Officials say recent spikes in local water contaminants not of immediate concern
Water users on the west side of Steamboat Springs received a written notice July 2 that their water contained high levels of haloacetic acids, but officials say there’s no imminent concern.
A high level of haloacetic acids was identified in the Steamboat II Metropolitan District, which serves Steamboat II, Heritage Park and Silver Spur neighborhoods. The acids are formed when disinfectants, such as chlorine, are used to treat water and react with naturally occurring matter. They could pose a health hazard after long-term, high-level exposure, according to national health agencies. The metro district’s system was recorded to have exceeded the maximum contamination level of 60 micrograms per liter by 1.1 micrograms per liter.
“At this time, we do not advise alternative sources of water for most people, but if you have a baby, severely compromised immune system, are pregnant or are elderly, you may be at increased risk and should seek advice from a health care provider,” said Erin Garcia, a spokeswoman for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s water quality division.
Chase Baker, manager of the Steamboat II Metropolitan District, said the violation was an isolated incident based on sampling near a home where the residents were out of town for weeks and water sat idle. The particular violation was the first of its type for the metro district, Baker said.
The metro district’s violation is the most recent after a similar spike in haloacetic acids reported earlier this year by Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, which serves the greater Steamboat area.
The spike in haloacetic acids there occurred in two of four sampling sites, located on Anthonys Circle and Hunters Court on Steamboat’s southeast side, a few blocks east of Whistler Park. Water that had been processed with chlorine at the Fish Creek Water Treatment Plant sat idle longer than usual without flowing through for use, according to Frank Alfone, district general manager.
Mount Werner Water officials sent a public notification letter to customers April 5 and a follow-up letter June 21 to explain more about the water system’s exceedance of haloacetic acids, the first such violation for Mount Werner Water.
The maximum level of haloacetic acids allowed by the state is 60 micrograms per liter, and the average level of haloacetic acids at the two Mount Werner Water areas in the last year was 62.1 micrograms per liter.
Water users do not learn of violations until weeks later due to the delayed process of state testing and then district notifications. Mount Werner Water was notified of the violation March 2 by the state health department based on sampling conducted Feb. 16.
Routt County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman said water users should keep in mind that the water utilities sending out a notice “is an indication they are following requirements of their permit.”
“Any permitted public water drinking system is required to notify its consumers when there’s an exceedance to a water quality parameter,” Cowman said. “Permit limits are conservative and designed to protect human health. Notices like this can raise concerns from consumers because of technical aspects that can be difficult to understand and some of the language required in such a notice. An exceedance does not mean there is an imminent threat to human health.”
Since the Mount Werner Water violation, after which contaminants were flushed out by a release of water through fire hydrants, the water district continues to work to find permanent solutions to prevent the issue from reoccurring. Alfone said district officials are actively working with CDPHE and professional water engineering firm Carollo. One part of the solution, he said, might be the installation of automatic flushing stations in areas of concern.
Alfone said the complicated water balance was likely upset in the first quarter of this year by two factors: lower water use with fewer second-home owners and tourists in town during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as increased use of the district’s secondary water processing plant on the Yampa River. He said use of the Yampa Wells Treatment Plant was increased in February due to lower-than-normal snowfall in December and January with the goal of preserving water levels in the Fish Creek Reservoir for use later this year.
“It is a complicated system to manage, and when there are fluctuations in demand due to seasonality, it becomes even more difficult to manage,” Alfone said.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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