Colorado should live up to its responsibility as The Headwaters State

Clean Water for All Act deserves support of Colorado lawmakers

A photo of boaters on the upper Colorado River in Colorado in July 2018. (Bob Wick/BLM)

By Ean Thomas Tafoya and Hannah Collazo

The pandemic has revealed much about the inequities that plague our nation, the resiliency of our communities, and that health is tied to zip code. Now is the time for our lawmakers to enact policies that protect the health and wellbeing of their constituents on the frontlines who face even more danger with the fallout of COVID-19; instead we have seen an all-out assault on environmental protections by the Trump administration.

We are seeing with our own eyes the devastating impacts of the wildfires in Colorado communities, in particular the particulate matter that has Denver ranked in the top 10 worst air quality in the US. It’s bad enough that the climate crisis contributes to longer and more intense wildfire seasons, increased flooding, and prolonged drought, placing Colorado’s precious water sources in danger. President Trump has taken every action to undo critical environmental protections that communities and states fought so hard for. The Environmental Protection Agency has rolled out a triple threat by attacking two rules of the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), leaving our waterways vulnerable to even more pollution. Water is a human right and must be accessible and clean for everyone, but this administration hasn’t seen it that way.

As the Headwaters State, the water that flows from Colorado not only sustains life for Coloradans, it also impacts 18 other downstream states and Mexico, and this doesn’t even account for our economic exports that are reliant on clean water, including our prized Palisade peaches, Pueblo green chiles, and Rocky Ford watermelons. Without clean water our agriculture and tourism industries wouldn’t exist. Without clean water the funding for our state and local governments would dry up. Without clean water for all we do not have an equitable society. We are the Headwaters State, ensuring clean water for all is our responsibility.

According to the Colorado Water Plan, “watersheds connect terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems. They also provide ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, water supply, filtration, and purification. Approximately 80 percent of Colorado’s population relies on forested watersheds to deliver municipal water supplies.” Protecting our mountain watersheds should be one of the top priorities for any Colorado elected official, from municipal to federal. If the Dirty Water Rule — which would remove protections provided by the Clean Water Act — goes into effect, it threatens the survival of delicate ecosystems and the water supply to Colorado’s residents.

Colorado’s frontline communities are already facing aging water infrastructure, PFAS contamination across the state, including at the Suncor refinery, lead service lines that have been neglected for decades, and polluted groundwater as a result of legacy and current manufacturing and fossil fuel development. This rollback is exacerbating an existing problem — access to clean water.

That is why it is imperative for the Colorado congressional delegation to support Rep. Peter DeFazio’s Clean Water for All Act, legislation to block the Trump administration’s Dirty Water Rule from taking effect. The rollbacks of the bipartisan water protections jeopardizes the drinking water of almost 120 million American households and puts the nation’s streams, wetlands and rivers in harm’s way. Clean water is an absolute necessity for better health outcomes and for flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases. But this bill isn’t just about defense. It would require the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a new regulation to protect rivers, streams and wetlands, that is built on the best available science; who can’t get behind that?

Protecting Colorado’s water is paramount, because what happens in our state has rippling effects downstream. At the time of this writing, co-sponsor Rep. Diana DeGette is the only member of the Colorado delegation who has shown support or sponsored this critical bill. We ask the Colorado delegation to co-sponsor the Clean Water For All Act — all members and both parties should be able to agree about this human right.

Update: This commentary has been updated to reflect that since publication Rep. Diana DeGette has said she will co-sponsor the Clean Water for All Act.

Ean Thomas Tafoya is a Colorado Water and Climate Organizer at GreenLatinos. Hannah Collazo is the state director of Environment Colorado.