The costly paint project for the 500,000-gallon water tower on the west side of Vinton is a maintenance issue, not a water safety one, says City Manager Chris Ward.

During last week’s council meeting, Ward discussed a report on the water tower, located near Kiwanis Park. Built in 1968, the tower contains external paint with lead in it, which will require special coverings when the tower is sandblasted.

The paint is flaking, and their are spots that are beginning to rust, said Ward. Not sandblasting and repainting could lead to leaks or other problems.

The council learned that it may cost as much as $450,000 to sandblast and repaint the water tower inside and out with a powder coating. Ward said he is putting together some financial options to present to the council in the near future.

Water Superintendent Craig Walker said the paint that tested positive for lead was on the exterior of the tank, not the interior, where water makes contact with the surface. Regulations will require the placing of special curtains to keep any lead from escaping into the air during sandblasting, Walker adds.

The issue, says Ward, is entirely about maintenance and not at all about water quality or safety.

While the word “lead” in any story about water towers turns heads, Ward said there is not any issue with lead contaminating the water. If there was such a concern, he said, he and others would be warning the public.

The city conducts 20 tests on its water supply per year, and all of those tests have shown that the levels of lead and copper are well under limits set by the Department of Natural Resources.

Ward said that only the west tower has been inspected; the tower on the east side of town, near Evergreen Cemetery, is much newer. That tower, too, will be inspected in the future, said Ward.