Wildfire is top threat to Gypsum’s drinking water | VailDaily.com

Wildfire is top threat to Gypsum’s drinking water

GYPSUM — With a fresh, and long awaited, snowfall covering the valley's higher elevations thoughts of wildfire risks have been banished until spring.

But a new report prepared by the Colorado Rural Water Association for the town of Gypsum has reminded the community that wildfire impact is the top risk identified for its drinking water system.

Source water specialist Paul Hempel prepared the report for the town.

"People don't ever think about water safety, really. Water just comes out of the tap," said Hempel.

“People don’t ever think about water safety, really. Water just comes out of the tap.”Paul HempelSource water specialist

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But water does come from somewhere, and ensuring the safety of their water sources is a prime concern for municipal providers. Source water assessment and protection came into existence in 1996 as a result of Congressional amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The amendments required each state to develop a source water assessment and protection program. In Colorado, the Water Quality Control Division, an agency of the state Department of Public Health and Environment, assumed the responsibility for conducting the program.

Four-Part Effort

The effort includes four parts:

• Delineating the source water assessment area for each of the drinking water sources.

• Conducting a contaminant source inventory to identify potential sources of contamination within each of the source water assessment areas.

• Conducting a susceptibility analysis to determine the potential susceptibility of each public drinking water source to the different sources of contamination.

• Reporting the results of the source water assessment to the public water systems and the general public.

Gypsum's threats

The town of Gypsum obtains its drinking water from one intake on Mosher Spring and two intakes on Gypsum Creek. The town supplies drinking water to approximately 7,000 residents with 2,791 connections. The average daily demand on the system is 1.23 million gallons and the average peak demand is 1.43 million gallons.

In the preparation of his report, Hempel noted there was high interest in water issues in the town of Gypsum.

"From my perspective, the town's stakeholder process was one of the better ones I have ever worked with," Hempel said.

The Gypsum stakeholder group included representatives from the town, Eagle County, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Gypsum Fire Protection District, the Eagle River Watershed Council and several local landowners.

Through the process, Hempel assisted a steering committee as they categorized the potential course of contamination and issues of concern for the town's water.

The identification noted both the probability of impact from various sources as well as the level of risk they presented.

Very high and catastrophic

The study revealed wildfire impact to the upper watershed, located on Forest Service property, was the greatest danger to Gypsum's water supply. The risk level was categorized as "very high" and the impact to the system was classified as "catastrophic."

"It is certainly Gypsum's No. 1 concern" said Hempel.

But the community isn't unique in this regard. Hempel noted many mountain communities that get water from surface sources identified similar risks and impacts. While it may be a cliche, it is still true that identifying the problem is the first step toward addressing it.

Preventative Actions

In Gypsum's case, Hempel said the town needs to complete more soils and slope study for the area around its intakes to determine a defensible space.

Defensible space is a familiar term for anyone who lives in wooded mountain areas, and it refers to a series of actions that can lessen the chances of wholesale property loss due to wildfire. These actions include everything from cutting back thick brush to laying down gravel or other material to limit fuels around a structure.