News brief with The Colorado Sun: Weld County redistricting controversy and new federal PFAS rules
Each week, we talk with our colleagues at The Colorado Sun about the stories they're following. This time, we discuss the redistricting dust-up in Weld County and how new federal regulations on "forever chemicals" will affect Colorado.
Weld County is being criticized for running afoul of a 2021 state law about redrawing districts. The law requires counties to form redistricting commissions, create websites for public comment and hold public meetings throughout the process.
"The goal of the bill was to make it easier for counties to expand their county commissioner boards from three to five without worrying about gerrymandering," Sun editor David Krause told KUNC.
At a meeting this month, Weld County commissioners approved a new district map without holding public meetings or inviting public comment. Weld County says it is exempt from that state law because it is a "home rule" county.
Home rule is a system of governance that, according to the Colorado Legislature, "empowers local governments to act and legislate on local matters." Voters choose to have a home rule system, and detail its structure through a charter. Weld and Pitkin are the only two home rule counties in Colorado.
Critics, however, say Weld County's new district layout will unfairly favor Republican candidates. If a resident files a lawsuit and Weld County is found to be in violation of state law, its redistricting process would have to be redone with changes made to comply with state redistricting mandates.
In other news, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new drinking water standards this week in an attempt to reduce contamination from the increasingly pervasive toxic chemicals known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Previously, the the PFAS limit in drinking water was 70 parts per trillion, but now the EPA wants water districts to get their levels down to four parts per trillion.
"What that means is a lot of Colorado towns will have to update their water treatment plants, which is certainly no cheap task. Could cost tens of millions—if not hundreds of millions—of dollars, and they just got a couple of years to do that," Krause said.
Toxic PFAS chemicals are found in products ranging from waterproof clothing to firefighting foams and ski waxes. Often called "forever chemicals" because they don’t break down easily, PFAS chemicals have been linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems.
Colorado has more PFAS-contaminated sites than any other state, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.