Polluters Foul Colorado’s Waters

Environment Colorado

DENVER— More than 48 percent of industrial and municipal facilities across Colorado discharged more pollution into our waterways than their Clean Water Act permits allow between July 2003 and December 2004, according to “Troubled Waters: An Analysis Of Clean Water Act Compliance”, a new report released today by Environment Colorado.

“Polluters are using America’s waters as their dumping ground. Instead of solving the problem, the Bush administration is slashing the EPA’s budget and weakening critical clean water programs,” said Environment Colorado Associate Pam Kiely.

While the 1972 Clean Water Act has made significant strides in cleaning up U.S. waterways, the law’s goals of eliminating the discharge of pollutants into waterways by 1985 and making all U.S. waters safe for fishing, swimming and other uses by 1983 have not been reached. Today, more than 40 percent of U.S. waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Environment Colorado obtained data on facilities’ compliance with the Clean Water Act between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004. Environment Colorado researchers found that polluters repeatedly exceeded their permit limits, often by egregious amounts.

Additional findings include:
Nationally, 62 percent of all major industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution into U.S. waterways than their permits allow at least once during the 18-month period studied. The average facility exceeded its pollution permit limit by more than 275 percent, or almost four times the legal limit.

• More than 48% of Colorado’s industrial and municipal facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits at least once between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004.

• 52 facilities in Colorado reported more than 160 exceedances of their Clean Water Act permits during the 18-month period.

• On average, Colorado facilities exceeding their Clean Water Act permits did so by 213%, or by over 3 times the legal limit.

• Polluters in Colorado reported 16 instances in which they exceeded their Clean Water Act permit by at least 500 percent over the legal limit.

“All Americans deserve clean water to drink and safe places to swim and fish. To clean up our waterways, this continuing pollution must stop,” said Kiely.

Kiely noted that the findings are likely conservative, since the data that Environment Colorado analyzed includes only “major” facilities and does not include pollution discharged into waters by the hundreds of thousands of minor facilities across the country.

Environment Colorado called on the Bush administration to back off its efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act and to commit to strengthening enforcement of this landmark legislation.

In addition, Environment Colorado applauded Representatives Udall and DeGette for sponsoring the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act, which ensures all U.S. waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and called for the rest of Colorado’s congressional delegation to support this important bill.

In order to achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act, Environment Colorado recommended federal and state officials do the following:

• Increase EPA Funding to put more environmental cops on the beat to identify and punish polluters violating their Clean Water Act permits, and to fully fund the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to help communities upgrade their sewer systems. 
• Protect all U.S. waters by withdrawing the Bush administration’s 2003 “No Protection” policy that eliminates Clean Water Act protections for many small streams and wetlands that feed and clean great waters, and supporting passage of the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act. 
• Strengthen the Clean Water Act by preventing polluters from profiting from pollution, tightening permitted pollution limits, revoking the permits of repeat violators, and ensuring citizens full access to the courts.

“To protect public health and the environment, the Bush administration and state officials must hold polluters accountable for their contamination of America’s waterways,” concluded Kiely.