PURSUING WATER JUSTICE SPRING 2020
Committed to Delivering Water to Northeastern Colorado 220 Water Ave. | Berthoud, CO 80513 800-369-7246 | northernwater.org
2020 Presidentâ€™s Reception WEco Awards Banquet and Fundraiser
Getches-Wilkinson Center Summer Conference
Finding the Money for Improved Water Management in the West: Issues, Options, and Promising Innovations June 4-5, 2020 University of Colorado Law School | Boulder, CO
Postponed to Sept. 18 at Balistreri Vineyards
Buy tickets at watereducationcolorado.org
Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference August 25-27, 2020 Steamboat Grand
Pulse Getting Closer to Governing Direct Potable Reuse A new report brings Colorado a step nearer to recycling more water.
9 Innovative Platte River Recovery Program Extended The program has had impressive results, but worries ran high last year that a fractious Congress would jeopardize the reauthorization.
Contents | Spring 2020 Inside DIRECTOR’S NOTE
4 WHAT WE’RE DOING
WEco's upcoming events, reporting and more.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ISSUE Environmental justice is the concept that all people deserve a healthy and safe environment—including access to clean, safe water for drinking and enjoying. Yet, even in Colorado, that access is not a given, nor is equitable representation in making decisions that can impact water and health. But some communities and advocates are making change, and they share ideas for anyone—individuals, organizations, agencies, water providers, companies—who wants to help make water justice a reality.
5 FROM THE EDITOR
F E AT U R E
8 AROUND THE STATE
Water news from across Colorado.
When Water Justice is Absent, Communities Speak Up
In an Era of Rising Costs, Can Colorado Keep its Water Affordable?
Toolkit for Pursuing Water Justice
Across Colorado, spanning rural, urban and suburban areas, water isn’t always safe or nurturing, but it could be. Victims of environmental injustice are speaking up to reclaim their personal power, communities, and water.
It will take a concerted effort to deliver quality water while keeping rates from rising in a way that disproportionately affects lower-income families.
Whether you’re looking to increase equity in your work, help a community suffering from an environmental justice issue, or hire a more diverse staff, there are tips for everyone.
Engage, volunteer and celebrate the impact of WEco’s work.
By Jason Plautz
By Laura Paskus and Caitlin Coleman Above: In 2016, when residents and water providers in Fountain and Security-Widefield learned that their drinking water supplies were contaminated with PFAS, they temporarily relied on bottled water. Photo by Matthew Staver On the cover: On August 24, 2015, more than two weeks after the Gold King Mine spill, community members in Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation, unanimously voted not to open the San Juan River to irrigation. Many residents expressed their preference to fallow their land for a time rather than contaminate it with metals-laden water. Photo by Antonia Gonzales
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Jayla Poppleton Executive Director
Lisa Darling President
Jennie Geurts Director of Operations Stephanie Scott Leadership Programs Manager
ast September, the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees met for a strategic planning retreat. Together with staff, they reviewed our organizational history, our progress toward past goals, and the impact of our 2017 re-brand. After taking stock of where things stand, we developed a “bucket list” for the next five years. That bucket list comprises the highest and best outcomes we see for WEco’s next phase in service of our mission. The result of that work is our new strategic plan, adopted in January, which will guide us through 2025. The plan reaffirms our values. It clarifies our vision. And it lays out the strategic goals we will pursue to take the organization to the next level. Those next-level goals include maintaining our brand reputation as a trusted, policy-neutral resource that serves up excellent programs and products, and taking existing programs to scale with deeper market penetration and expanded reach to underserved audiences. They also include strengthening leadership on water education through continued investment in the Water Educator Network and by taking a lead role in implementing the new Statewide Water Education Action Plan. Embedded in those public-facing goals are the strong internal foundations necessary to support the work. That includes using the most relevant, effective technologies to disseminate information; maintaining and growing key partnerships across the state; retaining a happy, empowered staff team; ensuring effective board governance; and sustaining and growing our revenue base. Finally, the plan includes a strategy to view all programmatic decisions through an equity lens. This is in line with our organizational value that “Information is for All.” This value asserts that, as educators, we have a responsibility to ensure our programs and services are accessible to anyone who wants to understand and engage, including diverse populations, rural communities, or historically marginalized populations. Some of these groups’ stories are highlighted in this magazine. In order to begin defining this equity lens, the board in January adopted a set of “equity principles,” published on page 5 and available to view at www.wateredco.org/ about-us/strategy-policies. (The new strategic plan can also be found there.) These principles acknowledge that barriers to participation exist for various people for different reasons, and that we will make an effort to reduce those barriers where possible. Our goal is to provide opportunities capable of equipping ALL Coloradans, regardless of background, race or demographic, with the knowledge and skills needed to engage in making smart decisions for a sustainable water future. Armed with this new plan, WEco enters an exciting phase. I’m proud of where we are and where we are headed. If you have ideas, suggestions, or requests, please email me at email@example.com. Thank you for your support in this critical field at this critical time.
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Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. Vice President Gregg Ten Eyck Secretary Alan Matlosz Treasurer
Scott Williamson Education & Outreach Coordinator
Eric Hecox Past President
Jerd Smith Fresh Water News Editor
Caitlin Coleman Headwaters Editor & Communications Specialist Charles Chamberlin Headwaters Graphic Designer
Perry Cabot Sen. Kerry Donovan Paul Fanning Jorge Figueroa Matt Heimerich Greg Johnson Julie Kallenberger David LaFrance Dan Luecke Kevin McBride Amy Moyer Lauren Ris Rep. Dylan Roberts Travis Robinson Laura Spann Chris Treese Brian Werner
THE MISSION of Water Education Colorado is to promote increased understanding of water resource issues so Coloradans can make informed decisions. WEco is a non-advocacy organization committed to providing educational opportunities that consider diverse perspectives and facilitate dialogue in order to advance the conversation about water. HEADWATERS magazine is published three times each year by Water Education Colorado. Its goals are to raise awareness of current water issues, and to provide opportunities for engagement and further learning. THANK YOU to all who assisted in the development of this issue. Headwaters’ reputation for balance and accuracy in reporting is achieved through rigorous consultation with experts and an extensive peer review process, helping to make it Colorado’s leading publication on water. © Copyright 2020 by the Colorado Foundation for Water
Education DBA Water Education Colorado. ISSN: 1546-0584
What we’re doing
WEco Leads in Commitment to Equity in Programming In January 2020, Water Education Colorado’s Board of Trustees adopted a set of equity principles. Before developing new programs and publications, and while planning and marketing them, WEco will now consider all programming through the lens of these principles and begin to implement them: Reducing Systemic Barriers WEco recognizes the presence of physical, economic, and cultural barriers that influence access to water education and lead to a lack of diverse representation and overall participation in the water sector. WEco is committed to leading and participating in projects aimed at reducing these barriers and creating opportunities for growth and learning for any person regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, home language, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, disability status, geography, age, socio-economic conditions and other factors.
Mutual Respect for Diverse Ways of Being, Knowing, Experiencing WEco acknowledges a broad and diverse range of relationships and interdependencies of different people and cultures with water and the natural environment. Furthermore, WEco recognizes that the wise and efficient use of water adds to the quality of life for all Coloradans by providing for multiple water-related benefits that are integrally connected to the state’s economy and the welfare of all its residents. Accordingly, in designing and implementing its program activities, WEco will seek out a full range of community interests reflective of Colorado’s population. It will use all available means to assist persons to have their voices heard in water-related educational and decision-making forums. Supporting Representation WEco will strive to be more effective by build-
ing a leadership team and network of partners that are representative of Colorado’s diverse population and which fosters an inclusive, safe, equitable, and supportive environment, full of learning and sharing and free of harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. Use and Collection of Data and Information WEco commits to responsible and ethical collection and use of data and information gathered for all projects. Additionally, WEco will strive to use data to increase equitable access and participation in water education and water-based activities. Data will be collected in ways that are inclusive of all Coloradans regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, home language, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, disability status, geography, age, socio-economic conditions and other factors.
LOWER ARKANSAS BASIN Register now and get on the bus for our two-day Annual River Basin Tour June 2–3. You and 50–60 other water professionals, agricultural producers, educators, and interested community members will have the opportunity to tour the Lower Arkansas River up close. The tour will begin and end in La Junta. Along the way, you will ON TOUR meet the people striving toward a sound water future for the economies and habitats of southeastern Colorado. We will visit these sites and others: • New Pueblo Dam Hydroelectric Plant • Southern Delivery System Pump Station • Water quality projects • Agricultural operations and water efficiency projects • Water sharing project(s) • John Martin Reservoir Topics will include the Arkansas Basin Implementation Plan, water quality, water storage and water-sharing to meet an anticipated supply gap, alternative water transfers, the agricultural economy of southeastern Colorado, KansasColorado Arkansas River Compact compliance, and much more. Hurry! The tour fills fast. Register at watereducationcolorado.org.
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What we’re doing
A conversation with…
Immerse yourself in the language of water Gain a broad overview of all things water in Colorado! Anyone looking to familiarize themselves with Colorado water law, administration, policy and planning will benefit from the 2020 Water Fluency Program. Typical participants are city and county staff, local elected officials, water professionals, water board members, and special district staff who are looking to gain water fluency and develop tools to navigate water management and policy issues. This year’s program will be held in beautiful southwestern Colorado, with two, two-day sessions in Durango and Cortez. Participants can expect in-person classroom days, site visits, reading assignments, and online coursework. The fun and learning will kick off on June 23 in Durango. Reserve your spot! Registration is firstcome, first-served. Register at watereducationcolorado.org.
Water and Environmental Justice Podcast Hear voices from this issue, and beyond, discussing environmental justice in a new three-part podcast series. We’ve partnered with American Rivers to further explore the topic through their podcast “We are Rivers: Conversations About the Rivers that Connect Us.” Tune in this spring at americanrivers.org/podcast and on iTunes and Stitcher.
GREG HOBBS TIME ON THE WECO BOARD: 18 years HOME: Denver
Greg Hobbs is a founding board member of Water Education Colorado. A retired Colorado Supreme Court justice, Greg is now a senior water judge who mediates disputes over water rights and ditch rights. He also teaches a Water Court Practice Seminar and Colorado Legal History at the University of Denver. At WEco, since the organization’s first board meeting in October 2002, Greg has served as vice president of the board and chair of the Publications Committee, which oversees work on Headwaters magazine and the Citizen’s Guide series. Over the past year, he has also been involved with WEco’s new Equity Committee which developed a set of equity principles that were adopted by the board in January 2020. We spoke with Greg about this equity-related work. Tell me a bit about your Colorado Legal History class? This course tracks the equal justice timeline embedded in the Learning Center at the Ralph Carr Judicial Center. The history of our incomparable state began with Native Americans followed by the Hispano settlers and all the rest of us. I’ve always been fascinated with the legacy of the first great Western president, Abraham Lincoln. The Civil War began over whether the new Western states and territories would be slave or free. What spurred the WEco board to adopt Equity Principles? I think we needed to be challenged by those who’ve suffered from discrimination in their lives. I have to say that Jorge Figueroa is one of these people. His addition to the board several years ago really shows you why you need diverse representation. He had some real concerns about people and communities we were not reaching. It takes persons to say that “white privilege” doesn’t mean that you are being accused of something, it means you enjoy a position of status, or economic level, where you don’t realize that these issues of equity are out there affecting many persons. We heard from other organizations and the board unanimously adopted a set of equity principles to guide our water education work going forth. Have you seen ideas of Environmental Justice change just in your lifetime? For sure! A hallmark of Colorado going back to our origination during the Civil War is the continuing work of equal justice the best we can. By Jacob Tucker Read more of the interview on the blog at watereducationcolorado.org.
