That water coming out of your faucet starting Nov. 1 will be softer, contain elevated levels of fluoride and will need to be conserved as much as possible.
That is the message coming from the city of Gillette, which is preparing residents for the changes that are expected to last six months while the Madison pipeline is shut down for upgrades and repairs.
The softer water will feel different on your skin and some might notice it tastes different. That is because the water won’t be Gillette’s normal water from the Madison formation near Pine Haven, but rather water from the Fort Union formation directly under Gillette.
The in-town wells will give residents a reprieve from the usual hard water that can dry skin and sometimes stain dishes, but also will create some problems the city wants water users to be aware of and needs help alleviating.
“We are trying to be conservative and we are trying to alert people without creating an overreaction,” said Kendall Glover, the city’s utility director.
The two main issues are fluoride and conservation.
The fluoride issue
Fluoride in your water usually is a good thing. It helps prevent tooth decay and is the most common ingredient in regular toothpaste. But prolonged exposure to water with elevated levels of fluoride can cause enamel fluorosis in children whose teeth are still developing. Mild fluorosis shows up as white streaks or specks on a child’s teeth. In severe cases the stains are black or brown and there is pitting or cracking on the teeth.
The city hopes to keep the fluoride level in the city water supply as low as it can, but levels rising above the 2 milligrams per liter limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency likely can be expected while residents use in-town wells this winter.The EPA recommends children younger than 8 not drink water with more than the 2 milligrams of fluoride because of potential problems from prolonged exposure.
What constitutes prolonged exposure?” The EPA doesn’t specify, but the city is not taking any chances. Starting Friday the city will post weakly fluoride levels on its website along with information about fluoride. It will print the weekly average in the News Record each Sunday to keep the public informed. It also will post a phone residents can call for updates.
Campbell County Public Health executive director Della Amend is not too concerned, though.
“If it (the fluoride level) is too high over a long period of time, sometimes it can cause some coloring of the teeth. But that would be over a long, long period of time … and you would have to be drinking a lot of water, too,” she said.
Amend said it is not an issue parents should be worried about for the next six months. If parents are worried, they can give their kids bottled water. But there’s a catch, most bottled water does not contain flouride, which also is not good, she said.
How much flouride is in the water at any one time depends on several factors.
Gillette has 12 Fort Union wells with fluoride levels that range from 0.9 milligrams per liter to 4.2 milligrams per liter, Glover said. That averages out to be almost 2 milligrams per liter. All that water will be blended for a consistent quality with the low fluoride level wells being maximized and the high fluoride level wells being minimized.
If demand for water gets too high, the city will have to start blending in water from its three Fox Hills formation wells, which have a fluoride level of about 8 milligrams per liter. That water will bring up the fluoride levels in water pouring out of Gillette spigots, Glover said.
“If the demand is 4 million gallons a day, we will be using those Fox Hills wells and that will be tough,” he said.
The city does not expect fluoride levels to get anywhere near the 4 milligram per liter maximum limit set by the EPA. Just in case, the city has plans in place in case it should ever reach that level, including putting the Madison pipeline back online within a couple days.
The city wants residents to conserve about 10 percent more water this winter.
The key to keeping the fluoride level down is conservation, so the wells with the highest fluoride levels won’t need to be used, or used very much.
“The bottom line message is the more water we conserve, the better quality of water we will drink. And I think that is enough of an incentive right there,” Glover said.
The city needs to keep water use near 3 million gallons a day during the winter to keep fluoride levels in line. If usage goes higher than that, wells with higher fluoride levels will have to be blended into the water supply.
The average water usage last winter was 3.2 million gallons per day, said Diane Monahan, city water services manager. But in recent weeks, Gillette’s water usage still has been between 4 and 5 million gallons a day.
A concern now is that there hasn’t been a big freeze or a snow, which usually prompts people to stop watering their lawns, Glover said. In 2009, city water usage dropped suddenly following an early snowstorm in October and stayed low, but the prolonged warm weather this fall has kept city water usage up.
