Tag Archives: CDPHE

2017 New Year’s Resolution: Invest in Water Quality to Invest in Your Health

By Trisha Oeth, Commission Administrator, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Commission
The views represented are those held by the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. 



Credit: Ondrejk, Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year again—time for making New Year’s resolutions. Many of our resolutions will involve personal health or investment goals for 2017. But are you tired of setting weight-loss or money-saving goals? This year, consider investing in water quality as an investment in your own and your family’s health.

Safe and readily available water is one of the most vital components of our health. We have already seen our watersheds affected by major floods and wildfires. As climate change occurs and population doubles in Colorado, our waters will come under more pressures. We need to create resilient watersheds that can handle these pressures to avoid catastrophic conditions in our water. Watersheds that support strong ecosystems will produce the ecological diversity integral to our food chain and plants and minerals that someday could be used in medicines.

Water also is fundamental to our mental health. Studies show humans’ mental health improves with time near water. Set a goal this year to stroll on a path along a stream once a week and reflect on the soothing sound of the water. Imagine being connected to the source of our water and where it goes when we flush our toilets, wash our cars and water our lawns. Being connected in this way reminds us about the importance of investing in water, the essence of our existence.

Most of us understand that water is a basic necessity in our lives. We all want clean and safe water in our taps and in our streams. And yet, do any of us know how much we are paying our local utilities to ensure protection of this resource? When was the last time we readily and voluntarily agreed to increase our investment? None of us like increasing costs, but an increase in our water utility bill is not just a rate increase. It’s a proactive step to invest in our health. We know our water and wastewater infrastructure is aging. Reports show if we don’t start investing now, by 2040 we will have a $152 billion funding gap for needed infrastructure. This year, consider changing that trend and instead stand behind your utility when it proposes a rate increase.

The challenges that utilities face are immense. Utilities can use increased funds to protect our water at its source, replace aging pipes that deliver water to our homes, and upgrade treatment processes to keep up with current science and technology. Imagine if we all took the money we might routinely spend on two sugary beverages a month and instead invested it in water quality. Imagine if businesses that provide charitable donations or hold fundraisers directed that money to water quality. Imagine the possible replacement of lead-laden pipes and the removal of arsenic and other metals. Imagine algae-free streams and rivers available for swimming and fishing. Check in with your local utility or watershed group to see what work needs to be done in your area. Maybe it’s aging pipes, stream bank restoration or an upgrade to a water treatment plant. Then ask how you can get involved.

As you are reflecting on the past year and embarking on another, ask yourself how much it is worth to turn on your tap at home and know the water will be good for your health. This New Year, how much are you willing to invest in your and your family’s health?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATrisha Oeth is the Administrator for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. In that role she provides policy advice and analysis regarding rules, regulations, and policy priorities on all aspects of water quality programs in Colorado. She began working on water quality issues after graduating from CU Law School, and practiced law in the private and public sector. In her free time Trisha enjoys trail running, cooking with her husband and daughters, and learning piano.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverRead more about water and public health in the new issue of CFWE’s Headwaters magazine available here.

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Filed under Headwaters Magazine, Water Quality, Water Supply, Watershed Groups

Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Land Use Goals

By Meagan Webber

go time bugThe final draft of the Colorado Water Plan (CWP) was released in December 2015. As is part of our mission, The Colorado Foundation for Water Education seeks to help keep you up-to-speed on how the plan’s action steps are progressing on the ground in order to meet Colorado’s water needs. This is our third installment of the 2016 Headwaters series on the plan’s implementation. You can find the previous two installments in the Winter 2016 and Summer 2016 issues of Headwaters magazine. You can also check them out on the Your Water Colorado blog via these links: Conservation Goals; Environmental and Recreational Goals; Storage Goals; Funding Goals; and Outreach, Education, and Public Engagement Goals. In this blog post, we will take an in-depth look at another one of the plan’s nine measurable outcomes: land use planning.


Highlands Ranch_flickr

Highlands Ranch, home to 93,000 people in south metro Denver, relies on a combination of South Platte River water and groundwater.

Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Land Use Goals by Ensuring Colorado’s Development is Water-Smart

Colorado’s population is projected to increase from 5.4 million in 2015 to approximately 8 million by 2050, which will require plenty of new development in addition to remodeling and replacing old housing. Although the connection between land use planning and water conservation may seem obscure at first, the former is important for the latter. Increasing housing density in cities will mean smaller lot sizes which means less Kentucky bluegrass turf drinking up water in our semi-arid state. This is just one example of how efficient land use can help reduce the gap between Colorado’s future water supply and demand. “We think there could be a big impact on water demand if we grow Colorado differently,” says Kevin Reidy, state water conservation technical specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).  