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What we’re doing
Statewide Water Education Action Plan
ON THE BLOG
“[Acequia farmers] value every person and their stake in the community, and I think that is a very key piece when we begin to talk about equity. Because, everybody’s voice has the same power. When you consider that idea, it is really the meaning of social justice.” —Judy Lopez, Colorado Open Lands
“This is the blueprint to any community involvement. The first thing you have to do: leave your ego at the door. You leave your assumptions at the door, and you listen a lot more than you talk. And then you figure out ways you can add that will make a difference for the community.” —Michael Wenstrom, EPA Environmental Justice Program Dive deeper into this issue by reading full interviews with Judy Lopez with Colorado Open Lands; Candi CdeBaca with Denver City Council; Michael Wenstrom with EPA; and C. Parker McMullen Bushman with Ecoinclusive. Find them on the blog at watereducationcolorado.org
A Common Agenda for Water Education’s Role in Achieving Sustainable Water for Colorado by 2050
E X E C U T I V E S U M M A R Y 2020-2025
Colorado’s First Statewide Water Education Action Plan With the help of a coalition of educators from around the state, we completed the first Statewide Water Education Action Plan (SWEAP) designed to support the Colorado Water Plan’s goal of sustainable water for Colorado by 2050. Over the coming months, Water Education Colorado will work to enroll more educators and institutions in SWEAP implementation. We will also call upon others to help develop baseline metrics for measuring progress on SWEAP outcomes and to inform early work on SWEAP strategies. Please help us bring the SWEAP effort to every community in Colorado! Visit watereducationcolorado.org/sweap to learn more and get involved.
POSTPONED—Join us in September!
2020 President’s Reception Celebrating a More Water-Aware Colorado WEco Awards Banquet and Fundraiser Friday, September 18 / Six O’Clock at Balistreri Vineyards 1946 E 66th Ave, Denver, Colorado
Join us as we honor John Stulp, Former Special Policy Advisor to the Governor on Water Paul Bruchez, Reeder Creek Ranch and Outfitter
BUY TICKETS: www.watereducationcolorado.org/programs-events/presidents-reception
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What we’re doing
FROM THE EDITOR GROW YOUR LIBRARY Check out the latest additions to our reference series. The updated Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Quality Protection provides an overview of water quality issues important to Colorado. It also details the complex water quality protection framework that helps ensure that we maintain the quality of this natural resource. The all new Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Groundwater looks at different types of groundwater, geologic formations, availability, use, and challenges with the resource around the state. Thank you to Water Quality Guide sponsors Board of Water Works of Pueblo, Carollo Engineers, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Stormwater Council, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water, the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, and Vranesh and Raisch, LLP. Thank you to Groundwater Guide sponsors Board of Water Works of Pueblo, CDM Smith, Colorado Groundwater Association, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Water Conservation Board, HDR, Intera, Leonard Rice Engineers, McGrane Water Engineering, Quantum Water and Environment, Republican River Water Conservation District, Rio Grande Water Conservation District, South Metro Water Supply Authority, and Southwestern Water Conservation District. Find them in the WEco store or read them online at watereducationcolorado.org.
8 • WAT E R E D U C AT I O N C O LO R A D O
ater is life. I believe this and so I wrap up work on most issues of Headwaters magazine believing that we’ve shed light on an important topic. Water justice and equity are particularly consequential. They’re all about health, life, the way we live, and everything in between—housing, education, infrastructure, employment, policy, discrimination, and much more. This issue, in a direct way, covers peoples’ lives, their great struggles, and in some cases, their triumphs. It’s paramount. “The work of water justice is about centering people and especially historically marginalized as well as minoritized communities,” wrote Tom Romero, a law professor at the University of Denver, in a recent email. As we hear throughout our feature story (“When Water Justice is Absent, Communities Speak Up,” page 15), justice begins from within. We can improve by engaging people, helping them raise their voices, and listening. Sometimes justice comes about through the power of voice and sometimes it takes more, like a trial, or a new policy. In each issue of Headwaters magazine, we strive to incorporate a diversity of viewpoints—that often manifests as the inclusion of different interests from different parts of the state, attention to the multifaceted aspects of any given story, and interviews to illustrate different perspectives. There aren’t enough pages in each issue to include everything and to talk with everyone but this value of highlighting diverse perspectives is integral to Headwaters, and to all of Water Education Colorado’s work. In this issue, we purposefully sought out individuals who represent marginalized and minoritized communities and those who are working to bring about improvements. That includes grassroots organizers, impacted community members, and those in power who are helping. Take, for example, water providers who are offering assistance to help low-income households who can’t pay the bill. Read about some such efforts in “In an Era of Rising Costs, Can Colorado Keep its Water Affordable?” (page 23). As we hear from C. Parker McMullen Bushman in the “Toolkit for Pursuing Water Justice” (page 28, with the full interview on our blog at watereducationcolorado.org) if water-focused organizations want to stay relevant to the communities we serve, we must pay attention to changing demographics in our storytelling and messaging. The Colorado State Demography Office estimates that nearly 46 percent of Coloradans will be non-white by 2050. “We are seeing quickly shifting and changing racial demographics. If your organization’s message is not one that connects with a wide variety of people, soon your message will no longer be relevant,” McMullen Bushman says. For those who don’t identify with the challenges of injustice and inequity, I hope the experience of reading this magazine increases awareness and understanding of the opportunities that exist to help foster a more nurturing, safe, and supportive environment where all of our community members can thrive.
Getting Closer to Governing Direct Potable Reuse
BY DANA STRONGIN olorado water providers are one step closer to getting guidance that could encourage them to reuse more water, thanks to a new report. A National Water Research Instituteorganized panel of reuse experts worked for 18 months to craft a report that details potential Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations for direct potable reuse, which isn’t addressed in current regulations. Colorado has no active direct potable reuse projects, which move purified wastewater directly into drinking water facilities. Some communities are doing indirect potable reuse, which runs treated wastewater through an environmental buffer, such as a creek, before treating it for drinking. The report is part of WateReuse Colorado’s efforts to follow up on the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, which said, “Widespread development of potable reuse will be an important facet of closing the future water supply-demand gap.” The plan said Colorado needed a clear regulatory framework on reuse if reuse is to help address that gap—a consequence of population growth, climate change and other challenges. Getting this framework in place will give utilities the certainty they need to pursue direct potable reuse, which is critical for optimizing supplies they already have, says Laura Belanger from Western Resource Advocates. “We want them to use the supplies they already have to the fullest extent, and that will ideally leave water in our streams and rivers.” The report prioritized health and recommended the state require three independent treatment technologies for both pathogens and chemicals. It said the state should establish limits for certain unregulated chemicals, including compounds that are toxic or newly discovered. “We’re taking it to an extreme level of safety because we know it’s super important to protect public health,” says panel chair Larry Schimmoller from Jacobs.
Courtesy Orange County Water District
The report’s expert advice provides a strong starting point for the state to move forward and give water providers the governance they’re asking for, says Ron Falco from CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division. He hopes the division can find resources to start gathering stakeholder feedback later this year. Staff would then make recommendations to the Water Quality Control Commission for a rulemaking process. To help overcome its reliance on nonrenewable groundwater, Castle Rock Water aims to get one-third of its long-term supply from reuse. This year the town is completing
upgrades to its Plum Creek facilities, which were designed for indirect potable reuse and possibly adding direct later. The direct option would move water within facilities rather than in the creek, increasing system reliability while reducing pumping costs and evaporative loss. Reuse is a cost-effective approach that makes sense, says Mark Marlowe, director of Castle Rock Water. “This is part of what we need to do as a state to make sure that we have a reliable long-term supply.” H Dana Strongin is a freelance journalist, writer and editor based in central Colorado.
In an indirect potable reuse system, these reverse osmosis membranes filter water after it moves through an environmental buffer. In Colorado, while indirect potable reuse is employed, direct potable reuse, where there is no buffer, is not yet regulated and, thus, not used to purify water at the utility scale.
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The whooping crane is one of four target threatened or endangered species served by the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.
Innovative Platte River Recovery Program Extended
BY JERD SMITH fter a year of anxious waiting, scientists and researchers who helped build one of the most successful species recovery programs in the nation have gotten a 13-year extension to finish their work. The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program began operating in 2007 with the bipartisan backing of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska and the U.S. Department of the Interior. It has since created some 15,000 acres of new habitat for stressed birds and fish, and added nearly 120,000 acre-feet of new annual water to the Platte River in central Nebraska. This critical region serves as a major stopping point for migrating birds, including the whooping crane, the least tern, and the piping plover. In addition to helping fish, birds and the river, the program also allowed dozens of water agencies, irrigation districts and others
10 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
to meet requirements under the Endangered Species Act, which can prevent them from building and sometimes operating reservoirs, dams and other diversions if the activity is deemed harmful to at-risk species. Last year it wasn’t clear that three new governors and a fractious Congress could come together to reauthorize the program. Jo Jo La, an endangered species expert who tracks the program for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, says everyone was grateful that politicians united to push the federal legislation and new operating agreement through. It was signed by President Trump in December 2019. But politicians weren’t solely responsible for the program’s extension, says Jason Farnsworth, executive director of the program. Diversity among the group’s members was also key, he says. “Everyone from The Nature Conservancy to the Audubon Society to irrigation districts in the North Platte Basin supported this. You
don’t often see an irrigation district sending a support letter for an endangered species recovery program. That’s how broad the support was.” Of the $156 million allocated, Colorado is providing $24.9 million in cash and another $6.2 million in water, Wyoming is providing $3.1 million in cash and $12.5 million in water, Nebraska is providing $31.25 million in land and water, and the U.S. Department of Interior is providing $78 million in cash, according to PRRIP documents. With marching orders in hand, researchers and scientists can now focus on completing the program so that at the end of this 13-year extension it will become fully operational. Early results have won accolades. La says congressional testimony routinely describe it as one of the nation’s “marquee” recovery programs, because species are coming back in a major way. In the 1980s and 1990s, the endangered whooping crane, least tern, and pallid sturgeon, and the threatened piping plover were in danger of becoming extinct, with the river’s channels and flows so altered by dams and diversions that it could no longer support the species’ nesting, breeding and migratory habitats. Today the picture is much different. The whooping crane spring migration has risen more than 12 percent since 2007, while the number of least tern and piping plover breeding pairs have more than doubled during that same time period. Still ahead is work to acquire more water and land, and research to understand how to help the pallid sturgeon. Thus far it has not responded to recovery efforts, in part because it is extremely difficult to locate. The idea is to ensure there is enough water and habitat to keep the birds and fish healthy once the program enters its long-term operating phase. H •
This story originally appeared in Fresh Water News, an initiative of Water Education Colorado. Read Fresh Water News online at watereducationcolorado.org. Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News.
