Is the water in Colorado Springs safe to drink? How clean is tap water in Colorado Springs? Where does the drinking water in Colorado Springs come from, and are there any contaminants in the water that exceed EPA or SDWA guidelines?
You’ll find all this information and more in this guide to Colorado Springs tap water quality and safety.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- The drinking water in Colorado Springs, Colorado is considered generally safe to drink.
- The City of Colorado Springs water contains 20+ contaminants, all of which are present in legally safe amounts.
- The 3 biggest problem contaminants in Colorado Springs drinking water are disinfection byproducts, radium, and uranium.
Table of Contents
- 🚰 Can You Drink Colorado Springs Tap Water?
- 🗺️ Where Does the Tap Water in Colorado Springs Come From?
- 📉 Who Regulates Colorado Springs Drinking Water?
- 🧪 Colorado Springs Annual Water Quality Report
- ☣️ Contaminants Found Above Guidelines in Tap Water in Colorado Springs
- 🧫 Main Contaminants Found in Colorado Springs Tap Water
- ⛲ Colorado Springs Drinking Water in Public Places
- 💬 Frequently Asked Questions
🚰 Can You Drink Colorado Springs Tap Water?
So, is Colorado Springs water safe to drink?
Yes, you can drink Colorado Springs tap water because the City’s water supplier filters and disinfects the water before distributing it to homes. This water treatment reduces contaminants down to legal trace concentrations and kills microorganisms, reducing the likely health effects of poor-quality water.
The water in Colorado Springs is safe to drink according to EPA Standards. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the EPA produced drinking water standards that impose limits on the concentrations of various contaminants with known health effects in water.
None of the contaminants detected in Colorado Springs water are present above these EPA Standards, which means that the water is legally safe to drink.
Plus, the most recent EPA ECHO database shows that Colorado Springs Utilities didn’t violate the Safe Drinking Water Act between April 2019 and June 2022, and the most recent violation was resolved back in 2018 – good news for customers who rely on the City’s water for drinking.
So, on the surface, Colorado Springs Utilities is doing everything right, treating the City’s water to make it safe for drinking – but does legally safe mean completely safe?
Some organizations, like the Environmental Working Group (EWG), would disagree.
The EWG believes that the EPA’s guidelines are too lenient, so public water systems that are technically legally compliant may still be exposing customers to dangerous levels of certain contaminants. This isn’t helped by the fact that the EPA doesn’t even regulate a number of potentially harmful impurities, including many disinfection byproducts and VOCs.
Based on its own research, the EWG has established Health Guidelines for all the contaminants it deems to have health effects – and these Guidelines are a lot stricter than EPA enforcement.
The EWG has produced a Tap Water Database for Colorado Springs, which highlights 10 contaminants that exceed the organization’s Health Guidelines (we’ve discussed these in more detail later).
One of the contaminants that massively compromises water safety is lead. Lead pipes were common in old water supply systems, and while the use of lead has now been banned for this purpose, many existing lead water pipes remain.
We couldn’t find any specific information about the lead pipes in Colorado Springs, but a 2022 news article reported that in the whole of Colorado, there are still around 80,000-90,000 lead service lines in the distribution system. This could mean you’re unknowingly exposed to lead in your water – and considering the dangers of this toxic heavy metal, we strongly recommend conducting a water test if you’re unsure.
Homes built before 1978 may also have lead in their plumbing systems, so again, test your water if you have any reason to be concerned.
🗺️ Where Does the Tap Water in Colorado Springs Come From?
Colorado Springs water originates predominantly in the Fountain Creek Watershed. This basin extends 927 square miles from Pueblo to Palmer Lake.
The City doesn’t have a natural source of water, which means that 80% of the water is distributed over a 200-mile distance in pipes from the western slope.
City representatives admit that more work is needed to protect and restore the local watershed, which has been subject to the effects of fires, flooding, and rapid development over the past few years.
The main water source in Colorado Springs is surface water. Surface water is exposed to the elements, making it more prone to pollution from runoff and air particles than groundwater (such as well water or spring water). However, most of the City’s water comes from high-country snowmelt, which reduces its likelihood of pollution.
Once collected, water in the City is treated by Colorado Springs Utilities. Treatment processes include coagulation, flocculation, filtration, sedimentation, and disinfection with chlorine. Polymer and aluminum sulfate are also added to the water during treatment. These chemicals bind with dirt particles and other foreign matter, helping them to form large clumps that can be easily removed with filtration.
The City’s water supply isn’t fluoridated – the only fluoride found in the water is naturally occurring.
After being treated in the water treatment plant, the water is delivered around the City via distribution pipes.
📉 Who Regulates Colorado Springs Drinking Water?
