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The Environmental Justice and Conservation Coalition celebrates Water Quality Control Commission’s decision to upgrade clean water protections for urban streams

DENVER – On Sept. 13, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) voted unanimously to upgrade protections for two portions of the South Platte River in Adams County and Commerce City, as well as a section of Clear Creek east of Golden.

The decision comes after an extensive effort by a coalition of conservation and environmental justice organizations (including Conservation Colorado, GreenLatinos, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, and others) to protect these streams. In 2020, the WQCC rejected a proposal to increase protections for these segments, presented by its staff and supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

The Environmental Justice and Conservation Coalition applauds yesterday’s decision as a victory for water quality and environmental justice.

«The Water Quality Control Commission’s decision highlights that no river is beyond repair. These protections recognize decades of work to restore water quality on the South Platte and Clear Creek from the impacts of industrial pollution,» said Josh Kuhn, Conservation Colorado Water Campaign Manager. «This is an important step toward ensuring all of Colorado’s communities have equitable access to clean water.»

These protections under the Clean Water Act, known as antidegradation protections, will give these streams greater protection from human-caused pollution. This is important since many of the communities who live near and use these streams have already been disproportionately impacted by pollution.

«This is a historic moment for Colorado. Impacted communities are empowered, organized, and partnered with allies,» said Ean Thomas Tafoya, GreenLatinos Colorado State Director.

Although water quality has improved in recent years, these streams have a history of being polluted by nearby industry, such as Suncor’s oil refinery and Metro Water Recovery along the South Platte through Commerce City, as well as Molson Coors near Clear Creek in Golden.

“Today’s decision restores the WQCC’s commitment to environmental justice and environmental protection, and confirms the critical need to safeguard water quality in urban streams,» said Ellen Kutzer, Western Resource Advocates’ Senior Staff Attorney. «Since 2021, WRA has been working side-by-side with metro-area communities and advocacy partners to protect these waterways. The Commission’s adoption of this proposal demonstrates the power of communities to stand up and demand equal treatment and access to clean water.”

Prior to its decision, the Commission heard from community members who spoke in favor of protecting recreational opportunities such as fishing, swimming, and whitewater kayaking on these streams, which are especially important for lower-income community members who may not otherwise have the opportunity for this type of recreation.

“Trout Unlimited truly thanks the Commission for listening,” said Mely Whiting, Legal Counsel for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “This is a victory for the communities that live by and recreate in these urban streams and whose members came out to ask that their home rivers be protected.”

“We couldn’t be happier with today’s decision,” said Sam Agnew, President of the Denver Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “It was an incredible coalition that made this possible.”