Operation Migration / Flickr
Around the state | BY JERD SMITH ARKANSAS BASIN After decades of waiting, the federal government has awarded $28 million in funding to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a 130-mile pipeline that will serve some 50,000 people east of Pueblo. The funding will come from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s 2020 work plan, according to a report in the Pueblo Chieftain.
COLORADO BASIN The humpback chub, one of the Colorado River’s native fish, might be moved off the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering reclassifying the chub as “threatened” rather than endangered because, under the recovery program, the fish population has grown. Environmental groups have expressed concerns about the reclassification. The chub was placed on the endangered species list in 1967.
GUNNISON BASIN The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is examining ways to replace the aging Paradox Valley Unit, which is part of a basin-wide effort to reduce salt in the Colorado River. The
unit began operating in 1996 and is nearing the end of its useful life. The unit prevents 95,000 tons of salt annually from reaching the Dolores, and eventually the Colorado, rivers. Anyone interested in the effort can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORTH PLATTE BASIN The white stuff has been falling freely in the North Platte Basin, with snowpack measuring 114 percent of average as of March 12, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Snow Survey. Statewide snowpack is also strong, measuring 104 percent of average for the same period.
RIO GRANDE BASIN Dry conditions have returned to the San Luis Valley. According to the U.S. drought monitor, more than 50 percent of the state was in moderate drought as of March 10, including the valley.
SAN JUAN/DOLORES BASIN
SOUTH PLATTE BASIN A South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group (SPROWG) study has identified four water supply options that could help erase looming shortages in the basin. Options include combinations of above-ground, off-channel reservoirs and below-ground storage, new pipelines, and exchanges of water between farms and cities, and could potentially enhance the environment and provide recreational opportunities, backers of the study said in a statement.
YAMPA/WHITE/GREEN BASIN Red Mesa Reservoir managers, faced with a state order to improve dam safety or face
The humpback chub, one of the Colorado River’s native fish, could soon be downlisted off the endangered species list and reclassified as “threatened,” according to a January 2020 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal.
Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
demolition, are actively seeking partners interested in helping expand the reservoir so that it can safely store more water, according to a report in the Durango Herald. The reservoir, about 20 miles southwest of Durango, stores about 1,175 acre-feet of water in La Plata County. The reservoir company has until 2024 to repair the facility.
The State of Colorado has ordered water users in the Yampa and North Platte basins to install measuring devices or face legal action. Division Engineer Erin Light, top water chief in the region, said roughly 70 percent of water users in Water Division 6 do not have measuring devices. That means millions of gallons of water are being consumed without strict oversight, something that is routine in other divisions, where water rights have been actively administered for years or decades because stream systems have long been over-subscribed. Under the terms of the order, ranchers and other water users who don’t install measuring flumes or other devices to track diversion rates from the rivers into their systems may be cut off unless they receive an extension. Some extensions have been granted due to weather delays and materials shortages.
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Thank you Diverse contributors provide the financial support that makes Water Education Colorado’s work possible! Our community is connected by a deep appreciation for water and a love for our state. Together, we’re committed to advancing water education for Colorado citizens, decision makers, and industry professionals alike. We’d like to take a moment to recognize our Fiscal Year 2019 (July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019) members and donors who contributed $100 and above. Look for a full listing of our members and donors, including our valuable $50 members, in our annual report coming soon to watereducationcolorado.org. $25,000+ CoBank • Colorado Water Conservation Board • ThinkWater • Walton Family Foundation
$5,000+ Aurora Water • Board of Water Works of Pueblo • Colorado River District • Colorado Springs Utilities • Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority • Denver Water • HDR • Jefferson County • Meridian Metropolitan District • Northern Water • Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Program • South Metro Water Supply Authority • Southwestern Water Conservation District • Special District Association of Colorado • Varra Companies, Inc.
$2,000+ Cheryl Benedict • Byers Group, LLC • Carollo Engineers • Central Colorado Water Conservancy District • City of Greeley Water Conservation • City of Thornton • Collins Cockrel & Cole • Sean Cronin • Environmental Defense Fund • Jacobs • Melinda Kassen • Lincoln Institute of Land Policy • Jonathan McAnally • Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict • Premier Farm Credit • Rio Grande Water Conservation District • SGM • Shea Properties • South Platte Water Related Activities Program • St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District • Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association • Ute Water Conservancy District • WateReuse Colorado • Brian Werner and Tina Del Ponte
$1,000+ Anadarko • Audubon • Brown and Caldwell • City of Grand Junction • City of Longmont • Colorado Contractors Association • Colorado Corn • Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment • Colorado Parks and Wildlife • Colorado Water Congress • Barbara Goelz-Tamsin • Stacie Hedrick • Frank Kinder • Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District • Ken Lykens • Lynker Technologies • Martin and Wood Water Consultants • Metro Wastewater Reclamation District • Morgan County Quality Water District • Parker Water and Sanitation District • Bret and Jayla Poppleton • Republican River Water Conservation District • River Network • Nick Ryan • Lamp Rynearson • The Nature Conservancy • Town of Monument • Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association • Upper South Platte Water Conservancy District • Ken and Ruth Wright 12 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
$500+ AECOM • American Rivers • Applegate Group • Boulder County • Business for Water Stewardship • Carlson, Hammond and Paddock • CDM Smith • City of Boulder • City of Fort Collins • City of Westminster • College of Professional Studies at MSU Denver • Colorado Dairy Farmers • Colorado Groundwater Association • Colorado Water Center • Dolores Water Conservancy District • Ducks Unlimited • Dynotek • Evan Ela • Enginuity Engineering Solutions • Forsgren Associates Inc. • George K. Baum & Company • Knopf Family Foundation • Kogovsek and Associates, Inc. • Leonard Rice Engineers, Inc. • Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District • Mallon Lonnquist Morris & Watrous • Alan Matlosz and Michelle Godfrey • John Maus • Maynes Bradford Shipps and Sheftel • McGrane Water Engineering, LLC • MSK Consulting • Mt. Werner Water • North Sterling Irrigation District • Jacqueline Rhoades • Roggen Farmers Elevator Association • Roxborough Water and Sanitation District • Chad Schneider • Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District • Summit County • SWCA Environmental Consultants • Tetra Tech • United Water and Sanitation District • Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District • Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District • Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District • Water Demand Management • Weld County Farm Bureau • Western Resource Advocates • Wilson Water Group • WRASP • Wright Family Foundation
$250+ Agri-Enterprises, Inc. • Arapahoe County Government Board of County Commissioners • BBA Water Consultants • Boulder Valley and Longmont Conservation Districts • Centennial Water and Sanitation District • Chaffee County Public Health • Charles Chamberlin • Jon Chambers • City of Greeley • City of Steamboat Springs • Colorado Department of Local Affairs • Colorado Livestock Association • Colorado Municipal League • Colorado River Cattle Ranch • Colorado Water Trust • Conejos Water Conservancy District • Cottonwood Water and Sanitation District • Lisa Darling • Deere & Ault Consultants, Inc. • Delta County • Donala Water and Sanitation District • Douglas County • ELEMENT Water Consulting • Harold Evans • Evans Group, LLC • Fairfield and Woods PC • Paul Fanning • Meg Frantz • Garver, LLC • Gates Family Foundation • Russell George • Dala Giffin • Harris Water Engineering, Inc. • High Country Hydrology, Inc. • Bobbie and Greg Hobbs • Scott Hummer • Iron Woman Construction and Environmental Services, LLC • JLB Engineering Consultants • Gregory Johnson • Zane Kessler • Paul Lander • Left Hand Water District • Daniel Luecke • Juan Roberto Madrid • Dennis McGrane • Meyer, Walker, Condon, & Walker, P.C. • Middle Park Water Conservancy District • Kevin Moran • North Poudre Irrigation Company • North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District • North Weld County Water District • Otak, Inc. • Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District • Jim Pokrandt • Red Rocks Community College • Renew Strategies, LLC • Robert Rich • Rocky Mountain Farmers Union • San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District • Schmidt Construction • Ulliman Schutte • Alyson Scott • Bo Shaffer • Mike Shimmin • Simon Land and Cattle Company, Inc. • Ben Stanford • Keith Swerdfeger • Gregg Ten Eyck • Town of Castle Rock • Town of Frisco • Town of Windsor • Bill Trampe • The Water Information Program • Dianna Welton • West Greeley Conservation District • Charles White • White & Jankowski • Erin Wilson • Wright Water Engineers
$100+ Tammy Ackerman • David Akers • Terri Allender • Arkansas River Basin Water Forum • Jeni Arndt • Roger Austin • Bruce Bacon • David Bailey • Dianne Bailey • John Bartholow • Amy Beatie • Matthew Becker • Big Thompson Watershed Forum • Bijou Irrigation Company • Bijou Irrigation District • Peter Binney • Amy Blackwell • Gary Boldt • Roger Bouton • L. Richard Bratton • Matthew Brown • Carolyn Burr • Jim Butler • Joan Card • Anne Castle • CCII, LLC • Tom Cech • City of Greeley Water & Sewer Dept • City of Sterling • Steve Coffin • Bill Coleman • The Colorado Health Foundation • Jeff Crane • Shelley Curtis • Blaine Dwyer • Carol Ekarius • Patrick Emery • Fidelity Charitable • Mike Fink • Angie Fowler • Jay Gallagher • Pamela Gardiner and Lyle Geurts • John Gerstle • Kevin Gertig • Lorie Gillis • Thomas Gougeon • Hillary Hamann • Taylor Hawes • Headwaters Corporation • Roy Heald • Alan Heath • Eric and Nilmini Hecox • Matt Heimerich • Jim Hogan • Dawn Jewell • Michelle Jones • Julie Kallenberger • Ray Kauffman • Danielle Keith • Audrey Kiszla • Judith Kleinman • Stan Kloberdanz • Don Langley • Erika Larsen • Katryn Leone • Patricia Locke • Logan Well Users, Inc. • Kendra Longworth • Jeff Lukas • Lutin Curlee Family Partnership, Ltd. • Janet Marlow • Richard McAllister • Bryan McCarty • John McClow • Bill McCormick • Trina McGuire-Collier • Charles McKay • Bill McKee • Julie McKenna • Bart Miller • Larry Morandi • Fran Mundt • Brian Payer • Bob Peters • Hensley Peterson • Jamie Phillips • Jennifer Pitt • Sarah Pitts • Alicia and Brandon Prescott • Jerry Raisch • Klint Reedy • David Reinertsen • Patty Rettig • Frank Riggle • Lee Rimel • Steven Rogowski • Nicole Seltzer • Thomas Sharp • JoAnn Slivka • MaryLou Smith • Claire Sollars • Springdale Ditch Company • D. Randall Spydell • Laurel Stadjuhar • Stephanie Stanley • Joe Stepanek • David Stiller • Jennifer Tanaka • Richard Tocher • Andrew Todd • Town of Breckenridge - Water Division • Jean Townsend • Chris Treese • Molly Trujillo • Daniel Tyler • Jennifer Urich • W. W. Wheeler & Associates, Inc. • Berten Weaver • Michael Welsh • Eric Wilkinson • Janet Williams • Tom Williamsen • Anne Wiper • Gerald Wischmeyer • Jim Yahn • Mickey Zeppelin
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Interstate 70 and a Nestlé Purina pet food factory loom above northeast Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. 14 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
WHEN WATER JUSTICE IS ABSENT, COMMUNITIES SPEAK UP TWO YEARS AGO, A COMPANY THAT ANALYZES PROPERTY data crunched the numbers on more than 8,600 zip codes in the United States and found that America’s most polluted neighborhood was in northeast Denver. The study, from ATTOM Data Solutions, shows that Denver’s 80216 zip code, which includes Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and River North, topped its “environmental hazard index.” As of 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory reported that 22 facilities were still releasing toxic chemicals in 80216, chemicals such as nickel, lead, methanol, creosote and more. “The neighborhood is parked between gas refineries, the former airport, and then, also, what was at one time an Army base making mustard gas,” says University of Denver law professor Tom Romero, II, who has spent his career dissecting the factors behind environmental injustices in Colorado. There are two Superfund sites and six brownfield sites in 80216, plus the knot of Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 severs the neighborhood from the rest of Denver and increases pollution from highway traffic. The area is also home to a predominantly low-income, Hispanic and Latinx community, says Candi CdeBaca, Denver City Councilwoman for northeast Denver’s District 9. Last year, CdeBaca became the first person from the neighborhoods to represent on the Denver City Council, ever. She points to an opposition campaign to the Central 70 Project as the beginning of the neighborhood rallying to achieve representation against environmental inequities. The Central 70 Project broke ground in 2018 to widen the highway through Denver. It will demolish the viaduct that carries I-70 over Elyria-Swansea, replacing it with a below-grade highway.
