New Lead Reduction Program underway

In March, Denver Water is launching a major initiative to protect customers from lead in their homes.

February 28, 2020 | By: Cathy Proctor, Jay Adams

In March, Denver Water is kicking off its Lead Reduction Program, which was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in December 2019.

The water Denver Water delivers to customers is lead-free. But lead can get into drinking water as it passes through customer-owned water service lines and indoor plumbing that contain lead. Water service lines are the smaller pipes that bring ater from Denver Water’s main delivery pipes in the street into homes and buildings.

“Delivering safe drinking water is Denver Water’s most important responsibility,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “Nothing is more important than protecting the health of our customers, especially children.”

Lochhead said the program is an unprecedented undertaking for the U.S. water sector and puts Denver Water at the forefront of protecting public health.

“No other utility in the nation is taking this proactive and voluntary approach. We are literally setting a higher standard for the industry,” he said.

A woman stands at a kitchen counter pouring water from a pitcher and water filter into a glass to drink.
Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program is providing pitchers and water filters to customers who have or may have a lead service line. Replacement filters will be sent regularly and filtered water should be used for drinking, cooking and preparing beverages such as infant formula until six months after the lead service line is replaced. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

The Lead Reduction Program will protect the health of the community by:

  • Raising the pH of the water delivered to 1.4 million people in its service area, from the previous target of 7.8 on the pH scale to a target of 8.8. This change is taking place during the first week in March. The pH increase will strengthen an existing protective coating inside pipes. It won’t affect the water’s taste or smell.

Adjusting the pH of the water is a proven technique used by many water utilities to protect customers from the likelihood of lead or other metals getting into drinking water. Denver Water has adjusted the pH of its drinking water since the mid-1990s. Learn more at denverwater.org/pH.

  • Replacing the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines in Denver Water’s service area with copper lines. This work, done at no direct charge to the customer, will take 15 years to complete. In Denver Water’s experience, homes built before 1951 are most likely to have lead service lines.
  • Providing water filters certified to remove lead to customers who have or may have a lead service line. Replacement filters will be sent regularly, and the pitchers and filtered water should be used for drinking, cooking and preparing beverages such as infant formula until six months after the lead service line is replaced.

To learn more about Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program, visit denverwater.org/Lead

A pipe laying in the street in front of a home.
Water service lines made of lead, like this one (above), were commonly used by builders and developers to connect homes and buildings to Denver’s water delivery system before 1951. There are an estimated 64,000 to 84,000 lead service lines in Denver Water’s service area. It will take 15 years to remove all of them through the Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

17 thoughts on “New Lead Reduction Program underway”

  1. Thank you for your proactive approach to this serious problem. We are one of the households that is now filtering our water using a ZeroWater filtering system. But our concern about the change in pH of our water to a very alkaline 8.8 has to do with our trees and shrubs. Denver soil already is very alkaline and now we will be watering those trees with alkaline water. Trees in the east and Midwest get much more water from rain. We have deep concerns about this change. Please provide us several scientific research papers to explain or validate this change by Denver Water.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Lynn,
      It’s important to remember that the increase in pH through the Lead Reduction Program is designed to protect people, our customers, from the potential for lead to get into drinking water.

      The program was approved by the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment after years of discussion, review and study by those two agencies and Denver Water. Only when all three agencies were satisfied that the program was the best path forward to protect public health did the EPA and CDPHE approve the program and Denver Water begin to implement it. More information is available at denverwater.org/pH.

      We’ve also talked to scientists and experts nationwide as well as locally (including in Westminster, which has had a higher pH level for several years) regarding potential impacts on plants and soils. These conversations continue, with the feedback we’ve heard so far, is that in general there should not be any major impacts on plants and landscapes. But this is something we and others continue to research.

  2. I understand that raising the PH will have negative impacts on the vegetation in our area, not to mention filling up fish ponds. Denver soils are on the alkaline side. With the heavy use of water in the summer, what impacts will the majority of Denver water users experience with their yards, short and long term. With climate change increasing and Denvers temperatures rising, will the higher alkaline water result in more tree mortality.

    I know changing the water acidity is much easier to do system wide than increasing the lead pipe replacement for 50,000 older homes, most to these locating in the central area, not the suburbs. I understand raising the alkalinity will also cause the vegetation to need more water, and how does this impact the conservation desires of water use.

    Would it not be more environmentally beneficial to place filtering systems in lithe affected homes until the pipes are replace.

    1. HI Rick, Denver Water has been and continues to work with irrigation and landscape experts locally and nationwide to learn more about any potential impacts from the pH increase.

      The feedback we’ve heard so far, from scientists and experts in other cities where the water has a higher pH level, is that in general there should not be any major impacts on plants and landscapes.

