Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):
State legislators have introduced a bill that would create a water-testing program at mobile home parks, addressing residents’ long-standing concerns about water quality.
House Bill 1257, which is sponsored by District 57 Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Garfield County, would require the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to create a water-testing program that covers all mobile home parks in the state by 2028. If the testing finds a water-quality issue, the park owner must come up with a remediation plan and not pass the cost of fixing the problem on to the residents.
The testing results would be made available to park residents and the public in English, Spanish and other languages. The bill would also require park owners to identify the water source and establish a grant program to help park owners pay for remediation options such as infrastructure upgrades.
The bill was introduced March 26, and its other sponsors are Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, D- Larimer County, and Sen. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County.
Velasco, who said she lived in mobile home parks growing up, said she has heard complaints from residents about discolored water that stains clothes, smells and tastes bad, causes skin rashes, and breaks appliances. But often, those complaints go unaddressed because the water may still meet the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act.
“The odor, the taste, the color, those are secondary traits of the water, according to these regulations,” Velasco said. “These issues are in low-income communities, majority people of color. These issues are not happening to wealthy families.”
Environmental justice issue
Water quality in mobile home parks is an environmental-justice issue for the Latino community. According to the Colorado Latino Climate Justice Policy Handbook, nearly 20% of Latino households live in mobile homes. And according to survey results in the 2022 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda, 41% of mobile home residents said they do not trust or drink the water in their homes. Eighty percent of survey respondents said they support new regulations requiring that mobile home parks provide their residents with clean drinking water.
Beatriz Soto is executive director of Protegete, a Latino-led environmental initiative of Conservation Colorado that developed the climate justice handbook. Conservation Colorado supports the bill. Soto, who also lived in mobile home parks in the Roaring Fork valley, said for years she has heard the same complaints Velasco did about water quality, so she knew it was a top priority for the Latino community. The survey results confirmed the anecdotes.
“This is not just little things we are hearing here and there in the community; this is a bigger issue,” Soto said. “When you work two jobs and you have to drive two hours to work and you come home and have to go to a laundromat because you can’t wash your clothes at your residence, there’s a real cumulative impact of living under those conditions.”
The Aspen-to-Parachute region has 55 parks, which combined have about 3,000 homes and 15,000 to 20,000 residents. Mobile home parks are some of the last neighborhoods of nonsubsidized affordable housing left in the state and provide crucial worker housing, especially in rural and resort areas.
Residents have complained about the water quality in some parks for years, but agencies have lacked the regulatory authority to enforce improvements. Recently, residents in parks near Durango and in Summit County have lacked running water for weeks at a time.
Voces Unidas de las Montanas, a Latino-led advocacy nonprofit that is based in Colorado’s central mountains and works in the Roaring Fork Valley, is one of the organizations leading Clean Water for All Colorado, a committee that helped to craft the legislation.
“Many of us who grew up in mobile home parks, myself included, have always known and normalized buying bottled water from the store, and it’s because we don’t trust our water,” said Alex Sanchez, president and CEO of Voces Unidas. “Many residents have been complaining and calling for action for decades, and no one has answered their call.”
Sanchez said the bill is his organization’s No. 1 legislative priority this session.
Rocky Mountain Home Association and Colorado Manufactured Housing Coalition oppose the bill. Tawny Peyton, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Home Association, said the mobile home park industry has been bombarded with sweeping law changes in recent years, causing confusion and additional operation and legal costs. Laws enacted in 2019, 2020 and 2022 granted extra protections to mobile home park residents.
“The Rocky Mountain Home Association is concerned with the entire bill,” Peyton said in an email. “Why is the mobile home park industry being singly targeted with this legislation? Industry was not made aware that mobile home park water quality was such an issue that a 23-page bill was warranted.”
Bill proponents acknowledge that the issue may take years to get resolved and that new regulations would be just the first step toward gathering data and assessing the problem.
“This is just a first stab at trying to resolve this issue,” Soto said. “This is establishing a framework to start testing and get all the information and documenting all the water sources for mobile home parks to determine what is the problem.”
House Bill 1257 is scheduled for a hearing by the Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee on Wednesday [April 12, 2023].