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No water at some campsites

Campers are being warned not to drink the water at several U.S. Forest Service campgrounds this summer even though conditions haven’t changed from previous years.

Signs on faucets in places like Chapman Campground, three around Ruedi Reservoir, and some in the Maroon Creek Valley and Difficult Campground east of Aspen warn that the water isn’t potable. Readers learn that the water sources don’t meet the state of Colorado’s standards for chlorination.

Water remains available for flush toilets, where applicable, and to douse campfires. However, signs hanging on spigots scattered around some of the campgrounds now warn that “use of this water for other purposes is not considered safe.”

Although the warnings sound dire, the postings weren’t prompted by an outbreak of giardia or anything like that. Forest Service officials said it is a case of the state holding the campground systems to a higher standard than in past years.

Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment didn’t return messages Wednesday seeking comment on the application of new standards.

Forest Service officials said the campgrounds have to be posted to limit the agency’s liability in case water drinkers did become sick. Problems have developed in other western states with campground water sources.

Steve Sherwood, assistant supervisor of the White River National Forest, said every system in the forest’s campgrounds gets tested each year, whether it is a single hand pump for a well or distribution lines. Any sources that test positive for giardia, viruses or other health-threatening problems are closed. A group site at Camp Hale and a water source at Meadow Lake in the Rifle district were closed after failing tests.

But now, a significantly greater number of water sources are unavailable in campgrounds due to the chlorination standard. Chlorine is a disinfectant used to purify water from microorganisms. It isn’t effective against giardia.

Sherwood said the chlorination standard will force the Forest Service to discontinue some water sources – those in campgrounds that get the least use. Water sources that are heavily used will have to have chlorine treatment systems added, if the Forest Service can find the funds, he said. Each system will cost about $150,000.

The Forest Service is working with the state health department to determine what regulations apply to the classic hand pump systems found in some campgrounds.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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