Runoff of pollutants from city streets and highways is the greatest potential threat to drinking water between New Castle and Parachute, according to a new report.
The Source Water Protection Plan, an inventory of drinking water resources for several towns along the Interstate 70 corridor, also identifies other activities that could contaminate drinking water, including natural gas drilling, fires, pesticide use, landfills and others, but it does not highlight existing water pollution problems.
"We just want to make people aware that they have the potential to contaminate our source water," said Mark King, public works director for the town of Parachute. "The whole point is just to educate people of the hazards. The oil field, the railroad, they carry all kinds of [pollutants]."
King worked on the report, along with a coalition of public works officials from Rifle, Silt and New Castle. The effort was funded by a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to meet a federal Clean Water Act requirement of every state to have plans in place to protect water sources.
In Rifle, according to the report, the largest potential water pollution threats, aside from road runoff, are gas operations, gas pipelines, and spills or runoff from train travel through the area.
In Silt, issues of concern include gas drilling and railroads. Those threats are also present in Parachute, according to the report, where other potential threats include leaking septic tanks at private homes and uncertainty about how water migrates into Revelle Springs, a drinking water source.
The report authors recommend that Parachute fund a formal study to pinpoint the sources of groundwater seeping into the springs, to ensure those areas are protected.
Despite widespread concern over the potential effects of gas drilling on water supplies, report authors claim the largest potential threats to drinking water from the gas industry could stem from operations other than drilling, including soil erosion off of roads and well pads and spills of drilling fluid or water used in the drilling process.
To better protect water quality, the report contains only recommendations, rather than new regulations or policy suggestions.
Those include distributing copies of the report and cards with emergency contact information to gas companies for use in the event of a spill, and researching the long-term effect of magnesium chloride, a compound used to melt ice on roadways, on local water supplies.
And since fire poses a major contamination risk to water supplies by increasing erosion and destroying features that absorb water, the authors also recommend that local officials collaborate with firefighters to include water supplies on maps of high risk fire areas.
Dick Deussen, utility director for the city of Rifle, said he doesn't expect any new regulations in Rifle as a result of the report.
"We are pretty well covered with our storm water permits, and we have a device up Beaver Creek that detects gas spills," he said.
Deussen noted that the new report had already been distributed to members of the City Council and posted on the city website, and copies would also be given to gas companies operating in the county.
In Parachute, King said his staff was planning to use the report to spark discussions with landowners living above the springs where the town pumps much of its drinking water.
"We're going to go hand out fliers to them," he said. "Where they're living, it's important."