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Military officials update El Paso County commissioners on local water contamination

Peterson AFB, Army Corps of Engineers explain plan

EPC commissioners hear update on local water contamination

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - It's been nearly three years since groundwater contamination was discovered in Fountain and Security-Widefield, and it may take another two years for the situation to be resolved.

El Paso County commissioners learned that during their Tuesday meeting, from a presentation by Peterson Air Force Base and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Chemicals in a foam formerly used for training firefighters at Peterson Air Force Base was found to have contributed to the contamination in wells that provided the affected communities with drinking water.

"Some of it came from us," said Peterson spokeswoman Sharon Stone.  "Not all of it is from us."

The two military entities said they intend to install two water treatment facilities -- one in Security and one in Widefield -- and have them ready by the end of 2020.

"We're trying to make a tight deadline," said Doug Simpleman, project manager for the ACE.  

Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez asked for quicker results.

"How do we fund this properly?" he said.  "How do we address the needs of the community -- the residents down there that were affected by this.  How do we fix it?" 

When asked what commissioners can do to speed the process, Simpleman responded by saying, "Cut down on the red tape that slows us down."

As an example, Simpleman and Stone referred to at least 12 railroad crossings that workers must address to lay five miles of pipe for the new treatment systems.

Stone said two filtering systems have been provided to Fountain, and two to Widefield.  Security is temporarily using more expensive water from Colorado Springs Utilities.

Widefield spent $2.1 million from its reserve fund to pay for its systems, with hopes of eventually being reimbursed by the federal government.

The Security and Widefield water districts said they welcome the Air Force's help in providing the infrastructure and are confident the systems will restore public faith in the local water supply.

But some residents have mixed feelings.

"Whatever they put in place will take care of it," said Bryan Vallejo.  "I feel confident in that, and I will continue to drink the water."

Rachel Harper remains skeptical.

"I still think the water smells weird and tastes funny," she said.  "I even have a filter at my house also."

Many homeowners and businesses have installed their own filtration systems and have been using bottled water for drinking and cooking since the contamination was discovered.

But some residents have begun to question the contents of the bottled water they use so often.

The Air Force will have invested $70 million in testing and treating the groundwater by the time the new filters are operational.

"And we'll need more funding if we can find it somehow," Stone said.

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