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Widefield Water and Sanitation stops use of contaminated aquifer water

November 16, 2016 Updated: November 16, 2016 at 4:57 pm
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photo - Residents fill up jugs with drinkable water at a water station on Powers and Fontaine blvds on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Residents fill up jugs with drinkable water at a water station on Powers and Fontaine blvds on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Toxic water pumped straight from the fouled Widefield Aquifer no longer flows through taps served by the three largest water districts in the Security, Widefield or Fountain areas, water officials announced Wednesday.

The Widefield Water and Sanitation District became the last major water system to stop using well water from the tainted aquifer, according to the district's water manager, Brandon Bernard.

As of Nov. 10, all of the district's customers receive cleaner surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir.

"We're looking forward to moving forward without having to worry about PFCs," said Bernard, using an acronym for the toxic chemicals.

The announcement ends one chapter of a water crisis that sent thousands of residents scrambling for bottled water. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency tightened its health advisory for toxic chemicals used in a host of household items, as well as in a firefighting foam at Peterson Air Force Base.

The contamination has spawned two class-action lawsuits against companies that manufactured the foam. The Air Force, which found the chemical harmful to laboratory animals as early as the 1970s, also is studying its role in the contamination by drilling several test wells around Peterson Air Force Base.

The chemicals, called perfluorinated compounds, are associated with a host of health ailments, including kidney and testicular cancers, high cholesterol and low infant birth weight.

For months, local water officials raced to limit residents' exposure to the chemicals, which remain unregulated by the EPA.

Fountain officials shut off their wells in fall 2015 - relying instead on cleaner water from the Pueblo Reservoir. But other water districts couldn't meet customers' demands this past summer without using contaminated well water.

Security Water and Sanitation Districts weaned itself from the aquifer in September.

Officials for all three water districts are optimistic that customers will no longer receive contaminated water from the aquifer, unless its cleansed of the toxic chemicals.

Officials in Security and Fountain have previously voiced plans to build treatment plants to filter the fouled water. Water rates there could rise to help finance those projects.

Widefield officials, however, are conducting two test projects to determine whether ion exchange or granular activated carbon filters best remove the chemicals, Bernard said.

Widefield's test projects, which began in October, are expected to last six months, he said.

The district also is planning a $1 million project to install a pipe under Interstate 25 capable of bringing in more water from the Pueblo Reservoir. Widefield has several thousand acre feet of water stored at the Pueblo Reservoir, and officials there are no longer concerned about running out of water rights this year.

District leaders also plan to meet with Air Force officials on Thursday to coordinate how the military can help filter water. In July, the Air Force vowed to spend $4.3 million to supply bottled water and well water filters for the affected communities.

Unlike other water districts, Widefield is not planning to raise rates in 2017 to pay for the water projects, Bernard said. Rather, they will be paid for using reserve funding.

Customers are only likely to pay for operations costs once a treatment plant is built, he said.

"It's nice just to not have to worry about our customers being concerned," Bernard said. "And now we can just move forward with fixing the problem."

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter: @jakobrodgers

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