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Safe Water Action Program: Replacing Galvanized Pipes#

Providing Safe, Reliable Water#

We are committed to providing safe, high-quality, reliable drinking water to all customers. Our treated drinking water consistently surpasses state and federal standards for purity. We continually monitor our water quality from source to tap and take pride in being able to offer some of the best drinking water in the country (we placed second in the American Water Works Association's "Best of the Best"Water Taste Test in 2021)

Lead and Drinking Water#

In recent years, a lot of concern has risen nationwide about the presence of lead in drinking water. Managing lead in water is a public health responsibility that is shared among water utilities, consumers, manufacturers, regulators, plumbers and more.

There is effectively no lead in the drinking water provided by Fort Collins Utilities. Generally speaking, lead does not come from our water supplies; if it is present in water, it will come from the plumbing leading to or inside a home.

Lead enters drinking water when plumbing that contains lead corrodes or deteriorates allowing the lead to seep into the water. This can include pipes or fixtures inside the home or solder that connects copper pipes. This is more likely to occur when water sits in pipes for extended periods of time, generally overnight or when water is not used for several hours at a time. 

Fortunately, there are no known full lead service lines in Fort Collins Utilities' service area and soldering joints has never been allowed in Utilities-owned service lines (see diagram below). Approximately 97.5% of Fort Collins Utilities’ 34,000 water service lines are known to be made of:

  • copper
  • PVC
  • other materials that do not contain lead

The remaining 2.5% of our service lines are either galvanized or of undetermined materials. Galvanized lines are steel pipes coated with zinc to prevent rust or corrosion and are considered safe, but need to be replaced due to age and condition. Typically, galvanized pipes were not installed after the 1950s. 

Some sections of our water system were installed so long ago that installation information was not recorded, making it difficult to know what material is underground. We estimate there are fewer than 600 service lines of undetermined material or galvanized steel in our water system. 

Learn More about Water Quality

Water Service Line Ownership and Responsibility Illustration

Click to enlarge

Some of these galvanized service lines may have short, curved connectors called “goosenecks” located between the service line and the water main (see image). They are generally 1.5 to 2 feet in length. Older goosenecks were made of lead for its flexible properties and were only installed on ¾-inch or smaller pipes typically in residential areas, not commercial. 

Having a lead gooseneck doesn’t necessarily mean you have elevated levels of lead in your water, but it may be a contributing factor.

Studies have shown that lead goosenecks have little to no impact on lead levels in drinking water due to the small volume of water in a gooseneck and the effectiveness of our long-standing corrosion control methods.

See below about precautions you can take if you are concerned about lead in your drinking water.

Safety is Our Top Priority#

We have a long-standing policy to immediately remove lead goosenecks upon discovery. This practice has resulted in the removal of approximately 600 lead goosenecks to date.

Less than 600 water service lines of an undetermined material and galvanized water service lines need to be investigated and/or replaced, some of which may contain a lead gooseneck. SWAP will accelerate the identification and replacement of any remaining galvanized and/or lead goosenecks.  

What's Next?#

Though the risk is low, we are committed to identifying and removing any remaining lead goosenecks from the water system because it is the right thing to do.

Staff is developing a full project plan and prioritizing water service line improvements for our community.

Utilities will confirm the service line material between the water main and the curb stop for customers identified as part of SWAP. If it is galvanized pipe and/or has a lead gooseneck, Utilities will replace this portion of the service line at no cost to the owner. Because of the size and scope of the project, it is estimated that the identification and replacement process may take several years.

Utilities will notify customers when crews will be on-site to verify the service line material and replace it if galvanized. Please ensure the contact information on your account is up to date by contacting our Customer Care team at 970-212-2900.

What Can I Do Now?#

Studies have shown that lead goosenecks have little to no impact on lead levels in drinking water. However, you can take extra precaution by following these tips from the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Flush your pipes. Flush your pipes if water has been sitting in the service line for longer than six hours (first thing in the morning, coming home from work or vacation). Let the COLD water run until it turns noticeably colder, about two minutes. This water can be collected and used to water plants or landscapes. Flushing the toilet a few times, taking a shower and/or running a load of laundry would also be sufficient.

  • Always use cold water to drink, cook and do things like make coffee or baby formula. You cannot boil lead out of water.

  • Regularly clean faucet aerators/faucet screens. Sediment, debris, and lead particles can collect in your aerator. If lead particles are caught in the aerator, lead can get into your water. 

  • Use a filter. Install a water filter that is designed and certified to remove lead (click here for details). Read the directions to learn how to properly install and use your cartridge and when to replace it. Using the cartridge after it has expired can make it less effective at removing lead. Never run hot water through the water filter. The EPA recommends purchasing ANSI/NSF 53 approved water filters.

