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Water Quality Control Commission Votes Down Proposal To Allow More Pollution In Colorado Waterways

DENVER (CBS4) - The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission has voted down a proposal that would have allowed more pollution in the state's rivers and streams, a move many conservationists praise. However, conservationists and some municipal leaders tell CBS4 they're disappointed the commissioners didn't go as far as they could have to protect urban waterways.

South Platte River in North Denver (credit: Kati Weis, CBS4)

"So generally, we're pleased with the commission's decision to avoid a major rollback of the anti-degradation rule," said Josh Kuhn with Conservation Colorado.

The decision not to roll back the pollution protection rule has a sunset clause, meaning the commission will need to revisit the issue in 10 years.

"We're not thrilled about that, because it can create some uncertainty about water quality moving forward," Kuhn said.

Other conservationists were also concerned about the 10-year clause, because it's more difficult for non-profits and private citizens to have a seat at the table when decisions about these rules are made.

"It's just a problem with the process, the only people that can afford to follow everything they're doing are dischargers, they're industry people that can pay lawyers and consultants to do that, the conservation community doesn't have the resources to follow all that," said Mely Whiting with Trout Unlimited. "I think they make decisions without having a voice there that is telling them, 'whoa, wait a minute, take a break, this is what it means, what you're doing, means this.'"

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(credit: CBS)

Something else Kuhn and other conservationists are concerned about is the commission's decision to not revisit its controversial June 2020 decision that denied upgraded protections for sections of the South Platte River.

"So, that's going to allow industry to continue to pollute in that area, as opposed to upgrading protections for that stretch of the river, which was supported by data and science presented in front of the commission," Kuhn said.

Adams County Commissioner Steve O'Dorisio was one of many people last week who urged the commission to revisit the June 2020 decision. He tells CBS4 he will look for ways to get the commission to revisit the decision in the near future.

"While I'm glad they made a good decision as it relates to the rest of the state, they still are showing that folks along the South Platte River should deserve or expect less, and that's not okay," O'Dorisio said.

Some other local municipalities and private companies, including Suncor, which operates an oil refinery near the South Platte, testified last week in favor of the proposed rule changes that would have allowed for more pollution. An attorney for Suncor declined to comment.

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(credit: CBS)

The Water Quality Control Commission sent CBS4 the following written statement about the proposal:

"The commission's decision... did not change or reduce protections for specific Colorado waters. The commission decided to sunset a discretionary test on Dec. 31, 2031 -- and asked CDPHE water staff to draft a proposal on what should be considered in the future when the commission revisits the standards in 2031. The decision comes after extensive stakeholder engagement with the EPA, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, environmentalists, and regulated entities, and it maintains the regulations as they are for the time being."


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