For years, several nonprofits, government agencies, citizens and other stakeholders have spearheaded attempts to improve the Animas River. But now, it appears these stakeholders are interested in merging their respective efforts under an SMP, which could better organize projects and increase opportunities for grant funding.
“I think we could be entering a new phase of the Animas River,” Laura Spann, programs coordinator with Southwestern Water Conservation District, said. “(An SMP) might be a way to build a broader vision with all the groups.”
Stakeholders are in the very early stages, just gauging whether there’s public interest to develop an SMP for the Animas. In other parts of the state, the plans have been used to improve fish habitat, increase river access and restore riparian areas.
“These plans are specifically designed to look at the needs of a river basin, or part of a river basin, as it relates to recreational and environmental needs,” Warren Rider, coordinator of the Animas Watershed Partnership, which is leading the SMP process, said. “About a year ago, we started to think now could be a good time.”
After organizers complete interviews with stakeholders, they’ll draft a “scope of work” document that outlines what the SMP could cover. From there, it’ll depend if there’s enough community support for the plan to progress into actual work on the ground. While a lot remains to be determined when it comes to the Animas River’s SMP, one thing is clear: creating one may have incredible benefits, especially as climate change and drought take their toll on environmental conditions.
What’s the cheapest, quickest way to reduce climate change without roiling the economy? In the United States, it may be by reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
Methane is the main component of natural gas, and it can leak anywhere along the supply chain, from the wellhead and processing plant, through pipelines and distribution lines, all the way to the burner of your home’s stove or furnace.
Once it reaches the atmosphere, methane’s super heat-trapping properties render it a major agent of warming. Over 20 years, methane causes 85 times more warming than the same amount of carbon dioxide. But methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for long, so stopping methane leaks today can have a fast impact on lowering global temperatures.
That’s one reason governments at the COP27, the 2022 United Nations climate change conference in Egypt, have focused on methane as an easy win in the climate battle.
So far, 130 countries, including the United States and most of the big oil producers other than Russia, have pledged to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas by at least 30%. China has not signed but has agreed to reduce emissions. If those pledges are met, the result would be equivalent to eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions from all of the world’s cars, trucks, buses and all two- and three-wheeled vehicles, according to the International Energy Agency.
There’s also another reason for the methane focus, and it makes this strategy more likely to succeed: Stopping methane leaks from the oil and gas industry can largely pay for itself and boost the amount of fuel available.
Capturing methane can pay off
Methane is produced by decaying organic material. Natural sources, such as wetlands, account for roughly 40% of today’s global methane emissions. But the majority comes from human activities, such as farms, landfills and wastewater treatment plants – and fuel production. Oil, gas and coal together make up about a third of global methane emissions.
In all, methane is responsible for almost a third of the 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) that global temperatures have risen since the industrial era.
Unfortunately, methane emissions are still rising. In 2021, atmospheric levels increased to 1,908 parts per billion, the highest levels in at least 800,000 years. Last year’s increase of 18 parts per billion was the biggest on record.
Among the sources, the oil and gas sector is best equipped to stop emitting because it is already configured to sell any methane it can prevent from leaking.
Methane leaks and “venting” in the oil and gas sector have numerous causes. Unintentional leaks can flow from pneumatic devices, valves, compressors and storage tanks, which often are designed to vent methane when pressures build.
Nearly all of these emissions can be stopped with new components or regulations that prohibit routine flaring.
Making those repairs can pay off. Global oil and gas operations emitted more methane in 2021 than Canada consumed that entire year, according to IEA estimates. If that gas were captured, at current U.S. prices – $4 per million British thermal unit – that wasted methane would fetch around $17 billion. The IEA determined that a one-time investment of $11 billion would eliminate roughly 75% of methane leaks worldwide, along with an even larger amount of gas that is wasted by “flaring” or burning it off at the wellhead.
The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 further incentivizes methane mitigation, including by levying an emissions tax on large oil and gas producers starting at $900 per ton in 2024, increasing to $1,500 in 2026. That fee, which can be waived by the Environmental Protection Agency and doesn’t affect small producers or leaks below 0.2% of gas produced, is based on the social cost to society from methane’s contribution to climate damage.
Reducing methane isn’t always straightforward, though, particularly in the U.S., where thousands of oil companies operate with minimal oversight.
