most basic of all human needs.


HW: Your website states that 1.8 billion people worldwide don’t have access to safe water and 2.4 billion lack access to adequate sanitation, that women and children spend more than 4 hours walking for water each day, and that more than 840,000 people die each year from water-related diseases. By comparison, our water-related public health concerns in the United States sound like “first-world problems.” Can you provide additional perspective on what it means for so many people to lack access to these basic services? EA: Imagine you had to walk up to several miles to get water, bring it home, and maybe boil it—you’ve just lost a few hours. The huge impact, particularly on women and children, is that’s time you’re unable to care for your family, you’re unable to work, or you can’t go to school. Giving people time to develop their families and their own economic prosperity is huge for the global economy, and that leads me to health. Getting people safe water provides a big boost in public health. If you’re not dying from water-borne disease, then you might be sick. Then you can’t work. This is a huge drain on productivity. We know that there is a five-fold return on investment for every dollar invested in water and sanitation on the economy for the boost in productivity. Children in developing countries have to work really hard to get

Water For People's Eleanor Allen (left) celebrated improved hygiene and running water in the kitchen of Santos Medoza Castrejón (middle) while visiting the district of Asuncion, Peru, with local program manager Beatriz Alvarado (right).

an education, especially for girls, because they’re either walking for water, or they’re not going to school because they have other work to do or they have their period and the schools don’t have toilets. This all changes dramatically when these basic fundamentals of life—water and toilets—are met. HW: Water For People works in nine different countries, impacting 4 million lives. How did you choose these specific regions? EA: Five years ago, in 2011, we changed our strategy and created Everyone Forever. We went down from 40 countries to the nine countries we’re in with the mission to get sustainable water and sanitation services, forever, to every family, clinic and school in the districts where we work. We chose these nine countries because these were the places where we had the best relationships H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016

with governments, which we felt was critical to our success as we began creating service authorities. Getting everyone access to services by building the infrastructure is one challenge. Having the services last forever is definitely the harder part, and it is fully dependent on the local districts and the government—not Water For People. We help enable this shift to local empowerment and ownership by setting up local partnerships, having the government buy in, and developing the institutions that are the equivalent of municipal water and sanitation utilities. HW: When you’re working to increase access to “improved” water or sanitation, what does “improved” mean in practice? EA: Improved means you don’t have to walk to a river, creek or other “natural” water source with your jerry cans to collect water. 17

You either walk to a community hand pump or a community tap or you actually have a tap in your house. It’s taking the water from its natural state into some sort of infrastructure to get it closer to people and hopefully with some treatment, when required, to make it safe to drink. Our ideal is getting everyone a household connection. We’re not there by any means but that’s our ideal.

EA: We have really robust monitoring criteria for water and sanitation supply and usage. We measure access, level of service, water quality, reliability, and many other things that are pretty germane to water and sanitation. Our task is to transfer the monitoring and evaluation from our local employees to the municipal employees that we’re training.

A more difficult task is how to measure social HW: What is the benchmark for establish- indicators that can be linked to safe water and ing what constitutes “safe” drinking water sanitation, like improved health and better across all of these varied locales? school attendance. We have dozens of metEA: Every country has different water qual- rics, but we do not measure these types of ity standards as well as a different standard changes. We do know anecdotally that there to define the distance from each house that is socio-economic progress in our communiis reasonable “access” to an improved water ties once they have reliable services. We have source. It would be much simpler to have a also been monitoring the connection between global standard! We follow country systems malnutrition and poor water quality, because and standards. Having safe water can be if your belly is full of parasites, it is hard to get achieved in two ways: One, by delivering it the food to you instead of the parasites. If kids through a system so that it is safe from the get safe water and parasites go away, they’re community tap/household tap/community in more school and they’re able to pay better well, like we have here in the U.S., or two, by attention and have a better chance of success.

about why this local buy-in is important to project success. EA: Across all of our nine countries’ programs together, the average that the municipalities co-invest in the capital phase to construct the systems is about 35 percent. In our experience when people co-invest they have skin in the game and are more committed to the success of the programs. For operational expenses the service authorities set rates that cover their costs, and typically the systems are metered. We can help them do this using a rate model that we developed called “At What Cost” that helps the communities develop the right rate for their system. HW: The U.N. Sustainable Development Goal No. 6, SDG6, released in January 2016 aims to achieve universal availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation services by 2030. Is this doable, and what do you think it will take to get there?

EA: The rate of investment globally right now is around $10 billion a year in water and saniHW: How does Water For People transfer tation. And it’s $50 to $100 billion per year to technologies and systems developed or re- get to SDG6. That is five to ten times the infined in the U.S. to the communities in which vestment we are making today between government, aid, philanthropy and corporations. you work?

assuming that people will take it from the community tap/household tap/community well and treat it at home using filters or chlorine to make it safe. The second method opens up more potential for recontamination if the home filters no longer work, or if it is treated EA: The technologies that we use are really basic and they have to be locally available. then transferred to a dirty container, etc. There’s no silver-bullet technology, although HW: How have you personally seen lives a lot of people would love it if there was! The transformed as a result of gaining access to real solution is setting up the systems and improved drinking water and sanitation? the governance and the institutions. Most EA: There are so many stories. I specifically technologies that we’re using come from the remember one time after a community water countries we work in. That’s the most sustainsystem was inaugurated in the Dominican able, practical and cheapest way to build our Republic, a woman, Doña Lucia, who I knew systems. Most of the ideas come from where well, came up to me and gave me an egg. She we work now, too, because our engineers are said, “Elena, we are so happy as our lives have mostly local.

changed forever. Thank you. This is all I can We definitely have a direct line back to all of give you to thank you.” It really changed their the engineering firms in the U.S. that support entire lives. And it was the best egg I ever had! us. They were our founders and they are still Toilets are pretty amazing and life-changing our partners. I come from these roots too! too. Especially for women when they no lon- When we’re on the cutting edge of design in ger have to risk rape and ridicule when open our countries (e.g., fluoride removal in water defecating and have the dignity and safety of or membrane systems for latrine pit dewatering) and our local engineers do not have the their own toilet. experience or know-how, we can tap back into HW: Water For People makes a long-term our resources here in the U.S. commitment to monitoring its projects. Do you measure reduced rates of illness as part HW: Water For People promotes co-investing and co-financing by local entities. Tell us of that? 18

This additional funding needs to come from national governments through higher taxes or reprioritization of national funding, and aid needs to increase. The money is out there in the world—we spend that much on Black Friday every year! My belief is that money needs to be reallocated for this purpose, to finally solve this crisis. And 2030 with SDG6 gives us a great target to shoot for. HW: What keeps you personally motivated in the face of such a daunting task? EA: I am energized every day when I see the progress we are making. Our work is complicated and difficult, and on some days I wish we could make progress faster, but I have peace of mind knowing we are doing the right thing. And we have proof that we are making progress to help solve a crisis that is solvable. n To read the transcript of this interview in its entirety, visit yourwatercolorado.org. And hear more from Eleanor Allen by tuning in to her June 2016 TEDx Talk on YouTube.


SETTING THE STANDARD G eno Wasilewski will always remember the summer of 2016 as the one when Ferril Lake filled with slime. As the owner of Wheel Fun Rentals in Denver’s City Park, Wasilewski got a front-row seat to the spectacle, as a fibrous mat of algae smothered the shallow 24-acre lake, shutting down his paddle boat and kayak rental business for 41 days. “It was ugly, green and nasty,” he said. “You could not paddle a boat through it—it was like pushing a carpet.” Algal blooms have shown up at Ferril Lake for eight of the past 11 years. But 2016’s episode, triggered by a steamy heat wave that warmed the nutrient-rich water to tepid bathtub temperature, was epic in proportion, covering up to 90 percent of the lake’s surface. While it was bad for business, that was as far as it went. The bloom did not contain cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, certain types of which can release an assortment of potent toxins collectively referred to as cyanotoxins. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) links cyanotoxins to a range of health impacts such as nausea, kidney damage, respiratory paralysis and even death, particularly when drinking water becomes contaminated. Across the country, drinking water crises are making the news—from toxic algae to lead poisoning to a growing number of communities facing contamination from a class of manmade chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds or PFCs—raising concerns about whether the nation’s current drinking water regulations do enough to protect us. While there are clear rules pertaining to 93 federally regulated drinking water contaminants, there are no national drinking water standards for algal cyanotoxins, PFCs, or a host of other potentially harmful



