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Meet the state Capitol’s very own Captain Toilet Man

A recap of some high-profile bills that will impact Colorado’s water systems and services after this year’s state legislative session.

In a neighborhood not too far from yours, two brothers sit at a desk, sketching out their first comic book based on their real-life hero, Captain Toilet Man.

Yes, those are my kids, and yes, I’m a special kind of super hero to them.

You see, I’ve worked on so many toilet-related pieces of legislation (from high-efficiency toilets to flushing toilets with recycled water) that my nickname at the state Capitol has become “Captain Toilet Man.”

So, what does this have to do with your drinking water? Well, of the more than 600 bills that are introduced each year in the Colorado Legislature, there can be as many as 40 that affect Denver Water and other water providers.

Of course, the bills are not all tied to toilets, and the issues range from the obvious, like water rights, water quality and water efficiency, to the less obvious, like construction contracting, human resources, engineering and surveying, excavation, and health insurance, to name a few.

Chris Piper and Heather Stauffer from Denver Water's government relations department at the Colorado State House of Representatives.

As one of Denver Water’s government liaisons (affectionately known as “lobbyists”), we have an important job to do. The daily grind of our work is to provide information to legislators on our water system, how it operates, and how the legislation they are debating affects our operations and customers.

With so many bills and issues and such a small window of time to debate them, we have to know a little bit about everything Denver Water does, back it up with information and testimony from our internal subject matter experts and form solid relationships with legislators.

Having just wrapped up this year’s session (the Colorado General Assembly regular session begins in mid-January and ends in mid-May), we thought we’d highlight some of the topics that we were most involved in, to give you a sneak peek at the issues of importance to our customers.

Recycled Water

This was a big year for recycled water legislation. Gov. Hickenlooper’s state water plan includes many priorities to ensure Colorado can stretch its water supplies for the anticipated growth our state will see.

One of these priorities is “to foster reuse of water supplies while protecting public health and the environment.” The Legislature saw an opportunity to advance this goal by adding new types of uses for recycled water, which is wastewater cleaned to a standard that is suitable for authorized nonpotable uses (like commercial irrigation and cooling towers).

Several legislators teamed up to sponsor and pass three bills allowing recycled water to be used for toilet and urinal flushing (House Bill 18-1069), irrigation of edible food crops (House Bill 18-1093), and cultivation of hemp (Senate Bill 18-038). These measures were important to Denver Water as we continue to stretch our water supply through water reuse.

With these bills passed, the Legislature has created a pathway for water providers to expand water reuse programs, and Denver Water will focus on finding new customers who can take advantage of these new uses.  We hope that new construction of multifamily housing, the National Western Center redevelopment, and Denver Water’s Operations Complex redevelopment could be candidates for flushing toilets and urinals with recycled water.

Urban gardens and farm-to-table greenhouse operations located close to our recycled water infrastructure will also be able to take advantage of this more sustainable supply of water, and Denver Urban Gardens was very supportive of this new use.

Passage of these bills on recycled water will help bring Colorado in alignment with other states that have successfully used recycled water for these uses for many years. This incremental move forward was supported by many groups including Denver Urban Gardens, Craft Companies (a developer planning a development using recycled water), Dr. Tzahi Cath (a professor from the School of Mines who has studied recycled water extensively), the Colorado Water Congress, Conservation Colorado, and Western Resource Advocates.

Aquatic Nuisance Species

Colorado is one of only two states that does not have either quagga or zebra mussels in its waters. And we want to keep it that way.

These invasive species grow extremely rapidly and cling to important water infrastructure like pipes, valves and pumps, and can significantly restrict water flow through these systems. Other states are spending millions of dollars every year dealing with these creatures.

These mussels spread from reservoir to reservoir by boats. In Colorado, we are fortunate to have a very strong boat inspection and decontamination program that does an amazing job of keeping these pests out of our water.

This inspection program is run by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and paid for by severance taxes. In recent years, with oil prices low, there has not been enough severance tax revenue to pay for the boat inspection program. With support from CPW, water providers (including Denver Water) and the boating community, the Legislature passed the Mussel-free Colorado Act (House Bill 1008) that creates an annual aquatic nuisance species boater stamp that is predicted to raise enough funds to pay for half of the boater inspection program. The stamp will cost $25 for Colorado residents and $50 for out-of-state boaters.

Denver Water also opposed Senate Bill 18-275, which would have taken steps toward allowing seaplanes to land on Colorado lakes and reservoirs.

Why would we care about that? For the same reason we worry about boats carrying invasive mussels, since seaplanes could also spread these mussels from infected lakes.

In all, we tracked 30 individual bills and took positions on 13 this year. While I can’t compete with Captain America, as Captain Toilet Man I will continue to proudly fight in the halls of government for high-quality water and promote its efficient use to the 1.4 million people we serve in the Denver metro area.