A company’s methane emissions aren’t necessarily proportional to its oil and gas production, either. For example, a 2021 study using data from the EPA found Texas-based Hilcorp Energy reporting nearly 50% more methane emissions than ExxonMobil, despite producing less oil and gas. Hilcorp, which specializes in acquiring “late life” assets, says it is working to reduce emissions. Other little-known producers have also reported large emissions.
Investor pressure has pushed several publicly traded companies to reduce their methane emissions, but in practice this sometimes leads them to sell off “dirty” assets to smaller operators with less oversight.
Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for a century or more, methane only sticks around for about a dozen years. So, if humans stop replenishing methane stocks in the atmosphere, those levels will decline.
A review of methane leaks in the Permian Basin shows the big impact that some regions can have.
Researchers found that gas and oil operations in the Permian, in west Texas and New Mexico, had a leakage rate estimated at 3.7% in 2018 and 2019, before the pandemic. A 2012 study found that leakage rates above 3.2% make climate damage from using natural gas worse than that from burning coal, which is normally considered the biggest climate threat.
Methane leaks used to escape detection because the gas is invisible. Now, the proliferation of satellite-based sensors and infrared cameras makes detection easy.
Companies such as GTI Energy’s Veritas, Project Canary and MiQ have also launched to assist natural gas producers in reducing emissions and then verifying the reductions. At that point, if leaks are less than 0.2%, producers can avoid the federal fee and also market their output as “responsibly sourced” gas.
Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:
As the once-mighty Colorado dries up at the hands of a changing climate, communities that rely on it are starting to feel the pinch. Many large cities in the Southwest are well-positioned to weather the growing crisis, but some smaller ones have a perilous front row seat as the shrinking river threatens to cut off their water supply completely. Page is one of them. [Tobyn] Pilot pointed down towards Glen Canyon Dam, a 700-foot-tall concrete behemoth that looms large in the background.
“There’s a pipeline that’s bored through the cliff of Glen Canyon,” Pilot said. “It comes to the edge, just past us here, and goes straight up into another pipeline that goes up to our water plant.”
That pipe brings water up from the river hundreds of feet below, and carries it to the taps in homes, hotels and restaurants in this tourist town. But the system is under threat. Page pulls its water from Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir…If the reservoir drops below Page’s current intake, water would flow through a set of backup pipes known as the “river outlet works.” Originally designed as a channel for extra water during high-flow times, those tubes, which are lower than the existing pass-through, could soon be the only way for water to make it through the dam. Without a fix, Lake Powell could have dropped low enough to cut off Page’s drinking water supply completely.
The river tried its best in 2022 but didn’t get much help. Total precipitation at the headwaters was low, again. Temperatures at the headwaters were much higher than normal, again. Consequently, total runoff came near historic lows, and daily flow hovered below the 25th percentile for most of the year. Again. Following are summary data documenting the historical records of climate and flows in the White River Basin.
Peak runoff in the White River also occurs earlier in the year. Historically, peak runoff occurred in early June, but peak is trending earlier. April runoff is increasing and June runoff is trending downward (data not shown). Longer periods of low flow in the summer provide favorable conditions for algae growth, increase stress on fish, and also decrease available irrigation and municipal water supplies.
The data presented here document global and regional trends toward a hotter, drier world. Updated climate models predict that climate conditions in the White River Basin 30 or 40 years from now will resemble the present brush and sandstone regime of southeastern Utah (Talsma et al, 2022; NCA 2018).
On a positive note: we haven’t seen a big algae bloom for the past couple years. It’s not at all clear what happened to stifle the algae. Low water and higher water temperatures, such as we are seeing in the basin, generally encourage algae growth. A plausible assumption is that efforts by the Conservancy Districts and the White River Alliance are paying off. People have stepped up to try to reduce nutrients going into the river and to reduce insecticide application. A final report from the USGS algae study group is still pending, and some particulars, such as point sources of nutrients, are not available. However, we can take some hope that people are making a positive difference in the health of the river.
