Proposed state regulations will be costly, unnecessary for West Slope
On Monday, the Grand Valley Drainage District will ask, along with many others across the state, that the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission not adopt the proposed changes to Regulations 31 and 85 recommended by the Water Quality Control Division, a part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. These new rules are not fair to the Western Slope, they are hugely costly and solve a problem that does not exist, at least in the Grand Valley.
First, these new rules will force our district to spend up to half of our budget to test for nitrogen and phosphorus (what state officials term “nutrients”) in the district’s drains that flow into the Colorado River, indirectly costing farmers who must use “nutrients” to grow our food.
Next, the state could use this data to severely restrict the use of fertilizers. From everything we have learned, there is no problem on the Colorado River. The state agency’s science is flawed. Yet it wants to impose huge costs for little or no gains in water quality.
While the district is willing to use taxpayer money to solve real problems when they exist, these regulations do not address any real problems in the Grand Valley.
The detrimental effects on our Colorado River water quality created by water diversions — reductions in quantity — are not even addressed in the regulations. When water is diverted to the Eastern Slope, the quantity of water coming downstream is reduced, thus directly reducing the water quality because the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus — vital to modern farming — are higher.
At least one Front Range water provider favors the regulations because they can reduce the provider’s treatment costs by diverting the pristine headwaters flows of the Colorado River.
Where is the fairness in our having to pay for a water quality problem created by Eastern Slope diversions?
Nationally recognized experts agree that the state’s approach is fatally flawed. Yet, the state refuses to give scientists time to “peer review” the Water Quality Control Division’s “science.”
Experts also agree that, “These regulations are ‘a solution in search of a problem,’” at least for the Western Slope. We accept that the South Platte River basin has nutrient issues, but why does that problem mean that the state should mandate adoption of these regulations here? Even the federal Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that one starts with a study of each specific water body. Instead, the division casts its net too wide and too far.
Even though there is no clearly identified “nutrient” problem for the Colorado River in the Grand Valley, the state wants to mandate costs onto us, which it can do because because it doesn’t have to pay for it. Where is the equity in that?
We applauded the governor’s Executive Order 5, which barred unfunded mandates. Now, we are confused: How are Regulations 85 and 31 not subject to that executive order?
Defensively, division officials say that no new non-voluntary requirements are placed on agricultural water or water originating on federal lands. Unfortunately, the regulations ignore the Grand Valley’s practical reality where agricultural water that discharges through the Grand Valley Drainage District is comingled with urban storm water before it flows into the Colorado. Thus, ag water becomes regulated by default.
In addition, the logistical and physical implications of separating out the water-quality implications of federal water flowing across the Grand Valley into the Colorado River are staggering. Yet, if these regulations become law, we all get to pay those costs.
State officials also say, in defense of these regulations, that the financial costs imposed by these regulations will not be felt immediately. While true, we all know that just deferring a problem does not make it any less of a problem.
We urge all who care about water quality and water quantity, and the wise and equitable use of tax dollars, to join us in protesting these regulations.
Specifically, until there is peer-review of the science, until funding is provided in this tight economy, and until a problem (on the Western Slope) has been clearly identified, please ask Gov. John Hickenlooper to direct the agency to stop the regulations from being implemented.
Mark Harris is the owner of Grand Valley Farms and a director of the Grand Valley Drainage District.