The days of an American pioneer jumping from a horse to drink deeply from a stream remain as an image from Hollywood westerns. Today, thanks to many largely invisible experts Americans generally can turn on the tap and trust they are refreshing themselves with water that is safe to drink.
Many people are no more inclined to think about safe drinking water than they are to question where their electricity comes from. In Colorado there are approximately 2,030 public drinking water systems operated and maintained by local authorities, and overseen by the state’s Water Quality Control Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
From the source waters of the state (rivers, reservoirs and deep water wells) to the facilities that treat and disinfect the waters, to the pipes that deliver water to homes, it requires cooperation and the coordinated work of local utilities and state workers to ensure safe water.
Water is an essential but limited resource that can and does, on occasion, become contaminated by natural elements and by human activity. And on such occasions, it is the work of water system operators, laboratories and others to identify any contamination and restore drinking water to safe drinking water standards. These efforts go largely unnoticed.
In recognition of how fragile and precious water resources are, Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed Colorado’s recognition of National Drinking Water Week May 5-11. The Governor’s proclamation at www.colorado.gov/cdphe calls on all Coloradans to:
- · recognize the professionals who treat our drinking water to make it safe
- · be aware of our role as stewards of nature’s water and the water infrastructure upon which future generations depend
- · be diligent about protecting water from pollution and conserving water
Safe drinking water is vital to public health and the economy. Some may recall the incident five years ago in Alamosa when disease control experts at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment identified an outbreak of salmonella in the community. Effective laboratory work matched the salmonella bacteria in the community’s drinking water system to the bacteria in infected patients.
To protect more community members from becoming ill, the state issued a bottled water order. Ultimately, about 1,300 people served by the community’s drinking water system were sickened during this waterborne disease outbreak, including 20 hospitalizations and one death. According to a recent report published by researchers from CDC, 29 percent of all ill people reported experiencing one or more potential long-term health consequence with 2 percent reporting serious complications. About half of the businesses responding to the CDC survey reported losing money due to the outbreak. The total cost of the outbreak was estimated at $2.6 million.
At the time of the outbreak, Alamosa was operating under a waiver from disinfection requirements issued by the department in the late 1960s. Since the outbreak, the department has revised regulations and eliminated almost all disinfection waivers. The fewer than 15 water systems with disinfection waivers are subject to more stringent requirements and regular oversight to protect their water from contamination. There has not been another confirmed waterborne disease outbreak in Colorado associated with a public drinking water supply since March 2008.
Throughout the state, the 2,030 public drinking water systems regulated by the department perform regular water sampling and testing to ensure the water meets safe drinking water standards. When sampling shows a system’s water is not meeting the standards, department experts and local water utility operators work together to repair any issues so that systems once again are providing safe drinking water to their customers.