EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Donala Water & Sanitation District, covering an area between north Colorado Springs and Monument, recently told its customers that it's in violation of maximum federal standards for radium in its drinking water.
According to a notice sent to customers Aug. 20, Donala revealed that it learned of the Environmental Protection Agency violation on July 23.
The EPA found that the average level of combined radium during the past year was 1.7 picocuries per liter above the federal standard of 5 picocuries per liter.
Donala said that the situation is not an emergency but advised customers to consider using bottled water or other alternative water sources.
Combined radium is radium-226 or radium-228 and is considered a chronic health threat that would pose health risks only after many years of drinking contaminated water above the EPA standard.
Donala's notice said that long-term consumption could pose increased cancer risks to pregnant women, infants, elderly and people with compromised immune systems; the notice also advised people in the high-risk category to see their doctors about drinking contaminated water.
Humans store radium in their bones, where it can continue to release radiation, so limiting exposure is important.
The higher radium level is believed to be caused by increased water demand stirring up radium that occurs naturally in the Arapahoe Basin aquifer that provides the area with groundwater for human use and consumption.
To address the problem, Donala has reduced or stopped drawing water from wells and treatment plants having the highest radium levels, and is using more surface water that is treated and supplied by Colorado Springs Utilities.
Donala said it also will test all of its wells for radium and expect to have results back in October.
Also being planned is chemical water treatment, in which chemicals cause radium to collect in larger particles that can be filtered out.
Donala said that addressing the radium problem shouldn't significantly affect water rates for its customers; the goal is to lower radium levels well below the EPA standard or remove it entirely.
Donala is one of two Monument-area water districts dealing with high radium levels that have been an ongoing issue. The town of Monument is spending $1.5 million on a new filtration system, even though officials said that they have been able to keep the radium level within federally acceptable limits.
"Most of the radium comes from one of our wells that we keep shut down except for quarterly testing," said Tom Tharnish, the town's public works director. "We have only 1,400 customers, so we think we can keep the radium levels low. Everyone should understand that the water is safe to drink."
Jeff Hodge, Donala's general manager, said that his district's water is safe for consumption, too.
"We drink it all the time here at the office," he said. "The measures we're taking are the least expensive. If they don't work, we'll have to consider other measures that are more expensive. But I don't think our it will have much of an impact on the rates of our 6,500 customers."
Surprisingly, Woodmoor Water & Sanitation, a nearby district with 4,400 customers, is not having high radium levels -- even though it draws from roughly the same underground aquifers as Donala and Monument.
"Whether it's our geologic placement on the map and what aquifers were drilled into, there could be any number of reasons why our particular situation is different from other folks," said manager Jessie Shaffer. "But at least for Woodmoor, we seem to be doing just fine and we continue to monitor our radium levels."