Click the link to read the release on the USGS website (Jason Dunham):
The importance of thermal refuges in a rapidly warming world is particularly evident for migratory species, where individuals encounter a wide range of conditions throughout their lives. In this study, we used a spatially explicit, individual-based simulation model to evaluate the buffering potential of cold-water thermal refuges for anadromous salmon and trout (Oncorhynchus spp.) migrating upstream through a warm river corridor that can expose individuals to physiologically stressful temperatures. We considered upstream migration in relation to migratory phenotypes that were defined in terms of migration timing, spawn timing, swim speed, and use of cold-water thermal refuges. Individuals with different migratory phenotypes migrated upstream through riverine corridors with variable availability of cold-water thermal refuges and mainstem temperatures. Use of cold-water refuges (CWRs) decreased accumulated sublethal exposures to physiologically stressful temperatures when measured in degree-days above 20, 21, and 22°C. The availability of CWRs was an order of magnitude more effective in lowering accumulated sublethal exposures under current and future mainstem temperatures for summer steelhead than fall Chinook Salmon. We considered two emergent model outcomes, survival and percent of available energy used, in relation to thermal heterogeneity and migratory phenotype. Mean percent energy loss attributed to future warmer mainstem temperatures was at least two times larger than the difference in energy used in simulations without CWRs for steelhead and salmon. We also found that loss of CWRs reduced the diversity of energy-conserving migratory phenotypes when we examined the variability in entry timing and travel time outside of CWRs in relation to energy loss. Energy-conserving phenotypic space contracted by 7%–23% when CWRs were unavailable under the current thermal regime. Our simulations suggest that, while CWRs do not entirely mitigate for stressful thermal exposures in mainstem rivers, these features are important for maintaining a diversity of migration phenotypes. Our study suggests that the maintenance of diverse portfolios of migratory phenotypes and cool- and cold-water refuges might be added to the suite of policies and management actions presently being deployed to improve the likelihood of Pacific salmonid persistence into a future characterized by climate change.
Click the link to read the article on the InkStain website (Eric Kuhn and John Fleck):
On Nov. 16, 1922, the representatives of the seven Colorado River Basin states and federal lead negotiator Herbert Hoover settled what is, from today’s perspective, the most important element, of the Colorado River Compact.
Holed up a century ago at Bishop’s Lodge outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, they had come to agreement on dividing the river into “upper” and “lower” basins, with some water for each, a feature taken for granted in river management in the 21st century but new to their thinking a century ago. But they were at a stalemate on how much water the upper states would be obligated to send to the lower states.
Before adjourning the previous day’s meeting, Hoover had put a compromise proposal on the table – the Upper Basin would deliver 75 million acre-feet every consecutive ten years with a four million acre-feet minimum annual delivery. This was ten million more than the Upper basin’s 65 million acre-feet offer and seven million less than the 82 million acre-feet that the Lower Basin said they would accept.
During the 18th meeting the commissioners from both basins accepted Hoover’s offer and went far beyond that, agreeing to a set of broad principles that could be included in the compact.
THE FANTASY OF A SURPLUS
They also made one major change of direction. Through the end of the 17th meeting, the Commission had been focused on dividing the entire river. Carpenter had first suggested a 50/50 split at the Yuma gage (near the border with Mexico). In the most recent meetings, their focus had turned to dividing the river at Lee’s Ferry. But late Wednesday night, in executive session, or via discussions Hoover had with the individual caucuses, the commission decided to divide the river three ways – a piece for the Lower Basin, a piece for the Upper Basin, and a third surplus pool that would be apportioned at a future date.
Hoover put it this way – “In our discussions yesterday we got away from the point of view of a fifty-fifty division of the water. We set up an entirely new hypothesis. That we make, in effect, a preliminary division pending the revision of this compact. The seven and a half million acre-feet of flow rights are credited to the South, and seven and a half will be credited to the North, and at some future day a revision of the remaining water will be made or determined.”
The technical basis for a three-way split was as follows: The estimated water supply available from the river below Yuma was believed more than 20 million acre-feet annually. Arthur Powell Davis estimated that existing and future consumptive uses in the Upper Basin would total 6.5 million acre-feet annually. In the Lower Basin his estimate was 7.45 million acre-feet, 5.1 on the mainstem and 2.35 on the tributaries.
Allocating 7.5 million for each basin would cover their needs and leave a surplus of 5-6 million acre-feet to be doled out in the future. The language the Commission discussed showed that their intent was not to divide water, but rather to limit appropriations within each basin – “during the term of this compact appropriations may be made in either division with equality of right as between them up to a total of 7,500,000 acre-feet per annum for each division.”
EXPANDING “THE BASIN”
The Commission discussed ten basic principles including defining the Colorado River Basin as the hydrologic drainage basin plus places within a basin states, but outside the drainage area where water could be legally used. This made it clear that under a compact transbasin (transmountain) projects would be legal. This was crucial to negotiators for Utah, Colorado, and California. The Commission also agreed on the priority of uses. Domestic (broad definition) and agricultural uses would be superior to power generation and all superior to navigation purposes. It also agreed that the burden of a future treaty obligation would be equally shared between each basin.
