Published: June 3, 2024
The professor Evan Thomas with the governor and a senator in a field outside

Governor Jared Polis has signed into law the new Colorado Senate Bill SB24-037, titled "Study Green Infrastructure for Water Quality Management." Sponsored by Senators Cleave Simpson and Jeff Bridges, along with Representatives Mike Lynch and Karen McCormick, this significant legislation aims to enhance water quality and environmental sustainability in Colorado. This landmark bill is supported by a NASA-funded Congressional earmark provided by Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse. 

The bill directs the team at the University of Colorado Boulder Mortenson Center in Global Engineering & Resilience and Colorado State University's Energy Institute to work directly with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to identify new pathways to restore rivers and watersheds in Colorado, improve water quality, and reduce emissions associated with water and wastewater treatment.

Over the next two years, this team will develop up to three pilot projects in collaboration with communities and utilities to demonstrate the use of green infrastructure and green financing mechanisms. This work will include actively restoring watersheds using public and private sector investment, including the purchase of carbon credits based on avoided electricity demand from water treatment.

Evan Thomas, Director of the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering & Resilience at CU Boulder said, “It has been a rewarding experience to propose this idea and work with Senator Simpson and other elected representatives and state officials in Colorado to bring it to life, and we're looking forward to what this could mean for Colorado's water and air.”

Dr. Thomas, who is also an environmental engineering professor at CU Boulder will additionally lead a $950,000 congressionally mandated, NASA-funded research project to monitor water quality and understand the impact of wildfires on the Yampa and Cache la Poudre rivers in Colorado. “About half of America’s rivers don’t meet the Clean Water Act standards and that’s also true in Colorado,” Thomas said. “We have many rivers that are on what is called the 303(d) list, meaning that they’re impaired and they don’t meet the Clean Water Act,” said Thomas.

Thomas and his team have already been utilizing sensors to monitor these rivers. With the new funding, these sensors will continue to collect data for at least another year. The objective is to identify contamination sources and develop effective, nature-based solutions. Unlike traditional point-in-time sampling methods, the robust and durable sensors provide cost-effective, continuous measurements.

“The idea is that we can develop technologies that help communities and help the state better manage watersheds so that we can restore watersheds, we can restore land cost-effectively and in a way that benefits more people,” Thomas said.

Photo: Director/Professor Evan Thomas, Governor Jared Polis & Senator Cleave Simpson at the Senate bill signing in Alamosa, Colorado.