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Throughout the history of the American West, water issues have shown their ability to both unite and divide communities. As an imbalance between water supplies and demands grows in the region, KUNC is committed to covering the stories that emerge.

Paonia's Water Returns, Boil Order Remains

Photo courtesy of Kori Stanton
The Western Slope community of Paonia has been dealing with a combination of leaky water infrastructure and drought.

Water is again flowing through faucets in the Western Slope town of Paonia.

Town administrator Ken Knight told residents at a meeting Tuesday evening enough water is being treated and kept in storage to return service to the more than 1,500 people who rely on the town for drinking water. Some residents have been without drinkable tap water for nearly two weeks after officials discovered leaks in water pipes.

“Nobody has enjoyed a thing that we’ve done,” Knight said in an interview with Paonia NPR member station KVNF. “But this time when we lift a boil water notice we want to make sure the system is up, ready and stable.”

The boil order will remain in place until the system has been flushed and samples can be sent to a Mesa County lab for contaminant testing, Knight said. That order could be lifted Friday if tests show the water is safe to drink.

“It’s perfectly safe now to flush your toilets, take a shower,” Knight said. “We are encouraging conservation.”

Residential neighborhoods outside Paonia’s downtown core and other residents within unincorporated Delta County have been without drinking water since Feb. 26, when officials shut off service after finding that the town’s residents were using more water than the system could provide. Knight chose to continue supplying treated water to schools, the town’s downtown business district and a long-term care facility.

“Everything we are doing is for health, safety, welfare,” he said. “We are concerned to make sure that everyone is going to have clean drinking water when this is over.”

The town’s raw water supply comes from a series of springs at the base of Mount Lamborn in Delta County. Those springs are currently running at 50 percent of their normal flow for this time of year, Knight said. Portions of Western Colorado saw the hottest and driest conditions on record during the summer and fall of 2018. That could be behind the diminished flow from the springs, Knight added.

During the water shortage some residents reported filling up their toilet tanks with snow melt to keep them in operation. A potable water tank on loan from the National Park Service had been parked at Paonia Town Hall to supply affected residents. It’s since been returned, while a non-potable tank remains. Bottled drinking water is still available at Town Hall.

This story is part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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