Colorado adds water quality protections for South Platte, Clear Creek

The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission unanimously overturned a controversial 2020 decision and added new pollution protections for the South Platte River and Clear Creek via the Denver Metro, citing a “compelling” campaign by the defenders of environmental justice who have asked for its repeal.

Tuesday’s vote adds new defenses for urban flows and culminates in a two-year campaign by a broad coalition of conservation groups, advocates for racial and economic justice, and local, state and federal officials to overturn the 2020 ruling. The ruling that year had said that existing polluters could dump more waste into urban streams without new anti-decay state reviews.

Now licensed polluters, including Metro Water Recovery and Molson Coors, will need to demonstrate that any new action will not further damage the Denver area waterways, where aquatic life is already troubled by runoff, pollution discharge and from high temperatures.

This week’s hearings were the result of the committee previously agreeing to review the arguments of its own staff and outside coalition, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that their decision of 2020 had essentially erased the urban flows as hopeless.

“This is a historic moment for Colorado. As far as I know, this is the first successful petition from an environmental or environmental justice group to a state health agency, said Ean Tafoya, state director of GreenLatinos Colorado. “Affected communities are empowered, organized and partnered with allies. We are committed to using every procedural tool and in every location at our disposal to obtain environmental justice “.

The anti-degradation regulations that will now apply to stretches of the South Platte River and Clear Creek put those waters in the “reviewable” category. This rule states that polluters seeking a new or renewed water quality permit must argue convincingly that deteriorating conditions on a stretch of river are an inevitable part of major economic development or civic improvement.

They must offer this proof even if the given body of water is already better than the EPA water quality minimums. State rules actually raise the quality level as a stream improves and state that those waters cannot be “degraded” below the new level.

Decades of intensive and costly cleanup efforts on urban waterways such as the South Platte, including by Metro Wastewater, have improved water quality and given the river the ability to catch more fish, wildlife and recreational activities. environmental advocates say. The task of the state is to continue to push for even cleaner water, said the environmental coalition that presented the petition, in order not to pave the way for relapses.

Commissioners on Tuesday also reprimanded Molson Coors and others who had spent the hearing arguing against new protections for the stretches of Clear Creek, which passes the Golden Brewery, and the South Platte River north of the Denver border.

“I am offended that a company that makes its own profits and markets its brand with clean water from this state would work so hard to prevent such clean water from being protected,” said Commission President April Long, earlier. of the unanimous final vote to improve the stretches of watercourse with “revisionable” waters.

Commissioner Jennifer Bock cited “compelling” testimonies in favor of stronger guards that arrived on Monday on the first day of a two-day hearing, by Metro residents using the South Platte River and Clear Creek for fishing. , navigation and cycling.

Those users have joined the environmental coalition to argue that urban waterways have been abused for decades by polluters and developers who have paved and contaminated the waterfront. The waters are now recovering and can return even further if the right protections are provided, and the neighbors of the streams claim they deserve this chance.

“The decision of the Water Quality Control Commission highlights that no river is irreparable. These protections recognize decades of work to restore water quality in South Platte and Clear Creek from the impacts of industrial pollution, ”said Josh Kuhn, Conservation Colorado’s water campaign manager. Colorado communities have equal access to clean water. ”

The initial 2020 decision and a statement by a commissioner at the time that higher protections were reserved for “pristine mountain waters” infuriated a coalition of dozens of conservation groups and local governments, from Colorado GreenLatinos to Trout Unlimited to Denver city council members. They wrote to Governor Jared Polis last year arguing that the state commission was “prioritizing industrial profits over the safety and well-being of residents who have historically been disproportionately affected by pollution.”

When the commissioners decided in late 2021 to schedule a hearing to review the decision, commission staff told advocacy groups it was the first time aware of the commission’s history that the petitioners had successfully forced such a reversal. trendy.

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