The water, we were told, is safe to drink. It’s hard water, heavy with minerals, different government officials kept explaining. And when they add the bleach, it turns a rusty red.
Nothing about that sounds good, least of all the suggestion to drink it.
Yet that was the assessment of public health and environmental officials at the Apple Tree Park mobile home park in New Castle. Never mind the unpleasant taste or the kids getting sick, the stained clothes and skin rashes from washing with it, or the damage caused to plumbing and appliances. The water, they said, met state standards.
If that’s the case, then this is a systemic failure, where the state and local governments, along with corporate landowners, are clearly failing us. Our standards must change.
Having grown up in mobile home parks, we know that the standards are applied inequitably. Barriers to equity can be found in just about any of Colorado’s 800-plus mobile home parks, even flowing from the faucets.
Access to clean water is among the most fundamental rights, one every Coloradan deserves equally. But residents of mobile home parks have been voicing concerns over the quality of their water for years. According to the 2022 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda survey, some 40% of residents in mobile home parks do not believe their water is safe for drinking. Unfortunately, those concerns have largely gone unrecognized as existing laws, regulations and incentives remain inadequate at protecting mobile home park residents from neglected infrastructure and poor water quality. Environmental justice remains just beyond their reach.
This is no minor issue, amplified even more by Colorado’s current housing crisis. Mobile home parks serve as the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the state, with the 96,234 mobile home households in Colorado accounting for 4% of the state’s total households. Mobile homes account for more than 15% of housing units in 12 Colorado counties and more than 20% of the housing units in Saguache County alone.
Colorado’s mobile home park residents are primarily on fixed incomes and typically have no alternative affordable housing options. According to Root Policy Research, 22% of the residents are veterans, 27% of the residents are 65 years of age or older, 29% of the residents are Latino, and 39% of residents are people with disabilities. The median annual household income of those living in mobile homes is just $39,800.
Meanwhile, residents can wind up spending thousands of dollars for bottled water, filters, water heaters, dishwashers, and other appliances damaged by hard water that often goes unreported due to fear of retaliation from landlords or lack of interest from local elected officials.
Enough is enough. As Latino community leaders, we recognize the need to resolve this issue once and for all.
A bill in the state General Assembly, HB23-1257, introduced by Reps. Elizabeth Velasco (D-Garfield County) and Andrew Boesenecker (D-Larimer County) and co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Cutter (D-Jefferson County), is a first step toward identifying and addressing the prevailing issues with water quality in mobile home parks.
The bill begins to address this urgent health equity and safety concern by establishing the framework for a testing program, remediation requirements, and enforcement measures with an emphasis on environmental justice principles. Importantly, it also emphasizes tenant protections from unreasonable cost increases or other forms of retaliation for reporting water quality concerns. We encourage the public to learn more about the issue, the bill, and the growing coalition of 15 organizations (and counting) established to support it by visiting our website at CleanWaterForAllCO.org.
There are no easy solutions. This is not a simple fix, and the details of the testing program, action plan, and enforcement process are sure to evolve during the legislative process. But this bill is a critical starting point in tackling a complicated issue that will no doubt require additional support from lawmakers, local government, and other stakeholders in the future.
Many mobile home parks have old infrastructure which could be difficult to upgrade given a patchwork of water sources and typically private ownership of parks. Park residents face unique challenges in that they do not own the pipes connected to their units. Upgrading that infrastructure will take cooperation and investments from park owners in the quality of life of these communities, and must ensure that unintended consequences such as raising rents do not occur.
It will also take partnerships with local governments and the state to find solutions to overcome this challenge. But true environmental justice won’t exist until everyone has a healthy and safe environment, and that includes the fundamental dignity of clean drinking water when we open the tap, no matter where in Colorado we live.
Beatriz Soto, of New Castle, is the director of Protégete at Conservation Colorado, which advocates for equitable access to a healthy environment, specifically for Colorado’s Latino communities. She is co-chair of the Clean Water for All Colorado Coalition, created to address water quality issues in Colorado’s mobile home parks.
Alex Sánchez, of Glenwood Springs, is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, non-profit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. He is co-chair of the Clean Water for All Colorado Coalition, created to address water quality issues in Colorado’s mobile home parks.
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