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Lead education and outreach program kicks off this summer

DENVER — July 1, 2019 — Denver Water is kicking off a lead education and outreach program this summer to make continued progress in reducing exposure risks in the community.

The water delivered to homes and businesses in Denver is lead-free, but lead can get into water as it moves through lead-containing household plumbing and service lines that are owned by the customer and are not part of Denver Water’s system.

“Delivering safe water is Denver Water’s first responsibility,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “When it comes to lead in drinking water, Denver Water has always adapted as science and regulations have evolved, including adjusting water treatment processes to help minimize corrosion, offering free lead testing kits for customers and replacing customer-owned lead service lines when they are identified during construction work.”

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Lead service lines
Lead service lines, like the one pictured here, were initially installed by builders most likely before 1951 and are owned by customers.

For nearly 30 years, as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule, Denver Water has conducted water quality monitoring at homes with known lead service lines and plumbing to determine if the corrosivity of the water supply needs to be adjusted to minimize the risk of lead getting into their household water.

Only once, in 2012, sample results from those homes indicated that action needed to be taken to optimize corrosion control in the water system and Denver Water remains in compliance today. However, Denver Water is still required to implement the best method to reduce the risk of lead in tap water for homes with lead plumbing and service lines by March 2020.

Denver Water conducted a study on multiple treatment options to reduce the potential for lead entering drinking water from lead service lines and household plumbing. Based on the results, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the state regulatory agency that oversees drinking water regulations, required Denver Water to begin adding orthophosphate in accordance with regulatory requirements.

While Denver Water’s ongoing efforts around reducing lead in drinking water will continue, the utility is launching an additional education and outreach program to inform the public about an alternative path Denver Water would like to pursue to further reduce the potential for lead exposure in homes with lead service lines and lead plumbing.

Denver Water is proposing an alternative, holistic approach that directly tackles the biggest issue, customer-owned lead service lines, at its source by accelerating the removal of those lines through a Lead Reduction Program.

The proposed program has multiple components, which include:

  • Increasing the pH level, which reduces the corrosivity of the water.
  • Providing at-home water filters for all customers in Denver Water’s service area with a suspected lead service line, free of charge.
  • Replacing the estimated 50,000 to 90,000 lead service lines with copper lines in Denver Water’s service area at no charge to the customer over the next 15 years.

To implement the multipart program instead of the orthophosphate additive, Denver Water is required to submit a variance request to the EPA. Denver Water will begin small-scale testing of elements of the potential program over the summer before making an official variance proposal to the EPA. The cost of the variance will be better understood after further analysis this summer.

The EPA will begin accepting public comments about the potential alternative path forward this summer and more specifics on the programs will be available at that time.

Community members are encouraged to come learn more and speak directly to Denver Water team members at a variety of events this summer. The project website will have an updated calendar of activities.

Service lines were installed by homebuilders and are owned by the customer, so it’s difficult to know where all the lead service lines exist in the community. Denver Water continues to identify and confirm where lead service lines exist. In Denver Water’s experience, homes and buildings most likely to have lead service lines are those built before 1951 in the Denver metro area.

Denver Water is developing mapping tools and identification models as part of this outreach program.

Additional resources:

  • If you are a customer concerned about lead in your drinking water, you can request a free water quality test for lead from Denver Water.
  • If you suspect your home has lead in the piping, there are a few immediate steps you can take to minimize exposure:
    • Use a filter certified for lead removal for drinking and cooking.  
    • Use only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula. Remember, boiling water does not remove lead from water and hot water often contains higher levels of lead than cold water.
    • If water has not been used in the home for a few hours, such as first thing in the morning or when getting home from work, run the kitchen or any bathroom faucet for 5 minutes (remember to capture the water and reuse it!). You also can run the dishwasher, take a shower or do a load of laundry to help flush water in your internal plumbing before drinking or cooking.
    • Replace the filter cartridge according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Regularly clean your faucet’s screen (also known as an aerator). View step-by-step instructions.

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Denver Water proudly serves high-quality water and promotes its efficient use to 1.4 million people in the city of Denver and many surrounding suburbs. Established in 1918, the utility is a public agency funded by water rates, new tap fees and the sale of hydropower, not taxes. It is Colorado’s oldest and largest water utility. Subscribe to TAP to hydrate your mind, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.