Colorado’s Water Plan has already taken this into account, setting “a measurable objective that by 2025, 75 percent of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land-use planning.” The water plan outlines a five-step action plan and describes several initiatives that are already underway to work toward this goal. The specifics can be found in section 6.3.3 of the water plan.

The first of these action steps is to encourage local governments to use local development tools, such as “creating more stringent green-construction codes that include higher-efficiency fixtures and appliances and more water-wise landscapes.” This is one example of a development tool that will be the focus of voluntary trainings for local governments hosted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) in 2016. These trainings are based on Pace University’s Land Use Leadership Alliance (LULA) training program. The CWCB has been working closely with LULA to develop its own training modules. Several trainings are coming up later this year, and several modules have been completed in the past nine months. In addition to the trainings, the CWCB will also host five webinars starting this September and continuing into October. So far, “ten communities have completed land-use and water trainings through the LULA process.” However 80 communities and water providers (in Colorado) will need to complete the training by 2025 in order to reach the 75 percent population objective, according to the water plan.

The CWCB is also working to incorporate municipal system water loss into these trainings. That is, water loss via leaks in the pipes that deliver water to our homes and businesses. “This is a low-hanging fruit that we should be going after,” says Reidy. “We are working to show people that this is a problem.” If these damages are repaired and piping infrastructure updated overall, it will save a lot of water and money for water providers and customers.

The second step is to examine barriers in state law for implementing the local development tools that local governments are encouraged to use in the above-mentioned trainings. At this point, the CWCB is waiting to learn about barriers in feedback from the trainings. Local governments and communities have more in-depth knowledge of the specific ordinances in their areas and will know what sorts of legal barriers will prevent them from using certain development tools.

The first two action steps build up to the third, which aims for incorporation of land-use practices into water conservation plans. Aurora Water is a great example of a water provider that has been integrating land use planning and water conservation. Aurora Water has been working with the Aurora Planning Department to run computer models that project how different city densities and land use patterns will affect water supply and demand into the future. These models and data were used to inform Aurora Water’s 2013 Water Management Plan, which includes outdoor watering rules for different landscapes under different conditions of water availability and encourages the installation of Xeriscape landscapes. They are currently running more of these models (as is Denver Water) to predict how land use changes could impact water demand in different scenarios. They are still working on crunching numbers and will have results soon. These figures will be important to initiatives like the Water and Growth Dialogue, which seeks to “explore and demonstrate how the integration of water and land use planning should be utilized to reduce water demand.”

The Water and Growth Dialogue brings different stakeholders together to discuss water conservation opportunities in land use planning and is an example of the fourth action step in action. Strengthening partnerships with all possible stakeholders at this nexus of land and water is important to the success of the initiatives described above. Historically, “land use planning and water development have often been overseen by entirely different agencies or local governing boards,” according to an article by Allen Best in the Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine. This is an issue that coordination and collaboration between groups will help address. In addition to the partnership with local governments across the state and Pace University’s LULA program, the CWCB has also been working closely with the Department of Public Health and Environment; The Sonoran Institute; The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy; and The Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment, along with many other stakeholders. “We want to reach a lot of communities to integrate land use and water planning by 2020. There is a lot of work to do and these partnerships are going help us achieve that,” Reidy says.

The final action step is the allocation of funds to various projects that will further all of the goals described above. Funding from the CWCB’s Water Efficiency Grant Program (WEGP) will support smaller, more localized efforts, while the CWCB’s Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA) grant funds will be allocated toward larger, regional efforts, according to the plan. This will be a bit trickier this year, given the ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court on the BP America vs. Colorado Department of Revenue case, which means WSRA will not receive additional funding in the 2016-17 fiscal year. “Since we are looking at shortage of funds, we are pulling back on certain projects in order to prioritize everything in the water plan,” Reidy says. “A big part of that is helping local water providers gain capacity to manage water systems better. We still have those kinds of initiatives going because we want to help them achieve those goals.” The CWCB has been working to come up with alternate sources of funding, many of which are in the CWCB Water Projects Bill that the Colorado Legislature will decide upon in 2017.

hw_sum_2015_coveroptIf you would like to stay up-to-date on the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan, keep an eye out for the rest of our articles in this series and sign up to receive the bimonthly CWCB Confluence Newsletter. You can learn more about the nexus of land use and water at 1:30 pm today in a session, “Linking Water Supply with Land Use Planning,” at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference. Also, check out the Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine.