Residents had a list of worries: losing their homes to eminent domain, living even closer to the highway, and unearthing a Superfund site, which they feared would re-expose harmful heavy metals and increase health risks, CdeBaca says. Their opposition campaign didn’t stop the highway work, but the community came together and won in one sense—the Colorado Department of Transportation will pay for a long-term health study, collecting data to determine whether toxins in the air, soil and water are making residents sick. They also gained a louder voice. “Those losses were the first start of me galvanizing some community power around environmental racism,” says CdeBaca. “Now we have this amplification of groups who never had representation in our government from the neighborhoods that were polluted.” She points to local voice and representation in all issues, particularly for communities that want to bring about environmental justice. “There is nothing that I support more than activating people power,” CdeBaca says. With water affordability, access and quality challenges—all of which can translate into health impacts—the role of water in Colorado isn’t always one of fostering healthy communities, yet it could and should be. What contributes to these less-thanwhole communities? And what does it take to recognize the issues and how they evolved, address power imbalances, engage the community, and restore equity where it’s been missing?
WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE? ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICES IN COLORADO, OR ANYWHERE, can span cities and suburbs, sovereign tribal lands, and rural
BY L AU R A PAS KU S A N D C A I T L I N C O L E M A N Matthew Staver
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“Does the community actually have an authentic seat at the table in addressing the ills?” | KELSEA MACILROY | Colorado State University
communities. They have their roots in narratives of immigration, development and industry, and political power dynamics, further influenced by evolving legal and regulatory frameworks. In 1990, EPA Administrator William Reilly created an Environmental Equity Workgroup to assess evidence that “racial minority and low-income communities bear a higher environmental risk burden than the general population.” The agency, which went on to establish an Environmental Equity office in 1992, later changing its name to the Office of Environmental Justice in 1994, defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” It has since expanded to offer a range of programs that provide services from grant funding to technical assistance and training. It also runs a National Environmental Justice Hotline. Another early definition of environmental justice came from University of Michigan professor Bunyan Bryant, who said it refers to places “where people can interact with confidence that the environment is safe, nurturing and productive. Environmental justice is served when people can realize their highest potential.” Scholars add additional layers to the term—it’s not just about identifying who is or isn’t harmed but includes some form of restitution, says Kelsea MacIlroy, an adjunct professor and PhD candidate in the sociology department at Colorado State University. “There are a lot of different ways to talk about justice that aren’t just about who and how but also about a long-term social justice component,” MacIlroy says. “Does the community actually have an authentic seat at the table in addressing the ills?”
In 2016, labor and community activists in Lansing, Michigan, called for Governor Rick Snyder to resign over the Flint water contamination crisis. The former governor did not step down—his term lasted through 2019. 16 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
80216 may feel it all. “Denver was segregated, and that segregation manifested itself in a variety of ways in terms of water,” Romero says. “It meant that Denver’s communities of color, particularly African Americans and Mexican Americans, were living in close proximity to the areas with heavy industry, where the affordable housing is.” That’s a pattern and practice, he says, that was established in the 20th century and continues today. Many environmental justice cases have similar roots, as repeated practices that ultimately create winners and losers.
WHEN GOVERNMENT FAILS AMERICANS WATCHED ONE OF THE MOST HIGH-PROFILE environmental justice cases unfold in Flint, Michigan, in 2015 and 2016 when corroded lead pipes poisoned the population. To save money, in April 2014, the city switched its drinking water source and began supplying residents with Flint River water that wasn’t treated under federal anti-corrosion rules. The population was predominantly black, and more than 40 percent of residents were below the poverty threshold. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, no level of lead exposure is safe but higher lead exposure leads to more health challenges including anemia, kidney and brain damage, heart disease, decreased IQ and more. In children, the impacts are especially toxic. Residents began noticing a rusty tint to their tap water in the summer of 2015, but it wasn’t until October 2015 that the governor ordered Flint’s water source switched. By then, though the new water was safe, the plumbing wasn’t—corroded pipes continued to leach lead into drinking water. Bottled water and free faucet filters to remove lead at the point of use were distributed. More than five years after the crisis in Flint began, the city and its residents are still recovering. The city’s FAST Start program is removing and replacing lead and galvanized steel service lines across the city, but it’s a big, expensive job. FAST Start has been funded with $25 million from the State of Michigan and $100 million allocated by Congress through the Federal Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation Act of 2016. As of December 2019, less than 40 percent of the city’s pipes had been replaced, with many residents still relying on faucet filters or bottled water. Fifteen state and local officials were charged with various crimes, including involuntary manslaughter—some took plea deals and most cases were dropped. Residents now mistrust their water and water providers. That mistrust has flooded the nation, with many more communities now coping with elevated lead levels and lead pipe replacement. According to the independent Flint Water Advisory Task Force’s final report, released in 2016, breakdowns in protocol, dismissal of problems, and failure to protect people occurred at nearly every level of government. Not only were customers supplied with unsafe Jim West
Concerned members of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition took a bus to Colorado School of Mines in January 2020 to hear fellow coalition member Mark Favors speak alongside experts about PFAS. Panelists included Dr. Christopher Higgens, an engineering professor working on PFAS cleanup at Colorado School of Mines; Rob Bilott, the attorney who fought DuPont on PFAS contamination in West Virginia; and others.
drinking water, government officials were slow to acknowledge the problems and rectify the issue by providing safe water. According to the 2016 report, the Flint water crisis is a “story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental justice.” Had there been local control of resources and decisions, they write, the problems wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.
COPING WITH FOREVER CHEMICALS FLINT’S TOXIC WATER IS NOT UNLIKE THE WATER QUALITY issues discovered in 2016 in the Colorado towns of Fountain and Security-Widefield. That’s when water providers and residents learned that PFAS chemicals, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were detected at levels above EPA’s new 2016 health advisory levels. The source of the chemicals: firefighting foam used for decades to extinguish training fuel fires at the U.S. Air Force’s Peterson Air Force Base. The Air Force now uses a replacement foam at the base, and in 2019, the Colorado Legislature enacted restrictions and bans on PFAS foam, but the damage has been done. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they bioaccumulate and remain in the environment for a long time, with half lives (the amount of time it takes the chemical to decrease to half its original value) in humans of two to eight years, depending on the chemical. They have been linked to cancers, liver and kidney damage, high cholesterol, low infant birth weight, and other ailments. Matthew Staver
“We ended up having 16 family members that lived within that area that had cancer, and five of them died of kidney cancer,” said Mark Favors, during a public event on PFAS at Colorado School of Mines in January 2020. Favors is a former resident of Security, a U.S. Army veteran, a PFAS activist, and member of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition. “A lot of [my family] are military veterans. One of my cousins, while he was doing two combat tours in Iraq, the Air Force was contaminating their drinking water. That’s the crazy part. How they’ve admitted it and it's just hard to get any type of justice on the issue,” Favors says. These southern El Paso County towns aren’t home to what are often considered disadvantaged populations—the poverty rate is between 8 and 9 percent, slightly less than the statewide average; about 60 percent of residents are white, and about 20 percent are Hispanic or Latinx, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. However, census numbers don’t represent military personnel who temporarily reside in the area. According to El Paso County’s Health Indicators report, published in 2012, four military bases in the county employ 40,500 military personnel and about 21,000 contract personnel. When EPA tightened its health advisory levels in 2016, they were 10 times more restrictive than what the agency had previously advised, and water providers realized they had a problem. They acted quickly to provide residents with free bottled water and water filling stations while they suspended use of the aquifer, then worked to broker deals to purchase clean water from other municipalities. H E A DWAT E R S S P R I N G 2 0 2 0
In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, Judy Lopez with Colorado Open Lands and landowner Dave Marquez discuss upcoming restoration work on the Culebra River, which traverses his property. Marquez irrigates from the Francisco Sanchez Acequia to grow alfalfa-grass hay. The acequia worked with Colorado Open Lands and the bylaws project to develop bylaws that preserve their oral traditions.