H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


unregulated contaminants of emerging concern. These include hormones, antibiotics and anti-depressants, which scientists can now detect in increasingly minute quantities thanks to advances in technology. Regulators maintain that standard treatment processes in place by public water systems provide some level of protection and removal of unregulated contaminants, even if they aren’t the specific target of the treatment process. And although they are unregulated, utilities must test for select contaminants under EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, which the agency uses as a basis for evaluating candidates for future regulation. In 2012-2016, the list included PFCs, and the new proposed list of 30 unregulated contaminants for 2018-2021 includes cyanotoxins. For unregulated contaminants that aren’t on the list, monitoring is voluntary, and most utilities, especially small rural ones, don’t have the resources to address them specifically. Even well-resourced water utilities may be reluctant to monitor for unregulated contaminants because data on health risks is often lacking, making it difficult to describe any concerns to the public. Adding to the complexity of the problem, regulating a new contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act is a ponderous, methodical, time- and resource-intensive process—which may explain why EPA has not added a new constituent to its list of regulated contaminants since 1996. Our growing awareness of the unregulated contaminants that might be transmitted through our taps—even at very low levels—has bred an atmosphere of unease and distrust, leading more of the 286 million Americans who get their water from a community water system to filter or avoid tap water, buying bottled drinking water instead. While such precautions are necessary in times of crisis, water providers stress that, overall, our regulated municipal drinking water supplies are very safe. “A lot of people don’t drink their tap water which is a really sad thing, because we are making really good tap water,” says Sherry Scaggiari, recent chair of the Colorado Water Utility Council, an alliance of drinking water providers throughout the state, organized under the auspices of the Rocky PRECEDING PAGE A pond fills with blue-green algae, certain strains of which may harbor and release potent cyanotoxins linked by EPA to negative health effects. Although EPA does not yet regulate cyanotoxins, it issued drinking water health advisories in 2015, which Colorado followed. 20

Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association. Granted, the system isn’t perfect. While advances in water management and sanitation have substantially reduced waterborne disease across the nation, outbreaks still occur, often from unregulated systems. In 2011–2012, for example, 32 drinking water–associated outbreaks were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Waterborne Disease and Outbreak Surveillance System, though they weren’t all associated with public water systems. Nevertheless, CDC concurs that the United States has one of the safest public drinking water supplies in the world. Of course, it wasn’t always that way.

In the Time of Cholera

In an ideal world there wouldn’t be any contaminants in drinking water. But water is a product of its environment. As it flows, water dissolves naturally occurring minerals from the ground around it. Depending on the source, it might also pick up a variety of human- or animal-generated contaminants along the way. We humans have been fouling our drinking water sources since ancient times, when great civilizations flowered alongside rivers that provided water for both agricultural and domestic use, while serving double-duty as sewers. The Romans were the first to solve this problem by diverting water from upstream sources via their famous aqueducts. Fast-forward to 1850s-era London, and nearly everyone fetched their water from public wells that dotted the city squares or took it directly from the Thames, a sluggish tidal river into which London’s sewers drained. Waterborne diseases such as cholera flourished, killing scores of people on a regular basis. Newspapers attributed the problem to “poisons in the miasmatic air emanating from the bowels of the earth,” not the polluted water Victorian Londoners were consuming. All of that changed in 1854, when Dr. John Snow traced a massive cholera outbreak in London to a well into which a nearby cesspool had been leaking the deadly pathogen—thus correctly deducing that cholera is conveyed by water. This realization triggered a new wave of constructing water sanitation facilities across Europe and, eventually, the United States. Chlorination, often paired with some means of filtration, was the next milestone toward reducing infectious disease transmissions via water supply and is widely

acclaimed as one of the most significant public health advances of the past millennium. With scores of American cities implementing the practice in the early 1900s, the results were dramatic. Waterborne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and cholera that once lurked in untreated drinking water had practically disappeared by the mid-20th century. Drinking water standards developed alongside chlorination. The first waterrelated regulation in the country, adopted in 1912, prohibited use of the “common cup,” a shared public drinking water cup, on trains and other modes of transportation. The U.S. Public Health Service continued to create drinking water standards over the following five decades. But it wasn’t until Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, amid growing concern that drinking water supplies were becoming tainted by industrial activities, agriculture, wastewater effluent and even harmful byproducts of chlorination, that drinking water was comprehensively regulated in the United States. The act authorized the fledgling EPA to set legally binding standards for any contaminants in public water systems determined to significantly endanger public health, while establishing a cooperative program among local, state and federal agencies to ensure safe drinking water for the consumer.

Protecting Water Today

Through the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA has established National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for 93 significant contaminants—from acrylamide to xylene—that may be present in drinking water provided by public systems throughout the country. These regulations set legally binding Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for each contaminant, along with prescribed treatment techniques applicable to every community water system serving residents year-round. In setting an MCL, EPA must show that the proposed standard improves public health and is economically feasible to implement. Typically this is done through a cost-benefit analysis, comparing the cost of treatment to the value of lives saved or disease averted. The process starts with extensive research to determine whether regulating a contaminant could curb health care costs or deaths, says Steve Via, director of federal relations for the American Water Works Association. EPA uses this data to set a public health goal, the maximum level of a contaminant in drinking water at which



The City of Boulder and other water providers reliant on supplies from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project monitor emerging contaminants at a level beyond most others in the state. Several times a year researchers test raw water samples for more than 100 different constituents including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and hormones. Overall their results are promising: Of all 100 contaminants tested for, about 90 aren't ever detected.

no known health effects would occur. Researchers then compare the potential benefits of regulation to the cost of treatment—considering the cost to the utility, to the state for oversight, and ultimately the cost at the household level. In most cases, the enforceable standards regulators ultimately set are adjusted upward to accept a low level of health risk, due to the cost associated with completely eliminating the contaminant from the water supply. Arsenic, for example, a toxic, inorganic chemical in natural soil deposits as well as agricultural and industrial runoff, has an MCL of 0.01 milligrams per liter, even though the public health goal is zero. It’s not a perfect process, but 42 years after its passage experts agree that the Safe Drinking Water Act has reduced illness and saved uncounted lives through the enforcement of these evolving standards. Drinking water treatment plants across the nation protect their communities by treating their source water at a level that

complies with all federally established MCLs before sending the water to consumers’ taps. In Colorado, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) implements the Safe Drinking Water Act. It’s a big job; Colorado has about 2,000 water systems for CDPHE’s 50 Safe Drinking Water Program employees to keep up with. “How we monitor and ensure drinking water quality is [a] soup-to-nuts approach,” explains Ron Falco of CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division, who oversees the effort. “It’s a process that starts at the source water, extends through treatment processes all the way to the tap, and involves a range of services from funding to training to compliance oversight and enforcement.” The Colorado legislature has restricted Colorado’s Water Quality Control Commission, the state body that develops water quality policy and rules, from adopting drinking water standards more stringent than federal regulations for regulated contaminants. To comply with federal requirements and protect public health, Colorado implements specific standards that pertain to drinking water disinfection, distribution and storage. For example, a 2008 salmonella outbreak in Alamosa that sickened 1,300 people— H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016

likely caused by cracks in the city’s storage tank combined with lack of disinfection— triggered statewide regulation updates pertaining to storage tanks, backflow prevention and other infrastructure controls, along with new mandates on minimum chlorine residual disinfectant concentration in the distribution system, to prevent a repeat occurrence. When it comes to managing compliance with both state and federal drinking water standards, CDPHE aims to act preventatively rather than responsively, Falco emphasizes. Yet in spite of all the safeguards in place to ensure drinking water complies with the Safe Drinking Water Act, serious issues occasionally arise. In many cases, these issues have to do with unregulated contaminants.

Cyanotoxins: A Blooming Threat

Cyanotoxins are one of the biggest as-yetunregulated threats to safe drinking water. Nurtured by nutrients from agricultural and urban runoff, septic systems and warming weather, harmful algal blooms are oozing their way across the country’s lakes and reservoirs. A 2007 EPA study found microcystins, one type of cyanotoxin, present in 30 percent of lakes sampled nationwide. Reports of blooms recorded by CDC suggest they are becoming ever more 21

prevalent, sometimes making their way into drinking water sources. In 2014, for example, a large toxic algal bloom invaded Lake Erie, shutting down Toledo’s drinking water supply for three days. Stores sold out of bottled water; libraries, universities and restaurants closed; and the National Guard was called in to distribute water to the city’s 400,000 panicky residents in the middle of the hot summer before the problem was resolved. In 2015, a 650-mile bloom on the Ohio River again threatened drinking water. In 2016, the City of Ingleside in Texas issued a 13-day, do-notdrink advisory for cyanotoxins in its drinking water, while states from Alaska to Florida reported more than 250 health advisories due to cyanotoxins, according to a September 2016 EPA memo. The health advisories closed beaches, restricted tourism, limited irrigation, and, in some cases, cautioned against drinking the water. The CDC just launched its first algal bloom reporting system in June 2016, which will better quantify the severity of cyanotoxin-producing algae. Colorado, a headwaters state with relatively pristine waters, is not immune to the problem. Of the 150 lakes and reservoirs across the state sampled routinely by CDPHE, 10 to 15 regularly produce blue-green algal blooms that can sometimes release cyanotoxins. “There have been harmful algal blooms in Cherry Creek, Stagecoach and DeWeese reservoirs, but they haven’t had any impact to a drinking water supply so far,” says Falco. “It is a statewide concern. Such outbreaks pose a risk to wildlife and the public.” EPA has been pressured to conduct more research on the issue and offer guidance about how to protect drinking water from the threat of cyanotoxins. In June 2015, the agency issued a drinking-water health advisory for microcystins and a related cyanotoxin called cylindrospermopsin.

floo-uhnt water fact


In developing its 2009 Contaminant Candidate List (CCL 3) and evaluating potential regulatory needs, EPA culled data from 100plus sources. Sources evaluated for its current draft CCL 4 include the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Center for Disease Control, National Academy of Sciences, National Toxicology Program, among many others.

