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Safe Water Action Program (SWAP)
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.
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.
The drinking water provided by Fort Collins Utilities does not contain lead. 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 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:
- other materials that do not contain lead
The remaining 2.5% of our service lines are either galvanized or of unknown 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 about 100 known galvanized service lines and fewer than 1,000 service lines of unknown material in our water system.
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.
Should I Be Concerned?
The number of lead goosenecks in Fort Collins is very low. Homes built after 1986 do not have lead goosenecks or plumbing because that is when use of lead in plumbing was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Lead goosenecks are more likely to be found in the oldest parts of town, though the areas below are not all-inclusive. Check out this map for an overview of areas that may have galvanized lines.
A tool to search for specific addresses is coming soon!
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 1,000 galvanized water service lines need to be replaced, some of which may contain a lead gooseneck. Our goal is to accelerate this work with a proposed budget offer for 2021.
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.
We have proposed a 2021 Budgeting For Outcomes (BFO) offer to allow staff to develop a full project plan and prioritize water service line improvements for our community. The funds will be used to conduct public outreach, identify unknown service line materials and begin replacing galvanized service lines and lead goosenecks that remain in the system.
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 steps:
- Install or use a water filter that is specifically designed and certified to remove lead. Never run hot water through the water filter.
- Let the COLD water run for about two minutes (or until it runs noticeably colder) if water has been sitting in the service line for longer than six hours. A morning shower would be more than enough to flush the pipes. This water can be collected and used to water plants or landscapes.
- 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. If lead particles are caught in the aerator, lead can get into your water.
For questions about SWAP and lead in drinking water:
- V/TDD 711
- 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 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 within 30 days of analysis 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.
- 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:
- Implement a corrosion control program
- Maintain an inventory of pipe materials in the distribution system
- Collect and test tap water samples from sites that are most likely to have plumbing materials containing lead
- 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)
- 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 unknown
- 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
- 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
- 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.