Tonya Johnson, especialista en interpretación de la división de Justicia Medioambiental del CDPHE, reparte dispositivos de traducción a los miembros de la comunidad en la reunión del 18 de mayo. Aún no se ha programado la próxima reunión. Foto por James Steindler

On the evening of May 18, after months of planning, the community of Apple Tree hosted a meeting addressing the trailer park’s water quality. Representatives from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Garfield County Public Health, the corporation managing the park — Investment Property Group (IPG) — and a slew of Apple Tree residents were present. 

People, mostly residents, lined up at the door to sign in, and had the option to utilize a listening device for real-time translation.

“We understand there are serious water quality concerns impacting the Apple Tree community. We know that taste and color are an issue; it makes people not want to drink the water or bathe in it. We know that it can shorten the lifespan of appliances,” CDPHE Drinking Water Coach Nicholas Griffin assured the crowd. “We’re working with Apple Tree to help address these concerns.” 

Griffin explained that the Environmental Protection Agency has requirements when it comes to public drinking water, but some standards, such as smell and taste, are considered secondary and are not enforceable. Therefore, according to CDPHE, Apple Tree’s water operators have been in compliance with what’s required. 

When it comes to long-term solutions for Apple Tree, Griffin said that any viable option would be costly. The first potential solution he pitched would be to 1) drill a new well (but that wouldn’t guarantee the water quality would be any better), 2) obtain surface water rights from the Colorado River, 3) connect to, and purchase water wholesale from, the Town of New Castle or 4) build a water treatment plant to better filter “aesthetic” contaminants from the existing well. 

Jeffrey Sandoval-Mangers, representing IPG, said that financing a long-term project is a significant hurdle. He added that it’s too early to tell if that cost would be passed onto Apple Tree residents. 

According to Colorado statute, private companies are not eligible for many grants that would otherwise be suitable in this case. This could change with the passage of Colorado’s Mobile Home Park Water Quality (MHWQ) bill, currently awaiting Governor Jared Polis’ signature. 

“In the long-term, Apple Tree and IPG are working to design and examine costs to build a water treatment plant to improve water quality,” Sandoval-Mangers later told The Sopris Sun. IPG is holding out hope that grants will become available to privately owned trailer parks, such as Apple Tree, through the MHWQ bill. 

In the meantime, Sandoval-Mangers explained that management is hoping to install additional drinking water dispensers. Additionally, IPG is working with CDPHE to optimize system flushes and plans to educate residents on how to flush the lines in their homes. 

Resident Mirelia Trevizo, assisted by interpreter Alan Muñoz Valenciano of VOCES Unidas, expressed her feelings. First, she thanked the stakeholders for being there and acknowledged there is much work yet to be done. She stressed that the residents who live there have no choice but to use the water. 

Trevizo explained that no one wears or buys white clothing. She added that she only buys white mattress covers because she can’t find them in any other color. She pulled a mattress cover from a garbage bag which she claimed to have only put through her washing machine once. It was riddled with stains. Another resident, Kim Cassady, showed the group the detergent compartment from her washing machine which was, likewise, brown and crusted with sentiment. 

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who was sitting with the community facing the presenters, took the opportunity to give his two cents. “It has to be more than just water dispensers. These people need to see a solution moving forward and this solution needs to happen before 2027.” 

Sandoval-Mangers had indicated that a long-term solution might not commence until 2027, when it will be required by law to update Apple Tree’s wastewater treatment system.

Marcus Howell, the environmental justice ombudsperson for CDPHE, a relatively new position that relays community complaints regarding pollution to the state level, asked attendees to consider some context. He noted that since he took on his role a little more than a year ago, he’s heard several complaints from mobile home park residents around the state regarding water quality. He said IPG’s willingness to address the concern in Apple Tree was unique. 

“I want to say, to Jeff and IPG’s credit, they have been active in working with us. I know that the issues you are facing are real and I don’t want to dismiss them at all, but it is a good sign that the park owners, the state, the local government and the community members are all here together…” Howell stated.