The commissioners couldn’t agree on detailed language for all the principles, but still the 18th meeting ended on a euphoric note. They all agreed that it was time to for Chairman Hoover to appoint a drafting committee. Hoover appointed Carpenter, Steven B. Davis, Arizona Legal Advisor Richard Sloan, California Legal Advisor R.T. McKisick, and Reclamation Service Chief Counsel Attomar Hamele. Carpenter asked that Hoover be an ex-officio member of the committee and Hoover accepted.
The drafting committee met on the afternoon of November 16th and most of the day on both November 17th and 18th.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision will see licenses of the four dams transferred from the PacifiCorp energy company — a subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway — to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, a nonprofit entity created to oversee the dam removal, and to the states of California and Oregon. The vote marks the final major hurdle for what will be the largest dam removal project in the nation’s history, officials said. The $500-million demolition has been championed by environmental organizations, commercial fishing groups and tribes that spent 20 years fighting for the river’s restoration.
“The Klamath salmon are coming home,” Yurok Tribe Chairman Joseph James said in a statement. “The people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time.”
Officials said the dam removal process could begin as soon as next year, with the smallest dam, Copco 2, slated to be removed first. Deconstruction of the remaining three dams will occur in early 2024, with all four dams removed by the end of that year. FERC commissioners on Thursday described the decision as “momentous,” “historic” and “the culmination of years of work.”
“Some people might ask why, in this time of great need for zero-emissions energy, why are we, why is the licensee, agreeing to remove the dams?” Chairman Richard Glick said during the meeting. “First, we have to understand this doesn’t happen every day. … A lot of these projects were licensed a number of years back when there wasn’t as much focus on environmental issues, and some of these projects have a significant impact on the environment and a significant impact on fish and other wildlife.”
Indeed, salmon populations in the once-teeming Klamath Basin have dwindled to almost nothing in large part because of the dam-blocked habitat. In an April letter to FERC, the Pacific Fishery Management Council noted that the Klamath River once produced the “third-most prolific salmon runs of all river systems in the lower 48 states.” Today, those runs are at only a “small fraction of their historical average,” the council said, with two of the runs listed under the federal or California endangered species acts, or both. Mark Bransom, chief executive of the Klamath River Renewal Corp., said the dam removal will not only create conditions that will allow fish to move up and down the river freely, but will also help improve water-quality conditions on the river, including toxic algal blooms in stagnant reservoirs.
In the halls of the Colorado State Capitol drinking fountains are in easy reach, and grabbing a quick drink of cool, clear, odorless water is an automatic act.
But just minutes away, in dozens of industrialized neighborhoods in North Denver, Commerce City and unincorporated Adams County, many homeowners and apartment dwellers never drink their tap water.
Tens of thousands of people in this area have been exposed to contaminated water over the years. Convincing them finally that their water is now safe to drink is a tough sell.
In a Commerce City bungalow on Kearney Drive, Armando Guardiola and his family are sitting in a small kitchen, eating posole from brightly colored bowls. The water served for this meal did not come from their tap. Instead, it came from a large, pale blue five-gallon jug perched on the edge of the sink.
It has been this way since Guardiola, a retired railway worker, and his parents moved into this bungalow in 1982.
Their tap water, he says, as his brother and sister interpret, is full of minerals that leave a residue everywhere. Sometimes it has an odor or a strange taste. The family’s water comes from the South Adams Water and Sanitation District and meets all the state standards for water quality and safety. But this is no comfort to the people who live here.
“They used to say, don’t drink the water,” Guardiola said. “Then, they came out about 15 years ago and said it was better. But we don’t trust this. A lot of people here have skin rashes. They have lost their hair. It has been a continuous problem.”
Two water bills
Parts of north Denver, south Adams County, and Commerce City have a legacy of water contamination that dates back more than half a century and is tied to aging lead service lines, in Denver, and various industrial activities farther north.
Wave after wave of pollutants have been discovered in this area, from contaminants that leaked from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in the 1980s, to contamination from the local oil refinery whose lights dot the skyline at dawn and dusk.
Now, so-called forever chemicals, also known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been discovered in the groundwater in Commerce City and have been linked to firefighting foam used up until 2018 at the nearby Denver Fire Training Academy, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The City of Denver disputes that finding. It declined an interview request, citing potential litigation.
