Tag Archives: Public health

In Bloom


Ferril Lake Without Algae                  Photo Credit: Rolf Krahl

Ferril Lake in Denver’s City Park is a favorite summer stop for those looking to relax in the sun or take a trip around the lake in a paddle boat. Last summer, a perfect storm of heat and increased nitrogen from goose droppings allowed algal blooms to thrive. Blooms of up to 10 feet thick sprung from the lake’s bottom and, at one point, coated nearly ninety percent of the surface—sidelining paddle boats, releasing a foul stench, destroying the aesthetics of the lake and causing additional ecological issues below the surface.


Photo Credit: Justin Henry

The presence of blue-green algae, known as cyanobacteria, in Ferril Lake is not uncommon. An increase in nutrients—nitrates and phosphates—along with increasingly warm temperatures, encourage the growth of cyanobacteria in lakes, streams, ponds and other surface waters. For years, the city of Denver has been looking for solutions to the now annual, and growing, issue.


Urban Runoff                         Photo Credit: Robert Lawton

In the case of Ferril Lake, the algal bloom is a result of non-point pollution sources—urban runoff (grease, oil and chemicals) from Denver’s streets and the aforementioned goose droppings. Other non-point pollution sources include the excess use of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from large-scale agriculture, as well as home gardens, energy production and sediment.


Photo Credit: Hans W. Paerl

The presence and exponential growth of algae blooms in water sources deplete the water of dissolved oxygen, killing aquatic plant and animal life that depend on specific oxygen levels for survival. Without an increase in oxygen through treatments or during seasonal turnovers, lakes overrun with algae blooms will eventually “die,” unable to support life again.


Photo Credit: Mary Cousins


In certain conditions, the cyanobacteria will also produce cyanotoxins, which are harmful to the environment, animals and humans, whether through direct contact, inhalation and/or ingestion. Human symptoms range from headaches, stomach cramps and allergic reactions to more severe cases of seizures and respiratory arrest. In the most extreme cases, contact with cyanotoxins can also lead to death. Coloradans in rural and urban areas are working together to monitor and address these threats to our water quality and public health.


Photo Credit: Grendel Kahn

Learn more about cyanotoxins, algal blooms, public health and efforts to reduce nutrients in our water with a FREE webinar tomorrow Thursday, 4/13, at 9 a.m. Hear how municipal recreational lakes are monitoring and working to reduce algal blooms, learn about agricultural producers coming together and implementing best practices to minimize nutrient runoff and discover the basics of toxic algal blooms. Come ready to ask questions!

Offered in partnership with Colorado Water Congress with support from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/82877169749383938

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Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Environment, Events, Recreation, Water Quality

2017 New Year’s Resolution: Invest in Water Quality to Invest in Your Health

By Trisha Oeth, Commission Administrator, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Commission
The views represented are those held by the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. 



Credit: Ondrejk, Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year again—time for making New Year’s resolutions. Many of our resolutions will involve personal health or investment goals for 2017. But are you tired of setting weight-loss or money-saving goals? This year, consider investing in water quality as an investment in your own and your family’s health.

Safe and readily available water is one of the most vital components of our health. We have already seen our watersheds affected by major floods and wildfires. As climate change occurs and population doubles in Colorado, our waters will come under more pressures. We need to create resilient watersheds that can handle these pressures to avoid catastrophic conditions in our water. Watersheds that support strong ecosystems will produce the ecological diversity integral to our food chain and plants and minerals that someday could be used in medicines.

Water also is fundamental to our mental health. Studies show humans’ mental health improves with time near water. Set a goal this year to stroll on a path along a stream once a week and reflect on the soothing sound of the water. Imagine being connected to the source of our water and where it goes when we flush our toilets, wash our cars and water our lawns. Being connected in this way reminds us about the importance of investing in water, the essence of our existence.

Most of us understand that water is a basic necessity in our lives. We all want clean and safe water in our taps and in our streams. And yet, do any of us know how much we are paying our local utilities to ensure protection of this resource? When was the last time we readily and voluntarily agreed to increase our investment? None of us like increasing costs, but an increase in our water utility bill is not just a rate increase. It’s a proactive step to invest in our health. We know our water and wastewater infrastructure is aging. Reports show if we don’t start investing now, by 2040 we will have a $152 billion funding gap for needed infrastructure. This year, consider changing that trend and instead stand behind your utility when it proposes a rate increase.

