City of Englewood receives $38M in federal loan for water infrastructure

Past water quality issues have plagued city

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The City of Englewood will invest $38 million to improve the quality of its drinking water after securing a federal loan June 7 from the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. 

Englewood Mayor Othoniel Sierra, in a statement, said the money will be "critical to modernizing our water treatment plant, addressing lead service lines and making our water system safer and more resilient."

Water quality issues have plagued Englewood in the past. In early August, an E. coli contamination of the city's water supply forced many residents to boil their water before using it to drink, bathe or clean.

The city had also been in past violations of state and federal water policy before the E. coli contamination, though city officials said those issues were not related.

In July 2021, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment flagged the city for not testing enough devices that prevent backflow problems, such as check valves. According to CBS Denver, the city was issued a bacteria contamination violation from the EPA in 2012. 

Pieter Van Ry, who oversees the city's utilities department and its wastewater sewage treatment plant, said he hopes the new funds will make water contamination less likely.

"Modernizing a water system increases protection against events like that," he said.

With the new funding, the city plans to replace thousands of lead pipes, or service lines, that provide drinking water, though it's unlikely to cover the costs needed to replace all service lines, according to Van Ry. 

The city estimates it has between 4,000 and 8,000 lead lines, which could cost between $40,000 and $80,000 to replace. About $19 million of the federal grant could go towards lead removal, said Van Ry, with the city able to match that amount from its own funds. 

Van Ry said the city will also pursue funding from the $550 billion federal infrastructure law passed in October 2021 that allocates $15 billion to remove lead pipes throughout the U.S.

With a slice of those funds, Ry said he is hopeful the city will remove all or most of its lead pipes in as "timely a manner as we can." 

The EPA grant will also help the city increase water supply by investing in pumping capacity into city-owned reservoirs. It will also transition homeowners from paying a flat water rate to a metered system that will promote water conservation and bring down homeowner costs.

"Everybody should be on meters, that's how you know how much water's being used," Van Ry said. 

Additionally, the funds will help city-owned drinking water treatment and distribution centers to become more resilient to extreme weather events that can threaten water access, such as floods and blizzards, as climate change continues to worsen. 

“Drinking water utilities across the country, but most certainly in the west, are facing compounding issues – aging infrastructure, emerging contaminants, climate impacts and severe drought,” said EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox in a statement. 

This is the second federal loan the city has received in the past month for water-related spending projects. In early May, Englewood secured $22 million for upgrades and new research initiatives at its sewage treatment plant, South Platte Renew. According to the EPA, the two spending projects are expected to create around 850 new jobs.

EPA, City of Englewood, Englewood water, drinking water, water infrastructure, South Platte Renew

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