With the completion of the Town of Paonia's new water treatment system, the town is required by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to increase the number of tap water sample tests for lead and copper.
The tests are just a precaution, said Public Works Director Travis Loberg. Because of the crisis that occurred in Flint, Mich., laws now mandate that when a new filtration plant begins operation, the municipality must increase testing for lead and copper. This year the town is required to test 20 tap water samples prior to June 30, and another 20 prior to Dec. 31.
All state municipalities are required to regularly test municipal water samples for a laundry list of contaminants, said Loberg. They include microbial matter, pesticides and herbicides, trihalomethanes, radium, barium and fluoride, toluene, selenium and heptachlor, just to name a few.
In 1991, the EPA established the Lead and Copper Rule requiring the monitoring of water that comes from customer water taps. Lead and copper concentrations exceeding 15 parts per billion would require immediate action by the operator. The town completed its first round of 20 samples in early June, all of which tested well below federal guidelines, said Loberg.
Of the most recent samples, the highest lead level was 0.011 ppb, said Loberg. That particular test was from a house that has been tested before, said Loberg, because it is known to be serviced by older, pre-1980s pipes that contain lead soldering. Per state guidelines, most of the samples were drawn from houses serviced by older lines.
Comparisons to previous test results show the lead level dropping, said Loberg. He credits that to the fact that the new filtration system allows the water to be processed more quickly, allowing it to remain at lower temperature, which helps reduce the amount of lead and copper leached from pipes.
The systems also neutralize alkalinity/acidity, or Ph levels in the water, also resulting in leaching of lower levels of lead and copper. High acidity levels have been blamed for the Flint disaster caused by the city switching drinking water sources in 2014 to a source higher in acidity. That resulted in samples testing as much as 900 times higher than the EPA limits for lead, according to several sources.
"I'm real happy with the results," said Loberg. With samples testing well below EPA levels, after the second set of tests is complete, the town can return to a regular schedule of 10 mandated tests every three years. With each test costing about $144, that's good news, said Loberg.
Test results and drinking water quality reports for each municipality are available at local town halls.