  • Get your water tested. Find a reputable organization to test the water for lead here (Larimer County) or here (CDPHE).

    Testing also is provided by Utilities at no cost to you but may have longer wait times for results. If you sign up to have your water quality tested by Utilities, water sampling kits will be dropped off at your address within 10 business days. Samples will be tested on a first-come, first-serve basis and results will be made available as soon as possible. We anticipate a minimum of 6-8 weeks from the date of sampling before results will be available. To receive testing from Utilities, email swap@fcgov.com or leave a voicemail at 970-416-8032.
       
  • Learn if the customer-owned portion of your service line is made of lead or if any of the plumbing materials in your home contain lead. Contact a licensed plumber to determine if the pipe that connects your home to the curb stop is made from lead. Use the search tool above to see if the service line that connects your home from the curb stop to the water main is galvanized with a possible lead gooseneck.

FAQs#

How is this different than what happened in Flint, MI?

The crisis in Flint occurred because the community switched to a new water source and did not implement a corrosion control program. The new water source did not contain lead but it was highly corrosive and lead leached out of the existing pipes, including thousands of full lead service lines. We are fortunate not to have any known full lead service lines and only a limited number of lead-containing goosenecks.

Does Utilities currently test for lead in drinking water?

Yes. We have tested for lead in single-family homes built between 1983-1986 since 1992. Our levels have always been far below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards and have been communicated in our annual Water Quality Report since 1999.

The EPA's Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) requires drinking water providers to monitor for lead and copper in customer premise plumbing on a frequency between six months and three years, depending on system size and detected lead and copper concentrations in residential sampling. 

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) issues annual sampling requirements for public water suppliers. We are required to collect samples from a minimum of 50 Tier 1 sites, which for Fort Collins Utilities, are currently defined as single-family residences that contain copper pipe with lead solder, installed between 1983-1986.

Action levels for soluble lead and copper in “first draw” samples are 0.015 and 1.3 mg/L, respectively. The 90th percentile concentrations of lead and copper results are compared to the action levels to determine compliance.

The Fort Collins Utilities Water Quality Laboratory (WQL) coordinates the annual lead and copper sampling program in cooperation with eligible participating customers. The WQL assembles and delivers sample kits and following printed sampling instructions, customers collect a ‘first draw” water sample. Staff then pick up the samples, which are processed and analyzed at the lab.

All test results are managed in the WQL Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Customers are notified of their test results by letter and a full report is provided to CDPHE by the monitoring period deadline. Aggregated 90th percentile results are also communicated to Utilities' customers through the annual Water Quality Report.

The standard testing procedure, however, will not tell us if a home has a lead gooseneck. It is very complicated to test for the presence of a gooseneck. The only sure way to know if a home has a lead gooseneck is to dig through a road and look at the pipes below, which is referred to as potholing.

We have reached out to other utilities throughout the nation who have managed similar projects. Given the limitations of testing tap water, one utility tested the effect of a gooseneck in a laboratory setting and found there to be little to no impact on lead levels in drinking water.

What other ways can someone be exposed to lead?

Today almost everyone is exposed to environmental lead. Exposure to lead and lead chemicals can occur through inhalation, ingestion, dermal absorption, absorption from retained or embedded leaded foreign body, and trans-placental (endogenous) routes.

Learn More from the CDC

What are the effects of lead on children?

There is no known safe level of lead exposure, and lead can build up in the body over time. Children younger than six years old are most at risk due to their rapid rate of growth and ongoing brain development. Exposure to lead can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, red blood cells, and kidneys. Lead also has the potential to cause lower IQs, hearing impairments, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, developmental delays, and poor classroom performance. Pregnant women and their fetuses are especially vulnerable to lead exposure since lead can significantly harm the fetus, causing lower birth weight and slowing normal mental and physical developments.  

CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is dedicated to eliminating childhood lead poisoning as a public health problem through strengthening blood lead testing, reporting, and surveillance, linking exposed children to recommended services, and targeted population-based interventions. Please visit the CDC for comprehensive information about nationwide efforts to reduce lead exposure. Click here to see the CDC Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance Data.

Learn More

What is the Lead and Copper Rule?

The Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) was first issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1991 as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is the primary state agency responsible for implementing the SDWA.

