River district backs storm-water regulations for oil and gas industry
Post Independent Staff
Advocates of regulating storm water runoff associated with oil and gas development gained a key Western Slope ally Tuesday.
The Colorado River Water Conservation District’s board unanimously voted to support continuing to apply state storm-water regulations to the industry.
The action, taken at its quarterly meeting in Glenwood Springs, follows passage by Congress earlier this year of its energy bill (see story, page B1). The legislation makes clear that no oil and gas development activities require federal storm-water permits, even if they are considered construction-related.
Storm-water permits are used to help limit runoff of sediment when earth is disturbed by construction-related activities. In Colorado, the oil and gas industry is required to obtain the permits.
The energy industry maintains that because of the federal law, states are prohibited from mandating that it obtain storm-water permits. In light of the new federal law, the state Water Quality Control Commission plans to hold a hearing on the future of its regulations Jan. 9.
In a report to the river district board, district general counsel Peter Fleming said the energy bill applies only to federal permits.
“It does not expressly say that states are prohibited from requiring a storm-water permit for such activities,” he wrote.
The river district is concerned about protecting water quality in the midst of the current boom in natural gas development in western Colorado.
“The unmitigated construction of thousands of wells and miles of roads will likely increase sediment, selenium and salinity loading in the Colorado River and its tributaries,” Fleming wrote.
The Colorado River already exceeds water-quality limits for selenium where gas development is occurring, including in Garfield County. Some of these same segments of the river are being studied to determine if sedimentation surpasses limits.
Energy-related water pollution could require more treatment by municipalities and even treatment for agricultural uses, Fleming warns. He contends that water quality improvements achieved by regulating other activities would be negated by exempting oil and gas development.
“There is no overriding reason to apply less stringent standards to oil and gas development than would continue to be applied to other construction activities,” he wrote.
Tom Dunlop, a district board member from Pitkin County, agreed.
“I’m very happy that this board took a unanimous decision” in favor of the state regulations, he said in an interview following its action.
He said that for the sake of the entire Colorado River watershed, it’s important that neighboring states with oil and gas development also regulate associated storm water runoff.
Fleming predicted that however the state water-quality commission decides on the permit issue, the losing side will seek legislative action to overturn the commission’s decision.
The debate is coming amid funding difficulties on the state Water Quality Control Division. For the first time in three years, it will be receiving some state general funds. However, its fee levels last year reverted to 2001 levels without any inflationary adjustment. Chris Treese, who tracks legislative and governmental affairs for the river district, says fee hikes are likely if the state is going to maintain its current level of regulatory control over water quality.
Said Dunlop, “The last thing I’d want to see is to have that whole program turned back over to the federal government.”
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
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