CENTER — Town officials and citizens viewed a presentation given by water specialist Colleen Williams with the Colorado Rural Water Association Tuesday to learn how to best prevent contamination of the town’s water supply and avoid pollution of water sources.
The presentation was part of a program that helps the town earn points for a $5,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to eventually develop a water protection plan for the town. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Lazy KV Homeowners Association, the town of Saguache and Valley View Hot Springs have already implemented plans with the program. In addition to Center, Williams is presently working with Salida and Crestone.
Groundwater was the focus of Williams in her presentation, and she emphasized that contamination can be largely prevented if communities take a pro-active approach in identifying contaminants in advance. Counties and municipalities are expected to protect public health, and treatment and cleanup can be expensive.
She encouraged the town to ask the county to help them identify any possible threats to their water supply.
Williams used water maps to identify water sources for the town and show where the town’s wells are located. She also pointed out that there are several private wells in Center in addition to the town’s wells for residential water supply. Williams recommended the town police the private wells and cap those that are dry or no longer in use to prevent contamination.
Center Housing Authority Director Theresa Chavez noted that nitrogen from local wells on farmland wasfound in water samples taken from her area, although the levels were low. Typically these are found in fertilizers. Williams said nitrogen contamination is so bad in some agricultural areas it can cause a condition known as blue baby syndrome, where a child’s lips turn blue from oxygen deprivation, because nitrogen displaces oxygen in the blood.
Bill McClure noted that the wells for residential water supply in Center are deep and therefore not as prone to contamination. Williams pulled up statistics showing that in 2004, CDPHE statistics showed Center had a moderate to moderately high risk of water contamination, but admitted the study was dated.
Possible contaminants besides nitrogen could include chemicals from various industrial sources in the area, she noted. Ditches running close to wells also could pose a danger. In addition, the risk of contamination from the many marijuana grows in the county, some of them quite large, is basically an unknown.
Williams agreed that in processing marijuana extracts and other procedures, contamination could easily occur if the materials were not properly handled and waste products disposed of correctly. What isn’t certain is what effect oils exuded by growing plants could have if they seep into the soil and then are washed by irrigation into the groundwater.
On concluding her presentation, Williams set up a second round of meetings to create committees for the town to help Center make community-based decisions about how to protect their water quality. The next meeting will take place on July 6 at 6 p.m.