COVID-19 doesn’t stop Denver Water’s lead program

Public health initiative pivots to focus on work that can be done at a distance.

April 6, 2020 | By: Cathy Proctor
Service line in the ground cr
Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program is adjusting to conditions surrounding COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program, which aims to reduce the risk of lead getting into drinking water, is moving ahead even as the utility responds to COVID-19.

The program, approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in December 2019, was getting off the ground in March when stay-at-home orders were issued at the local and state level to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’m proud of how the great employees of Denver Water are stepping up to respond to the situation around COVID-19, while continuing to move forward on important public health initiatives like the Lead Reduction Program,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “Denver Water is a critical service, and we will continue to serve our community no matter what.”

A big part of Denver Water’s lead program involves replacing an estimated 64,000 to 84,000 lead service lines, the customer-owned pipes that bring water from Denver Water’s main delivery pipes in the street into a home or building. Denver Water is replacing these customer-owned lead service lines in its service area at no direct cost to the customer.

And that work continues to move forward despite COVID-19 and orders for social distancing and staying at home to slow the spread of the virus.

An old lead service pipe dug out of the ground.
An old lead service line. In Denver Water’s experience, homes and buildings built prior to 1951 are more likely to have lead service lines. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

On the residential side, Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program team is focusing on work that needs to be done prior to the actual replacement of the service line, such as gathering consent forms from property owners. This will create a pool of properties that are ready for replacement work to go forward when the time is right.

Since the water to a property must be turned off to complete the replacement of a service line, the team is focusing on replacing lines at properties that are closed in response to the COVID-19 situation, such as schools, day care centers and other commercial locations.

While there is no lead in the water Denver Water delivers to customers, lead can get into drinking water as it passes through a water service line or household plumbing that contains lead. That is why Denver Water established its Lead Reduction Program, which includes more elements than removing customer-owned lead service lines.

Here is the status of the rest of the program:

pH increase: The increase in the pH of the water delivered to all customers, from a previous target of 7.8 to a new target of 8.8, has been in place since the first week of March.

The pH scale runs from 1 to 14. Denver Water is raising the pH of the water it delivers from 7.8 to 8.8 to protect customers from lead getting into drinking water. Image credit: Denver Water.

 

The higher pH level reduces the corrosivity of the water and also strengthens an existing protective coating on the inside of lead service lines and household plumbing that contain lead. Testing during March confirmed that increased levels of pH existed throughout the utility’s distribution system. Learn more at denverwater.org/pH.

Communications: Also in March, information packets started to be mailed to customers enrolled in the program, telling them about lead in drinking water and what to expect as the program moves forward. It will take a few months for all the information packets to reach each customer enrolled in the program.

The utility also has updated the section of its website dedicated to information about lead, including a new, interactive map that allows people to type in an address to learn whether a property is enrolled in the lead program.

Filter distribution: The distribution of filters capable of removing lead from the water also started in March and will continue through the summer. Customers enrolled in the program who receive a filter are reminded to use filtered water for drinking, cooking and preparing infant formula. Replacement filters also will be sent regularly.

The Lead Reduction Program is distributing more than 100,000 Brita water pitchers and Longlast water filters. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

The filters have nothing to do with the coronavirus. There’s no threat from COVID-19 in the water. Denver Water follows drinking water regulations that have been established to stop waterborne pathogens, such as a virus like COVID-19, from contaminating drinking water.

“This is, without a doubt, an unexpected and trying time for all of us. But be assured that we here at Denver Water, as a critical service, will continue to serve our community now and in the future,” Lochhead said.

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