The advisory assigned nonregulatory threshold values to provide officials and water managers with guidance to better protect public health. In the meantime, several Colorado agencies have teamed up to form a Harmful Algal Bloom Workgroup with the goal of creating guidance to assist drinking water systems in monitoring for the contaminant. While this has proved helpful, cyanotoxins are only a drop in the bucket of unregulated contaminants that have been detected in varying concentrations in Colorado’s collective drinking water supply.

A Perfluorinated Ordeal

Fountain, Colorado, and Hoosick Falls, New York, have more in common besides the fact that they were both named for local water features. The two towns, one near Fountain Creek in the shadow of Colorado’s iconic Pike’s Peak in El Paso County, and the other on a bend of the Hoosick River near the New York-Vermont border, have recently joined the list of more than 60 communities across the country to discover their drinking water is contaminated with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). Hoosick Falls traces its contamination to a shuttered riverside plastics factory, now a proposed Superfund site, which used Teflon in many of the products it manufactured. Fountain’s drinking water, along with that of the neighboring towns of Widefield and Security, was likely contaminated by chemical-laden firefighting foam used to prevent and extinguish fuel fires at the nearby Peterson Air Force Base. While both communities have since switched to safer temporary drinking water sources—a complicated and expensive endeavor that, in Fountain’s case, has involved purchasing and importing water from other municipalities—residents must now contemplate the potential long-term health effects of consuming the tainted water. Manufacturers have used PFCs for decades in everyday products like water-resistant clothing, carpet, food packaging, and nonstick frying pans. But once introduced into the environment, PFCs stick around for a long, long time and find myriad pathways into our bodies—through food, soil, household products and drinking water. Although there is growing evidence linking some types of cancer and other adverse health effects with PFCs, the family of chemicals is unregulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act so there is no legally binding limit

as to how much of the contaminant may be present in drinking water. But that could change. Last May, EPA released updated health advisories on two of the best-known PFCs— PFOA and PFOS—recommending that communities keep concentrations in their water below 70 parts per trillion for the two chemicals combined. That’s 10 times less than previous advisories. The new advisories are nonenforceable, but as with similar cyanotoxin advisories that EPA released in 2015, they provide guidance for standards that states can adopt or communities can use when assessing the quality of their own drinking water. Colorado used the new PFC guidance in 2016 to help address the situation in El Paso County.

Balancing Rules and Emerging Risk

Now, EPA is engaged in a multiyear process to determine whether to go one step further and regulate PFCs and cyanotoxins under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Both types of pollutants are on EPA’s Contaminant Candidate List, a watch list of more than 100 drinking water contaminants that occur in public water systems but are not subject to drinking water regulations. EPA uses this list, which is updated every five years, to prioritize research and data collection to determine whether a contaminant should be regulated. Eventual regulation could require water providers to test for the contaminants, and if detected, treat the water before letting it flow to customers’ taps. Given the mounting evidence that PFCs and cyanotoxins pose health risks when they show up in our drinking water, it may seem like a no-brainer to move forward with enforceable regulation. But that’s easier said than done. “In order for EPA to regulate a contaminant, they need to show that there would be a meaningful health risk reduction,” explains Alice Fulmer, a research manager for the Water Research Foundation, a utilitygoverned cooperative that funds research relevant to drinking and wastewater utilities. From assessing frequency of occurrence to reviewing treatment techniques, determining target levels of contaminant reduction, performing cost-benefit analyses, and involving stakeholders in comment periods, the steps toward new regulation are time consuming and daunting. “Before EPA proceeds with regulations, they need to demonstrate that it really would be worth the expense to pass on to water utilities and their customers,” Fulmer says.


Waterspeak 101: How to Read a Consumer Confidence Report Wondering what’s in your water? Dig into your water provider’s Consumer Confidence Report—the EPA requires that all community water systems deliver these reports to customers and to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) annually.

risks of contamination, identify the concentrations of any regulated contaminants found in the water, include warnings and information on potential health effects, explain how the system is addressing any violations, and point customers to additional sources of information. To demystify the jumble of numbers and acronyms found in a typical report, we’ve teased apart a section from Durango’s 2015 report. Find the full report and look up yours on CDPHE’s website at wqcdcompliance.com/ccr.

No matter where you live, drinking water, even bottled water, is expected to contain trace amounts of contaminants. Consumer Confidence Reports identify the system’s water sources, summarize the

City of Durango 2016 Drinking Water Consumer Confidence Report For Calendar Year 201 5 Publ


Contaminants are broken down by category. In addition to those listed here, those categories may include microbiological contaminants, radioactive contaminants, inorganic contaminants, synthetic organic contaminants, and volatile organic contaminants.


Only detected contaminants are listed in Consumer Confidence reports. If you don’t see a contaminant listed, it wasn’t detected in your system’s water.



Even if a contaminant is detected, it doesn’t mean that there’s a known health risk associated with the level of detection. In this report, compare the highest detected value of nitrate, at 0.045 ppm, to the MCL and MCLG of 10 ppm. That’s a significant difference.

S ource Wate r Microbiol ogical

Coll ection Date



Highest 12 Month Mean


0.007 oocy st/L


Typi cal S ource Infected human and anim al feces

Disinfecti on Byproducts Precursors (DBP)




Total Organic Carbon Remo val Ratio

TT Mini mum

TT Violation



1 – 1.73



Organics and Inorganics

Highest Value

















0.80 average















Coll ection Date



There’s typically a difference between the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG). The MCL is the highest level of a contaminant allowed in drinking water, whereas the MCLG is the level below which there is no expected health risk. MCLs are set as close as is feasible to MCLGs to balance health risk with cost and technology.

ic Water System ID #CO 0134150















0.04 – 0.81



Disinfecti on Byproducts








Highest RAA



7.20 – 20.40



24.90 – 45.10





Lead and Copper

Coll ection Date

90TH Percentil e














Many contaminants are a product of their environment, but not all. In this case, fluoride is added to Durango’s water to promote oral health. The water treatment plant adjusts the level of fluoride, aiming for 0.7 mg/L, which the EPA considers to be the optimum amount for preventing tooth decay without harming human health. H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016



Typi cal S ources Naturally present in the environment Typi cal S ource

Erosion of natural deposits. Discharge from steel / pulp mills Discharge of drilling wast es; Discharge from metal refineries; Erosion of natural deposits Erosion of natural deposits; Water addit ive which promotes strong teeth ; Discharge from fertilizer and aluminum factories Runoff from fertilizer use; Leaching from septic tanks, sewage; Erosi on of natural deposits


S ource Water addit ive used to contr ol microbes MCLG

Typi cal S ource



By-p rodu ct of drinking water chlo rination



By-p rodu ct of drinking water chlo rination

Typi cal S ource Corrosion of household plumbing systems; Erosi on of natural deposits; Leaching from wood preservatives Corrosion of household plumbing systems; Erosi on of natural deposits


Monitoring is sometimes required less than once per year, as is the case with these radionuclides. Infrequent monitoring may be allowed when concentrations of certain contaminants are not expected to vary from year to year or the system isn’t considered vulnerable to a specific type of contamination. 23

How are Contaminants Regulated in Drinking Water? Under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency has established legally enforceable standards known as National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for 93 microbial and chemical contaminants. The Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and treatment techniques embedded in these regulations apply to public water systems nationwide. The current draft Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) developed by EPA in 2015 contains 100 chemicals or chemical groups and 12 microbial contaminants for which future regulation may be considered. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) implements and enforces the national regulations as well as the Colorado Primary Drinking Water Regulations in Colorado.

EPA publishes Contaminant Candidate List of currently unregulated contaminants that may require regulation every five years or less.

EPA uses CCL to prioritize research and data collection.

