Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

No Oil and Gas Pollution From Colorado Floods; E. Coli Levels High

Colorado’s official post-disaster river and stream survey of the 4,500 square miles that were in the path of last month’s floods found “no evidence” of oil and gas pollution, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has found.

Some areas, especially in the South Platte River basin, do have high levels of E. coli due largely to failure of sewage treatment plants and broken systems like the one in Evans, CO. High levels of E. coli were also found in the Boulder Creek and Big Thompson watersheds.

Sewage treatment was restored to Evans in about one week by its larger neighbor of Greeley, which built an above-ground hookup to handle the needs of the smaller town until it can rebuild.

Five public drinking water systems remain on boil or bottled water advisories, including the towns of Lyons and Jamestown, in addition to the Sylvan Dale Ranch, Lower Narrows Campground and Mountain Meadows Water Supply.

With an estimated 19,000 houses damaged or destroyed and several sewage treatment plants topped by floodwaters, the survey found human and animal E. coli bacteria in numerous areas.

The focus on oil and gas spills from the flooding was mostly media-driven and never considered a serious issue by emergency officials on the ground. The reason was that, in a “trillion-gallon” rainfall, with river flows of 67,000 gallons “a second,” the oil and gas never amounted to much damage.

Also, there was no hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) going on during the flooding. Oil storage tanks did break loose from valves and pipes. The state figures that 1,042 barrels of oil and/or gas did spill, along with another 430 barrels of “production water.” That adds up to 62,000 gallons, or less than one second, of those river flows.

Much of it was contained and immediately cleaned up. “Although much attention was focused on spills from oil and gas operations, it is reassuring the sample shows no evidence of oil and gas pollutants,” said Larry Wolk, CDPHE’s chief medical officer and executive director. “There were elevated E. coli levels, as we expected, in some locations.”

The state survey took water samples at 29 separate sites in rivers impacted by the floods. Public water system testing is ongoing.

(Photo: South Platte River near the failed Evans sewer plant near the high water mark.)

© Food Safety News