COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Air Force doesn't plan to reimburse three Colorado communities for the money spent responding to water contamination caused by toxic firefighting foam previously used at a military base, potentially leaving the towns with an $11 million tab.
Firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base for decades seeped into the Widefield Aquifer, making well water in southern El Paso County unsafe to drink. Security, Widefield and Fountain's water districts have so far spent $6 million responding to the contamination, and that is expected to balloon to $12.7 million by the end of 2018, the Gazette reported.
The Air Force has pledged $4.3 million in aid, and only $1.7 million of that amount will go to the water districts. Much of the rest is being spent on bottled water and filters. "We don't back pay — we cannot reimburse," said Cornell Long, a chemist with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.
An email sent to the newspaper from the engineer center in response to a request for clarification said, "The Air Force does not have the authority to reimburse communities for costs incurred in dealing with environmental contamination issues."
The military plans to continue studying the toxic chemicals in the foam and their effect on residents' health until 2019. Air Force officials said last week they do not expect to carry out a remediation plan for the contaminated wells until next decade.
Investigators found toxic chemicals from the foam reached concentrations of more than 1,250 times the level that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems safe.
An Air Force report released Tuesday said that other sources likely contributed to the aquifer's contamination, though none has been identified.
The delay has angered residents, and the cost is overwhelming the towns' resources, which will lead to rate hikes in at least two of the three communities.
"We really need financial help," said Roy Heald, manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts. "We need to get going on those things before the 2020s."
Fountain plans to raise water rates by 5.3 percent this year, and Security plans to study a rate hike this fall. Widefield officials don't expect to raise rates, though its long term solution — a new treatment plant for 10 affected water wells, could add $10 million to $12 million to their costs.
Security is also planning to build a treatment plant. It is paying Colorado Springs Utilities for uncontaminated water in the meantime for $1 million a year.
Fountain officials have budgeted $4.2 million in fixes through 2018.
"That needs to be compensated," said Republican state Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs. "And the military needs to go ahead and step up and not study and study and study."