WAIT on determination


One of the essential conundrums in drinking water management today is that anything we use and consume may end up in the water that flows out of our taps. The sheer number of chemicals that exist presents a unique challenge when it comes to assessing human health risks associated with exposure. “The Chemical Abstract Services body just assigned the 100 millionth registry number to a substance,” says Fulmer. Against this backdrop, EPA is challenged with trying to determine which unregulated chemicals are relevant to water and wastewater and which warrant eventual regulation. Beyond cyanotoxins and PFCs, the agency is currently evaluating an array of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) for possible regulation. CECs are chemicals that are not commonly monitored but have the potential to enter our environment, end up in our source water, and cause known or suspected health effects. Emerging contaminants can include personal care products, veterinary medicines, antibiotics, hormones, endocrine disrupters, industrial 24


5 Insufficient ufficient data exists to evaluate the contaminant according to the criteria.

Regulation not necessary. May develop Health Advisory that states can adopt.

effluents, and many others. As new drugs, pesticides and personal care products are introduced into the market each year, public exposure to these chemicals comes from the products themselves, and the relative risk of exposure in drinking water. In the meantime, Fulmer stresses, “Utilities want to make sure that they are protecting public and ecological health and being responsive to their customers’ needs.” This, too, can be a challenge, particularly in states like Colorado that have a preponderance of small, rural drinking water systems. Many, but not all, of these rely on water from wells and, according to regulators, have little risk of contamination by algal blooms or CECs. But most of Colorado’s population gets its drinking water from plants that use conventional treatment methods involving coagulation, filtration, aeration/oxidation and disinfection, and Water Research Foundation tudies evaluating strategies for removing CECs from water have found that such techniques don’t remove some of the most persistent emerging contaminants. The only

EPA must make a regulatory determination on at least five contaminants from the current CCL. In making a determination, EPA considers 1 potential adverse effects on human health, 2 frequency and level of occurrence in public drinking water systems, and 3 whether regulation presents a meaningful opportunity for reducing public health risks.





treatment method proven to completely remove CECs from drinking water is reverse osmosis. Due to cost, it is beyond the means of most community water systems. Granular activated carbon, nanofiltration, and ion exchange can remove some CECs from water, but these techniques are also costly and not completely effective. Although emerging contaminant detection is improving, relatively little research has been done on the health effects these contaminants could have when consumed in trace quantities. As “funny fish” with altered sex organs have shown up in some Colorado streams, there is concern that even very low levels of hormones in drinking water could disrupt human hormonal balance by mimicking naturally released hormones that trigger physical responses. But in the end, Fulmer warns, it may not be scientifically or economically feasible to completely remove such contaminants from the water. “We are getting to a point where there will not be such a thing as a zero measurement,”


EPA publishes proposed Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and regulation.



EPA publishes final MCL and regulation. CDPHE, through hearing with Water Quality Control Commission, adopts the national standard.


Regulation necessary

CDPHE requires compliance monitoring and reporting to the Water Quality Control Division (WQCD) as specified in the regulation.

If system is out of compliance, WQCD monitors and helps them reach compliance.

If system is unable to reach compliance, WQCD takes enforcement action.

Regulation takes effect and will be reviewed every six years following.


Fulmer predicts. “We will have to begin accepting minute concentrations of certain chemicals or determining what levels are safe or unsafe. Unfortunately, that research costs a lot of money. We are sort of playing catchup with the number of chemicals that are in use today.” Drinking water, of course, is not the only exposure pathway for emerging contaminants to enter our bodies. “The truth is, it’s pretty hard not to get exposed,” says U.S. Geological Survey research hydrologist William Battaglin, who monitors CECs in Colorado water. From drinking caffeinated beverages to handling receipts to attending to the chores of daily life, we are constantly exposed to these chemicals, says Battaglin. And, he adds, new regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act may not be the only, or best, way to deal with them. “Regulatory action can keep a problem from getting worse. But it will take too long to regulate some of the personal care products and other things that are already on the market. They are going to be in your products [and water] until people want them out.”

That can happen quickly. When consumers decided they didn’t want Bisphenol A, or BPA, in their water bottles, for example, industry removed the offending additive much faster than EPA could have acted.

The Bottom Line

While the process to regulate new contaminants can seem slow, it ensures that any new standards are science-based, vetted by stakeholders, and not politically motivated—which is important because every new regulation places an added burden and expense on water systems. And that expense, ultimately, is shouldered by consumers. Which begs the question, are consumers willing to pay the price for cleaner water? Scaggiari is doubtful. “Generally, people aren’t willing to pay much more for their water. They already think they are being over-charged,” she says, adding that new treatment costs are hard to justify without new regulations to mandate them. Perhaps the best solution is to become more vigilant about protecting our source H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016

waters, be that through consumer activism or stricter industry regulations to prevent contamination. In the meantime, we are stuck with the regulatory processes, and the drinking water that we have, which, with some notable exceptions, is really pretty darn good. Ultimately, from the perspective of the Colorado Water Utility Council, there is a balance to strike between affordability and reducing risk, Scaggiari says. “Can we do better? Sure. Are there failing systems? Probably. Is the system failing? Absolutely not. At some point you could get to a place of unfunded mandates where it becomes impossible for smaller systems to comply. Then where are people going to get their water?” n TAKE THE NEXT STEP Learn more about emerging contaminants through the Consortium for Research and Education on Emerging Contaminants at creec.net. Then watch for the Emerging Contaminants Summit coming to Windsor in March 2018. 25


The Rural Water Conundrum 26


What small, rural utilities and private well owners face in keeping their water safe to drink


t didn’t take long for Dale Colerick to realize he had a problem. In the winter of 2004, Colerick ran the water utility for the 300-person northeastern Colorado hamlet of Hillrose, whose grid of old Victorians, doublewides and mobile homes sits south of Interstate 76 amid the crop circles and cattle ranches of Morgan County. Hillrose drew its drinking water from an alluvial well connected to the nearby South Platte River. Late in 2003, a new federal rule took effect that was meant to reduce the risk of cancer and kidney damage in areas where uranium—often naturally present in surrounding rocks— made its way into groundwater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the rule under the landmark 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act, which regulates both natural and manmade drinking water contaminants. The new rule directly regulated uranium for the first time, capping uranium levels in drinking water at 30 parts per billion, and gave communities four years to meet the standard before penalties kicked in. Colerick didn’t need that time. He had been monitoring uranium in the town’s drinking water for nearly two decades under existing EPA rules for communities with high levels of other radioactive elements in their water supply, and he knew that uranium levels consistently registered around 33 parts per billion—just above the new EPA limit. Under the law, Colerick could have done

what many nearby communities did: test through 2007 in hopes that uranium levels would drop, then scramble for a treatment solution if they didn’t. Yet after decades of testing, Colerick and the Hillrose town board were convinced that uranium concentrations in their drinking water wouldn’t fall on their own, so they took a decisively different approach. They asked the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) for an early declaration that they were out of compliance with the federal uranium standard, unlocking federal grants and loans to solve the problem. Then, at a time when competition for grant funds, engineers and contractors was relatively low, they set to work finding the town a new drinking water source. This proactive stance set Hillrose officials apart from their counterparts in many neighboring towns, who were dreading the expense of new regulations. Although drinking water rules are designed to protect public health by reducing the risk of both acute illness and chronic disease, that protection often comes at a substantial cost. “Sometimes these small towns are governed by councils that tend to resist new regulations that drive up costs,” says Colerick. “That makes them reactive instead of proactive, which makes it much more expensive to deal with these problems in the long run.” Residents of Hillrose are among the roughly 20 percent of Colorado citizens that rely heavily on groundwater for their drinking water supply. Many live in small communities like Hillrose: 98 percent of Colorado’s water systems serve communities smaller than 10,000 people. For small, rural water providers, limiting the risk of chronic health conditions ranging from kidney and liver disease to cancer means contending with a long list of federally regulated contaminants. Emerging and


H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


unregulated contaminants pose additional challenges. As rural communities work to reduce health risks, they also struggle to spread the costs of water testing and treatment over small populations, while keeping up with changing regulations and the evolving science of water pollution. Meanwhile, private well owners remain exempt from any water quality regulations, but bear the weighty responsibility of essentially operating their own personal utilities by constructing their own wells and testing and treating drinking water. They count on state and federal groundwater laws to keep their water sources free of some pollutants, but ensuring clean water means paying for

along with a new tank, booster pump and chlorinating station. The total construction cost? Just north of $2 million. The new system would also impose a serious burden on Hillrose water customers, boosting the base rate for 5,000 gallons of water from $15 to over $75 per month. Yet Colerick argued that the long-overdue rate hike would bring Hillrose rates in line with those in many surrounding towns, while securing the future of the town’s water supply. (For that same 5,000 gallons of water, nearby communities pay anywhere from $26 in Brush to $58 in Fort Morgan to $67 for rural customers outside of Sterling, as of press time.) As they scouted for project

“Was it a shock to the ratepayers? Absolutely. But was it out of line with what everyone else around us was paying? No.” Dale Colerick • TOWN OF HILLROSE water testing and treatment while keeping accurate maintenance records. And yet, many well owners test their drinking water less frequently than state health officials recommend, and high costs are partly to blame. Some groundwater experts believe state government should do more to require or subsidize private well testing, but at least for now, relying on a private well means taking your family’s health into your own hands.

