Measure targets water treatment rule

DENVER — A bill designed to stop, or at least delay, a state agency from adopting controversial water quality regulations for the state’s rivers and lakes cleared its first legislative committee Monday.

That happened the same day the state agency, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, began three days of taking public testimony on the proposed new rules.

The commission is proposing two new rules that would require water and wastewater treatment plants to monitor and treat nitrate and phosphorus levels in the state’s water supply, with a goal of lowering them to near zero.

The Water Quality Control Division, an arm of the Colorado Department of Public Heath and Environment, is proposing the new rules in anticipation of even stricter water quality guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But opponents, including several in the Grand Valley, say the science the division is relying on is flawed or nonexistent.

Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, had introduced a bill to block it altogether, but that measure was killed in a Senate committee last month.

Now, two El Paso County lawmakers have come forward with a similar proposal.

That measure, HB1161, would prevent the commission from approving any new regulations on the issue unless the Legislature approves a specific bill allowing it.

Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, said the bill will give more people time to study the matter.

“This impacts so many communities around the state,” Looper said moments after the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee approved her measure on an 8-5 mostly party-line vote. “There needs to be a scientific review and these regs have not gone through that.”

Municipal water and wastewater experts from around the state say complying with the rules, if approved, could cost them millions of dollars in new treatment and monitoring equipment, money that would be borne by ratepayers.

Looper said there’s no need to hurry in approving the regulations, in part, because the EPA isn’t mandating them, nor is that federal agency even considering doing so anytime soon.

The division staff have said that not all municipal drinking water and wastewater plants would be required to comply with the rules, but Looper isn’t buying that.

“This is just the first hammer of this regulation,” she said. “There’s very little evidence in areas outside Denver and Colorado Springs that there is going to be any benefit to spending millions of dollars in these retrofits. So I have very little trust in the department of health in what will be the final product that comes out of the water commission.”


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