In Colorado and across the arid West, water sustains us all.
As a Coloradan whose livelihood depends on water, I feel this acutely. When we chose to establish a small craft brewery in Fort Collins, clean water and a fantastic watershed habitat upstream provided the basis on which we built our business.
Fort Collins brewers commonly use the phrase “good water = good beer.” For generations breweries here have counted on an excellent starting point for our most important ingredient. And we have built our businesses with consumers who live and recreate here because of Colorado’s beautiful natural resources.
Our industry is not the only, or even the most, water-sensitive one in Colorado, but we make a product that illustrates with every sip the importance of having a clean water source. Water is not just the most obvious ingredient in beer; the watershed is a pivotal part of what draws people who support businesses like ours to Colorado.
In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court severely weakened the federal Clean Water Act, jeopardizing clean water across our state.
Before this court ruling, landowners, developers and builders had to get a federal Clean Water Act permit ahead of dredging or filling protected waters, including wetlands. Wetlands significantly impact water quality in downstream waters like lakes and rivers.
If their project were to cause unavoidable damage to such waterways, permit applicants often had to mitigate those impacts, for instance by restoring wetlands elsewhere in the watershed. Doing this project due diligence to protect our source waters and the many forms of life that depend on these natural areas for their coexistence with us should be a part of any responsible development project.
In this case, landowners sued to be allowed to fill wetlands on their property without permitting, and they were joined at the Supreme Court by a number of industrial entities who argued that most wetlands and many streams that don’t flow year-round should be excluded from the Clean Water Act’s protections.
I’m not a fan of tons of government regulation. We own a small business and live in a morass of paperwork and permit fees. I understand a private property owner’s desire to do what they want on their land.
However, in the event that actions on any land have unintended consequences that pollute water supplies, I would hope that entities keeping an eye on the larger picture would intervene to protect all of us affected by such actions.
This is the best and highest purpose of government – to protect citizens and preserve our ability to thrive. And human thriving depends on preserving delicate water-based ecosystems.
The Court’s decision widely excludes wetlands from the law’s protections and will fuel efforts to deny protections for many streams that are periodically dry.
Across Colorado, there are nearly 220,000 miles of streams which are categorized as intermittent or ephemeral, meaning they flow sometimes but not at all times. More than 3.7 million Coloradans get drinking water from providers that draw some of their supply from streams that are very small or don’t flow year-round. The state also has more than two million acres of wetlands, an untold number of which will be at risk of destruction or pollution because of this ruling.
This decision puts our business and the health and safety of many Coloradoans in jeopardy. We need these waters protected to act as filters and buffers for all of us downstream who benefit — either in our homes, our hobbies, or our businesses — from their functions.
These wetlands and seasonal waterways filter pollution, curb flooding, support a plethora of wildlife, and provide us with the water that makes life in Colorado like nowhere else on Earth.
I have confidence that Colorado can accomplish the simultaneous goals of responsible industry and protected waterways. Given the Supreme Court’s decision, Colorado state leaders must now add state safeguards protecting our most awesome resource from pollution and unintended ecosystem-wide repercussions.
They must move quickly to set up a state permitting program for dredge and fill activities in and around ephemeral streams and wetlands.
Establishing such a program requires an amendment to the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, new state regulations, and appropriation of funding for new permitting and mitigation programs.
Colorado’s future depends on the state stepping up to protect our clean water. It should do so now.
Carol Cochran, of Fort Collins, is co-owner of Horse and Dragon Brewing Co.
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