Little towns, big costs By early 2006, Colerick and the Hillrose board of trustees had devised a plan to bring Hillrose’s drinking water in line with federal uranium standards. They would buy wholesale water from the Morgan County Quality Water District, then build a dual indoor/outdoor water distribution system for Hillrose residents, running treated, metered Morgan County water to customers for indoor use while sending unmetered water from the town’s old well for outdoor irrigation. The scheme would require the construction of new indoor plumbing for all customers, < PRECEDING PAGE Dale Colerick spent years monitoring Hillrose’s drinking water for uranium, and when a new EPA rule put his town’s supply over the allowable limit, he set to work finding a new, safe drinking water source. 28

funding, Colerick and other town officials went door to door, telling property owners that their water contained uranium levels that were no longer safe to consume in the eyes of the federal government. “We were able to get most people on board,” says Colerick, who today is the mayor of Hillrose and the public works director for the nearby City of Brush, even as he continues to run Hillrose’s water system. “Was it a shock to the ratepayers? Absolutely. But was it out of line with what everyone else around us was paying? No.” Before the project, Hillrose was far from the only small town in Colorado with water rates too low to cover the costs of modern water treatment. Experts say many small Colorado utilities have not raised their water rates in 15 or 20 years. This leaves little money for maintenance or emergency repairs, and forces communities to use their water systems far beyond their useful lives, according to training specialist Paul Shreve of the Colorado Rural Water Association (CRWA). The problem is that small communities are often hesitant to spread the cost of new water projects over their modest populations. So says Leroy Cruz, who until retiring in late 2015 worked as a circuit-rider for the

Dale Colerick, mayor of Hillrose, Colorado, stands inside the town’s new water pumping station, used to distribute uranium-free water purchased from the Morgan County Quality Water District to customers for indoor use.



CRWA, traveling the state conducting water rate studies for small utilities and helping them apply for funding. “Many small-town officials were elected on the promise that they would keep rates low for their constituents, but the problem is that those low rates do not cover depreciation of their water systems or future needs,” Cruz says. During his career, he often saw communities letting their systems deteriorate, then applying for federal grants to replace the systems. “It appeared that communities were keeping rates low and not maintaining their systems because it would give them a higher probability of getting federal grant funds in the long run,” he says.

Aside from the sharp rate increase borne by Hillrose water customers, the town’s plan to comply with the new EPA uranium rule also relied heavily on grant funds. To revamp the water system, Colerick secured a $1 million grant from USDA Rural Development, and a $1 million interest-free loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). In Colorado, funding sources like these, along with the Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund, which is run conjunctively by several vested state agencies, are a vital way for small utilities to finance new drinking water projects. Yet demand for funding far outstrips supply. Over the last H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016

decade, the revolving loan fund has never funded more than 8.5 percent of the projects on its annual eligibility list, and has never met more than 2.6 percent of the total funding need expressed each year by water providers. New or more stringent federal drinking water rules—which develop as scientists learn to measure increasingly minute levels of pollution or its effects on human health—often prompt small communities like Hillrose to revamp their water systems. “Lab testing has become more and more sophisticated, and we can now see things that we just couldn’t see before,” says Andrew Ross, senior water quality scientist 29


baby syndrome,” where nitrate in the gut is converted to nitrite that competes for oxygen in the bloodstream, sometimes leading to death. Today, Burlington officials are working with CDPHE to complete a $4.25 million blending station that will dilute the city’s nitrate-contaminated well water with clean groundwater. The project will be funded mainly through a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and a loan from the Water Resources and Power Development Authority, although repaying that loan may require a water rate hike. The city will be off the hook for most of the $988,000 in fines it owes if it can finish the project by December 2017. Yet the source of the city’s nitrate pollution remains a mystery. Troy Bauder, a water quality specialist with Colorado State University

floo-uhnt water fact

When Alamosa voters approved a new $12.6 million water treatment plant in 2005, they also approved water rate hikes. The average resident uses 9,000 gallons per month, which costs 50 percent more now than in 2005, though it’s still under $20. Source: Alamosa Public Works director Pat Steenburg

Extension, launched a study in the summer of 2016 to uncover the mystery source by examining isotopes of nitrogen and other elements found in the town’s contaminated wells. “This chemistry may be able to tell us if the nitrate was from fertilizer, an organic source like animal manure or human sewage, or a natural source [like bacteria in the soil],” he says.

A little help at the wellhead In summer 2005, Chris Canaly was at her desk in the offices of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC), an environmental group housed in a two-story brick building next to a tattoo parlor in downtown Alamosa, when the phone rang. On the other end was Tami Thomas Burton, then the environmental justice coordinator in EPA’s Denver office. “She told me that she knew that a third of the people in the San Luis Valley relied on household wells for their drinking water,” Canaly recalls. “Then she asked if our group would be willing to help the EPA do free household well testing around the valley.” Canaly, who by then had spent six years at the helm of the SLVEC, had long wanted to engage the group in public health issues. She knew that EPA was deeply unpopular in



for CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division. In 2001, for instance, EPA strengthened the arsenic standard from 50 parts per billion to 10, in light of growing evidence of a link between small concentrations of arsenic and cancers of the bladder, skin and lungs. A scientific advisory board for EPA is now considering whether the current arsenic standard goes far enough to protect human health. The cost of improving drinking water systems to meet new federal standards can be stiff, but so are the financial penalties that regulators impose when communities violate those standards and the public health consequences that may follow exposure. In the summer of 2015, the eastern Colorado City of Burlington, population 4,003, was fined nearly $1 million by CDPHE for 2,109 violations of state drinking water rules. State officials alleged that city employees had failed to notify customers or state regulators hundreds of times between 2009 and 2015 when water samples taken from town drinking water wells exceeded federal standards for nitrate, a pollutant often traced to agricultural fertilizer runoff, leaking septic systems or animal waste. If infants under six months old drink water with concentrations of nitrate above the federal drinking water standard of 10 parts per million, they risk developing a rare condition called “blue

Like many residents in Colorado's rural San Luis Valley, Claire Baker, who lives 10 miles north of Alamosa, relies on water from a private well. Informed of the risks, thanks to the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council's outreach, Baker now regularly tests her water for all contaminants.

the conservative San Luis Valley and would be unlikely to succeed without the political cover of a local grassroots group like hers. She also knew that many wells in the valley were laced with high levels of contaminants including arsenic, a toxic element that originates in the volcanic rock of the San Juan Mountains to the west and leaches into groundwater. Acute arsenic poisoning causes skin lesions and blackening of the hands and feet, conditions that at least one Alamosa doctor documented in his patients in 2003. At levels closer to the EPA drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion, longterm arsenic exposure has been linked to skin, liver, lung and bladder cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In 2005, voters in Alamosa took a major step toward resolving their arsenic problem by approving a bond issue to build a new $12.6 million water treatment plant. Since its completion in 2008, the plant has provided treated water to about 9,000 Alamosa residents. Still, the population of Alamosa County is closer to 16,000, and private well owners remain on their own in a valley where census figures put roughly a quarter of the population below the poverty line and many people struggle to pay for well testing and treatment. In light of that information, Canaly decided to collaborate with EPA. In summer 2006, the agency dispatched a mobile lab to the San Luis Valley, and technicians fanned out to test nearly 400 private wells. Bacteria, whether from leaky septic systems, wildlife or other sources, was found in 28.5 percent of the wells tested, while 1.4 percent contained nitrates, nearly 12 percent contained arsenic, and 3 percent contained uranium. Based on those results, the SLVEC and other groups got a three-year grant to continue the work, distributing 337 private-well test kits in the summer of 2009. Tests showed that 12 wells exceeded the federal EPA arsenic standard while 30 others approached it. Bacteria also remained a major problem—42 percent of all wells tested showed some level of bacteria, while 9 percent tested positive for coliform bacteria, which can signal the presence of fecal material. “The big issue that came back was that no one was cleaning their wells,” says Canaly. “We went through an education process, gave out DVDs and taught people to do shock chlorination. And a lot of people followed up on it.” Responses to

arsenic contamination varied, Canaly says. Some well owners chose to do nothing, others switched to bottled water for drinking and cooking, and those who could afford it installed point-of-use reverse osmosis systems, which range in price from about $200 to $600 at Home Depot and require changing out $40 to $50 filters once a year. To many observers, this well testing partnership in the San Luis Valley seemed like a model that could be deployed in other communities. EPA officials involved in the effort spoke of replicating it elsewhere, and Canaly gave a presentation on it at the National Rural Health Association’s 2010 conference. Others, though, reasoned that rather than relying on the federal govern-

expensive. The “deluxe Colorado package” offered by CDPHE’s state lab covers heavy metals, bacteria, nitrate, sodium, uranium, and a suite of other contaminants but it costs $265. Colorado offers plenty of educational resources to private well owners— CSU Extension has instructional videos and pamphlets on private well safety, affordable recordkeeping templates, and a free online water quality interpretation tool. But there is no statewide program offering discounted well testing. Such programs do exist in other states. In Wisconsin, families with an income under $65,000 per year can be reimbursed for the costs of water testing, water treatment, new well construction or even a temporary

“You see this story play out over and over again—it’s not until there is something that threatens folks that they get activated and interested in water quality, and by then it is often too late…” Reagan Waskom • COLORADO WATER INSTITUTE AT COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY ment, state health officials should take a more proactive and ongoing role in subsidizing the costs of private well testing. At a minimum, CDPHE recommends that homeowners test private wells when they purchase a property and annually thereafter for coliform bacteria, lead, nitrate, and nitrite. The agency also advises annual testing for arsenic, calcium, copper, fluoride, iron, and uranium—all are common in groundwater or household plumbing and can be dangerous in high concentrations. “You see this story play out over and over again—it’s not until there is something that threatens folks that they get activated and interested in water quality, and by then it is often too late,” says Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “A lot of times people come from urban environments, buy their little piece of heaven out in the country, and it takes them a while to realize that they are in the water and wastewater utility business.” Many well owners don’t recognize their responsibility, and when they do, testing is H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016

supply of bottled water. And in Nebraska, the state health department offers free nitrate and coliform bacteria test kits to well owners who have recently drilled new wells or made repairs. Andrew Ross at CDPHE believes that his department should follow the lead of other states, subsidizing private well testing in the same way that it now offers a voucher to offset the cost of radon testing in home basements and crawl spaces. But Katherine James, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus who has been studying the public health impacts of arsenic and other metals in San Luis Valley groundwater for about 13 years, cautions that well testing is only half the battle. Many people in impoverished areas, she says, also struggle to pay for water treatment if their well tests show contamination. “The EPA or the state may test your water for free, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to afford to do something about it,” James says. “Any statewide well testing program in Colorado would have to engage with the 31

community if their contaminant levels turn out to be high, and help them find ways to actually treat their water.”