      And it’s important to remember that the higher pH level protects not only the people in homes and buildings with lead service lines, which are the primary source of lead in drinking water, but it also protects people in homes or buildings that have lead solder connecting sections of pipe and/or faucets and fixtures made of lead. Check out this information on other sources of lead in drinking water.

  3. The article linked here: https://www.denverwater.org/your-water/water-quality/lead/lead-reduction-program/ph

    In this letter, the authors write, “Fish experts say testing the water in the fish tank is a good regular practice, and there are steps you can take to lower the pH of the water if needed, such as introducing a piece of driftwood or adding a chemical to reduce the pH.”

    I have yet to find a chemical that is marketed to reduce the pH levels. The only recommendations I can find are either drift wood or peat moss… both of which discolor the water. Who want a fish tank with brown water? Can you return to your “fish experts” and ask them what chemical they were referring to?

    Thank you,
    Beth

    1. Hi Beth,

      It’s hard to suggest a specific course of action for you, because fish experts have told us that different kinds of fish like different levels of pH. They also have repeatedly told us that it’s good practice for fish owners to regularly test the water in their fish tanks, as well as new water that is added to the tank. We suggest you try reaching out to fish hobby groups or fish stores who might be able to help you. More information is available at denverwater.org/pH.

  4. A PAT ON THE BACK OF DENVER WATER FOR BEING PROACTIVE ON REMOVING LEAD FROM THE WATER SYSTEM, KEEP IT GOING DENVER WATER,, UNFORTUNATELY DENVER WATER DOES NOT GET THE PRAISE IT DESERVES. WE SHOULD NOT TAKE WATER FOR GRANTED,

  5. Is it possible for Denver Water to make available the schedule for replacing lead service lines? I have one in my 1898 home, and I would like when to expect the replacement. Thank you!

    1. Hi Svein,
      At this time, due to the coronavirus COVID-19, the Lead Reduction Program has had to adjust its focus. Replacing a lead service line requires crews to enter homes and also turn off the water service to a home for several hours. Because of this, the crews have pivoted to focus on work that can be done at a distance, such as collecting consent forms from property owners. That will create a pool of replacement-ready homes for when the time is right. The crews also are focusing on nonresidential properties that are closed at this time, such as schools and day cares, where turning off the water is less of an issue at this time. There’s more information about the program’s response to COVID-19 in this TAP story.

      The other thing to remember is that with an estimated 64,000 to 84,000 lead service lines in our service area, it will take 15 years to replace all of them through the program.

  6. Hello, and thanks for doing this. Please let me know if my home qualifies for the pitchers and filters. It is located at XXXXXXX and was built in 1890. It has been owned by my family since 1937.
    (Editor’s note: This comment was edited to remove address information for privacy concerns.)

    1. Hi Carol,
      Please check out our interactive map at denverwater.org/Lead. Properties that have a lead service line or are likely to have one are enrolled in the Lead Reduction Program. Denver Water will be sending water filters to these properties and replacing the lead service line at no direct cost to the customer.

  7. When I first bought my house 18 years ago my water pipes broke and I had them totally replace with new pipes but I don’t know if they’re copper or lead pipes how do I find out?

    1. Hi Leroy,
      Many people have this question. The best information Denver Water has about the materials used in the customer-owned service line at a specific address is available through the interactive map we have at denverwater.org/Lead.

      Denver Water customers also can request a free lead test kit and instructions be sent to them. Based on demand, it may take a few weeks to process this request. For other water quality test options, check with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    1. Hi Dave, That’s a great question.

      In Denver Water’s experience, homes and buildings built before 1951 are more likely to have a lead service line.

      Denver Water has a website, denverwater.org/Lead, that includes an interactive map with the best information we have at this time about lead service lines at specific properties. The information is based on the address of the home, age of the home, and our records. Remember, Denver Water doesn’t own the water service line, the pipe that brings water into a home or building from the main delivery pipe in the street. Service lines are owned by the customer and were installed by the builder.

      Customers that Denver Water believes have or may have a lead service line are enrolled in the Lead Reduction Program. The process of contacting these customers has started and will continue into summer 2020. These customers also will receive a water pitcher and filters capable of removing lead from drinking water, a process that also is expected to continue through the summer.

  8. My comment is simple, but with sincere: THANK YOU! First, thanks for being proactive. Next, your crews are at my house and on my street as I type this. When we received the notification a couple of months ago and read it will take 15 years, I figured I would be elsewhere by the time you reached me. Not the case. The communication has been excellent, your crews were on time this morning and everything, thus far, has been as painless as possible. So, I just wanted to pass on that it’s not unnoticed and is appreciated.

    1. Hi Raymond,
      Wow, thank you for your kind words. The Lead Reduction Program is a huge undertaking, and many, many people are working every day to make it as painless as possible for people like you who are part of the program. It will take 15 years to replace the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 lead lines, but we’re working on it. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us.

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