The challenges that utilities face are immense. Utilities can use increased funds to protect our water at its source, replace aging pipes that deliver water to our homes, and upgrade treatment processes to keep up with current science and technology. Imagine if we all took the money we might routinely spend on two sugary beverages a month and instead invested it in water quality. Imagine if businesses that provide charitable donations or hold fundraisers directed that money to water quality. Imagine the possible replacement of lead-laden pipes and the removal of arsenic and other metals. Imagine algae-free streams and rivers available for swimming and fishing. Check in with your local utility or watershed group to see what work needs to be done in your area. Maybe it’s aging pipes, stream bank restoration or an upgrade to a water treatment plant. Then ask how you can get involved.

As you are reflecting on the past year and embarking on another, ask yourself how much it is worth to turn on your tap at home and know the water will be good for your health. This New Year, how much are you willing to invest in your and your family’s health?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATrisha Oeth is the Administrator for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. In that role she provides policy advice and analysis regarding rules, regulations, and policy priorities on all aspects of water quality programs in Colorado. She began working on water quality issues after graduating from CU Law School, and practiced law in the private and public sector. In her free time Trisha enjoys trail running, cooking with her husband and daughters, and learning piano.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverRead more about water and public health in the new issue of CFWE’s Headwaters magazine available here.

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The Last Line of Defense

By Elaine Hassinger, Water Quality Specialist, Tri-County Health Department

We’ve all learned about the water cycle in school, but most of us probably never think about another way that water cycles throughout our cities and towns, or about the people who make that cycle happen twenty-four hours a day, three hundred-sixty five days a year.


The other water cycle occurs through an intricate system of sanitary sewers, wastewater treatment plants, drinking water treatment plants and drinking water distribution systems; all of which are interconnected to either surface water or groundwater sources.  The people at the forefront who make the cycle happen are drinking water and wastewater plant operators.

Drinking water plant operators make sure the water we drink has been treated to meet all regulatory standards for public health.  Wastewater operators make sure the water we have used is sufficiently treated for release back into waterways. The job these workers do every day is critical to ensure that we all have a safe water supply.

What do Operators Need to Know?

Water treatment jobs are so critical, in fact, Colorado Regulation 100, Water and Wastewater Operators Certification Requirements, requires all water treatment facilities to be run by certified operators. Operators progress through four levels of certification and are hired by a facility based on the level of certification that coincides with the operator’s assigned duties and the water facility’s classification. Each certification level requires the operator to pass a test that measures mastery of specific criteria such as regulations, mathematics, hydraulics, and laboratory procedures.

The knowledge and skills that water treatment operators possess is vital, especially as more people move to Colorado and put a strain on our water resources, and more contaminants are found in our water supplies. Unfortunately, recent research indicates that a shortage of experienced water treatment personnel is on the near horizon.  According to the WeiserMazars’ 2014 US Water Industry Outlook, the two most significant challenges facing the water industry are aging infrastructure, followed by the aging and approaching retirement of management and plant workers. The water industry is in need of more treatment operators.

img_4232How is Water Treated?

So how is water treated? Here’s the quick version of drinking water treatment. Treatment plants divert water from rivers or streams and screen out large items. The water is conveyed to large tanks where chemicals are added that make suspended particles clump together.  The clumps settle to the bottom and the clear upper layer is drained off and filtered through layers of sand, gravel or other material. The filtered water is then disinfected, stored and distributed to customers.

And the quick version of wastewater treatment:  As wastewater reaches a treatment plant from the sewer system, large items and grit are screened out. The remaining wastewater is diverted to aeration basins for treatment by beneficial microbes that feed on pollutants. Next are the clarifiers, where solids settle to the bottom. The clarified upper layer flows to a disinfection unit. After disinfection treated wastewater is ready to be released to a river or stream. Meanwhile back at the clarifier, the settled layer, or sludge, receives further treatment and may be landfilled.

Keep in mind that these examples are very, very basic and there are many different types of treatment plants and systems and many different configurations.

What do Water Operators Do?

Typical duties of a water treatment operator include reviewing the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to check trends in plant operations, manually inspecting equipment and gauges, collecting water samples, performing laboratory tests, and solving simple mathematical calculations. Shifts can vary. Some plants have three daily shifts; others only one. Rotating shifts, weekend work and work on holidays may also be necessary.

How to Get Started in the Industry

If you’re interested in changing careers or just starting out, a job as a water treatment operator will always be in demand, offers advancement as well as the possibility for other options. Jobs are usually posted on web sites of water and wastewater utilities and applications filed online. Some jobs are posted on the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) Career Center page. A smaller treatment plant may hire you for an entry level position even if you don’t have a certificate and let you work under supervision during your probationary period. Continued employment would be contingent on earning the certificate. On-the-job training and upward mobility are common at most plants.