The South Adams Water and Sanitation District (SAWSD) says it must spend $45 million to $70 million to build a new treatment plant to remove this PFAS from its raw water.
Will it ever end, residents ask. They can’t answer that question.
Instead, many opt to pay two water bills: one at the local water filling station, where they often spend $10 to $50 a week to buy water for drinking and cooking, for watering plants and caring for their pets. This is in addition to their monthly water and sewer bills from the local utility, in this case the South Adams Water and Sanitation District. Utility costs vary depending on location and water use.
Armando’s brother Beto says there is little hope in the community that their tap water will ever be drinkable.
“To go back to the tap water we think is risky,” Beto said. “We’ve been told it’s good. We’ve been told it’s bad. We hope what happened in Jackson, Mississippi, doesn’t happen here,” referring to the decades-long problems with Jackson’s water system that finally collapsed earlier this year after it was inundated by flood waters.
Patricia Ferrero heads Protégete, an environmental justice initiative housed within Conservation Colorado.
“Honestly it all comes down to trust” Ferrero said. “I don’t know if there is one thing that would re-establish trust with these communities. Industry is so close to home. There is too much evidence that it is a sacrifice zone.”
Cultivando, another environmental justice group which is focused on Commerce City, recently launched a tap water testing program funded by the University of Denver. It has signed up 30 homeowners in the area, who have agreed to allow specially trained community members to come into their homes and gather water samples to have them privately tested. These residents get their water from various sources, including some from privately owned wells.
Once results are in, the activists will consider what next steps need to be taken. This could mean pushing for better water treatment or new indoor piping, or, if results confirm that the water is, in fact, safe to drink, looking at how they can work alongside the state health department and water providers to reassure residents on this point. In this way, the community organizers hope to begin rebuilding trust in the local water along with the government agencies and water utilities charged with protecting their water and their health.
Mike Wireman, a former national groundwater specialist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is running the Commerce City testing program for Cultivando.
“We have heard for some time, from residents who live in parts of Commerce City, that their water tastes bad, smells bad, feels bad. Bacteria can cause that. We know they have a problem, but I don’t believe that it is related to the water that leaves the Commerce City treatment plant. It gets back in somewhere between the water treatment plant and the homes,” Wireman said.
The problem may be inside these older homes. “The houses that were built were not constructed with the best materials. They were not $500,000 homes. They were built to accommodate industrial workers,” he said.
In addition to neighborhood activists, lawmakers have also taken note. In 2021, at lawmakers’ request, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment created an environmental justice action task force in an effort to forge better relationships with communities whose water quality has been harmed by industrial contamination.
“We take these issues very seriously,” said Nicole Rowan, head of CDPHE’s Water Quality Division.
The state has also begun working with the City of Denver to oversee the removal of PFAS from soils around the Denver Fire Training Academy in Adams County. How long the cleanup might take isn’t clear. But Rowan said some mitigation work at the site has begun.
Generations of distrust
For the South Adams Water and Sanitation District, the legacy of contamination is a powerful, cultural constant. The district has built two treatment plants and is planning a third to deal with the issues, which stem both from industrial activities and naturally occurring minerals present in groundwater.
The discovery of PFAS in its groundwater wells in 2018 added another major item to its long list of industrial woes. The district immediately shut down wells that were too contaminated to salvage at the time, and began aggressively treating its other wells, as well as blending with clean water purchased from Denver, to meet federal PFAS safety standards. According to its 2022 Consumer Confidence Report, the district has been successful in meeting all federal and state water quality standards.
The district has spent millions of dollars and has some of the most sophisticated on-site testing equipment in the state, if not the country, according to Kipp Scott, SAWSD’s manager. Its high-tech labs allow the utility to test its raw water and treated water almost continuously to ensure it is safe. But new PFAS standards that are close to being finalized by the federal government will mean more has to be done.
Scott remains deeply worried that the plume of contamination moving from the fire academy toward his district’s wells won’t be stopped before it gets any closer. In the interim, the district is spending some $8 million a year to buy clean surface water supplies from Denver Water to mix with its own, to ensure it can continue to deliver clean water until the contamination is removed.
Equally distressing is the community’s skepticism about the district’s efforts to deliver clean water to them, Scott said.
“It’s been a public relations nightmare,” he said.
