- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 12, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Officials in Burlington say they don’t have the money to pay a nearly $1 million fine levied by the state health department for more than 2,100 violations of Colorado drinking water standards and they hope the state can help them out.

Interim City Administrator Steve Rabe said the city plans to appeal the fine, and officials want the state to allow them to use the money to upgrade their water system. He said the $4.5 million needed to fix the problem could be raised by passing along fees to ratepayers. The city can also apply for grants and loans.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the city is required to notify the public and the state when the city’s drinking water exceeds the safe standard for nitrate. The majority of violations involve failure to take water samples and notify the state.

Health officials say nitrate in drinking water is a serious health concern for infants younger than 6 months, and a potential risk for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and other people who are taking medications that would make them sensitive.

Most of Burlington’s problem comes from rock formations that are leaking into city wells, Rabe said. Other possible sources include fertilizer and animal waste.

Rabe said most of the community’s 4,500 people in eastern Colorado are already aware of the health effects.

“This is not a new problem. People here have known about it for years. Restaurants post signs. Most people drink bottled water, and use the city water for bathing and watering their lawns,” he said.

Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for the department, said the state’s priority is to get the city to improve its system so drinking water is safe.

“We recognize that many of our cities and towns may run into difficulties maintaining compliance with drinking water standards. We are experienced in helping these communities comply with drinking water regulations so the public’s health is protected,” Rudolph said.

“We encourage cities and towns that may be struggling with compliance issues to come to the Water Quality Control Division for assistance,” she said in a statement.

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