Some of those deals were only temporary. Since June 2018, the City of Fountain has worked to get back on its groundwater supply, treating the groundwater with granular activated carbon units provided by the Air Force. Now it is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a full, permanent groundwater treatment plant. The story in Security is similar—the Security Water and Sanitation District has been importing water, primarily from Pueblo Reservoir, to meet the needs of its residents since 2016, which involved building new pipelines and purchasing extra water from Colorado Springs Utilities—an added cost. Security avoided raising water rates for a time, paying those costs out of its cash reserves. By 2018, residents had to absorb a 15 percent rate increase, with another 9.5 percent increase in 2019. The Army Corps of Engineers is constructing a treatment facility in Security, too, which should be complete by the end of 2020. Once the plant is finished, Security will switch back to a combination of groundwater and surface water, and rates should stabilize once the costs of those pipelines are recovered, says Roy Heald, general manager at Security Water and Sanitation Districts. Who pays to protect the health of those who rely on this water? “What responsibility did [the Air Force] have in rectifying this? What about the local sanitation districts? They have to deal with this. It’s not their fault but they’re tasked with giving clean water,” says MacIlroy at Colorado State University. “The Air Force really has stepped up,” Heald says. But they may have to step up further—in 2019, the Security Water and Sanitation Districts and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, another affected entity, sued the Air Force to recoup the costs of 18 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
purchasing and piping in clean water. Their lawsuit cites negligence for disposal of chemicals, remediation of contamination, and breaching a responsibility to prevent dangerous conditions on the defendant’s property. Heald wouldn’t comment on the pending lawsuit, but says, "As long as [cash] reserves are at an adequate level, if we received a windfall there would be no place else for it to go besides back to our customers.” Those recouped costs would likely take the form of lower or stabilized rates. Residents are also pushing for justice through a class-action lawsuit brought by the Colorado Springs-based McDivitt Lawfirm, which has teamed up with a personal injury law firm in New York to file against 3M, Tyco Fire Products, and other manufacturers of the firefighting foam. “There’s going to have to be some sort of accountability and justice for these people who unknowingly, for years, drank colorless, odorless high amounts of PFAS,” says Favors. He calls for better oversight and demands that polluters are held accountable. As for coping with PFAS-related health challenges, there are still a lot of unknowns, but El Paso County was selected to participate in two national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies to better assess the dangers of human exposure to PFAS, and to evaluate exposure pathways. Locally, the study and lawsuits might help recoup some financial damages—but PFAS-related water contamination isn’t isolated to these Colorado communities. In July 2019, the Environmental Working Group mapped at least 712 documented cases of PFAS contamination across 49 states. Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, hoping to implement a national PFAS drinking Christi Bode
“There’s going to have to be some sort of accountability and justice for these people who unknowingly, for years, drank colorless, odorless high amounts of PFAS.” | MARK FAVORS | Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition water standard, estimate the number is even higher: 1,400 communities suffer from PFAS contamination. A U.S. Senate version of a PFAS-regulating bill has yet to be introduced. But in February, EPA released a draft proposal to consider regulating PFOS and PFOA, just two of the thousands of PFAS.
JUSTICE THROUGH WATER RIGHTS ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ISN’T EXCLUSIVELY AN URBAN issue. Injustices involving pollution, public health, access, affordability and water can be wrought anyplace—including rural and suburban areas. For rural communities, the issue comes to a head when people, organizations or entities in power seek more water for their needs at the cost of others. In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, acequia communities fought for years to protect their water rights and way of life. Acequias are an equity-based irrigation system introduced by the original Spanish and Mexican settlers of southern Colorado. “What it means is that the entire community is only benefitted when all resources are shared,” says Judy Lopez, conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands. There, Lopez works with landowners to preserve wildlife habitat, forests, culturally significant lands, and ag lands—including those served by acequias. The Town of San Luis, the heart of Colorado’s acequia community, is one of the most economically disadvantaged in the state. It’s in Costilla County, where more than 60 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latinx—more than any other county in Colorado—and 25 percent of the population live in poverty, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. But the people there are longtime landowners, never separated from the land their ancestors settled, four to seven generations back, Lopez says. They have the state’s original water rights to match, including Colorado’s oldest continuously operated water right, the San Luis People’s Ditch, an acequia established in 1852. Prior to statehood, the territorial government recognized acequia water rights. But when the Colorado Constitution established the right of prior appropriation, the priority scheme of “first in time, first in right” became the law, challenging communal rights. “It was very difficult for [acequias] to go to water court and say, ‘This guy is taking my water,’” Lopez says. “It was very difficult to quantify the use and who was using it.” It wasn’t until 2009 that the Colorado Legislature passed the Acequia Recognition Law. The law was developed by Rep. Ed Vigil with the help of the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, an entity that represents more than 73 acequias and 300 families who depend on them. Amended in 2013, the law solidifies the rights of acequia users. According to the Colorado Acequia Handbook, it allows “acequias to continue to exercise their traditional roles in governing community access to water, and also strengthens their ability to protect their water.”
In order to be recognized under the Acequia Recognition Act, acequias needed bylaws. Over the past six years, Colorado Open Lands, the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, and the University of Colorado Boulder have partnered to help 42 acequias write bylaws, thereby protecting their water. “The bylaws were still based, in large part, on those oral traditions,” Lopez says, “and included protective language that said, ‘If a water right is sold, or a piece of land is sold, that acequia gets the first right to purchase those rights.’” Even having water rights doesn’t guarantee water access: Over the past few decades, the federal government has settled longstanding water rights cases with sovereign tribes, in many cases backdating tribal water rights to the dates of their reservations’ establishment. Although the tribes now have the nation’s oldest established water rights, they haven’t always, and they still come up against structural and financial barriers that prevent them from developing water and getting the real benefit of those rights. Of the more than 570 federally recognized tribes in the United States, as of 2019 only 36 tribal water rights settlements had been federally approved. The Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes in Colorado are among that small number, but despite their long journey, the tribes still don’t have access to all the water they own. Tribal water rights have their roots in the Winters Doctrine, a 1908 case which established tribal water rights based on the date the federal government created their reservations—thereby moving tribal water rights to “first in line” among users. In the 1970s and 80s, the U.S. government filed and worked through claims on behalf of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes to surface waters in southwestern Colorado. In the 1980s, Congress approved a settlement between the tribes, the federal government and other parties; in 2000, the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act was amended, entitling tribes to water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed AnimasLa Plata Project (A-LP), as well as from the Dolores Project’s McPhee Reservoir. Construction on A-LP began in 2001, and the project’s key feature, Lake Nighthorse—named for Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell—began filling in 2009. Prior to the Dolores Project, many people living in Towaoc, on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, did not have running water and instead trucked it in to fill water tanks at their homes, says Ernest House, Jr., senior policy director with the Keystone Policy Center and former director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. His late father, Ernest House, Sr., was pivotal in that fight for water. “I was fortunate, my father was able to see A-LP completed. I think he probably, in his own right, couldn’t believe that it would have been done and could be done,” he says. But even today, some Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute communities still lack access to water, and aging infrastructure from the 1980s needs updating and repairs. “Our tribes as sovereign nations cannot maintain or move forward without access to water,” House says. “We have to remind H E A DWAT E R S S P R I N G 2 0 2 0
“To us, the people who are closest to the pain are the ones closest to the solution because they know what’s happening in their community best of anyone.” | LIZETH CHACÓN | Colorado People’s Alliance
people that we have tribal nations in Colorado, and that we have other tribes that continue to call Colorado home, that were removed from the state, either by treaty or forced removal,” he says, adding that acknowledging the difficult past must be a part of conversations about the future. Those conversations include state, regional, and federal-level water planning. The Colorado tribes are engaged in Colorado’s basin roundtable process, with both tribes occupying seats on the Southwest Basin Roundtable, says Greg Johnson, who heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Planning Section (and serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees). Through the roundtables, local stakeholders conduct basin-wide water planning that is eventually integrated into the statewide Colorado Water Plan. However, until recently, tribal involvement in regional Colorado River negotiations between the seven U.S. basin states and federal government has been nonexistent. Change is brewing—a 2018 federal Tribal Water Study highlighted how tribal water resources could impact Colorado River operations, while a new Water and Tribes Initiative is working to build tribal capacity and participation in water negotiations throughout the basin. “The Utes have been in what we call Colorado for the last 10,000 to 12,000 years,” House says. “It would be a shame if we were left out of the conversations [about water].”
THE EXTERNAL COSTS OF INDUSTRY GOVERNMENT IS VITAL TO ADDRESSING THE LEGACY of environmental injustice, and preventing future problems, but finding solutions also demands reconsidering how business is done. Consider Colorado’s relationship with the extraction industry, visible in the 19th century mines that pock mountain towns, uranium-rich communities like Nulca, and the escalation of oil and gas drilling today. Colorado is an “epicenter” of extraction and environmental justice issues, says Stephanie Malin, associate professor at Colorado State University and a sociologist who studies energy development and extraction. Lack of local control in the past has been especially frustrating, Malin says, since private corporations earn profits off the resources but then outsource the impacts. In the end, extractive industries have a track record of leaving communities and governments to bear the costs of cleanup. Take Gold King Mine as one high-profile example. In August 2015, wastewater from an abandoned mine in San Juan County contaminated the Animas River between Silverton and Durango. Contractors hired by EPA accidently caused 3 million gallons of mine waste, laden with heavy metals, to wash into the Animas. New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation all filed to sue EPA, with farmers reporting that they couldn’t water their crops and others saying they had to truck in alternative water supplies. But those responsible for the contamination were long-gone. Like 20 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
tens of thousands of other mines in the region, the Gold King Mine was abandoned in the early 20th century. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)—more commonly called Superfund— which Congress passed in 1980, was originally set up as a “polluter tax” on oil, gas and chemical companies at risk of contaminating communities or the environment. But Congress never reauthorized the tax, which expired in 1995. By the early 21st century, the fund was bankrupt. Today, these cleanups are funded entirely by taxpayers. “It’s part of a bigger pattern of privatizing profit and nationalizing, or socializing, risk,” Malin says. “Then, communities and the environment are left holding the ‘external’ costs.” Those external costs, she says, are nearly unquantifiable: “The intergenerational impacts in particular are so hard to gauge, in terms of what the communities are absorbing.” While these problems can seem intractable, there are solutions, Malin says. For example, the bond amounts companies are required to pay up-front should better reflect the actual cost of cleanup, she says. Last year, Colorado lawmakers made strides to unburden taxpayers in just that way, with an update to Colorado’s old mining law. The new Colorado law, HB19-1113, makes sure water quality impacts from mining are accounted for and long-term impacts are avoided. The law says that the industry can no longer self bond—a practice that allowed mine operators to demonstrate they had the financial resources to cover clean-up costs rather than providing the resources up front. Without self bonding, taxpayers won’t be left paying for remediation if the company goes bankrupt. It also requires mine operators to factor water quality protection costs into their bond—and requires most to develop a water quality treatment plan. This means that reclamation plans must include a reasonable end date for any needed water quality treatment, hopefully ensuring Colorado will avoid new perpetually polluting mines. State lawmakers are currently looking at a more encompassing environmental justice bill, HB20-1143, introduced in January 2020. At press time the bill was still under consideration. If it moves forward as introduced, the bill would increase the maximum civil fine for air and water quality violations—from $10,000 per day to $47,357 per day, which would be adjusted annually according to the consumer price index—reallocating some of the financial burden back on polluters. It would also authorize the use of the money in the state’s water quality improvement fund, which is where those water quality violation fines go, to pay for projects addressing impacts to communities. The bill would also bolster the state’s environmental justice efforts, with a new environmental justice advisory board and environmental justice ombudsperson who would run the advisory board and advocate for environmental justice communities.
