Neighborhood in Morgan County becomes hazmat scene due to toxic sludge in drinking water

Neighborhood in Morgan County becomes hazmat scene due to toxic sludge in drinking water

Categories: Local News, CBS 4
No rating

Blues From The Top Music Festival - Winter Park Colorado June 28 - 30 Big Head Todd - Ben Harper many more

The tanks that hold drinking water for nearly 140 residents in the Prairie View Ranch Water District are full of sludge that is so toxic that Colorado's Water Quality Control Division has now brought in hazmat crews to dig them up and clean them out.  


"I don't know how else to explain how this could have happened. There are checks and balances that are supposed to be in place," said Jesse McCoppin, who lives in the district and says proper oversight has been missing for nearly 20 years, putting the health and homes of those who live in the district at risk.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires the Colorado Water Quality Division to approve design plans for water systems before they're built. But the developers -- Prairie View Ranch Partners -- built the Morgan County system without approval and, when the state found out in 2007, it did nothing, waiting 10 years to issue a notice of violation.

The district has received nearly 200 notices since 2017 but only after CBS News Colorado aired a story last month did the state finally issue an enforcement order.

McCoppin said it's too little, too late.

"It's mostly been determined by engineers and other experts that we're facing a total system replacement. Fire hydrants, pipeline, the treatment plant -- it all just needs to be ripped out of the ground and replaced," he said.

Certified lab tests show the black sludge that has been collecting on water filters in residents' homes is contaminated with radioactive lead, uranium and radium.

The Water Quality Division says it only became aware of the sludge in December of last year. But emails show residents complaining for years of "indoor plumbing clogged with thick black sludge, like motor oil," "kitchen sinks and toilet tanks coated with thick black tar that will not come off," "black chunks in sediment filters," "rust clumps" in water, and water that is "crunchy with solid grains of manganese dioxide."

"Somebody should have stopped it. Somebody has the authority to stop it," said McCoppin.

Instead, he says, the state and county allowed the system to expand and the sludge to worsen.

"It's gotten to the point where it's causing damage to the pumps, causing damage to the system. Definitely causing private property damage to the homeowners' water heaters and whatnot," McCoppin said.

McCoppin blames not only the water quality division but Morgan County Commissioners, saying they rubber-stamped the service plan for the water district despite all kinds of red flags.

Not only was the special district set up as a private for-profit company when it's a tax exempt quasi-governmental entity, it was set up despite another water district right across the street. State law requires commissioners deny approval of a water district if there's already adequate service available.

Morgan County Commissioner Jon Becker -- who didn't sit on the commission when the district was approved -- said "It is not the board's responsibility to do that due diligence."

"The county has the right to make sure things are being done properly," said McCoppin. "But they just simply turned a blind eye to everything."

He says that had commissioners asked for proof that the water "met drinking water standards" as developers claimed in the service plan, they would have learned tests by a state engineer already showed high levels of uranium, selenium and radioactivity. But commissioners didn't ask and, McCoppin says, because they allowed developers and out-of-state family members to run the district's board, residents didn't learn what was in their water for years, despite repeated notices from the state health department telling the board to warn residents.

The Water Quality Control Division has now ordered the developer to pay hazmat crews to remove the sludge and clean the tanks and distribution lines, but McCoppin says, without a central treatment facility, it's a temporary fix.


"Within a few days of this project being completed, the manganese levels and the sludge levels will be much lower, but they will inevitably get back to where they are now if nothing changes," McCoppin said.

He says some home filtration systems have already turned black again, a week after the sludge was removed.

The Water Quality Division has issued more than $8,000 in fines against the developers and the water district, which is now being run by residents, but it is only requiring them to pay about $800 of that if they come up with a plan to fix everything by June. But McCoppin says that means coming up with money for a complete system overhaul and central treatment, which he says will cost over a million dollars. He says the water district is already missing a million dollars from when the developers ran the board.

He has asked the Colorado Attorney General's Office repeatedly for help, but says he's only received automated replies in response. The EPA is now trying to help by looking into possible federal funding. 

Link to original article

CBS 4 News

CBS 4 NewsCBS 4 News

Other posts by Local News, CBS 4
Contact author

Contact author