STERLING, Colo. - When Department of Corrections officials learned recently that Sterling’s water supply exceeded the safe limit for Uranium, they decided to provide an alternative.
That alternative is to truck fresh water in from a facility in Canon City 200 miles away.
“We’re not required to do anything about that in terms of offering an alternative source of drinking water,” said Dept. spokeswoman Sue Cobb, “But we just felt a responsibility to do that.”
Cobb said inmates and staff at the prison “can’t just walk over to the local 7-Eleven to get bottled water like everyone else, if they don’t want to drink what comes out of the tap.”
Sterling has had elevated levels of Uranium in its water supply for years.
“It’s naturally occurring,” said Ron Falco, the Drinking Water Program Manager at the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment. “And Colorado just happens to have a little more naturally occurring uranium than most places.”
Falco told 7NEWS that the standard for uranium is 30 micrograms per liter of water. Recent tests, he said, show a level of 31 micrograms per liter in Sterling’s water supply.
“There’s a safety range built in to those figures,” he said.
When asked about the health hazard, Falco replied, “Uranium can pose a small risk of kidney damage.”
That’s why some people are hesitant to drink the water long term, and why the D.O.C. decided to provide an alternative.
But why is that alternative coming all the way from Canon City?
“We have a packing plant and a dairy,” Cobb said. “And we have the manpower.”
She said prison inmates in Canon City are filling 6 gallon containers with fresh water which is then being trucked to Sterling.
“It’s the most viable solution,” she said.
When asked how much it’s costing, Cobb replied, “We won’t know the full cost until we see how much water is used.”
Although health officials downplay the danger of drinking Sterling’s water, they were concerned enough about long term danger to make the city do something about it.
“The Dept. of Health told the city it had to build a treatment facility to correct the violation,” said City Manager Joseph Kiolbasa. “The city borrowed $29 million to build the plant.”
Kiolbasa said the new treatment facility will filter out the Uranium via reverse osmosis.
“We are forcing the water through holes in a fabric that are large enough to allow water molecules through but not Uranium molecules.”
He said that when the filters are backwashed, the remaining Uranium brine will be injected into a well 6,900 feet deep.
The city manager said the cost of the project is being born by the utility’s 4800 customers.
“It’s tripled our rates,” he said.
Kiolbasa said many residents have been drinking Sterling’s water for years without any ill effects.
He said he too was surprised when he first heard that the D.O.C. was shipping water in from Canon City, but added, “It sounds like they’ve given it a lot of thought.”
Kiolbasa said the city’s new treatment plant should be on line by January 31.
“That’s what the state mandated,” he said. “We hope to have it operating before then.”
Until then, D.O.C. officials say they will continue to truck water in to the Sterling prison from their dairy in Canon City.