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Water warning

Some Manitou mineral springs carry advisory signs about manganese
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Cheyenne Spring in downtown Manitou has a nearby sign warning about manganese levels.

Visitors and residents who love the mineral waters that gave Manitou Springs its name have been seeing something unexpected at their favorite fonts lately.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) regularly tests the spring water and requires the Manitou-based Mineral Springs Foundation to post advisory signs at the eight springs it manages. Those tell anyone wanting to drink the water that it has not been chlorinated.

However, five of the springs now have CDPHE signs advising that the water contains manganese levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency recommendations. Those are: Cheyenne and Shoshone springs, both in the 900 block of Manitou Avenue; the Iron Geyser Spring, 400 block of Ruxton Avenue; Stratton Spring, near the Ruxton/Manitou Avenue roundabout; and Wheeler Spring, on Park Avenue near the Manitou Springs Post Office.

Acceptable levels of manganese have been detected at other springs: 7 Minute Spring, north of Memorial Park; Navajo Spring, in the 900 block of Manitou Avenue (near the Penny Arcade); and Twin Spring, in the 100 block of Ruxton.

But Terry Sharpton, Mineral Springs Foundation president, says the naturally occurring mineral is really nothing to worry about — as long as people don’t get carried away.

“Drink responsibly. The mineral springs are not meant to replace your daily intake of water due to their high mineral content, but are safe to drink,” says Sharpton, who’s been involved in the MSF since the early 1990s.

He went on to reference the notice from the CDPHE: The mineral springs “are intended to be a novelty source of drinking water, not a primary source. If you have specific health-related concerns or questions, consult your medical provider.”

Neither state nor federal entities regulate manganese, according to the CDPHE notice.

The worst-case side effects from excessive manganese consumption are listed on the signs. Not surprisingly, infants are most vulnerable. They would be at risk if they continuously drank water with manganese in excess of 0.3 milligrams per liter. They could experience “behavioral issues,” the CDPHE states.

For adults, continuously drinking water with more than 1.0 milligrams per liter could cause neurological impacts that might not manifest for years. Emphasis on “continuously drinking the water.”

The Mineral Springs Foundation’s website, http://manitoumineralsprings.org/, lists complete mineral profiles for all the springs it manages. They include alkaline, calcium, chloride, copper, fluoride, iron, lithium, magnesium, potassium, silica, sodium, sulfate and zinc.

Manganese levels at the affected springs range from 0.42 mg/L at Stratton Spring to 2.39 mg/L at Shoshone Spring.

In contrast, 7 Minute Spring, for instance, shows no manganese content.

All of Manitou’s springs spurt from the same aquifer, but the water is filtered through various types of rock on its way to the surface. The aquifer under Manitou Springs is filled with subterranean passages and caverns the water has carved over millennia; the dormant part of the aquifer, above the water table, is what formed Cave of the Winds north of Manitou Springs.

Sharpton says documents show that Manitou’s mineral waters have been analyzed as far back as the 1900s, but this is the first time the foundation has received such warnings from the state health department since the MSF was founded in 1987.

The state health department issued the Tier 1 Violation Notice on Dec. 12, 2022, Sharpton says.

The foundation is not required to take any action beyond posting the signs; there’s really nothing the MSF could do about the manganese, anyway.

“The springs are popular because they are mineral springs. There is no plan to rectify or alter the composition of the mineral waters,” says Sharpton, who doesn’t hesitate to drink from the springs.

MSF board member Ann Nichols, who worked for Colorado Springs Utilities from 1977 to 2002 and consults about water resources with local entities, draws on her decades of experience to keep a sharp eye on the springs.

“I would say that if you enjoy the mineral springs as countless visitors and locals do, then continue to enjoy them. The only difference you’ll find are a few additional signs,” Sharpton says.

“The state has agreed that this is a unique water source and, even with their compliance requirements, have been supportive of our efforts to preserve the mineral springs for all to enjoy.”

Shoshone Spring has warning signs.

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