Emerging threats to groundwater quality For all the expense associated with treating water to government standards, some of the emerging contaminants that Colorado’s small, rural utilities and private well owners alike now face are not regulated. Methane pollution from oil and gas drilling is one of these. In Colorado, there have been some documented examples where flammable methane from the geologic layers targeted in oil and gas drilling has migrated into drinking water wells. At high concentrations, gas dissolved in water and released into the air through a showerhead or kitchen faucet can trigger an explosion. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in

and gas-producing areas, water wells are drilled deeper and aren’t always protected from old gas wells, Ryan says. Regulators investigate every report of water contamination they receive, according to Greg Deranleau, environmental manager for the COGCC. When faulty oil and gas well casings are the culprit, operators must remedy the problem and provide nearby well owners with potable drinking water. When leaky gas wells have been capped and abandoned and their former operators are no longer in business, the COGCC itself might shoulder the cost of fixing the issue. Despite these responses, some worry that today’s regulators could again be failing to protect future drinking water sources as they oversee another aspect of drilling: the deep-well injection of oil and gas wastewater. Although the mile-deep wells constructed for wastewater disposal are far deeper than any current sources of drinking

“I don’t know what would give me confidence to drink the tap water again” Amanda Massey-Holman • SECURITY RESIDENT June 2016, University of Colorado-Boulder engineering professor Joe Ryan and his coauthors analyzed water samples obtained by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) between 1988 and 2014 in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, a drilling hotspot in northeastern Colorado. They found an average of two cases of oiland gas-linked methane contamination in the basin each year since 2001, involving less than 1 percent of the basin’s more than 54,000 wells. Yet their study emphasizes that each case has substantial health and quality-of-life impacts for affected well owners. Rather than blaming the oft-scapegoated practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” the researchers singled out old, leaky and shallow gas well casings as the likely source of contamination. Before they were strengthened in the mid-1990s to require deeper surface casings on gas wells, Colorado’s regulations failed to anticipate the depth of future drinking water sources. As population growth and water consumption drives down groundwater levels in many oil32

water, they still require an aquifer exemption from EPA, certifying that the geologic layers where waste is being injected are unlikely to supply drinking water in the future. In July 2016, EPA granted such an exemption for the proposed Windy Hill project outside of Brush, Colorado, where a company, Windy Hill Operations, plans to build two wells: one to extract brackish water for industrial uses from a mile below the surface and another to inject oil and gas wastewater at the same depth. “When today’s injection wells are permitted, there is no known connection to places where drinking water is being extracted,” says Waskom of the Colorado Water Institute. But, he adds, “Technological change will likely allow us to use some waters in the future that we now consider marginal, and that is the reason that we need to think about this long-term.” Other emerging threats to drinking water remain unregulated simply because EPA’s regulatory process moves slowly: Conducting scientific research, accepting months of public comment, and giving water provid-

Amanda Massey-Holman worries about the health of her two daughters, Jaydyn (left) and Terry (right). The family drank unfiltered water in Security for five years before learning of PFC contamination. Although the city has temporarily switched to a clean water supply from Pueblo Reservoir, Holman is still wary of consuming the tap water.



ers time to comply often means that years pass between the time that contaminants are first suspected as dangerous to public health and the enforcement of regulations. This dynamic was on display last spring in the communities of Security, Widefield and Fountain south of Colorado Springs. Every few years, EPA requires public drinking water systems to sample for so-called “emerging contaminants,� compounds that can occur in drinking water, may have adverse health effects and could warrant future regulation if EPA determines that new

rules would reduce public health risks. Early in 2016, test results revealed that drinking water in Security, Widefield and Fountain had among the highest levels in the country of perflourinated compounds (PFCs), industrial chemicals used in carpets, clothing, fabrics, food packaging, firefighting foam and countless other products. Then in May 2016, EPA announced that it was radically tightening its drinking water health advisory level for PFCs from 400 parts per trillion down to 70 to protect vulnerable populations like nursing mothers and their H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016

infants from PFC-linked disorders like low birth weight, accelerated puberty, heart disease, liver disease and certain cancers. The new advisory level, according to CDPHE, is roughly equivalent to a drop of water in a 10mile string of railroad tank cars, and PFC levels in many of the municipal and private wells in the communities of Fountain, Security and Widefield are far higher. State and federal regulators suspect PFCs were released during firefighting drills at Peterson Air Force Base between 1970 and 1990. Although the Air Force has 33


worst-impacted zone of Security with her two daughters, along with two dogs and a cat. Since learning at the end of June that their water was contaminated, her family has been drinking bottled water they’ve stockpiled from a series of charity events around town. Holman also makes regular trips to her sister’s house across town to fill up a cooler with water for cooking. She says she and her family drank unfiltered tap water for five years before they learned of the contamination, including a period when she was pregnant with her youngest daughter. Today, they use tap water for little more than outdoor irrigation, though Security Water and Sanitation has replaced all contaminated groundwater with surface water purchased from Pueblo Reservoir. “I don’t know what would give me confidence to drink the tap water again,” Holman says. “They have been telling us for 20 years that it is safe to drink, and all of a sudden it is not. Who is to say that in the next year or five years they won’t turn around and say it is not safe to bathe in?

TAKE THE NEXT STEP Rely on a private well? Find information and resources for testing at colorado. gov/pacific/cdphe/water-testing. Plus, many county health departments are available to answer local questions.



not accepted responsibility and continues to study the problem, it has put up $4.3 million for the affected area in Colorado to install carbon filters at or near municipal wellheads, purchase bottled water or reverse osmosis filters for private well owners, and help some private water systems tie into municipal water networks. El Paso County Public Health offered free private well tests through fall 2016, since tests run between $200 and $300, according to spokeswoman Danielle Oller. By late summer, test results from 30 wells revealed that more than two-thirds showed PFC concentrations over the EPA advisory level. Well owners have responded to the contamination in diverse ways, says Aaron Doussett, El Paso County Water Quality Program manager. Some let an Air Force contractor install point-of-use filtration systems in their homes, others switch to bottled water for drinking and cooking, and a few, reasoning that their water looks and tastes fine, shoulder the risk of ingesting PFCs and choose to do nothing at all. For their part, some who rely on municipal water say the PFC crisis has severely shaken their faith in their water providers. Amanda Massey-Holman, 32, lives in the

Community meetings, like this July 2016 meeting in Colorado Springs held in response to nearby water contamination, offer a forum for residents, local officials and regulators to share information, air grievances and shape community response.

We’re actually considering moving out of the area because of this.” Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation District, points out that his utility has always relied on the best available science to determine whether its water was safe, but science has evolved. “Just because science changes, that does not mean that what we told people in the past wasn’t true,” says Heald. “Our water throughout all of this has met all federal and state regulations. They lowered the health advisory, and we have been working for months to meet that.” For now, Security Water has shut down its contaminated wells and switched entirely to surface water from Pueblo Reservoir. The utility is also constructing a second supply line to get more water from the Southern Delivery System, a new pipeline that began delivering water from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs area communities in April 2016. And over the next year, the agency will design a carbon filter treatment system for its contaminated groundwater. In the meantime, EPA is weighing whether to regulate PFCs. Whether the water in Colorado’s rural areas is threatened by a naturally occurring contaminant like uranium or an emerging pollutant like PFCs, keeping it safe often depends on a suite of factors. Regulators must have the enforcement power to protect the groundwater used today, along with the foresight to safeguard future sources. Federal grants and loans help defray the high costs of testing and treatment for rural communities, while effective local officials maintain their systems diligently and are brave enough to pursue politically unpopular water rate increases when necessary. The state’s private well owners, too, have sometimes relied on federal help to maintain their water supplies, and some argue that state government should do more to encourage private well testing and protect the health of rural residents. It’s unavoidable, though, that ensuring healthy drinking water in rural Colorado requires a healthy dose of personal responsibility. n

