Animals in the Toyota Elephant Passage exhibit at Denver Zoo no longer get recycled water to drink after feedback from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

When the habitat —

which includes animals such as tapirs, leopards and rhinos in addition to elephants — opened in 2012, recycled water was used for irrigation, cleaning and for drinking.

The habitat is the only area in the zoo that used recycled water for drinking. The recycled water pipe was installed in an effort by the zoo to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly. The zoo made the switch to potable drinking water on Dec. 11 and the work cost approximately $20,000.

Toyota Elephant Passage
Denver Zoo elephants explore the Toyota Elephant Passage on May 30, 2012. (Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post file)

Zoo officials said the veterinary staff deemed recycled water to be a safe source for drinking and still believe that is the case. However, they decided to review the issue after news that recycled water could be to blame for evergreen tree declines in some of the city's parks.

"We strongly believe that the recycled water is safe for animals due to the facts that it met Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act standards for human consumption in the 1980s and the results from the continued monitoring of health and necropsy records show no indication of health concerns relating to water consumption of the exhibit's animals," Denver Zoo spokeswoman Tiffany Grunert said in an e-mail.


But while reviewing the use of the recycled water internally and reaching out to the USDA, the zoo decided to add potable water for drinking in order to meet USDA guidelines. The USDA is the regulating body for zoos.

Grunert noted, however, that the USDA does not look at the varying quality of recycled water, it simply recommends potable water.

"Even though we felt strongly that this water was safe and have not seen any issues to its use, it was much easier to add potable water to the area than to try and change a federal agency's definition," Grunert added in her e-mail.

The zoo will still use recycled water for bathing and cleaning in the habitat.

Joe Vaccarelli: 303-954-2396, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or @joe_vacc

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