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Reducing abandoned mine water pollution in Colorado

By Skip Feeney, Water Quality Scientist, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division

Recently, I stayed at the Polar Star Inn, a hut in the 10th Mountain Division Hut system. Within an hour of arriving several children reported back that they had found a large hole in the ground that went really deep! It turned out to be a mine. Actually this hut got its name from an abandoned silver mine named the Polar Star Mine. It is not hard to stumble upon abandoned mines in Colorado. In fact there are an estimated 23,000 abandoned or inactive mines in Colorado alone.

Colorado and mining have a long history together. According to the History Colorado website, “The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush brought unprecedented numbers of people into the region…culminating in the admittance of Colorado to the Union in 1876.” Most Colorado hard rock mining activity predates the passing of current environmental regulations in the 1970s and 1980s. Before this time many mining companies did not restore the mined area,  leaving physical hazards and human and environmental impacts.


Credit: Ashley Bembenek, Coal Creek Watershed Coalition

One key environmental impact to water quality is acid mine drainage. This occurs when oxygen from the air and water react with sulfide minerals, increasing the acidity of the water. The acidic solution dissolves metals and flows into streams, lakes and groundwater. Acid mine drainage is exacerbated by mining practices when excavated materials leave voids in the moutain, increasing surface area for the acid mine drainage reaction to occur.  

High levels of metals harm fish and aquatic ecosystems. These contaminants also impact drinking water and agricultural water sources. This problem is significant with 1,800 miles of Colorado streams, not meeting water quality standards due to acid mine drainage related pollutants.

Unfortunately solving the water quality issues related to abandoned mines has its share of challenges. Abandoned mines are expensive to address—often in the millions of dollars with ongoing treatment costs. Many historic mining companies are no longer in business and therefore are not able to pay for restoration costs, and existing government funding sources are not sufficient to clean up all of the abandoned mines. Plus, liability concerns over treatment of mine drainage to Clean Water Act standards prevent many agencies and environmental groups from volunteering to clean up abandoned mines.

After the Environmental Protection Agency inadvertently caused a discharge at the Gold King mine, one year ago, a spotlight was shone on the statewide problem of abandoned mines. The Colorado Water Quality Control Division launched the Mine Impacted Streams Task Force to determine the extent and magnitude of abandoned mine impacts to water quality. The task force is made up of staff members from the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division, the Water Quality Control Division and the Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety. The task force supports two initiatives: 1) An abandoned mine inventory and 2) a water quality study of draining, abandoned mines.  


Credit: Ashley Bembenek, Coal Creek Watershed Coalition

The abandoned mine inventory project combines and presents the existing unique and separate federal and state abandoned mine data sets. The inventory aims to better understand the number of abandoned mines and their locations and make this information available to water users, restoration professionals and the public. While prioritization of mine restoration activities is defined within each agency, the inventory will provide tools to help agencies work together to restore abandoned mines. The inventory steering committee includes the above mentioned state agencies, Colorado Geologic Survey, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, National Parks Service, Department of Energy, U.S. Geologic Survey and other organizations.

The Draining Mines Water Quality Study is a Governor directed initiative that will survey and measure the water quality of roughly 150 draining mines within the state. This study has begun and a final report will be published in 2017. Of the mines being studied, all of them that are presumed to negatively impact water quality are abandoned and lack recent investigation. The study will provide a water quality snapshot from which risk assessment and restoration prioritization can begin. The Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety and the Water Quality Control Division are partnering to execute this study.

As mentioned above there are many challenges to addressing this problem. However, the abandoned mine inventory and draining mines water quality study will provide information for all agencies, watershed groups and mining companies to make more informed prioritization and restoration decisions. This will help to maximize the money invested in reducing pollution from abandoned mines.  

HalfMoonCreekSkip Feeney holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Health. He has worked in the water quality industry for 15 years. This includes private sector work in regulatory, program and data management consulting for municipal agencies and public sector work with the Colorado Water Quality Control Division as a water quality assessor. In his role with the Division he championed the development and implementation of a Measurable Results Program to evaluate the water quality impacts derived from pollution control projects funded through the Division. Projects within this program include wastewater treatment plant upgrades and abandoned mine restorations. He is currently taking a leading role with the Mine Impacted Waters Task Force. The task force supports two initiatives: 1) An abandoned mine inventory and 2) a water quality study of 150 draining, abandoned mines.


