Last week my air quality got all mixed in with my water quality. But, as Bob Arrington would say, what goes up must come down and if there’s chemicals in the air, they’re in the water, too – and vice versa.
It all started with something I said at the County Commissioners’ meeting on February 10, after Dr. Thyne’s presentation about the Mamm Creek Phase III study.
… Silt resident Peggy Tibbetts also called for broader water quality testing, not just in areas adjacent to natural gas activity but as it involves municipal water quality.
“I don’t drink Silt’s water, because it makes me sick,” she said. “There is not special testing done to make sure our water is not impacted by these situations” …
Actually what I said was, I was concerned about the amounts of methane, benzene, and sodium chloride that showed up in the monitoring wells, whether the chemicals were naturally occurring or not. I asked if the experts present in the room – namely Dr. Geoffrey Thyne, plus David Andrews and Alex Fischer from the COGCC – would advise further testing of wells and water supplies downstream. I said it was my understanding that the state only tests for benzene every 3 years, and in light of the data in the Phase III study perhaps the Town of Silt should be testing for benzene more often.
Before the experts could respond, Commissioner Martin jumped in and said that testing Silt’s water was a state issue and not a county issue and I would need to take up the issue of further testing of Silt’s water with the CDPHE. At the December EAB meeting I had posed a similar question to Tetra Tech’s Chris Gutmann and David Bohmann and their response was that if people downstream were concerned they should definitely have their water tested.
Okay, so fast forward a week later and this happened:
… Any claims that the town’s water is not tested, including for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other substances associated with natural gas drilling in the region, are “unsubstantiated,” said Silt Trustee Rick Aluise …
Such an unfortunate misunderstanding! Of course I did not make “any claims that the town’s water is not tested.” The video of the meeting is posted at the GarCo website, and is far more accurate than the newspaper article.
… Aluise appeared before the commissioners along with the town’s water plant operator, Jack Castle, and town administrator Pamela Woods to respond to a citizen’s claim before the commissioners last week that Silt water makes her sick and that more testing should be required.
“I find the notion that drinking our water makes anyone sick completely ridiculous,” Aluise wrote in a letter that was presented to the commissioners …
What I said wasn’t so much ridiculous as it was illogical. The quote in this second article is more accurate than the quote in the first article: “I don’t drink Silt’s water, because of this [“this” being the Divide Creek Seep] … It makes me sick.”
If I don’t drink the water, how can it make me sick? See what I mean? Makes no sense – in the present tense. What I should have said was “I don’t drink Silt’s water because in the past it has made me sick.”
To be even more specific, several times in the past when I regularly drank water from the RO tap in my home I came down with stomach cramps and diarrhea which disappeared immediately when I stopped drinking Silt’s water. Therefore, after consulting with my health care practitioner, it seemed in the best interest of my own health to drink bottled water exclusively. Everyone else in my family decided to do the same because – well – I’m the boss and I totally rule.
The oil & gas industry is exempt from the clean water act. The state doesn’t require annual testing for benzene and only tests for VOCs under special circumstances. The 5 ppb drinking water standard is a number they pulled out of their butts as far as I’m concerned. How do I know that much benzene won’t make me sick? There is no “safe” level of exposure to benzene. Every person’s immune system reacts differently when exposed to toxins. And you can’t filter benzene and other chemicals out of drinking water.
Apparently the Town of Silt no longer tests for VOCs.
… As part of the town’s mineral lease agreement, formerly with Antero and now with Ursa, the company was required to do quarterly testing of the water coming into the plant intake to make sure there were no VOC contaminants.
“Never once was a VOC detected at the intake,” Aluise said. “They did that for several years, but we discontinued the testing because it was pointless. We were not detecting VOC in the water” …
Okay. That’s fine if they didn’t feel the need to continue testing for VOCs. I don’t drink the water anyway. Except now that I know they stopped testing for VOCs, from now on I think I’ll also brush my teeth with bottled water. BTW, I haven’t had a cavity in 10 years so I should probably stop going to the dentist, too.
The Mamm Creek Phase III study found significant levels of methane, benzene, and sodium chloride in the monitoring wells located in the West Divide/Wasatch aquifer which is upstream from Silt, therefore it is considered a watershed for the town as well as all county residents living nearby or downstream from it. Obviously town officials are not concerned. Garfield County officials aren’t concerned either. And they all have just as much right to be unconcerned as I have to be concerned.
What I don’t understand is why we can’t have a civil conversation about water quality in western Garfield County. Funny how in 2014, it’s easier for the town to have a discussion about pot than it is for them to have a discussion about water quality. Water quality is a taboo subject.
I did find two people who were willing to have a conversation about water. I talked to Tony at 625-Water (Rifle) and Mary at Western Slope Beverage (Eagle). Guess what? As it turns out my family is not alone in our bottled water habit.
Tony said 625-Water serves Silt with a truckload of drinking water each week. Also customers from Silt who pick up bottled water make up a portion of his walk-in business in Rifle. Mary from Western Slope Beverage said they have 24 customers in Silt.
What I found even more interesting is that Tony and Mary both said it’s not just Silt, they have a lot of customers from Glenwood Springs to Parachute. Mary estimated the region could account for up to 40% of her company’s business. Of course that doesn’t take into consideration folks like us who buy water at the grocery store. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of residents in western Garfield County do not drink their tap water.
Going back to what Commissioner Martin said, he’s right further monitoring and continued water quality testing are the responsibility of the state – the CDPHE to be exact. Not the COGCC.
The monitoring wells are still in place. Based on the results of the Mamm Creek study, if nothing else the state should view the aquifer as a field laboratory and continue to track benzene, methane, sodium chloride, and other VOC levels in order to further understand the correlation between oil & gas drilling and groundwater contamination.
For god’s sake SOMEBODY should! Why not, after all those years and millions of dollars, at the very least continue gathering data?
Doesn’t anybody give a shit about this?
Oh, that’s right. We don’t talk about water quality. Shhh …