Water regulations could mean costs for wastewater, drainage

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Controversial water quality standards could mean big costs for waste water treatment plants and drainage districts across the state.

The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission has given preliminary approval to regulations that would limit the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in bodies of water statewide.

"When you get too many nutrients in a water body, then it can make algae bloom more, then when that dies, it robs the stream of oxygen. So you can have problems for fish and aquatic organisms," said Hannah Holm, coordinator of CMU's Water Center.

She explained why the issue is surrounded in controversy.

"Some people are making the argument that it's not clear that nutrients are really a major environmental and water quality problem here in the Grand Valley," said Holm.

But water director Jennifer Bock with the High country citizen's alliance said for this area, the regulations would be preventative.

"We’ve seen bad algae on the Front Range and we want to protect the west slope so this is just a good first step to get ahead of the problem," said Bock.

The rules are broken down into two sets. The first would require large wastewater treatment plants, like Grand Junction’s Persigo plant, to control their nitrogen and phosphorus levels.

"Those guys will be affected in the next couple of years. Their permits will come up and they'll work with the state to see what they need to do to come in with compliance," said Bock.

The second set would require that all bodies of water comply with the nutrient amounts by 2024. That includes drainage authorities and districts.

"We have to monitor this and make sure the quality is what these regulations require it's going to cost a lot of money to do that," said Kevin Williams, manager for the Grand Valley Drainage District.

He said he is worried that these regulations will become an unfunded mandate.

"A benefit analysis that was done is that right now in this first phase, this is going to encumber the people of the state of Colorado almost $2.5 billion, and it's unfunded. In other words, the state isn't helping us out," Williams.

Eileen List with the Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant says they are still looking into what the regulations would mean for the plant and if it would need upgrades to comply.

She said they don't have any cost projections at this time.

The Water Quality Control Commission will review the rules again in May then send them to the EPA. If approved there, the regulations will go into affect on June 30.

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