Parachute Creek water safe for irrigation use, schools told

The school district serving the Parachute and Battlement Mesa areas plans to begin using irrigation water from Parachute Creek after receiving assurances from state officials that doing so won’t endanger students.

Ken Haptonstall, superintendent of Garfield County School District 16, said the district initially had been concerned about the benzene that has shown up in the creek as a result of the natural gas liquids leak from a pipeline leaving the Williams gas processing plant upstream.

“We water the fields, that’s one thing. The fact that kids play on the fields, it’s a much bigger thing,” Haptonstall said.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have been investigating the leak and overseeing cleanup. Haptonstall said state officials told the district benzene shouldn’t reach its irrigation water, but testing of the creek continues and it would be notified if any problem arises.

The district’s Center for Family Learning gets irrigation water from the town’s system, which draws from Parachute Creek and is scheduled to go into service May 8. Its Grand Valley High School fields get water from a ditch farther down the creek.

So far, no benzene has been detected at the town diversion point or farther downstream. On Tuesday, the CDPHE reported a detection within a mile of the town diversion point, the farthest downstream so far. But the measurement was just 1 part per billion, well below the state drinking water standard of 5 ppb. Benzene as high as 4.5 ppb has been reported at one point farther upstream.

Williams has been working with state officials to aerate creek water and treat adjacent groundwater to remove benzene. The state Health Department says such measures, and benzene’s propensity to dissipate in creek water quickly, make it relatively easy to remove the carcinogen from a creek.

Parachute Town Administrator Bob Knight said arrangements also have been made to let Williams shut off the town diversion point and other such points downstream should contamination threaten them.

Haptonstall said if the district had had to postpone watering for a month or so, it would have created some serious problems in terms of trying to keep fields from drying out.

The town has been working to complete a pipeline from an existing reservoir to a second one it has decided to put into operation due to the Williams incident. That will provide it with some backup water in case the diversion point is shut down, as well as allowing for more dilution and treatment if any contamination occurs.

Cool and wet weather this spring has allowed the town to delay when its irrigation system begins operating and do the additional reservoir work without having much effect on users of the water.


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