The purpose of the LCR is to protect public health by minimizing lead and copper exposure in drinking water. In support of this goal, public water providers have several requirements:

  1. Implement a corrosion control program
  2. Maintain an inventory of pipe materials in the distribution system
  3. Collect and test tap water samples from sites that are most likely to have plumbing materials containing lead
  4. Educate customers about lead in drinking water, including public notice of lead and copper testing results in the annual Consumer Confidence Report (Water Quality Report)
  5. Implement a replacement program for lead service lines, if applicable

In 2019, the EPA released draft revisions to the LCR that include: 

  • Identifying the areas most impacted
  • Strengthening drinking water treatment requirements
  • Replacing lead service lines
  • Increasing sampling reliability
  • Improving risk communications
  • Protecting children in schools and childcare facilities

As a result of these revisions, Fort Collins Utilities will:

  • Update lead service line inventory to identify service lines whose materials were previously undetermined 
  • Prioritize the removal of lead elements in the distribution system
  • Increase communications to customers about lead in the distribution system and the actions planned to remove any lead
  • Collaborate with school and childcare facilities - a lot of work has already been completed by Poudre School District. Learn more.
  • Potentially increase testing and sampling requirement

Learn More about the LCR

How does Utilities control corrosion?

Corrosion occurs when a metal surface like the wall of a pipe or the soldered joints react with water. In drinking water systems, metals like lead and copper can be released into the water through a series of complex biochemical reactions that depend on the pipe material and the quality of the water present. 

We first implemented corrosion control measures in the early 1980s, prior to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) requirements enacted in 1991. The program has been refined over the years, with the objective of providing very stable levels of pH and alkalinity in finished water leaving the Water Treatment Facility. While the emphasis of the program was initially for copper corrosion reduction, the changes also helped to minimize the potential for lead release from metallic pipes, specifically galvanized service lines, and from old lead-tin solder in premise plumbing. 

Corrosion control measures applied today at the Water Treatment Facility consists of the addition of lime and carbon dioxide for alkalinity and pH adjustments, respectively. All treated drinking water at the point of entry into the distribution system (leaving the plant) has alkalinity concentrations between 36.0-40.0 mg/L CaCO3 and pH between 7.80 – 8.00.

  • pH: the measure of how acidic or basic water is on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral, less than 7 being acidic and greater than 7 being basic
  • Alkalinity: the capacity of water to resist changes in pH

Learn More

Are schools at risk?

Poudre School District (PSD) schools do not have lead gooseneck connections because goosenecks are not used to connect larger water service lines to the water mains. PSD has been upgrading plumbing systems since 1986 in compliance with the Clean Drinking Water Act and has been proactively identifying and removing potential sources of lead. PSD’s proactive actions include water sampling in schools throughout 2017-2018 and upgrading plumbing fixtures and appurtenances. For questions regarding PSD actions or sampling, contact 970-490-3333. 

What is a galvanized service line?

Galvanized service lines are steel pipes coated with zinc to prevent rust and corrosion. Galvanized service lines were used as an alternative to lead pipes. Very few galvanized service lines were installed after the 1950s in the Utilities' service area. 

What is the process for replacing galvanized service lines?

If a customer has a lead gooseneck/galvanized service line or service line of undetermined material, Fort Collins Utilities will replace the Utilities-owned portion of the water service line (between the water main and curb stop) at no direct cost to the customer. 

Crews will first work through neighborhoods 'pothole,' or drill a small hole, where the water service line meets the water main to determine if there is a lead gooseneck. Customers with lead goosenecks/galvanized service lines will be notified when their water services line is scheduled for replacement via letter and email (if there is an email address on file) with several weeks' advance notice. 

Where possible, this work might be combined with other Utilities water projects in the area. Replacement varies depending on several factors (a few weeks to several months). 

There are several steps to the replacement process, as outlined below:

  1. Water Sampling: Utilities Water Quality Lab may conduct water quality sampling prior to any work to help us better understand the effects, if any, of water service line material on water quality. If staff are conducting water sampling, they will draw water samples from an outside spigot. Homeowners do not need to be present, but you will be notified in advance of the sampling. Staff also will draw another sample if the service line is replaced.
  2. Investigation: Fort Collins Utilities crews or contractors will be out to locate any underground utilities and later (possibly several days), another crew will ‘pothole,’ or drill a small hole, near where the water service line attaches to the water main in the street to determine the service line material. Following the potholing, you will receive a door hanger letting you know the results and next steps.
  3. Replacement: If it is determined that you have a galvanized steel water service line and/or lead gooseneck, crews will return at a later time to replace the service line from the main to the curb stop at no direct cost to you. You will receive a letter and/or email prior to the service line replacement letting you know what to expect.
  4. Restoration: If landscaping is disturbed during the replacement, it will be restored at no direct cost to you within approximately four weeks of the completed replacement,
    weather permittin. The landscape may take several months to reestablish, especially if
    work is done in the fall or winter.

Homeowner's Booklet »

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Did You Know?

Off-peak Time-of-Day prices are approximately 70% less than on-peak prices.

Free sprinkler checkups are available to find ways to save water and improve system efficiency.