The district is also plagued with naturally occurring hard water, which damages plumbing and can cause skin rashes and hair loss in some. Last year, the district built a $60 million water-softening plant that now delivers water that is much softer to residents.
Many of its customers still don’t know the water has been improved or do not believe it.
Theresa Friess, SAWSD’s public affairs coordinator, was hired to help educate and engage customers.
“It’s been a hard conversation, in part because it’s hard to hear that our customers feel this way,” said Friess. “But we have tried to increase our outreach and we are having more conservations with non-English speaking residents as well.”
The district has hosted tours and open houses, and has had various government officials meet with residents and publicly drink the water that flows from the taps in an effort to prove it is safe.
To date, there is little if any belief among nearly two dozen residents across north Denver, Commerce City and unincorporated Adams County interviewed by Fresh Water News that the water won’t make them sick.
“We have been drinking this water for years,” said one woman at a meeting convened by Cultivando in Commerce City last month on the private tap water testing program. Speaking through an interpreter, she said, “They think they can come in here and take one drink of water to convince us it is safe? What does that prove?”
Are your pipes okay?
In Denver’s Elyria, Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods, Denver Water has been working since 2019 to replace tens of thousands of lead service lines to protect its customers from lead contamination. Testing had shown that lead was leaching from the pipes into the water that reached the tap. The work is going on across the city, including such neighborhoods as Hilltop and Washington Park. Lead service lines are more likely to be an issue for homes built before 1951.
The agency replaced the old lead service lines in front of Tony Garcia’s Elyria house two years ago.
Garcia, a well-known historian and executive director of Su Teatro, and others in the neighborhood are happy about the remediation project. Some even drink the water now. But the utility is still almost 10 years away from having all the city’s lead service lines replaced, even with a new federal infrastructure grant to speed the process.
Garcia still uses filters provided by Denver Water, and the utility still tests his water periodically. Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said the ongoing testing is part of its lead monitoring program. For many of these older homes, the water may still contain lead, leaching not from the main delivery lines, which are lead-free, or from the customer-owned service lines Denver Water is replacing, but from the aging plumbing systems within the homes themselves. No amount of lead is safe to drink.
Garcia doesn’t drink the tap water and has no plans to do so. If his home’s pipes need to be replaced, he said, it will have to be done by the next homeowner or someone else.
CDPHE’s Rowan said her agency is researching whether some of its grant money could be accessed by homeowners to be used for in-home pipe replacement, but isn’t clear yet whether that is possible.
What the neighborhood has endured, not just with lead contamination but also with air and groundwater pollution, “would not be tolerated in other communities,” Garcia said.
In addition to the ongoing risk to public health, cost is a major concern, for residents and the water districts and state agencies charged with keeping the water safe.
On a recent Friday morning, student chef Paul Tyrell is filling up several of the ever-present five-gallon pale blue jugs at a private water station in Commerce City. His pregnant partner sits in the front seat as he hauls the empty jugs out of the back seat, fills them at the water station, and lugs them to the car.
Here five gallons of water costs $1.50, or 30 cents a gallon. Tyrell will fill up all his containers once a week, at a cost of $7 to $10. If he could use his apartment’s tap water from SACWD, it would cost less than 5 cents a gallon. The district charges $5.24 for the first 12,000 gallons used.
“I wish we would have better water,” Tyrell said. “We don’t use the water in our apartment because it makes us feel sick.”
Denver Water has raised residential water rates to help pay for its lead remediation work, in addition to issuing bonds and using cash on hand to cover for the $168 million overall project cost. It has also been approved for a $76 million federal infrastructure grant to help accelerate the work.
In South Adams County, the federal government paid for the district’s primary water treatment plant, completed in 1989, as part of the Superfund cleanup at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.
But since 2018, the district has been forced to uses its own money, and some state grants, to fund the $3 million price tag on new water treatment processes along with testing equipment related to the PFAS contamination.
Residents are paying just over $4.50 a month additionally to cover the cost of the new water softening plant, but Scott says the district doesn’t believe they should have to pay to cover the cost of the new $45 million to $70 PFAS treatment plant. The district plans to apply for federal infrastructure improvement funds to get that done.
“Our residents should not have to bear this cost for the additional treatment we are going to have to put in place. But the new plant is going to be less expensive than purchasing Denver water over the long haul.”
It’s not just water bills that are expensive. Residents are often approached by sales people suggesting the water is so unsafe that they need to buy expensive in-home treatment systems and filters.
