Water quality is of utmost importance in Colorado, given its agricultural heritage, booming recreation and tourism industry, and limited natural resources. The Commerce City area, located north of Denver, is home to a population that is heavily burdened by environmental pollution. This is due to the presence of major highways, numerous regulated facilities, and areas with a legacy of contamination. Data from the EPA's Environmental Justice (EJ) assessment and mapping tool, EJScreen, suggests that there is a high potential for environmental pollution in the area due to a combination of high pollution burden and population vulnerability.
Most visitors to Colorado's parks expect clean air and clear views. Rocky Mountain National Park (NP) is affected by many sources of air pollution, such as vehicles, power plants, agriculture, fires, oil and gas, and other industries. These pollutants can damage natural resources like soil, surface water, plants, wildlife, and visibility. The National Park Service works to address the effects of air pollution in Rocky Mountain NP and other parks across the US.
In recent years, lax regulations and government inaction in the face of water pollution caused by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have led locals to increasingly resort to lawsuits to protect local waterways and drinking water. To address this issue, outreach and education initiatives have been implemented among young people and communities to reduce pollution from diffuse sources through practical training activities such as installing rain gardens and constructing low-cost water quality monitoring stations. However, discrepancies between bottom-up inventories and air quality models reduce confidence in these models that are based on unanticipated emissions. As a result, families that rely on private wells for drinking water are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of water pollution caused by factory farms and other forms of industrial agriculture, and must test their own drinking water to avoid health problems.
The largest contaminants from continuous point sources in Colorado come from municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants (CSU). Agricultural discharges were still exempt from regulation but the Water Quality Act (WQA) of 1987 established the Non-Point Source Management Program to provide grants to states, territories, and First Nations for demonstration projects, technology transfer, education, training, technical assistance, etc., designed to reduce water pollution from diffuse sources. Under Colorado law, agricultural stormwater runoff, irrigation return flows, certain water management activities related to storing or supplying water are exempt from regulation as point source discharges. These pollutants can travel through the air thousands of miles away from their source of origin and even be deposited in protected areas such as national parks.
While public drinking water systems are regulated by the EPA, private drinking water wells are not regulated and do not need to meet EPA clean water standards. Monitoring should be extended to activities such as reflow, liquid discharge and wastewater separation which appear to be associated with a high level of emissions but have been largely overlooked or insufficiently represented in previous evaluations. The 1981 revisions to the Water Quality Act simplified the funding process for constructing treatment plants and improved the capacities of plants built under the program. Water quality limits require dischargers to treat effluent so that receiving streams continue to meet water quality standards even during low-flow conditions.
In conclusion, industrial development has had a significant impact on air and water quality in North-Central Colorado. The EPA's Environmental Justice assessment tool has identified a high potential for environmental pollution in this area due to a combination of high pollution burden and population vulnerability. Air pollutants can damage natural resources like soil, surface water, plants, wildlife, and visibility while water pollutants can cause health problems for those who rely on private wells for drinking water. To address these issues it is important for states to implement outreach initiatives among young people and communities as well as revise regulations related to wastewater treatment plants and agricultural discharges.
Monitoring should also be extended to activities such as reflow, liquid discharge and wastewater separation which appear to be associated with a high level of emissions.