The City of Colorado Springs drinking water is managed by Colorado Springs Utilities and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Like all public water systems, Colorado Springs Utilities must adhere to the EPA’s protective water regulations, called National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.
According to EPA guidelines, water must be treated to make it potable and safe to drink, and the water quality should remain consistent (with testing to prove this).
Large public water systems are also monitored by the EPA for the presence of numerous contaminants that aren’t currently regulated with official Standards, under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR).
According to EPA guidelines, public water systems should monitor their water and conduct regular tests. This testing can then be shared publicly and used to produce annual Consumer Confidence Reports (see below).
Colorado Springs measures its water quality by conducting a range of tests for pH, color, turbidity, and the concentration of metals, nutrients, and other substances.
🧪 Colorado Springs Annual Water Quality Report
The latest Water Quality Report (or Consumer Confidence Report) for Colorado Springs is dated from January to December 2021.
The Report shares useful information about the City’s water supply, including where it comes from, how it’s treated, and which contaminants it contains.
According to the Report, the trace contaminants detected in testing are present in concentrations that don’t exceed the Maximum Contaminant Levels – but, of course, the presence of these contaminants means that the water isn’t completely pure or safe to drink.
For example, 5 PPB of uranium was listed as detected in the Report, which is well within the EPA’s MCL of 30 PPB, so it’s not a violation – but you’d probably rather drink water that’s completely free from this radioactive heavy metal.
Some of the contaminants listed in the Report include:
- Combined radium
- Combined uranium
We recommend reading through the full report to familiarize yourself with the contaminants detected and how these concentrations compare to EPA MCLs and Action Levels.
It’s worth keeping in mind that EPA regulations may be amended or updated occasionally, so the information in this Report is only specific to the 2021 period.
☣️ Contaminants Found Above Guidelines in Tap Water in Colorado Springs
So, we know that the EPA deems Colorado Springs water to be safe to drink. But which contaminants does the Environmental Working Group deem to be present in potentially dangerous concentrations?
We’ve shared these contaminants below.
Haloacetic acids (HAA5)† and Haloacetic acids (HAA9)†
HAA5 and HAA9 are two types of haloacetic acids that are produced as byproducts of chemical disinfection. Consuming high levels of HAA5 and HAA9 may increase your risk of several cancers, including colon, bladder, liver, and rectal cancer. 38.7 PPB and 37.00 PPB (parts per billion) of HAA5 and HAA9 were detected in Colorado Springs drinking water – between 387 and 617x the EWG’s Health Advisories of 0.1 PPB and 0.06 PPB. EPA has set an MCL of 60 PPB for HAA5, while HAA9 currently isn’t regulated.
Radium (-226 & -228)
Radium -226 and radium -228 – also known as radium combined – may cause anemia, depression of the immune system, and cancer if they’re consumed in large concentrations. The EWG has set a Health Guideline of 0.05 pCi/L (picoCurie per liter) for these contaminants, and 0.31 pCi/L was detected in Colorado Springs water – 6.2 x this recommendation. The EPA’s MCL for radium in drinking tap water is 5 pCi/L.
Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs)†
Another byproduct produced when disinfectants react with naturally occurring organic matter is total trihalomethanes (TTHMs). Consuming large quantities of TTHMs may increase your risk of cancers including bladder and colon cancers. 43.3 PPB of TTHMs were detected in Colorado Springs drinking water – 289x the EWG’s recommended Health Guideline of 0.15 PPB. The EPA has set a much higher MCL of 80 PPB for these contaminants.
Other Disinfection Byproducts
Several other disinfection byproducts, including bromodichloromethane, chloroform, dibromochloromethane, dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid, were also detected in Colorado Springs drinking water. Most of these contaminants don’t currently have MCLs, but the EWG has recommended Health Guidelines of 0.06-o.4 PPB (depending on the contaminant in question). The disinfectant byproducts in Colorado Springs water are present in quantities 5.9 to 241x these Guidelines.
Uranium is a radiological contaminant that occurs naturally in the earth and may cause kidney damage if consumed in excess. 1.24 pCi/L of uranium was detected in San Diego tap water – that’s 2.9x the EWG Health Guideline of 0.43 pCi/L. The EPA has set a MCL for this contaminant of 20 pCi/L in water.
Colorado Springs is no different from the majority of other public water utilities in that disinfection byproducts are its main water quality issue.
When chlorine is used to treat drinking water, disinfection byproducts are usually an unavoidable outcome. They’re produced when chlorine reacts with naturally occurring organic matter in the water, and the only way to prevent their formation is to avoid chemical disinfection entirely.
