Colorado is proposing new nutrient standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater streams

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I missed this opinion piece in favor of tougher nutrient standards from Ross Vincent and Seve Glazer that is running in The Pueblo Chieftain. It was part of a point/counterpoint that the Chieftain ran on Sunday. Here’s my original post. Thanks to Desmid for the heads up in the comments for the post. Here’s an excerpt from the article I missed:

…imagine our disappointment at learning that the city of Pueblo has joined forces with some other municipal dischargers in attempting to weaken new clean water protections proposed by the state health department. The issue in this case is nutrients — predominantly chemicals containing nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are commonly found in lawn and agricultural fertilizers, in some commercial products (such as cleaners), in some industrial discharges, and in human and animal excrement. They find their way into our streams and lakes primarily in urban, suburban, and industrial discharges, and in urban and agricultural runoff. Here on the Front Range, the biggest sources are municipal sewage and stormwater discharges.

When nutrient pollution is allowed to accumulate in our lakes and rivers, it can harm aquatic life, sometimes causing fish kills. In drinking water, it can compromise human health because some nitrogen and phosphorus compounds are toxic and others can react with disinfectants used to kill bacteria in drinking water treatment facilities to form cancer-causing disinfection by-products. Levels of both nitrogen and phosphorus in parts of the Arkansas River basin are already more than 10 times higher than what should occur naturally, and we should expect those levels to get worse if Colorado’s Front Range population continues to grow as expected.

Some cities, like Pueblo, are arguing that the cost of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in their discharges will be too high, that no one will want to pay for the necessary treatment, and that we should only address part of the problem — the phosphorus part — because only treating for phosphorus will be cheaper.

That is a stunningly shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating argument. It is eerily reminiscent of the complaints we sometimes hear from big industrial polluters when science reveals problems with pollutants in their discharges. If the state fails to act responsibly on both phosphorus and nitrogen pollution now, it is likely that the federal government will step in with more stringent requirements, with shorter fuses and even more costly solutions.

If the city’s arguments prevail, all the city will have succeeded in doing is to delay the inevitable. The nitrogen pollution problem will not go away. As ratepayers, we will be required to invest in phosphorus-only treatment now and then we will be hit again later with additional and duplicative improvements in our city’s wastewater treatment systems to deal with nitrogen.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

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