In August 2015, wastewater from the Gold King Mine was flowing through a series of retention ponds built to contain and filter out heavy metals and chemicals about a quarter of a mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colorado.
SPEAKING UP FOR TOMORROW’S CLIMATE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE CAN’T BE ABOUT A SINGLE issue, says Lizeth Chacón, executive director of the Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial-justice, member-led organization based in Denver and Pueblo. That means looking at waterfocused environmental justice alongside related issues such as climate change, racial justice, inequities, poverty, housing, power dynamics, and more. “When we are talking to our members, we are talking to them about the fact that they are working two jobs and still cannot put dinner on the table in the week, talking that they live in fear of being deported and being separated from their families, talking about the fact that they are sick, or have headaches, or have to spend money on water because they can’t drink the water coming out of their tap like other people can,” she says. “It can’t be seen as one issue … This work has to be holistic.” Currently, the Colorado People’s Alliance is working on a climate campaign directed by its members in Commerce City. “They said, ‘This is something that’s impacting all of us, regardless of where we’re from, whether we’re undocumented or documented, what our economic status is,’” she says. The Alliance is focused on greenhouse gas emissions, which have immediate health impacts and long-term water effects. Another approach in northeast Denver is proceeding thanks to an EPA environmental justice grant, in which organizers will convene youth, local leaders, and scientists to create a community science project that leads to a more fishable and swimmable Denver South Platte River. The river flows through Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, but it used to be a dumping ground, with a landfill beside its banks. Clean ups and improved recreational access, much of which has been spearheaded by the nonprofit Greenway Foundation since its founding in 1974, have created opportunities for kayakers downtown, but river access in northeast Denver, Blake Beyea
beyond the popular Confluence Park, is limited. In addition, E. Coli levels are often high, making swimming inadvisable. Access to a healthy waterway makes communities more vibrant and whole, supporting health, wellbeing, recreation, and cultural and spiritual practices, but also connection. This may be the only recreational water access available to some urbanites. “Rivers are one of the major pathways to healing the environment and healing ourselves,” said Jorge Figueroa at an initial workshop for this project in December 2019, where they began to establish a youth advisory board. Figueroa runs El Laboratorio, an organization that brings people together from different disciplines and cultures to creatively solve environmental challenges. (He is also on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.) He’s working on this project with Lincoln Hills Cares, a nonprofit that provides outdoor education, recreation and experiences to youth who may not otherwise have these opportunities; and Colorado State University, which is developing a new campus at the National Western Center, called Spur, in the neighborhood. The partners expect to have a plan ready by the end of 2020, and the project should begin in 2021. Figueroa, who grew up and has family in Puerto Rico, also witnessed, up close, the wave of climate refugees who left his home state after Hurricane Maria devastated it in 2017. “It’s critical for us to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and in the reliability of our municipal potable water systems,” Figueroa says. “But from an equity perspective, we need to ensure that the more than a trillion dollars that will be invested in the nation’s public water systems provide the most benefit to the most people.” His suggestion to build climate resiliency in an equitable way: water conservation. “Water conservation can be a supreme water equity tool: It provides cheaper water for the community and more resiliency and reliability for the system. It’s not only an ideal climate change adaptation strategy but also is one of the top, by far, equity water strategies.” When you don’t consider equity in water H E A DWAT E R S S P R I N G 2 0 2 0
Lizeth Chacón is the executive director of the Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial justice organization that is working on a climate justice campaign. Chacón, a first-generation immigrant from Mexico, emphasizes the importance of engaging and creating opportunities for disadvantaged communities to lead.
decisions, you can make vulnerable communities more vulnerable, he says. Whether working to improve environmental justice structurally and physically through conservation and resiliencies, or politically and financially through new regulations, bonding or taxation, there are many opportunities to do better. But there are also social justice elements to work on. Chacón recommends involving community members at the beginning of a process—not at the end. She says it’s important to listen—and to not dismiss people when they disagree. Looking forward, it’s up to everyone in positions of power to actively create space for disadvantaged communities to lead, says Chacón. “To us, the people who are closest to the pain are the ones closest to the solution because they know what’s happening in their community best of anyone.” Some of the principles of engaging communities in these situations are “almost universal,” says Colorado’s Michael Wenstrom, an environmental protection specialist in EPA’s Environmental Justice Program. Wenstrom worked in Flint over the course of a year following the water emergency, “assisting 22 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
them to connect with processes, in understanding what their rights are, and helping them learn how to raise their voices effectively,” he says. He says that where communities and families are already overburdened—with poverty, crime, racism—they often don’t have time, expertise or resources to recognize the problems, nevermind address them. “In addition, people in low-income communities may be less inclined to raise their voices for various reasons,” Wenstrom says. Reasons could include racism, job discrimination, or, for some, the fear of being identified as an illegal resident. He says officials like him who come into communities as outsiders must be careful, persistent, and work to build trust. “As trust builds, we can then start pointing people toward tackling issues related to pollution or public health,” he says. But, Wenstrom cautions, if people don’t believe they can make a difference, they won’t raise their voices in the first place. H Laura Paskus is a reporter in Albuquerque N.M., where her show, "Our Land: New Mexico's Environmental Past, Present and Future," airs on New Mexico PBS. Caitlin Coleman is editor of Headwaters magazine. Matthew Staver
In an Era of Rising Costs, Can Colorado Keep its Water Affordable?
While water rate increases may be negligible for some, our poorest communities feel the burden
n 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department took an extraordinary step: In order to recoup unpaid bills, it shut off running water to more than 30,000 low-income households who were behind on payments. As the utility worked to put customers on a payment plan and restore service, the action drew a rebuke from around the world; even the United Nations sent a delegation to the city and deemed it “contrary to human rights.” Shutoffs have continued. More than 112,000 Detroit households had their water shut off between 2014 and 2018 according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. The incident serves as a shot across the bow for utilities across the nation. Water may be essential, but it’s not always affordable—especially for those most in need of cost savings. Water systems built in the mid-century infrastructure boom or to comply with the
Clean Water Act requirements of the 1970s are reaching the end of their useful life. That’s on top of the massive programs to replace lead and copper lines, the need to procure more water in drought-prone areas, and the cost of adapting infrastructure to cope with extreme weather from climate change. That means utilities are facing pricey repairs and new costs—expenses that are passed on to customers in the form of higher rates. Already, nearly 12 percent of households—some 14 million Americans— deal with unaffordable water rates, and a 2018 study from Michigan State University (MSU) estimates that could rise to nearly 36 percent over the next five years. The study relies on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s calculation of affordability—that
By Jason Plautz
spending on water and wastewater combined should comprise no more than 4.5 percent of a region’s median household income. According to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), water rates have risen faster than inflation since 2002. When those costs are distributed across thousands or millions of ratepayers, the effect is negligible for most customers. But for customers on fixed incomes, even small increases can make a huge difference for their budgets. “When we think about affordability, we’re not concerned about whether it’s expensive for someone to water their lawn. We want to know that people can cook, shower, clean, flush their toilets … the basic necessities,” says Manny Teodoro, an associate professor in the political science department at Texas A&M University. In Colorado, newer infrastructure and conscious rate-setting has kept water largely H E A DWAT E R S S P R I N G 2 0 2 0
“You can start seeing problems affecting households we consider lowermiddle income. These households are already squeezed from a variety of perspectives. If incomes were going up a lot, this might not be an issue, but they’re just not.” Elizabeth Mack | Michigan State University
affordable, as in most Western states. The MSU study found that less than 8 percent of Colorado's census tracts were at “high risk” of an affordability crisis based on income, better than all but 12 other states. (“High risk” tracts were defined with a median income of less than $32,000, where rate increases would disproportionately affect ratepayers’ budgets.) Among the regions identified in the study as at risk were Denver, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Alamosa in the San Luis Valley. Even as Denver Water—which serves 1.4 million people, or 25 percent of the state’s population—prepares for a second consecutive year of rate increases, there have been minimal complaints about rates getting out of control. According to Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman, most households pay less than 1 percent of their income for water. Denver Water does not have specific numbers on how many households pay more than 1 percent for drinking water, Hartman says, but added that “Socioeconomic conditions in the Denver Water service area compare favorably to U.S. averages and have continued to improve in recent years.” “When you look at the cost of water, even the increases, compared to what’s happening with rent, it’s not terribly significant,” says Paul Aldretti, the health equity advocate at the Denver Department of Public Health and the Environment and a member of Denver Water’s Citizen Advisory Council, where he represents Northeast Denver. “In the meetings I have [attended], the water quality issues are the bigger issue.” But with costly repairs coming due, it will take a concerted effort to maintain highquality infrastructure and deliver quality water, while keeping rates from ballooning in a way that disproportionately affects lower-income families. EPA estimates the nation needs $472.6 billion in public water system infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years, more than 10 times what the agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund has provided in 24 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
the past two decades. In Colorado, drinking water infrastructure needs are estimated at more than $10 billion, according to the 2020 Colorado Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers, with a chunk of that cost going back to ratepayers. That’s prompted discussions about how to best fund those repairs—and how to make sure that no customer feels an unfair burden when utilities need more capital. “The question of the [utility] bill has always been there, but it’s becoming more and more significant,” says Andrew Rheem, a senior manager with the Colorado-based consulting firm Raftelis, which has worked with utilities in Boulder, Greeley and Denver. “How it gets addressed is going to continue to evolve, but right now a lot of communities are just wondering how to find any solution.”
THE COST OF WATER
hen water affordability enters the national conversation, it’s usually because of a crisis, like Detroit, when water bills rise to triple digits and become untenable for some households. However, it’s hard to say where in the U.S. people are having trouble paying their bills because there’s no clear way to evaluate affordability. Traditionally, governments and utilities, including Denver Water, determine affordability with the EPA calculation that compares water and wastewater bills to a region’s median household income (MHI). If drinking water doesn’t exceed 2.5 percent of MHI and wastewater doesn’t exceed 2 percent, they are considered affordable. But critics say that measurement doesn’t give an accurate picture of who could actually be hurt by unaffordable bills. In a Congressionally mandated report, the National Academy of Public Administration wrote that EPA’s measure doesn’t focus on the most vulnerable users and fails to reflect the fact that water rates have risen faster than other household expenses and incomes. The poorest households who will
be affected most can be overlooked if only median incomes are considered. In 2018, Texas A&M's Teodoro published a paper, Measuring Household Affordability for Water and Sewer Utilities, in AWWA Water Science pitching his own metric, called AR20, which assesses water costs as a percentage of disposable income for households below the 20th income percentile. Economists view this as the “lower boundary of the middle class.” A 2019 paper, Water and Sewer Affordability in America, applied that metric to 360 utilities across the country and found that, on average, the working poor are paying roughly 10 percent of their income on water nationally. That number could rise if economic trends continue. “In a lot of communities, things like rent and energy are going up faster than incomes are,” Teodoro says. “Both the numerator and the denominator are going in the wrong direction.” Most of the pain, however, is likely to be felt in the American South, where incomes are lower and infrastructure is in more desperate need of repair. Cities in the Northeast, where pipes can date back to the early 1900s and the income gap is wider, are also in greater danger. Elizabeth Mack, who authored the MSU study, says affordability is posed to be a “burgeoning crisis.” It already weighs on households that are struggling with high rents, energy bills and food costs, but could soon rise even more. “You can start seeing problems affecting households we consider lower-middle income,” Mack says. “These households are already squeezed from a variety of perspectives. If incomes were going up a lot, this might not be an issue, but they’re just not.” The crisis also breaks along color lines. In a 2019 report, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People found “a clear connection between racial residential segregation and black access to water systems,” including rising rates
Regional Average Annual Wastewater Charges 2018
Wastewater service charges vary widely across the nation. Here, states are grouped by EPA region. Colorado is in EPA Region 8, where the average annual charge in 2018 was $289—less than other regions.
