EPA warns state water quality division is understaffed | VailDaily.com

EPA warns state water quality division is understaffed

DENVER (AP) ” The federal Environmental Protection Agency has warned that Colorado’s water quality regulators are significantly understaffed and could be slow in putting new rules into effect.

But in a review reported in Monday’s Rocky Mountain News, the EPA said the staff shortages at the Water Quality Control Division do not threaten public safety.

The EPA said the division, part of the state Department of Public Health and Environment, has 37 people in its drinking water program, but a model developed by the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators showed the number should be around 72.

Too few staffers are available to help with complex rules, resulting “in many unnecessary violations” of two new regulations on proper treatment at drinking water plants, the report said.

The water quality division oversees 2,099 drinking water systems and 2,418 cities and industries that discharge pollution into waterways.

Despite strongly worded concerns in the report, an EPA assistant administrator downplayed the idea that staffing shortages created a threat to public health.

“Are they still playing catch-up to some degree? Yes. Is the public’s health being protected? Absolutely, in my opinion,” said Steve Tuber, of the EPA’s regional office in Denver.

The EPA report cited a list of accomplishments for the drinking water program.

The division achieved success “despite an overwhelming workload and historic resource shortfalls. This speaks highly of the professionalism of the staff and the management” of the drinking water program,” the report said.

The water quality division, like other state agencies, has suffered from Colorado’s budget cuts. After drastic reductions in 2003, lawmakers restored some funding this year.

But Stephanie Walsh, an analyst for the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, said division officials still had concerns about whether it was enough.

Rep. Tom Plant, D-Nederland, a member of the Joint Budget Committee, said lawmakers had to make tough choices on funding.

“We know the water quality division is grossly underfunded,” Plant said. “The impression we have gotten from the (health department) is that they’re still able to perform their task. But, you know, I’m not particularly surprised at (EPA’s concerns).”

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