South Adams Water Quality Supervisor Kevin Pustulka said he recently went out to a home where a woman was preparing to buy a $20,000 in-home softening system that she didn’t need. “Please don’t,” he told her.
His message to everyone else: “The next time someone offers to sell you an in-home water device, call me.”
Olga Gonzalez hopes they do. She is executive director of Cultivando and has watched people in these North Metro communities struggle for years. That things may be changing is possible, she said, but her level of skepticism remains high.
“We are seeing them [the CDPHE and South Adams] ask what our communities need and be transparent and explain things in a way residents can understand. I feel hopeful that finally community members will be heard. We have been very clear that we don’t want these agencies to just check boxes and say they have been in touch with the community.”
For the environmental justice activists on the ground, after years of battling industrial pollution and institutional indifference, they are convinced the way to deliver safe tap water and to convince residents that it won’t make them ill, lies in rebuilding trust between residents and the government.
“In the end, we don’t want to be residents’ go-to,” Gonzalez said. “We want them to go to the people who are paid to protect them, and take care of their health.”
This project was made possible, in part, by funding from the Colorado Media Project.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Governor Polis and the Global Business Development Division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) formally announced today that Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS), a Scotland-based agricultural infrastructure company supplying vertical farms to growers has selected Loveland, Colorado for expansion.
“This is a great addition to Colorado’s strong, innovative, and climate-smart agriculture sector. Plus this expansion creates over 100 jobs in Loveland, helps our economy thrive, and contributes to a great future for agriculture,” said Gov. Jared Polis.
IGS designs and produces vertical farming equipment that enables indoor growing, eliminates the need for pesticides and fungicides, and reduces water consumption by recycling up to 95%. Because no arable land is required, these systems can also be used to reduce the carbon footprint of food production by locating farms closer to the point of consumption or production. Opening a base of operations in Loveland will allow the company to better support North American consumers, the company’s fastest-growing market.
“The forward-looking approach to economic development within the city of Loveland and the state of Colorado fits perfectly with Intelligent Growth Solutions’ purpose of working with growers to help deliver sustainable food security,” said David Farquhar, CEO of IGS. “The location is within easy reach of a huge market as well as supply chain partners and is a great place for our people — and their families — to live, with 300 days of sunshine and just 30 miles from Rocky Mountain National Park.
“The location of our North American headquarters is a pivotal decision in our evolution as a market leader. We are confident that our new Loveland base will allow our rapidly growing business to continue to expand and thrive on a global platform, as we deliver vertical farming infrastructure to enable real farmers to grow an expanding range of crops reliably, profitably and sustainably because we give them total control of the weather for the first time: designed in Scotland manufactured in Colorado.”
The company also chose Loveland for the strong, skilled labor pool. Overall, IGS expects to create 114 net new jobs at an average annual wage of $98,991, which is 183% of the average annual wage in Larimer County. Positions will include engineers, supply chain managers, customer support, human resource and legal managers, as well as roles in marketing and sales.
“IGS’ technology, mission and people are a perfect fit for the ag-tech ecosystem that continues to flourish across our region and in Loveland,” said City of Loveland Economic Development Director, Kelly Jones. “Northern Colorado provides tremendous value to a diverse range of industries and we are proud of this truly collaborative, regional effort to bring this innovative company, as well as high paying jobs, to the area.”
“Innovative companies like IGS are building on Colorado’s strong agricultural heritage to create a future-thinking ag tech industry that will feed communities and support a thriving economy across our state. We are pleased to see Loveland become IGS’s North American headquarters and look forward to celebrating future accomplishments,” said Patrick Meyers, OEDIT Executive Director.
“We couldn’t be happier to welcome Intelligent Growth Solutions to Colorado—their innovative thinking and accomplishments in sustainability make them a great fit for the state,” said Metro Denver EDC president, Raymond H. Gonzales. “Agriculture is both an economic driver and a part of history for Colorado, and as advances in ag-tech continue to evolve, we want our state front and center in innovative and sustainable solutions in this industry. The addition of Intelligent Growth Solutions will help bring this vision to reality.”
The State of Colorado will provide up to $2,758,845 in performance-based Job Growth Incentive Tax Credits to IGS, referred to as Project Sprout during the OEDIT review process, over an 8-year period. The company currently has 220 employees, one of whom is already in Colorado. In addition to Colorado, the company considered Washington and Massachusetts.