Colorado allows 39 companies to pollute the state’s waterways with E. coli, chlorine and more. 17 of them have repeatedly exceeded their limits.

Denver Post
Bruce Finley

"While Colorado permits 39 major industrial facilities to release thousands of tons of pollutants into waterways each year, 17 of them exceeded their legal limits a total of 241 times in an 18-month period, an analysis of federal compliance data shows.

The pollution discharged above permitted amounts included cadmium, copper, chlorine, ammonia nitrogen, arsenic and E. coli bacteria spilled into such waterways as the South Platte River and Boulder Creek.

State and federal enforcers in Colorado rarely penalized the polluters.

Local leaders on Thursday lamented the lack of action and warned that proposed federal funding cuts could hurt the ability of enforcers to do more. Trump administration officials have proposed cutting the roughly $230 million a year sent annually to states in recent years to about $150 million.

“Clean water is a fundamental necessity for a strong state and country. The cleaner the water is, the cheaper it is to treat, safer it is to drink, better it is to use for agriculture, and the more fun it is to recreate in,” Clear Creek County Commissioner Tim Mauck said Thursday. “We all need to be rowing the same direction to provide clean water. That includes having a strong EPA to ensure we get the water quality we all deserve.”

The environment advocacy and research group Environment Colorado commissioned the analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data, a compilation of information states must collect under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which aimed at ending industrial pollution of rivers and streams. The California-based contractor Frontier Group conducted the analysis, and Environment Colorado unveiled it Thursday in Golden.

Water pollution researchers looked at releases from 2,772 major industrial facilities nationwide and found more than 8,100 instances in which polluters exceeded their Clean Water Act discharge permit limits. Many facilities also failed inspections or did not report fully as required. About one-third of the releases worsened pollution of waterways that state agencies already had designated as impaired for wildlife, recreation or drinking. Texas had the most permit exceedances with 938, followed by Pennsylvania at 633, Arkansas with 562 and 535 in Louisiana.

In Colorado, 10 facilities released contaminants in volumes more than twice as high as their permitted limits and five released contaminants in volumes five times above limits, the analysis found. When compared with other states, Colorado had the fourth-highest number of higher-than-permitted releases per industrial facility, an average of 5.49.

“We had a goal in this country of eliminating pollution of our waterways by 1985. And technology has advanced since then. But we are still polluting our waterways,” said Environment Colorado research director Garrett Garner-Wells.

“We need better enforcement,” he said.

Major Colorado facilities identified in the study include the Western Sugar plant in Fort Morgan, listed as releasing fecal coliform, ammonia nitrogen and sulfide-hydrogen sulfide contaminants into the South Platte River in excess of permitted limits 91 times between January 2016 and September 2017.

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