WATER ON REPEAT With water reuse, the challenge is no longer public perception, but protecting public health LOOKING TO MT. EVANS FROM THE HILLSIDES of oak brush and ponderosa pine in Castle Rock, you


might get the wrong impression of the city’s water reality. The mountain’s 14,265-foot summit is covered with snow much of the year, suggesting springtime abundance. But only the thin trickle of Plum Creek passes through Castle Rock. Instead, the city of 60,000 relies primarily on wells that draw water from Denver Basin aquifers underfoot. Those aquifers are dropping by about five feet per year. It’s an unsustainable future. Castle Rock and other water providers in Denver’s South Metro area understand the need to diversify their water supplies. One big piece of that puzzle is water reuse. You’ve heard of locovores, people who favor

locally sourced food? This is similar. Call it locoagua. Rather than import water from distant sources, these water-strapped communities can reuse certain water supplies again and again, until they are exhausted. For many communities, it’s the lowest-cost alternative. Given proper treatment, it can be the highest-quality alternative, too. The concept is relatively new to Colorado. “A lot of people don’t know what reuse is,” says Laura Belanger, president of WateReuse Colorado, an advocacy group that includes many water utilities. “Historically, it has been clumped in with water conservation,” she says. “They are very different things. They have very different challenges.” Conservation consists of deliberate strategies to


H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


reduce water use, such as irrigating less or choosing efficient landscaping. In reuse, effluent from advanced wastewater treatment plants is captured, pumped uphill to the same jurisdiction, then used again. Colorado’s Water Plan, established in 2015, calls both critical to addressing future water demands posed by population growth. In the last several years, many water utilities have started talking about reuse, says Belanger. The discussion, she adds, “is going to be advanced first by the folks who have the tightest water supplies.”

From de facto to deliberate

Water gets used repeatedly in Colorado. Along the South Platte River, for example, much of the water diverted to farms comes from river flows that consist primarily of discharges from upstream wastewater treatment plants. A few towns and cities also tap a river that consists primarily of treated effluent. This is called de facto reuse. Even well-heeled Beaver Creek Resort, about as close to the headwaters as you can get, gets water from the Eagle River downstream from the wastewater treatment plants of Vail and Red Cliff. Deliberately reclaimed water is different. Colorado Springs and Fort Carson embraced this practice in the 1960s. Now 25 jurisdictions across Colorado make use of reclaimed water for nonpotable uses, mostly to irrigate parks, golf courses, and other landscaping. Applications of reuse have expanded in the 21st century. Two agencies, Aurora Water and Parker Water and Sanitation District, use indirect potable reuse. As the name suggests, drinking water is derived from wastewater. Advanced treatment occurs at both the wastewater discharge and at the water treatment plant, but with an environmental buffer. The treated wastewater is introduced into a river, an aquifer or a reservoir before being tapped again. The buffer may provide an additional level of natural treatment, but it also fosters a public perception of disconnect in this circle of blue. Fear of drought induced Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project, Colorado’s first indirect potable reuse system. After a parched 2002 and a dismal start to 2003, Aurora reservoirs were down to 26 percent of capacity. PRECEDING PAGE Denver Water’s purple pipes supply water reclaimed for nonpotable reuse to the Denver Zoo, parks, golf courses, school systems, Xcel Energy and other users for landscaping and industrial uses. 36

A giant snowstorm averted disaster, but chastened city officials grabbed the easiest available water: their own once-used supply. The water is collected near Brighton, from wells along the South Platte River. The wells draw water from an alluvium, an aquifer connected directly to the river. For much of the year, the river here consists almost completely of Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant releases. The plant, 20 miles upstream, processes wastewater for 1.8 million people in the Denver area, including those in Aurora. Because the water is drawn from downstream wells, not directly from the wastewater treatment plant’s outlet, the system is called indirect potable reuse. From Brighton, the water is pumped 1,000 vertical feet and 35 miles upstream to the Binney Water Treatment Plant. There, the water is treated biologically, chemically, and with other technologies, then mixed with water imported from the headwaters of both the South Platte and Eagle rivers. Aurora calls this its “mountain water.” It’s not that the reuse water is any less pure. Rather, this mixing ensures that all Aurora water tastes the same. Aurora Water tiptoed through this Colorado debut. “When we opened Prairie Waters, we were very careful not to call it a reuse system,” says spokesperson Greg Baker. “We were telling people that we were recapturing water and left it to them to put two and two together.” Now, Aurora talks openly about its water reuse. The response of the public has been that there should be more reuse, says Baker. The lesson, he says: “Don’t project your own fears.”

Overcoming the yuck factor

You can’t blame Aurora for being careful. In the 1990s, water reuse projects for Los Angeles and San Diego were derided as “toilet to tap” and then defeated. A survey commissioned by the San Diego Water Authority in 2004 found that 63 percent of respondents opposed reuse. Drought and public information campaigns have dissolved that opposition in California and elsewhere. “As ‘Yuck Factor’ Subsides, Treated Wastewater Flows From Taps,” the New York Times reported in a 2012 headline. With California and Florida leading the way, the United States now has hundreds of reclaimed or recycled water applications. Like that of Aurora and now Parker, nearly all are indirect potable reuse. Only one U.S. water utility, at Big Spring, Texas, now employs a closed-loop system, called direct potable reuse. Another Texas

city, Wichita Falls, built a direct potable reuse system as a temporary emergency drought measure, authorized for only sixmonth periods until indirect potable reuse was possible again. That system was decommissioned once drought subsided—its temporary pipeline, initially used to pipe lake water, was restored to its original purpose as soon as the lake was full. Decades ago, Denver Water began experimenting with direct potable reuse when it entered into a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to demonstrate the feasibility of direct potable reuse. It operated an experimental direct potable reuse plant from 1985 to 1990, leading the way for the industry at the time. Myron Nealey, a senior hydraulic engineer for Denver Water who worked at the plant, says tests showed “no statistical difference” in quality between water produced by the plant and Denver Water’s other sources. But the water was expensive to produce because of the multi-barrier approach to remove contaminants, and Denver Water was still intent on developing more raw water sources. Although Denver Water didn’t pursue continued direct potable reuse at the time, Nealey says he sees support growing for indirect potable reuse and, perhaps eventually, direct potable use. Now Denver Water is considering continued reuse research at a water innovation center in conjunction with Colorado State University as part of the redeveloped National Western Complex in Denver. In Castle Rock, town council members are supportive of long-term plans to reuse all of the town’s legally reusable supplies to the greatest extent possible. Still, Castle Rock Water continues to evaluate multiple options for reuse. The primary plan is to create an indirect potable reuse system, which would recapture treated wastewater as close as 100 yards downstream from its release and pump it uphill to the Plum Creek Water Purification Facility, where additional processes would treat the water to high drinking water standards. Water utility manager Mark Marlowe sees a thin distinction between indirect potable and direct potable reuse. Speaking at the 2016 Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference, Marlowe said he favors a more generic description of reuse: “Just because water goes into a creek or reservoir for a short or intermediate period of time before it’s recovered or reused doesn’t necessarily make it better in quality.” What matters, he says, is that


Water on Repeat: The Multiplying Effect of Reuse From de facto to direct potable reuse, community water use begins with treatment. Here, a community with 1 acre-foot of water uses 0.4 acre-feet outdoors and 0.6 acrefeet indoors—approximating average annual Front Range municipal use patterns. With no reuse, the community gets 1 acre-foot of use from the water, though indoor return flows are treated, return to the stream, and can be diverted by other downstream water users. With additional

treatment and water recycling, indoor return flows can be recaptured and stretched within the community. Through nonpotable reuse, most often for outdoor irrigation, 1 acrefoot of legally reusable water multiplies to 1.5 acre-feet of reuse. With indirect and direct potable reuse, 1 acre-foot of water can be nearly doubled to 1.9 acre-feet, as indoor return flows are reused multiple times, assuming 10 percent treatment and transit loss in each cycle.





