EAGLE COUNTY — At the water refreshment tent run by the local water district at the Vail Farmers’ Market, visitors are constantly surprised by the taste of the water they’re handed.
“We always drink the water here, but never at home,” some say.
“This tastes so good. Is this straight from the river?” others ask.
No, it’s not mountain snowmelt straight from the river (it’s actually been treated by the water district, since it is unsafe to drink untreated river water), but it should definitely taste good. There are annual reports to prove it.
Yearly tests on the public water system administered by a state agency rated drinking water from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District to be high quality. Taste is a part of that, but more importantly, the Environmental Protection Agency specifies that districts must test for more than 100 “contaminants” in tap water. Of those contaminants (the presence of which is not always negative at low levels), only 16 registered positive. Those 16 contaminants were found well below the admissible levels, and some, such as lead, copper and carbon, are naturally found in mountainous environments.
The recently released 2013 reports for both the district and authority water systems highlight the results of thousands of water quality tests that are performed during the course of the year, and the reports show that drinking water from the district and authority meets all federal and state standards.
“Our stream waters are generally good,” said Diane Johnson, of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “We have really great source waters, and we’re at the top of the headwaters. It means there are not a lot of other things happening to contribute stuff into the water before it gets to us.”
What’s in our water?
While the tests guarantee a high quality of water throughout the valley, what’s in the water and the taste of the water can still vary.
Some areas like Vail mostly get water from ground wells, which naturally helps filter out a lot of minerals as the water seeps into the ground. Edwards tends to have “harder water,” which might contain more naturally occurring calcium and magnesium.
“They’re healthy minerals, so that’s a good thing, but it also means your soap won’t lather as well and your dishes might have that white residue on it after washing,” said Johnson.
She does caution people to think about the water they use on their lawns — some of that water eventually flows back into our water sources, bringing with it whatever was on your lawn.
“Pesticides that people use on their lawn ends up on the water, and de-icers that go on the road in the river also go into the river. The creeks are our source water, so think about what you’re putting in our creeks,” said Johnson.
You can always expect a certain amount of organic carbon in the water, the result of organic matter that ends up in the rivers. The water district works to lower that in tap water by allowing the first few weeks of runoff to pass before drawing from the river. That way, much of the organic matter that ends up in the river during the winter gets washed away in the first rush of snowmelt.
There will be trace amounts of chlorine as well, since the water district adds it to disinfect and treat the water. Chlorine dissipates as it goes further from the source, so it shouldn’t be noticeable by the time it reaches your tap, Johnson said.
“If you’re worried about that, you can filter the water at your home or simply let it sit for a bit before you drink it — it will disappear that way, too,” she said. “We do recommend that if you haven’t been in town for a while and someone hasn’t been running your faucets, the water might have been sitting in the pipes for awhile. Let the taps run for a bit before you drink it, or use that first bit to water plants or shower instead.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org.