REGION 10 10
$91 $9 $915 15 REGION 1
$434 REGION 5
REGION 6 Region 9 includes Hawaii Region 10 includes Alaska
Average Annual Wastewater Charge 2000–2018 Wastewater bills across the country have been increasing. From 2003 to 2018, the average annual service charge has doubled—a 100 percent increase. The average annual bill is now $504, which was 2 percent of the 2018 federal poverty income threshold for a family of four. In that same time period, inflation hasn’t kept up, with only a 36 percent increase to the consumer price index. $600
Consumer Price Index (CPI)
100 0 2000
U.S. Water and Sewer Affordability Ratio at 20th Income Percentile 2017 The affordability ratio (AR) estimates water and sewer costs as a share of disposable income, but to focus on low-income households, Texas A&M’s Manny Teodoro measures AR at the 20th income percentile (AR20), which generally identifies the lower boundary of the middle class. According to Teodoro’s research, a household at the 20th income percentile spends about 9.7 percent of its disposable income on water and sewer service from the average U.S. utility. However, AR20 varies widely, from a low of 0.6 to a high of 35.5. 50%
Share of Utilities
45 40 35 30 25 20 15
that disproportionately affected black neighborhoods. The West, however, has largely avoided those problems. In Teodoro’s national analysis, he found that Western states had, on balance, more affordable rates than the rest of the country. NACWA’s annual Cost of Clean Water Index found that EPA Region 8 (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota) had the lowest average wastewater charge of any region, with a $289 annual average compared to the $504 national figure. That’s in part because of less urgent infrastructure needs. Although much of Colorado’s water infrastructure dates back to at least the 1960s, it’s still in better shape than pipes and treatment plants in other parts of the country. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that Colorado needs $10.19 billion in drinking water infrastructure improvements over the next two decades, a huge bill but less than other states like Pennsylvania ($16.77 billion), Alabama ($11.26 billion), and Ohio ($13.41 billion). Even areas where income levels could signal affordability challenges have kept water rates low. The San Luis Valley was a high-risk tract in Mack’s study, based on median income, but rates in the city of Alamosa are not a serious burden for residents. Heather Brooks, city manager for Alamosa, said the city has, if anything, kept rates too low to cover capital costs. A half-cent sales tax dedicated to water infrastructure has helped defray those costs. Pueblo Water spokesman Joe Cervi likewise said that the utility has lowered costs by keeping a lean staff and planning ahead for major repairs. According to city data, the average bill for 11,000 gallons is $53.15, well below the Front Range average of $62.82.
A HELPING HAND
10 5 0 0–5
AR20 (For households in the 20th income percentile, percentage of disposable income spent on water and sewer service) Sources: Top and Middle—National Association of Clean Water Agencies 2018 Cost of Clean Water Index; Bottom— Manny Teodoro
ften, affordability can butt up against one of the biggest priorities for Colorado utilities: conservation. In 2014, Longmont Water H E A DWAT E R S S P R I N G 2 0 2 0
“A grandma who lives by herself can keep the water bill low, but that’s not the only kind of low-income household composition we need to be worrying about. Low-income households aren’t all low water users.” Becky Doyle | Longmont Department of Public Works and Natural Resources
decided to encourage conservation by charging customers based on use, rather than the lifeline rate that charged everyone the same amount for their first 2,000 gallons. There was concern, however, that the change could punish families who need lots of water to shower and cook, says Becky Doyle, a rate analyst and manager for the City of Longmont’s Department of Public Works and Natural Resources. “A grandma who lives by herself can keep the water bill low, but that’s not the only kind of low-income household composition we need to be worrying about,” Doyle says. “Low-income households aren’t all low water users.” Longmont already had a rebate program for fixed-income seniors, but extended that benefit to any household eligible for the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP). But, in a sign that water isn’t top of mind for many households, only two additional applicants signed up in the first year. Expanded outreach has garnered about 130 participants, but Doyle acknowledged that’s still not everyone. Facing much-needed infrastructure repairs, other utilities across the state have sought to blunt the impact to customers with their own expanded assistance programs. Denver Water, for example, has some 140 projects planned for the next five years, which call for higher customer bills. After a rate increase in 2019 that added roughly 55 cents per month for urban customers (the increase was between $1.90 and $3.40 per month for suburban households), the board has approved another increase for 2020 that will add about a dollar more per month. (For suburban households, the increase will be between $1.15 and $1.36.) The increases to the fixed monthly charge, which is associated with the meter size, are being done slowly to even out revenues year to year, and to limit the impact on the community, the utility says. Denver also uses a three-tiered charge and assesses indoor use, such as flushing toilets, cooking 26 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
and bathing, at the lowest rate to reduce the burden on low-income families that, say, won’t pay for watering a lawn. The lowest rate is also measured during the winter, reflecting “essential, nondiscretionary usage,” Denver Water says. Of course, those plans can have unintended consequences when people try to lower their bills by not watering their lawns and letting plants go, which can lower curb appeal and property value. That has been true in Denver’s suburbs, where rates run higher than within city limits. Denver Water also offers assistance, like a one-time courtesy cancellation and payment extension for water shutoffs after delinquent payments and a pilot partnership with Mile High United Way to provide one-time bill relief. As of November 2019, Denver Water reported 134 one-time requests for emergency assistance of up to $300 in 2019, with 48 of those approved. Low-income customers can also request no-cost audits and retrofits to improve efficiency. Elsewhere, utilities are exploring income-based structures that would ensure that the poorest families face the lowest cost burden. Philadelphia in 2017 rolled out a first-in-the-nation structure that charged lower rates for households at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line, which some experts predicted would actually increase revenues by reducing missed or late payments. Baltimore, where some poor black residents have complained of triple-digit bills, has also debated a similar structure, and advocates are watching closely to see if the model could be expanded to more cities that are facing payment crises.
IS THERE A FIX?
or utilities, providing service without raising rates would be easiest with an influx of federal funding. Washington has been talking about infrastructure; the Trump administration proposed $200 billion in spending or
projects including water infrastructure, in a February 2020 plan. House Democrats included $21 billion for state revolving funds and $1.1 billion for lead cleanup in the $40 billion infrastructure package known as the LIFT Act (Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act) introduced in May 2019. Those would both support up-front infrastructure costs, without a particular focus on affordability. Other bills floating around Congress would set up various water infrastructure trust funds or grant programs. However, the gridlock in Washington means that even normally popular infrastructure programs like these are stalled. In 2012, California adopted a Human Right to Water resolution, making it the first state to declare its citizens have a right to “safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water.” To meet those goals, the state has embarked on a statewide study of affordability and will explore strategies to reduce costs even as it builds new infrastructure. In Colorado, however, no similar commitment has been made. Proposition DD, which passed in November to legalize sports gambling with proceeds paying for water projects, could help offset some infrastructure costs, but doesn’t have a mechanism for a utility to directly subsidize ratepayers or reduce billing rates. And all the while, drinking water standards and infrastructure costs will only pile up. That, says MSU’s Mack, means utilities need to start planning to avoid the worst impacts. “We can’t say what’s going to happen, but there could be some big spikes in bills if all this deferred investment comes up at one time. The risk is when that gets to households that are already being squeezed,” she says. “We’re not at a crisis yet.” H Jason Plautz is a journalist based in Denver specializing in environmental policy. His writing has appeared in High Country News, Reveal, HuffPost, National Journal and Undark, among other outlets.
Sources: Esri, USGS, NOAA, Sources: Esri, Garmin, USGS, NPS
A B C
Total households that lack complete plumbing exist across the state but are concentrated along the Front Range and in southwestern Colorado. The percentage of households with incomplete plumbing as a segment of the total population in different census tracts across Colorado is greater in more rural areas. The rate of households with incomplete plumbing is greatest in Colorado’s Rio Grande, Gunnison, and Southwest basins. In the metro area, the rate of households with incomplete plumbing as compared to the population of a tract is grouped in specific areas, largely associated with mobile home parks.
Plumbing Poverty For some households, affordability isn’t the main problem. Simply getting water can be the barrier. Some 1.5 million Americans—that’s 463,649 households, or 0.39 percent of all households—live with incomplete plumbing, defined as missing at least one of hot and cold running water, a flush toilet, and an indoor bathtub or shower. A study published in August 2019 in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers gave an accounting of the scale of “plumbing poverty,” showing a clear racial breakdown: American Indian and Alaska Native households were 3.7 times more likely to have incomplete plumbing, and both black and Hispanic populations had a greater share of households with incomplete plumbing. “The percentage may be small, but half a million households is a big number,” says Shiloh Deitz, a University of Oregon researcher and coauthor of the study. “It’s shocking to a lot of people.” The problem persists around Colorado, especially in rural areas in the southwestern part of the state. A 2007 study in Geoforum also found mountainous areas had spotty plumbing due to “remoteness,
construction difficulties, occupance of seasonal housing on a yearround basis and minimal enforcement of plumbing codes.” According to data provided by Deitz, Denver has the most households suffering from “plumbing poverty” in Colorado. That’s largely because of a concentration of mobile home parks; Deitz found that households were 127 times more likely to lack complete plumbing if they were in a mobile home, suggesting that “nearly everyone” in plumbing poverty was in that situation. (Renters with incomplete plumbing also far outpaced the national average.) The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is responsible for water infrastructure only up to the point of the meter, and only deals with home pipes when it is dealing with unsafe water, meaning plumbing poverty is not considered the agency’s purview. “When we talk about equity, we mean ensuring that everyone across the state has access to safe drinking water,” says CDPHE communications manager MaryAnn Nason. H —Jason Plautz
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TOOLKIT FOR PURSUING WATER JUSTICE What Is Environmental Justice? Environmental justice involves fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. —Environmental Protection Agency
Where people can interact with confidence that the environment is safe, nurturing and productive. Environmental justice is served when people can realize their highest potential. —Bunyan Bryant, University of Michigan
Environmental Justice is the view that all people deserve a healthy and safe environment in which to live, work and play. —Environmental Justice Working Group at Colorado State University
Different Aspects of Environmental Justice:
Tips: Engaging front-line environmental justice communities
Distributive Justice asks how harm and benefits are distributed and whether that is fair, seeking equitable exposures to environmental risks and benefits.
