Oak Creek residents warned of water contamination

Public works assessing approaches to return TTHM levels to state standards

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— When Oak Creek residents received their water bill for March, it contained something out of the ordinary.

A letter included with the bill warned residents that the town’s water supply has elevated levels of Total Trihalomethanes, or TTHMs, a byproduct of disinfectants that stems from organic matter in the water supply.

The level averaged 82 parts per billion in the past year, and the state mandates the level at 80 parts per billion or fewer.

The state requires notification of the public when that level is surpassed.

Bernie Gagne, Oak Creek Town Board member and Public Works Commission member, said that the violation is not a cause for panic among residents but that it is a cause for concern and a call to action for the town to take measures to improve its water quality.

“There are health concerns by state standards that we have to recognize,” Gagne said. “We do recognize that. I would also say that when we’re over by 2 or 3 parts per billion, the difference is negligible from any perspective, but nonetheless it is important, and we do have to rein in the number.”

The TTHMs appear after the disinfection process and are usually reflective of the water source. Because Oak Creek’s water is primarily surface water from Oak Creek, it contains more leaves, mud and other organic matter that will lead to TTHM production in the treatment process.

The letter advises the public that “you may want to use an alternative drinking water supply. If you have specific health concerns contact your doctor.”

It also mentions that al­­though the contamination is not an immediate risk, people who drink an excess of TTHMs throughout many years might experience liver, kidney or central nervous system issues as well as an increased risk of cancer.

Compliance Assurance Manager Lori Gerzina with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division said TTHMs are a chronic contaminant that could pose health risks.

But if the level of contamination required boiling water or drinking bottled water, the letter would have said so.

“It’s not meant to be alarmist, but we would like to have an educated and informed public,” Gerzina said. “We want people to be informed and make their own decisions.”

Gagne said the issue was discussed at length at Thursday’s Oak Creek Town Board meeting, where the Public Works Department discussed possible redresses to the issue.

Already, the town has reduced its level of disinfectants to remain in compliance, and it also is working to reduce the appearance of TTHMs.

He said the town could build an extra settling pond before the collection pond to allow the organic matter — pine needles, bark, leaves — to sink to the bottom and not make it into the collection pond.

Another possible solution could be to add an extra filtration system to the water-treatment plant.

Gerzina said Oak Creek is not the only town experiencing the issue. TTHM violations are increasing across the state as measurement capabilities improve.

In 2009, 11 towns in Colorado violated TTHM standards, and the Public Health Department works with all of these towns to help bring them into compliance, as they will offer to do with Oak Creek.

Still, the standards are in place for a reason.

“It is not an emergent issue,” Gagne said. “But we will, starting immediately, assess different means of approaching the problem.

“We’re putting as much pressure on ourselves as the public can put on us.”

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

A water dept that has the wealth to give free service to Town Hall, Town museum, Decker Park, Ice Rink, Public Works buildings, empty units in the Senior Housing building (but not other empty houses or apts) and now the old gas station, but lacks the resources to do the job of meeting water quality standards.

Not that none of those buildings are worthwhile charities, but I have been unable to find any other municipal water or sewer dept that gives out free service. They all bill all of their customers including their local government. The government pays from the general fund or the appropriate parks or such fund. And if there is a local organization worth supporting then it is supported from the general fund. Only in Oak Creek is the water dept instructed to not bill certain customers.

One of these days maybe the electric, water and sewer utilities will be run as businesses, not as charities subsidizing the general fund.

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kathy foos 3 years, 1 month ago

Scott how about if they give you a water discount since you are a business owner who depends on water to operate in Oak Creek.Incentive:Get the car wash opened. Don't begrudge the way they do business with charity's or others who are compensated in unique ways for various reasons.It would be progressive to give you an incentive to expand as proven business owner,but dont tell them they are bad for attempting to do so.The historical society is bringing in what ever visitors that come from out of town.If that car wash was open they might use it going through town.You could hire an attendent.I know that you help alot of people out yourself in Oak Creek,for no reason or profit,when you can,that is admirable.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

Kathy, I am saying is that they should run the utilities like a business and charge all customers. If they want to assist a charity then give them money from the general fund. Name one other government operated utility in Colorado that gives free service to some customers.

As for the car wash, I have gone in front of various Town Boards over the years regarding water billing. I have never asked for a special break. All I have ever asked is that they read the meter and bill upon usage. It is real frustrating to have the Town acknowledge that the car wash when open used less water than the average residential user and yet argue that the Town has the right to charge what it wants and so can charge the car wash several times more than other businesses or residents. If the Town were to read the water meter and charge based upon usage then the car wash would most likely be open. Because other water districts now have meters and uses those for calculating the bill for commercial users, it is trivial to find various transition plans that have been successfully implemented. But, according to various Town Boards, no existing plan could work for Oak Creek.

Oak Creek is the ONLY water district in the state that does not read water meters on commercial customers and charge base plus usage. No, Oak Creek picks some amount for each type of business and does not care how that correlates to actual water usage.

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max huppert 3 years, 1 month ago

I want to know why the water is not tested everyday or so to make adjustments so its safe for the customers in this town, what about us who have babies that are more prone to early development of all the listed dangers on the notice we got. The people that are payed to run that operation and maintain the safety should be held accountable, cause its always 20 years down the road that you find out you got some health issue cause by using the city water. Those are the kinds of things that can bring out Oak Creek Justice by a parent.

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