Water Quality & Quantity – Why We Should Care and Who’s Downstream?

  • Published
  • By Matt Rodgers
  • 460th Civil Engineer Squadron Stormwater Program
As residents of Colorado, we all have a unique responsibility to protect the quality of our waterways. Nineteen other states and parts of Mexico rely on receiving water from Colorado for such purposes as drinking, irrigation and recreation. Our actions, whether good or bad, will consequently affect millions downstream whom rely on our water.

Buckley AFB strives to protect its water resources and has three separate permits issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and driven by the Clean Water Act aimed at protecting the quality of our surface and ground water from the potentially adverse effects our activities may have. The first of these permits is the 2012 Construction General Permit (CGP) which focuses on preventing pollutants generated by construction activities from reaching our waterways. Projects here at BAFB that disturb more than 1 acre or, in some cases, are smaller than 1 acre are mandated to develop a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan or SWPPP. Per CGP guidelines, the SWPPP acts as a tailored guidebook of sorts for a specific project aimed at preventing construction site pollutants like sediment from being transported to our waterways. While sediment may not seem like an obvious water pollutant such as gasoline or oil, the EPA considers sediment as the number one stormwater pollutant in the United States. Adverse effects caused by sediment pollution can include clogging of fish gills, increasing the cost of treating drinking water and acting as a transporting substance by which pollutants such as fertilizer and pesticides can enter our waterways. Second is the 2015 Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) which centers on airfield operations, the lone industrial activity at Buckley AFB. Compliance activities driven by the MSGP include conducting quarterly field inspections of industrial areas and visual monitoring analyses on captured stormwater that originates from our industrial areas. Our final permit is the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permit (MS4) which authorizes stormwater discharges to the public waterways that surround Buckley AFB such as East Toll Gate Creek on the south side of our base and Sand Creek to the north. Both of these public waterways drain to the South Platte River which eventually drains to the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico. Six minimum control measures ranging from Public Education and Outreach to Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination have been developed pursuant to MS4 permit requirements that aim to reduce the impact pollutants have on our waterways.

Water quality and availability have been issues of paramount importance for societies from time immemorial. As the world population closes in on 8 billion people, the demand for fresh water by our species is, perhaps, at an all-time high. While the lack of clean fresh water is a reality for millions of people across the globe, Americans nor Coloradoans are completely immune to such issues. According to the most current data (2010) available on the EPA’s website, 281 of the 59,639 miles of rivers in Colorado are classified as impaired due to nutrients (e.g. E. coli , selenium); while only a very small portion of the assessed rivers are considered impaired, keep in mind that over 30 Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL’s) are in place for the South Platte River basin alone; TMDL’s are used as a planning tool and potential starting point for restoration or protection activities for river/stream reaches that are listed as impaired under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act.

The availability of water is probably the most pressing water-related issue currently facing our state. During most years, the state’s semi-arid climate, which is defined as a region receiving less than 20” of rain per year, is visually apparent during most times of the year by simply driving past non-irrigated areas and observing the various tones of brown vegetation. Since approximately two-thirds of our runoff is promised to other states through various interstate compacts and agreements and agriculture accounts for nearly 90% of our in-state water usage, the remaining water available for other uses is limited. Add in the Centennial State’s burgeoning municipal thirst for water as our population approaches 6 million people and what current and new energy development may necessitate, the demands on our water supply becomes more clearly evident.

It could be argued that conservation, which can be defined as the prevention of wasteful use of a resource is mankind’s oldest and most important task. When looking at just water quality and quantity issues here in the United States, we can look at numerous examples such as the creation of dead zones within the Gulf of Mexico to the unsustainable drawdown of the Ogallala aquifer that partly resides in eastern Colorado where we are not conserving our water resources. Our state’s water demands as well as those downstream are only going to grow for the foreseeable future. An ethos among our general populace that features conservation must take hold if our natural resources are going to remain the envy of our country. Those of us here at BAFB are on the “front lines” so-to-speak with respect to conserving our water resources and affecting positive change; there are myriad plants, animals and humans downstream that will be affected either positively or negatively by the collective choices that we make. For any general questions regarding stormwater, please call 720-847-4655 or 720-847-6308.