Water and wastewater treatment operator careers can lead to other industry related positions. It all depends on what interests you and what and how much training you want to pursue. You may find that you’d rather spend all day in the laboratory analyzing water samples. Maybe you’re fascinated by the treatment of wastewater and want to help keep industrial pollutants out of wastewater plants. Industrial pretreatment would be a career for you. With the right training, either of these water fields is an option.

My Experience in Wastewater Treatment

So you may be wondering if I know what I’m writing about. Well, yes. My stint as a wastewater treatment operator was brief, but I continue to hold my certificate and have worked in the water industry for nearly two decades. Some of my favorite memories of my time at the wastewater plant: examining microscope slides with living microbes; conducting laboratory analyses of wastewater samples; doing process control calculations; watching spectacular Colorado sunrises, and observing bald eagles, and other waterfowl at the facility’s finished water reservoir. You can’t see any of that from a cubicle.

Elaine has approximately twenty years of water industry experience including industrial pretreatment, water resources, water quality, wastewater treatment operations, laboratory analyses, public education and cross-connection and backflow prevention management. She holds a BS in Biology and MAS in Environmental Policy and Management.  She currently works for Tri-County Health Department as a Water Quality Specialist.


Filed under Water Quality

Your Values, Colorado’s Environmental Health

By Jacquelyn Murphy


At Garden of the Gods, Colorado’s evergreens and red rocks are easily accessible to Front Range residents. Credit: Corbyrobert at the German Language Wikipedia

What do you think of when someone says “environment?” Having grown up near the ocean, water is central to my concept of environment—wide open skies with puffy clouds, chirping birds, warm sun, and crashing waves. In Colorado, it’s easy to think of the mountains, evergreens, and red rocks, yet water is central to our environment here too. It sustains all of us, the many critters who were here long before we were, and provides some of the most stunning natural settings in the state.

Just like any component of our environment, water has the potential to promote health or deteriorate it, for example through contamination. When this happens, we feel suddenly betrayed by our water—such a common, trustworthy substance. Environmental health studies the ways that all of the substances in our varied environments impact population health, predictably or spontaneously.

Most of the time, we feel so at ease in these everyday environments that we forget to really notice them. But that is exactly what “Everyday Colorado” is asking you to do—to notice and share how the environment is part of your story. Environmental health studies can be improved and strengthened by aligning community priorities with what is of great concern to professionals.

Visit EverydayCO.org to share your stories, photos, and what you value most in your community. Then, share this link with your family and friends.

Through stories gathered by “Everyday Colorado,” at EverydayCO.org, we are hoping to learn what people value about living here. What are you concerned about in your daily environment? How prepared do you think we are for natural disasters, the environmental impacts of climate change, or water quality and quantity issues? Do you feel an impact on your health from your environment? Where do you find information about these things?

Colorado School of Public Health & partners around the state developed “Everyday Colorado” to understand not only what people value about living here, but also peoples’ concerns about the future of their environment, and how public health researchers and practitioners can better communicate with communities, creating the best environment for all of us.

Individual and community stories are most powerful together, like streams combining into a larger river. That is why we are trying to reach as many Coloradans as possible. Once the stories are compiled, a statewide report will be published to inform local and state environmental health priorities and policies with a critical force in shaping our environments: the community voice.

Now is the time. Share your stories at EverydayCO.org.

JM_HeadshotJacquelyn Murphy is a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) student at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. She holds a BA in Biology and Women’s Studies from Boston University and an MPH in Social and Behavioral Health from Boston University School of Public Health. Through graduate school and employment opportunities, she has conducted research and program evaluation internationally. She is interested in the ways that built environment, government policies, individual behaviors and social norms collectively contribute to health. When not in the classroom, she can be found suppressing her Boston accent and exploring Colorado’s mountains, reservoirs, yoga studios and coffee shops.

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The Common Cup

Traditional water fountains

In the early 1900s water fountains were viewed as a technological solution to the common cup problem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today marks the 100th anniversary of an early public health and water quality regulation– the regulation banning the Common Cup.

This refers to the popular custom, prior to 1912, of using a single cup for the water cooler aboard trains. Disease transmission as a result of this common cup was a serious problem. Read more about the history of the common cup in this blog post.

On October 30, 1912 the federal government established the very first national drinking water regulation that banned the use of the common cup aboard interstate train carriers. (Common Drinking Cups 1912) One author has explained the arc of drinking water regulation extending from the common cup to Cryptosporidium. (Roberson 2006)

Consider the strides we’ve since made in sanitation,  regulations and technology. Thanks to our many dedicated and reliable water utilities for their work delivering clean drinking water.

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