For Billings residents celebrating Drinking Water Week, an obvious highlight will be Wednesday’s tour of the city’s water treatment plant.

Tours will be led from 4 p.m. through 7 p.m. during an open house at the plant, at 2251 Belknap Ave.

The tour will include hands-on learning, question-and-answer time with staff and prize drawings for those visitors 18 and under.

Louis Engels, a utility systems engineer, said he and his colleagues at the city's Water Quality Division are eager to show off the plant’s ultraviolet disinfection system. That system “makes our great water even better,” Engels said in an email last week.

Drinking Water Week runs May 6-12. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the disinfection of drinking water  as one of the 10 most important public health developments in the last century.

In Billings, all drinking water comes from the Yellowstone River. The Water Quality Division routinely monitors for contaminants in residents’ drinking water.

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The 2017 report lists no violations for contaminants including coliform arsenic, nitrate, copper, lead and coliform bacteria. The concentration of contaminants varies seasonally, with the highest values in the winter and the lowest values during the spring run-off.

While the city’s drinking water meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for arsenic, it does contain low levels of arsenic. According to the report, the EPA’s standard “balances the current understanding of arsenic’s possible health effects against the costs of removing arsenic from drinking water."

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Arsenic is known to cause cancer at high concentrations and is linked to other health concerns, including skin damage and circulatory problems.

Lead in drinking water comes primarily from materials and components associated with service lines and home plumbing. When water has been sitting for several hours, residents — especially those who live in Billings’ older neighborhoods — can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing the tap for between 30 seconds and two minutes before using water for drinking or cooking.

According to the dozen or so groups sponsoring Drinking Water Week, each job in water or wastewater construction or rehabilitation adds nearly 3.7 jobs to the economy. To maintain current levels of service, communities around the country are going to have to invest at least $1 trillion each to their drinking water and wastewater systems over the next 25 years.

Learn more about Drinking Water Week by visiting www.waterweek.us. Billings water quality reports are at https://mt-billings3.civicplus.com/591/Water-Quality-Reports.

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.