The city hopes that by getting the word out about conserving water and getting people to stop watering their lawns for the winter, that water usage can be brought down to near 3 million gallons a day by Nov. 1.
Not as bad as the ’70s
In the 1970s, Gillette was experiencing unprecedented growth that was overstretching its water supply — a supply that wasn’t exactly crystal clear spring water to begin with. Gillette got its water from wells in the Fort Union and Wasatch formations provided by in-town wells.
The need for more and for better water led the city to invest in the 40-mile Madison pipeline. It 1980, it began delivering water from the Madison formation near Pine Haven. It was a huge and expensive project, but it would be hard to find a critic of it today.
Some 30 years later, that original pipeline is facing two major problems: It’s getting old and Gillette is getting too big for it.
The latter problem has an obvious, albeit daunting, solution — build a parallel pipeline to bring more Madison formation water to Gillette that will meet the city’s projected needs for the next 30 years. Gillette’s population is expected to grow by about 16,000 by the year 2040. That project is under way and is expected to cost about $226 million.
In the meantime, the original pipeline still needs to be used. In order to fulfill those needs, it will require repairs and upgrades. That is what the city is working on this winter. Those repairs require the pipeline to be shut down from Nov.1 through April 30. The city is making repairs during the winter while water usage is at its lowest. The city’s average water usage drops from between about 11 million gallons a day in the summer to about 3.2 million gallons a day in the winter.
While the pipeline is shut down, Gillette residents will get their water from the city’s in-town wells. Several of those wells have been re-drilled and their capacity doubled specifically to meet the needs of this project. But even with the city wells, which include 12 Fort Union formation wells and three Fox Hills formation wells, city winter usage is expected only to be slightly below the capacity those wells can deliver. That problem is compounded by the fact that the Fox Hills wells only will be used if they absolutely must because their fluoride levels are extremely high.
City officials have said the water from the Fort Union wells won’t taste like Gillette’s water in the 1970s and it won’t have nearly the amount of iron. The iron came from the Wasatch formation water, which was extremely hard. That water has not been used in Gillette’s drinking water since 1981.
Fluoride at a glance
Fluoride compounds are salts that form when the element fluorine combines with minerals in soil and rocks.
EPA fluoride guidelines
– 0 to 2.0 milligrams per liter: Safe level. Actually promotes stronger teeth.
– 2.1 to 3.9 milligrams per liter: Children eight years and younger should drink water from an alternative source. Keep in mind that this recommendation is based on long durations of exposure
– 4.0 milligrams per liter and higher: The maximum contaminant level. The city must immediately notify the public if fluoride levels rise above this high.
400 The number of gallons of water a family of four uses every day in the U.S. Using low-flow toilets, faucets and shower heads, like those pictured above, can bring this number down.
200 The number of gallons you could save each day by stopping a leaky toilet. To deterimine whether your toilet is leaking, place a drop of food coloring in the tank; if the color shows up in the bowl without flushing, you have a leaky flapper valve. The city offers test strips.
53 The average number of gallons of water saved by taking a five minute shower instead of a bath.
8 The number of gallons of water saved by turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth for two minutes.
Want more information: Check out more ideas on water conservation on the city’s website at www.ci.gillette.wy.us
Remove fluoride from tap water
– Reverse osmosis is the most common method, but not all reverse osmosis devices remove fluoride. There are several types of reverse osmosis devices varying in complexity and price.
– Fluoride filters are another option. They are filters that just remove fluoride. There are several types, including under sink and countertop filters.
– Some refrigerator filters remove fluoride, but many do not. Check your refrigerator’s data sheet to make sure.
– Brita filters do not remove fluoride.
City fluoride updates
Beginning Friday the city will post the weekly water usage and fluoride results on:
– City Website: look for the information on the “Spotlight” section on the right side of the homepage.
– Facebook Page: username is “cityofgillette”
– Gillette Public Access: Channel 18
– News Record: City Highlights ad in the Sunday edition
– On the Phone: Citizens can call 686-5300 to hear weekly fluoride levels and updates on the Madison pipeline rehabilitation project