Minturn aims to keep water clean |

Minturn aims to keep water clean

Dustin Racioppi
Minturn, CO Colorado

MINTURN ” Outside of the public works crew and perhaps somebody with a basic knowledge of plumbing, most people in Minturn, Colorado don’t know, or care, what a backflow prevention device is.

But flashback to last year when the town of Alamosa shut down schools and restaurants, cut off the town’s water supply and the governor declared a public health emergency because the town’s water was tainted with salmonella. Figuring out what a backflow device is, and whether or not you have one, may sound like a good idea, because not having one can spell bad news.

It’s a check valve, essentially, that keeps all the nasty, dangerous liquids you pour down your drains and flush down the toilet out of the town’s nice, clean water supply if your pipes are linked to a cross connection. A cross connection is any point in a water system where bad stuff may mix with good stuff.

And since beginning inspections about two years ago, public works inspector Orlando Martinez and director Rod Cordova have found that some homes and businesses either don’t have the valve ensuring that doesn’t happen or, if they do, it doesn’t work.

“The downside risk is huge “contamination of the public water supply,” Interim Town Manager Gary Suiter said.

The good news is that something like what Alamosa experienced last year is unlikely in Minturn, Cordova said. There are no hospitals or mortuaries in town, which are common contamination sources, he said. There are a number of ways contaminated liquids could get into the water supply, though.

It’s also important to note that it’s a state and federal standard, Cordova said, to have the valves installed. And for those who don’t, there could be Alamosa-like consequences.

“Our recourse is to shut their water off,” Cordova said.

Cordova has approached the Town Council to start pursuing offenders whose water systems aren’t compliant with the town code. The council also intends to punish homes and businesses without working water meters.

However, the council will try and take a more neighborly approach, even though the town code allows for more drastic action.

“If we see a hazard, we can just turn it off,” Suiter said. “It definitely gives us means and authority to turn off the water source and fine.”

Councilwoman Lorraine Haslee said before the council moves forward in cracking down on water system violators, each council member should make sure their own homes have backflow prevention and working water meters.

Action won’t likely come until spring and after fair warning. Suiter has asked Cordova to draft a plan of action to deal with violations that Suiter can present to the council, which may or may not adopt the measures.

“My guess is it’s going to be a series of steps,” Suiter said, including the town giving initial notice to the owner, performing an inspection, issuing an advisement and eventually shutting the water off.

The lengthy process is mostly because people are uninformed about the issue, which is why Cordova is more concerned about letting people know the problem and its possible repercussions.

“I think a lot of it is just a lack of knowledge,” Cordova said. “No one’s aware of it.”

But once people who are in violation do become aware, it’s a fairly easy, inexpensive fix. They can go to public works, who can likely install the backflow valves and, if they can’t, refer you to a certified technician who can.

It’s a lot easier to do that than have to deal with the hassle of getting your water turned off, paying daily fines or relying on the National Guard to deliver bottled water when the town is flushing its contaminated water system.

“It’s just being proactive and making sure that doesn’t occur,” Cordova said.

Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or

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