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Pure Red Cliff water on tap

Cliff Thompson
Eric Cregon, Co-owner of mangos in Red Cliff, says the restaraurant has been its water from Minturn for washing vegetables and making coffee. Mango's also was buying its ice.
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When visiting tiny Red Cliff you were wise to head advice similar to that heard in Third World countries: Don1t drink the water.For the last year residents in town have had to boil their water for fear of contracting a water-borne parasite, Giardia lamblia.Giardia causes gastric upset, diarrhea, fever and other unpleasant symptoms. It is carried in the intestinal tract of animals and washed into area streams. The town1s water treatment system hasn1t been up to par and has been unable to provide pure water, so the Colorado Health Department order to water boil water has been in effect periodically over the past few years.The situation has begun to wear on some Red Cliff residents like Caroline Bradford, who has a new baby. She installed a home water filter to assure she has pure water.3I can1t turn on the water and drink it because it has Giardia in it, she says. 3I buy special filters.Like all residents, Bradford still pays a municipal water bill of $70 per month<even though she must refrain from rinsing her toothbrush with tap water for fear of contracting the parasite.New technologyEarly next week, however, Bradford and Red Cliff1s other 180 water users may be able to turn on their taps and drink contaminant-free water without having to boil it. That1s when a new $460,000 automated municipal microfiltration water system, built and installed by U.S. Filter, is scheduled to be online and operating properly, says Red Cliff Town Administrator Bob Slagle. It1s also when the water boil order is expected to be lifted by the Department of Health.The new system will be capable of supplying up to 250,000 gallons of clean drinking water per day.A six-month on-again and off-again start-up of the system, has some town residents skeptical, but Slagle says the water system is now operating and ready to go.The system was made operable Tuesday night, and after bacteriological sampling is conducted by Eagle River Water and Sanitation later this week, Slagle said he expects the boil order to be lifted by the state Health Department.Drink upFor Red Cliff residents, it will be the first time in recent memory they will be able to use their water on a year-round basis without fear of contracting Giardia and dealing with turbid water when the seasonal runoff hits.The water lines and the town1s 109,000 gallon storage tank will be disinfected by being filled with hyper-chlorinated water. That water must be flushed from the lines and the tank before the water is drinkable.3Over the years Red Cliff had a treatment process that didn1t match the raw water quality in the area, says Glenn Bodnar, drinking water engineer with the Colorado Department of Health. 3With the construction of the microfilter plant, which is one of the top-of-the-line technologies available, they should be getting high-quality water.One of the problems with Red Cliff1s old water treatment facility was the lack of a heated structure to protect the equipment from freezing, Bodnar said.The department issues about a dozen boil orders a year, Bodnar says, although not many last as long as Red Cliff1s did.Purging the systemOnce the system is loaded with the hyper-chlorinated water, residents will be asked to open both hot and cold water faucets until they smell the chlorine, then turn them off and not use them for several hours while the chlorine disinfects the system. Then the hyperchlorinated water will need to be drained from the system before water will be fit to drink.Fire hydrants, meanwhile, will be opened to clear the mains of accumulated sediment. Interestingly enough, chlorination in water that1s fit to drink does not kill all giardia cysts. Those and other microbes and sediment will be extracted by the microfilters, which periodically will be reversed-flushed to clean them.3This will be the first time that an automated system is being used to remove human error in overloading filtrate and it does remove the possibility of parasites and turbidity, says Slagle.With the old water system, Red Cliff residents during runoff each spring, were accustomed to seeing redish water coming from their pipes because the old filter system would be overrun with sediment-laden raw water.The water and sewer systems for the town have been marginal for years.3We1ve always put Band-aids on because we1ve never really had the ability to fix the problem, says Slagle. 3Now we1re committed to fixing problems for the long run.Costly Band-aidThe Band-aid solution has proven expensive for the town, which has no full-time employees. Nearly a quarter of the annual budget, or $108,000, pays off debt from loans for fixing water and sewer operations for the last 10 years. That also includes lease payments for the new water system, Slagle says.The new system also was partially funded by a $50,000 emergency grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs when problems connecting the new system to the town1s multiplicity of main diameters was discovered. The money helped the connectivity conundrum.3This is the first major project we have been able to undertake using our capital savings accumulated over the last seven to eight years, Slagle says.The Department of Health will rescind the boil order on the municipal water contingent upon the town removing the old temporary chlorination system, having proper disinfection of the water system and bringing the chlorination facilities up to state specifications.


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