What makes it worse is that the EPA only regulates a few types of this drinking water contaminant, despite the fact that numerous disinfection byproducts have been linked to health concerns including cancer.
Related: How to Purify Radioactive Water
🧫 Main Contaminants Found in Colorado Springs Tap Water
Now we know the contaminants present in potentially dangerous levels in the Colorado Springs water supply, what about the contaminants present in safe levels (according to both the EPA and the EWG)?
These contaminants include:
- Antimony – A naturally occurring metal that is present in soils and rocks; drinking extremely contaminated water is unlikely but may cause short-term effects including nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
- Barium – A non-toxic metal that’s found in some sedimentary and igneous rocks; may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping if consumed in excess; very large amounts may cause paralysis and death.
- Chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium) – The most dangerous form of chromium; may cause liver and reproductive system damage if large amounts are ingested in drinking water.
- Disinfection byproducts including chlorate and monobromoacetic acid – Produced when disinfectants like chlorine react with organic matter; may cause an increased cancer risk and liver damage if consumed in excess.
- Fluoride – A mineral found naturally in Colorado Springs water (the City doesn’t artificially fluoridate its water), not known to affect drinking water quality but may cause dental fluorosis or discoloration of the teeth.
- Manganese – A mineral often present alongside calcium that’s known to cause hard water effects like limescale staining, poor lather with soap, and appliance clogging; doesn’t affect human health at low levels.
- Molybdenum – A micronutrient for plants and animals; ingesting large amounts of this contaminant may cause fatigue, joint pain, headache, and loss of appetite.
- Nitrate and nitrite – Two forms of nitrogen that are known to affect the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, increase the risk of certain cancers, and have other health effects when consumed in large amounts in water.
- Strontium – A heavy metal that may be mistaken as calcium in the body; ingesting large amounts may cause strontium to replace calcium in the bones, affecting their structure.
- Total chromium – Refers to both chromium-6 (mentioned above) and chromium-3 (or trivalent chromium, mostly harmless) in water.
- Vanadium – A naturally occurring metal that is found in low levels in surface water sources; this drinking water contaminant doesn’t have negative health effects in small amounts.
⛲ Colorado Springs Drinking Water in Public Places
The public places in Colorado Springs, like hotels, restaurants, and bars, use the same tap water supply as the homes and businesses in the City.
That means, unless stated otherwise, it’s safe to drink faucet water in these public places.
If you ask at a restaurant, you should be served tap water for free. However, keep in mind that restaurants aren’t legally required to provide free drinking water.
In Colorado hotels, most bathroom sinks now have safe drinking water. Some older hotels might not, so check at reception if you’re unsure. You should be able to get clean tap water from the hotel bar.
You might choose to buy bottled water rather than drinking water in public places in Colorado. Some bottled water manufacturers treat drinking water with processes like reverse osmosis, making it cleaner and healthier than public drinking water. However, we recommend using a water filter to treat your water at home (when you can) to reduce the environmental effects of single-use plastic consumption.
💬 Frequently Asked Questions
Where does the drinking water in Colorado Springs come from?
The drinking water in Colorado Springs primarily comes from the Rocky Mountains. Most of this water is snow melt, meaning that it usually hasn’t been used and is less likely to be polluted than water in lower-level sources. The majority of Colorado Springs water is surface water (meaning that it’s sourced from aboveground water supplies).
How clean Is tap water in Colorado Spring?
Colorado Springs tap water is considered clean. It’s not entirely contaminant-free, but only trace levels of around 20 contaminants were detected in the City’s water supply. If you live in Colorado Springs and you want to drink purified water, you’ll need to install a water filtration system in your home.
Can you drink faucet water in Colorado Springs?
Yes, you can drink faucet water in Colorado Springs. Just make sure that the faucet is designed to deliver drinking water (for example, some bathroom faucets contain heavy metals because they’re only intended to deliver water for hand washing). Also make sure that your home’s plumbing system or the gooseneck connecting your home to the City’s water supply doesn’t contain lead, which is highly unsafe to drink.
Does Colorado Springs water contain fluoride?
Yes, Colorado Springs water contains trace levels of natural fluoride – but the City doesn’t fluoridate its water. Many states add artificial fluoride to their drinking water supplies for the mineral’s dental health benefits, but Colorado Springs does not. Your water’s natural fluoride levels may vary depending on its source.
How is Colorado Springs tap water disinfected?
The tap water in Colorado Springs is disinfected with chlorine. Chlorine is a common disinfectant for water utilities because it’s affordable and easy to use for large-scale treatment. However, the problem with chlorine is that it can contaminate water with disinfection byproducts, which have several known health effects but (for the most part) aren’t currently regulated by the EPA.