Slow down on wastewater rules

As Colorado municipalities struggle to recover from the recession, having a state agency add millions of dollars in regulatory costs is unwise and possibly unnecessary.

And it is especially unwarranted coming from a state government that has itself been struggling for several years to overcome budget difficulties created by the recession.

But the Colorado Water Quality Control Division is intent on proceeding with new rules limiting the releases of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater treatment plants, even though wastewater officials from around the state say the rules could cost billions of dollars and will have minimal effect on water quality.

A hearing on the proposed regulations is to be held before the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in March. They could be implemented as early as this summer.

Steve Gunderson, executive director of the Water Quality Control Division, said the new state rules are necessary to prevent the federal Environmental Protection Agency from enacting even stricter rules for state wastewater treatment plants.

The EPA has certainly been on a regulatory binge. But that’s a poor reason for the state to force costly new mandates on municipalities that would have questionable results.

The proposed rules could cost the Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant in the Grand Valley as much as $24 million, just to comply with one portion of the regulations, a city official said. And a group of smaller municipalities and wastewater districts around the state said in a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper the rules could cost them billions of dollars combined.

What’s more, officials with these entities question how much wastewater treatment plants contribute to nutrients in rivers and lakes, or how much the new rules would reduce pollution.

A variety of people have asked the division to slow down with the new rules and do more research on both the costs and benefits of the proposals. State Sen. Steve King of Grand Junction said he plans to introduce legislation to require a five-year moratorium on implementing the rules.

A slower approach makes sense, especially in these tough economic conditions. The Water Quality Control Commission should apply the brakes to the new rules when it conducts its public hearing in March.


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A report on this issue was presented to Colorado’s legislature during the last session. The report compared efforts in multiple states and can be found here:

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