Price tag for @Coloradoan water quality records request = $61,200

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

In light of the Flint water crisis and national concern on the safety of drinking water, the Coloradoan submitted a public records request to the Water Quality Control Division of the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment earlier this month.

The request asked for three data points:

1. Water test results for lead submitted to the state by public water systems in 2013-2015;

2. A list of public water systems out of compliance with drinking water standards;

3. The number of lead service lines in the state classified by the lowest level of geography available – whether by city, zip code or water system.

The Water Quality Control Division responded to the Coloradoan’s request on Tuesday. A list of public water systems out of compliance was included in the response.

The first request was fulfilled for free because it will take less than an hour to collect the data. After the first hour of work on a request, state agencies are free to charge requestors up to $30 an hour to fulfill requests.

For the third request, the state is asking for $61,200, equivalent to 2,040 hours of staff and attorney time the state estimates will be needed to compile the data.

The Department of Public Health and Environment charges $30 an hour for all staff time associated with locating and producing records for those who request them, in accordance with Colorado open records law.

Officials at the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators indicate that if a water system has a lead action level in exceedance, then the water system “must submit the detailed inventory system.” Colorado has had water systems with lead action level exceedances.

The state reports drinking water systems in Colorado don’t have to submit to the state the number of lead service lines within the system. Instead, they must identify their sample locations and indicate whether the sample was supplied by a lead service line or if the sample location contains lead pipes or copper pipes with lead solder.

The Water Quality Control Division is prohibited from releasing the addresses of public utility users, so staff would have to retract all individual homeowner addresses from the sample location data, according to the division’s response to the records request.

That process, along with research, retrieval, review and production of the records, would take more than 2,000 hours – or nearly a year of working weeks if a single staff member carried out the work.

The Coloradoan is seeking to collect the state data as part of a national project in conjunction with the USA TODAY Network on drinking water safety across the U.S.

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