How do you best approach environmental justice communities? We got advice from Colorado practitioners Michael Wenstrom with EPA’s Environmental Justice Program, Ernest House, Jr. with the Keystone Policy Center, and Lizeth ChacÓn with the Colorado People’s Alliance. Here’s what they said:
Procedural Justice focuses on how issues are addressed by creating opportunities for meaningful participation in decision making for all stakeholders. Recognition Justice keys in on who is experiencing an injustice—looking at a disproportionate burden borne by a group (defined by race, class, urban/rural, or other). It recognizes the value and rights of these groups and of ecosystems. Restorative or Corrective Justice works to restore ecological systems and human communities and, in many cases, aims to catch and punish those who violated the law or caused injustice. It is often accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders and can transform people, relationships and communities.
• Meet the community where they are. Begin by listening to people and helping address their most immediate concerns and needs. • Acknowledge the past, and make sure it’s part of today’s conversations about the future. • Involve community members from the beginning. Whether you’re developing a project, trying to address concerns in a neighborhood, or looking for input, reach out early so communities can shape the change they want to see. • Have more conversations within the water sector—or among government agencies, conservation groups, agricultural groups— about race, diversity, inequality, equity, and what needs to change to engage communities of color. • Remember that outside organizations don’t change communities, communities change communities. But they have to believe that they can. Help them understand what they can accomplish.
There’s a connection between equity and environmental justice. Environmental justice researchers and practitioners focus on building more equitable, safe and sustainable systems that will create an environment where individuals and communities can thrive. 28 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
Change from Within
Many organizations, agencies and businesses are striving to become more diverse but, in most cases, more diversity doesn’t translate into an environment that enables people of different backgrounds to succeed, participate or be heard. Understanding these definitions along the equity continuum is the first step for organizations looking to become more diverse, inclusive and equitable.
A combination of physical, economic and cultural barriers influence people’s access to things such as health, education, work and participation in society. This is as true in the water sector as it is anywhere, and can lead to limited access to clean and safe drinking water, recreational opportunities, water education and resources, ability to engage with water organizations, jobs in the water workforce, and more. By working to increase equity, organizations can begin to reduce these barriers and create opportunities for all.
DIVERSITY The unique differences among individuals in a group. Based on these differences, people may be treated differently in society. Ethnicity is not the only way in which we are diverse—there are countless visible and invisible facets of diversity. Furthermore, a person cannot be “diverse” (as in “diverse candidate”). It is possible to have a diverse group that isn’t inclusive. How success is defined: Success (and failure) is often defined by simple statistical performance (i.e. our employees are x% women; we have x% black participants, y% Latinx participants, and z% white participants). INCLUSION Embracing, leveraging and celebrating the strengths of diversity and ensuring everyone feels welcomed and valued for who they are. Inclusion is not merely tolerating differences or overcoming differences. Diversity is what we are, and inclusion is what we do. How success is defined: Success is defined through retention, trust and engagement of employees, stakeholders, community members, individuals, or others.
TIPS TO INCREASE EQUITY IN YOUR WORKPLACE
• Equip your team to have conversations about equity. Make sure everyone is familiar with the definitions of diversity, inclusion, equality and equity, and others, such as bias and privilege. • Ask: How are these concepts relevant to your organization? How do they impact your work? Begin to identify organizational changes you need to make to have a different impact. • Craft a plan that you can put into action. This will likely need to include a budget for things like trainings, consultants, new staff, and/or new programs. —C. Parker McMullen Bushman
EQUALITY An approach that supports everyone by giving them access to the same resources and treatment. How success is defined: Success is often defined by assuring that all groups or people have all the same resources and are treated equally.
Barriers that may lead to discrimination and prevent equitable access to various aspects of the water sector can affect many groups, including those defined by:
EQUITY An approach that ensures everyone is given equal opportunity; this means that resources may be divided and shared unequally to make sure that each person can access an opportunity. Equity takes into account that people have different access to resources because of systems of oppression and privilege. Since we don’t all start from the same place, equity seeks to balance that disparity by working to address systemic barriers. How success is defined: Success is often defined by treating groups/people differently based on historical injustices and present-day barriers so everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
• Disability status
• National origin
• Immigration status • Age • Home language • Gender
• Socio-economic conditions
• Gender identity
• Other factors
• Sexual orientation
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TOOLKIT FOR PURSUING WATER JUSTICE Hiring diverse team members Almost 3 million American water workers must be replaced in the next decade due to retirements and job changes, according to a 2018 Brookings Institution report. The way those vacancies get filled matters. Brookings found that nearly 85 percent of water workers are male and two-thirds white, which means employers are failing to hire people who represent the communities they serve. That’s particularly important as the demographics of our communities continue to change—the State Demography Office estimates that nearly 46 percent of Coloradans will belong to a non-white race by 2050. Diversity needs to be factored into recruitment to avoid regurgitating the same ideas, says Geoff DeMoss, HR supervisor for the City of Aurora. “If you bring in individuals who have other experiences, that enables you to look at the broader picture. It opens opportunities to allow more voices to be heard.” Here are ideas from Colorado water organizations to bolster inclusive recruitment and retain workers. MAKE MEANINGFUL COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS
• Determine where you need to improve your hiring and reach out to community
C. Parker McMullen Bushman Ecoinclusive and the Butterfly Pavillion
groups, professional organizations, schools and other entities with that common thread. Share efforts big and small, from partnering on new programs to speaking at a meeting. • Check out industry resources such as workforwater.org and the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education’s resources for careers and diversity at caee.org. TAP INTO INTERNAL EXPERTISE
• Ask employees what inspires them, and incorporate those values in job postings. Find out if managers have ideas to improve hiring practices. • Establish an employee diversity committee.
SET STUDENTS UP FOR SUCCESS
• Hire high schoolers through internships to grab their interest while they’re deciding what to do next. • Volunteer for children’s water festivals or partner with programs such as youth corps that help young adults gain handson experience. SPARK INTEREST BY SHARING YOUR STORY
BREAK DOWN BARRIERS FOR NONTRADITIONAL WORKERS
• Treat all of your communications as part of your brand, which should inspire others. • Offer job shadowing and share videos of employees in the field to give a real view of what it’s like to work for you.
• State officials made it easier for activeduty military members and veterans to apply credit for military education and experience toward Colorado operator certification. • To help retain first-semester female students, including those facing the challenge of returning to work after raising children, Red Rocks Community
Storytelling helps all water employers gain visibility, says Shirley Martinez, diversity and inclusion advisor for Colorado Springs Utilities. “Let’s start telling our stories in a way that students will understand and be interested. Let’s make our jobs more attractive and show that they’re of value to people.” —Dana Strongin
We are seeing quickly shifting and changing racial demographics. If your organization’s message is not one that connects with a wide variety of people, soon your message will no longer be relevant ... Being relevant is about bringing all stories together. It’s about telling stories that hold meaning for everyone we hope to bring to the table.
There is nothing that I support more than activating people power. It is because when you don’t do that, or when you get into these spaces that I am in, it is easy for my colleagues to say, “the pollution issues are not of a local concern, those are not something that is within our jurisdiction. Those are things in the purview of our state department of health or within the federal guidelines.” … It is all about building power through community organizing. 30 • W A T E R E D U C A T I O N C O L O R A D O
College’s water quality management program started informal mentorships where former or senior female students provide support.
Candi CdeBaca Denver City Council
MEMBER’S CORNER A C O M M U N I T Y O F P E O P L E W H O C A R E A B O U T WAT E R
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Our members stand out in a crowd
MISSION: IMPACT Water Education Colorado is the leading organization for informing and engaging Coloradans on water.
his issue we’re celebrating Ryan Bouton. After joining as a member in fall 2018, he says, “I’ve learned something new every time I’ve interacted with WEco.” Ryan is a PhD candidate with the International Open University Foundation studying environmental science. His dissertation, which he aims to complete by early summer, focuses on the Arkansas River’s Voluntary Flow Management Program. Previously he spent 10 years working in the City of Colorado Springs’ engineering department, where he focused on storm water and asset management, including GIS mapping, emergency planning, and environmental compliance. His job also included education and outreach at schools and community events. “Everyone was amazed with everything we had to present to them. So many citizens would say, ‘I didn’t know that … wow, I had no idea!’” Ryan has participated in all things WEco, from tours to social events like the recycled water fest to the annual Sustaining Colorado
Watersheds Conference. He’s also an avid reader of WEco’s news and publications. He cites networking as the most valuable aspect of his membership: “the human element, putting faces to names, getting to have conversations with people.” When asked about why he supports WEco’s mission, Ryan said, “To be able to educate people about water use, water quality, the larger, broader system and huge amount of infrastructure supporting us … that is going to be absolutely critical to our success as a state moving forward.” Ryan, we couldn’t agree more! Thanks for your support!
Dive in to our diverse programming. Find more information on our website. A few ideas to pique your interest:
We rely on our volunteers! Email us at email@example.com to express your interest:
Your gift advances an engaged Colorado, leading to informed decisions and sustainable solutions. Three ways to give:
you an educator or outreach 1 Are professional? Join our Water Educator
your expertise and we’ll plug you 1 Share in—as a blog contributor, a speaker, or
online to support our Fresh Water 1 Donate News initiative, Headwaters reporting,
a contact list to provide local 2 Join support when we bring one of our
Network for trainings, networking and collaborations.
Make your voice heard! Visit our blog and social media pages and share your thoughts or experiences by commenting.
out our lineup of upcoming 3 Check programs and sign up to gain new
knowledge, skills and relationships!
a peer reviewer for publications.
programs to your area.
a WEco ambassador in your 3 Become community—we’ll provide the materials.
Through leadership training, educational resources, and programming, we are working toward a vibrant, sustainable and water-aware Colorado.
Number of visitors to WEco's website in 2019.
radio programming and more. Visit: wateredco.org/get-involved/donate
an upcoming program 2 Sponsor or event—contact firstname.lastname@example.org a ticket or table at the 2020 3 Buy President's Reception, our annual
fundraiser and awards banquet. Tickets at: wateredco.org/programs-events/ presidents-reception.
Not a member yet? Join the WEco community at www.watereducationcolorado.org H E A DWAT E R S S P R I N G 2 0 2 0
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INNOVATIVE THINKING Prairie Waters
95% of Aurora’s water is fully reusable. Full utilization simply makes sense
London Mine Water Rights
A unique water source that is environmental friendly & fully reusable
Aurora’s continued farming program keeps agricultural vibrant and economically viable
Aurora Water has award winning efforts that educate & incentivize customers through dynamic water-wise programs
Using water wisely through collaboration to meet water needs
Learn more about Aurora Water’s innovative thinking. AuroraGov.org/WaterInnovation
THE INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF (IN)EQUALITY
THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ISSUE Environmental justice is the concept that all people deserve a healthy and safe environment—including access...
Published on Mar 23, 2020
THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ISSUE Environmental justice is the concept that all people deserve a healthy and safe environment—including access...