Filed under Environment, Water Quality, Watershed Groups

Water Quality Control Division Partners Up to Reduce Nutrients Pollution

By Tammy Allen, Restoration and Protection Unit Manager, Water Quality Control Division


Nitrogen being applied to growing corn. Credit: Lynn Betts/Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS

Unlike pollution that comes out of the end of a pipe into a stream or lake, nonpoint source pollution makes its way to Colorado’s waterways as runoff across the land when it rains or snows. As is the case nationally, nonpoint sources of pollution cause the majority of negative impacts seen in Colorado’s streams and lakes. In some cases, these impacts lead to public health risks from pollutants such as pathogens or those that bioaccumulate up the food chain to dangerous levels. Fish and the aquatic communities on which they rely are also impacted which can affect recreation and the state’s tourism economy. Nonpoint source pollution is not regulated in Colorado which makes controlling these sources everyone’s responsibility.

In order to fulfill its mission to protect and restore water quality for public health and the environment, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Water Quality Control Division (WQCD) relies on help from partners to voluntarily address nonpoint sources of pollution that are causing significant water quality impacts. Based on the WQCD’s ongoing evaluation of water quality in the state, the WQCD prioritizes its work with these partners to address nonpoint sources of pollution causing the most statewide impact. To that measure, the WQCD has been working with partners to address pollutants such as metals from legacy mining and selenium from irrigated lands.

There are many nonpoint sources of pollution beyond those tied to metals and selenium, some of which are not addressed in the WQCD’s priorities because water quality standards or other pieces of the regulatory framework upon which the WQCD relies are not yet in place. Nutrients are an example of nonpoint source pollution that have received some attention in Colorado and are now increasing in priority because the WQCD has built a foundation to support the development of statewide nutrient values. This foundation is in Regulation 85, the Nutrients Management Control Regulation.

Nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, are elements that all living organisms need to survive. However, when there is too much phosphorus or nitrogen, negative water quality impacts begin to happen. Excess nutrients can lead to overgrowth of algae, some of which can emit toxins that are harmful to people, pets and aquatic life. These algal blooms also consume large amounts of oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Too much nitrogen in drinking water can be harmful to infants and the chemicals needed to treat nutrient-polluted drinking water can pose risks to public health.

Some of the primary sources of nutrient pollution are fertilizer runoff, animal manure, sewage treatment plant discharges, stormwater runoff, car and power plant emissions, and failing septic tanks. Pollution from agricultural operations is recognized nationwide as a significant source of nutrients that can have a negative impact on the health of watersheds. In Colorado, the current thinking is that agriculture is not as significant a source of nutrient pollution as in other parts of the country. However, in order to address all potential sources of excess nutrients, Regulation 85 encourages the WQCD to proactively collaborate with the agricultural community on voluntary nutrient controls, information and education campaigns about nutrients and monitoring of nutrients to better understand sources and effectiveness of nutrient controls. The WQCD is doing this in partnership with Colorado State University (CSU) through a number of projects.

  1. South Platte Agriculture Nutrients Committee (SPAN): The SPAN, led by CSU, is creating an online library of best management practices for agricultural producers to reduce nutrient pollution to surface waters.
  1. CSU Agriculture Outreach Committee: The WQCD is partnering with CSU to produce outreach materials about Regulation 85 that target agricultural producers. The outreach materials will include brochures, a dedicated website and videos.
  1. CLEAN Center at CSU: The WQCD is participating in CLEAN Center initiatives. The CLEAN Center is a multi-agency collaboration lead by CSU. The mission of the CLEAN Center is to create knowledge, build capacity and forge collaboration to develop and demonstrate sustainable solutions for reduction of nutrient pollution in the nation’s water resources. The Center’s activities are organized around three major themes: understanding the physical system, understanding people and policy and enhancing the capacity for assessment and decision-making.
  1. Soil and Water Analysis Tool (SWAT) Model: The WQCD is working with CSU to produce a statewide nutrient model. The model is based on the SWAT developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Texas A&M University. This nutrient model will help us predict nutrient pollution problems resulting from various different population growth and agricultural production scenarios.

The WQCD’s work with the agricultural community to control nutrients pollution continues to gain momentum and the WQCD is always looking for new partners to help tell the story about the many successes accomplished by working together to address nonpoint sources of pollution.

Tammy Allen is the Restoration and Protection Unit (RPU) Manager in the Water Quality Control Division of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In collaboration with many partners, the RPU team works to control nonpoint source pollution, a significant source of water quality impacts. The team also develops total maximum daily loads which are cleanup plans for waterbodies that are not meeting water quality standards and works on watershed, regional and statewide water quality planning. Tammy has been in the nonpoint source and water quality planning workgroups since joining the division over 7 years ago.  

Learn more of the basics of Colorado water quality through CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Quality Protection


Filed under Water Quality