1 acre-foot intial supply







1 acre-foot intial supply



NONPOTABLE REUSE —GOLF COURSES, PARKS, ETC. 0.5 acre-foot reuse supply

POTABLE REUSE TOTAL USE IN COMMUNITY 1.9 acre-feet Available supply in acre-feet 1.0




0.25 0.13









H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016


As the law protects and binds us

Water under Colorado law cannot be reused in most cases. After a first use, it must flow downstream to other adjudicated users who have a right to that water. Exceptions include transbasin diversions, which convey water from one river basin to another. These can be reused to “extinction.” At Aurora, 27.6 percent of the city’s water is imported from the Colorado River Basin

floo-uhnt water fact


Even in the absence of reusable imported water, Colorado water law allows groundwater and surface water to be diverted for de facto reuse if depletions are replaced in quantity and quality to satisfy downstream senior water rights.

and 22.8 percent from the Arkansas. Both sources are reusable. The Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) Project is uniquely different. Water from that conveyance can only be used once. That’s because the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District pledged to the federal government that water would be allowed to flow downstream after first use. Northern Water public information officer Brian Werner says that was a selling point when organizers were trying to persuade downstream farmers around Fort Morgan and Sterling to join the district. Windy Gap water, despite being transported through C-BT infrastructure, can be reused. Water pumped from Denver Basin aquifers by Castle Rock, Parker and other South Metro water providers can also be reused repeatedly because it’s considered non-tributary, or disconnected from surface streams. However, water pumped from aquifers tributary to rivers cannot be reused unless, as in the case of Aurora, it’s the wastewater that originated as imported water. Purple-pipe systems that deliver reclaimed water for non-domestic use are relatively common in Colorado. Begun in 2004, Denver Water’s network of 68 miles of purple pipe delivers nonpotable water to 34 parks, nine schools, five golf courses,

A young gardener harvests greens, irrigated with Denver’s treated drinking water, at a Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) community garden in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. DUG is a proponent of changing Colorado’s Regulation 84, which prohibits the use of nonpotable reuse water on gardens or farms that produce edible food.

and the Denver Zoo. But such systems have so far fallen short. One problem of purple-pipe reuse systems is that laying redundant pipes to distribute nonpotable water is expensive. Nonpotable uses are also limited primarily to outdoor landscaping. As such, there is no demand for five or six months each year, which means less revenue to defray expensive infrastructure. What’s needed are year-round customers, explains Allegra da Silva, a supervising engineer with consulting firm MWH. Reuse advocates would also like state regulations amended. Colorado’s Regulation 84 only allows use of reclaimed water for non-domestic outdoor uses. Use is not allowed on gardens or farms that produce edible food. Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) has 157 community gardens in metropolitan Denver, of which 49 are on school grounds. DUG wants to help foster healthy eating habits at an early age through the positive experience of tending and harvesting produce. Shannon Spurlock, community initiatives director for DUG, cites South High School. “(They) would like to have a community garden,



the “water is treated in ways that remove what needs to be removed.” In 2015, Parker became the second water provider in Colorado to employ indirect potable reuse. The water is captured after treatment and pumped uphill to RueterHess Reservoir. The reservoir provides an environmental buffer, but it also provides storage so the water can be reused as needed. “Those of us in the West who don’t have the massive supplies of water have been forced to get more creative,” explains Ron Redd, manager of Parker Water and Sanitation. Yes, Parker could seek new supplies far afield. The town does own a farm 151 miles away, downstream from Sterling, whose water it plans to eventually use through exchange, allowing pumping from Fort Morgan, 60 miles closer. But it isn’t pursuing distant rivers, such as the Yampa or the Green. Reuse, says Redd, is cheaper and politically a lot easier, too. The math is also compelling. Parker estimates it needs 9,000 to 10,000 acre-feet of water per year to meet demand at buildout. Reuse can represent 7,000 acre-feet per year. The water is pumped six miles upstream, which cost $1.30 in electricity per thousand gallons of water last year. To buy water from farms between Denver and Greeley would require pumping too, and a purchase price of $25,000 to $30,000 an acre-foot. Add that to the pumping costs and pretty soon the sum reaches the millions. “If we cannot recapture [our water], it would extract $175 million out of this community,” says Redd.

but the campus is being switched over to reclaimed [water], so because edible crops or food crops are not allowable, that precludes this opportunity.” Denver Water has appealed to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, a decision-making body within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), to revise Regulation 84. It would like to see the reclaimed nonpotable water allowed on gardens but also in toilets and urinals. This would expand the market for its underutilized recycled water. What is the basis for CDPHE’s regulation? The agency reasons that water for landscaping is likely to have little direct contact with humans. But growing food? Very likely. With indoor use, even in bathrooms, contact can also be expected. Contact means more exposure to pathogens and increased risk of disease. “Using reclaimed water for edible crops is really very, very different for us, because there is so much more potential for human contact,” says Lillian Gonzales, permits unit manager in CDPHE’s Clean Water Program. The burden of proof falls on proponents like Denver Urban Gardens or WateReuse Colorado to provide evidence that there is no risk from human contact. If we want to add uses like irrigating edible crops, we may need more stringent water treatment requirements to protect public health, Gonzales says.

Moving forward

Changing regulations governing water quality is not done lightly. An April 2016 memo from CDPHE says that changes in Regulation 84 are warranted, but lays out an initial list of concerns that would need to be addressed before the law could be revised. These include, for example, antibiotic-resistant genes and bacteria in reclaimed water and also a pathogen called Legionella. The memo also worries about the accumulation of salt when water is recycled again and again. Direct potable reuse is uncharted territory. No such regulations exist anywhere in the United States. The EPA has not issued guidelines. Texas, in authorizing the plants at Big Spring and Wichita Falls, did so on a case-by-case basis. California’s State Water Resources Control Board submitted a report to legislators in September 2016 stating that the development of direct potable reuse criteria in the state is feasible, but there are no plans to-date to start that process. Colorado neither expressly bans nor authorizes direct potable reuse. Water utilities would like direction, and soon. Clear requirements for protecting public health

would enable the utilities to avoid the added cost of redesign if initial plans don’t meet standards that eventually develop, or conversely, over-design, costing communities more than necessary. Trying to implement a site-specific direct potable reuse system in Colorado to satisfy any potential concerns would likely take considerable time and money, Marlowe says. A $303,000 effort to facilitate the safe and effective adoption of direct potable reuse has been launched by WateReuse Colorado with aid from the state, water utilities and several basin roundtables. The project has three goals: First, synthesize what other states are doing, define risk factors, and draft a framework to develop regulations in Colorado. Second, advance public understanding and support for potable reuse. Third, help utilities evaluate potable reuse projects. The project consultant, Carollo Engineers, will convene workgroups consisting of water utilities, state agencies and nonprofits. When complete, all project materials and products will be publicly available. Treatment technology is not really the issue. Several treatments, such as those used at Aurora’s cutting-edge Binney Plant, can remove pathogens and other things that shouldn’t be consumed. A sticky issue for Colorado, though, are salts, which over time build up in water reused repeatedly. Salt can be removed by reverse osmosis technology, but disposing brine in deep wells, such as those once used to extract oil, requires pressure and hence energy. Injections could also create risks of geological instability. Oklahoma’s recent earthquakes have been linked to deep-well injections. For that matter, metropolitan Denver in the 1960s had earthquakes linked to injections at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Brine injection also wastes water. An $820,000 study funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and state water providers focused on whether brine can be further concentrated to maximize the amount of water for reuse and minimize disposal costs. The study, published after peer review in 2014, said yes, technology can wring almost all water out of brine. The technology, however, is complex and more development is needed before it is adopted by utilities. Until that happens, extracting the salts and recycling them, for purposes such as to deice roads or as a component in wallboard, is a goal but unattainable today. Defining acceptable risk is a critical challenge. For example, what level of monitoring should be required to ensure that traditional H E A DWAT E R S | FA L L 2016

pathogens and also emerging contaminants are removed? “We have to take all of that very, very seriously if we try to develop wastewater into a direct drinking water source,” says Philip Brandhuber of consulting firm HDR. Maintaining public trust is crucial. “All it takes is one sick child,” said Patricia Mulroy, the former general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, at the Western Water Symposium in July 2016. Or, for that matter, one Flint, Michigan. Yet requirements can be so stringent that direct potable reuse becomes impractical, says John Rehring, who is directing the Carollo study. “We can require every process known to man, to be really, really sure, but then nobody will do it,” he says. From his research, Rehring says public perception is just as important as the technology itself. Water providers must be transparent, he says, but must also court the public. They must make the case that direct potable reuse is safe. CDPHE is on board to help but it lacks the resources to take the lead in developing the regulations. Somebody else must pay the bill. But the agency will help in seeking public acceptance. “That’s probably the biggest issue,” says Tyson Ingels, lead drinking water engineer in the agency’s Safe Drinking Water Program. “We would stand beside a water system in their campaign to achieve public acceptances, but it would not be ours to lead.” There’s no emergency to incite rush. Deliberate steps are being taken to weigh the risks, define the oversight needed to reduce risks, and engage the public. Downstream water users are part of that public, as Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said in July, and impacts of reuse in metropolitan Denver to downstream agriculture must be considered. “We have the legal right to consume all of our imported water, but it’s not the right thing to do,” he said. “We need to sit down and have that conversation.” Can the phrase toilet-to-tap be used? It will, inevitably, if Colorado gets a direct potable reuse project. It’s misleading, say those engaged in the issue of reuse, but they don’t recoil now when they hear it. “There is a saying that water should be judged by its quality, not by its history,” says Rehring. “That speaks to that.” n TAKE THE NEXT STEP Connect with WateReuse Colorado to learn more about federal and state guidelines for reuse and efforts to advance direct potable reuse at https://watereuse. org/sections/watereuse-colorado. 39


1750 Humboldt St., Suite 200 Denver, CO 80218

YOURWATERCOLORADO.ORG Publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Headwaters magazine is made possible by the generous support of sponsors and advertisers. We would like to extend our appreciation and thanks to these sponsors for contributing financially to this issue.