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Aspen Journalism, Vail Daily team up to keep spotlight on water at Eagle River Village

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February 14, 2020, 12:43 pm

I want to express my sincere thanks to the nonprofit Aspen Journalism and the for-profit Vail Daily for collaborating and funding my ongoing reporting on water-quality issues at the Eagle River Village mobile home park in Edwards, where more than a dozen residents have told me over the last several months they won’t drink their own tap water because it tastes bad.

In part one of a two-parter that first posted on the Vail Daily’s website on Feb. 11 – and later on Aspen Journalism’s website — I detailed a meeting I had with county officials and the owners of the park in response to a three-part series I wrote last July. We did a blind taste test and I identified the three trailer park samples on the first try because of the high sodium content.

The O Zone by David O. Williams
The O. Zone

Then on Feb. 12 a second story was posted on the Vail Daily site (as well as published in the print edition) describing the frustration of residents who feel caught in a regulatory roundabout. It was also posted to Aspen Journalism’s website.

The owners of the park, where more than 2,000 people live – or about 3.6% of Eagle County’s population – are engaged in a good-faith effort to improve the water quality. But they have made it very clear they will not spend the millions of dollars needed to connect to the local water system. They say their water meets federal safety standards and that’s good enough.

They also told me that for the most part people don’t complain to them directly about the water, although they agree that the residents they have talked to about the situation say they won’t drink from the tap and instead buy bottled water. Perhaps it’s just a matter of education, they said.

But the residents I spoke to all requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation from park ownership and management, including eviction, so a new bill in the Colorado Legislature, building on last year’s mobile home oversight act, has been introduced. It specifically targets retaliation by park owners. But neither bill directly addresses water quality.

County and state officials seem nearly as frustrated as residents, feeling simultaneously they don’t have the tools to compel better water quality and a little fearful that if they push too hard park owners will simply sell off their valuable properties in resort areas and force out low-income workers who are so desperately needed to keep Colorado tourism towns functioning.

In a place as wealthy as Eagle County – home to Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas – there is a philanthropic spirit that can perhaps come to the rescue. The Eagle Valley Community Foundation, which was part of a proposed deal that included taxpayer-funded county water rights to connect the park to the local water system, still hopes it can help improve the water.

The park owners say the few cases of bad water they’ve found can be traced to bad pipes, hot-water heaters and improperly maintained water filters. So perhaps the EVCF, the local rotary, Vail Health and other nonprofit organizations can step in and help out low-income residents.

These folks are our neighbors, friends, classmates, coworkers, and they deserve decent water, and there is enough money here to make it happen – one way or another. I worry about less-affluent counties, or other parks even here in Eagle County where there isn’t as much attention being paid to water quality and other safety issues.

Now here’s some reporting that didn’t make it into my most recent articles, and more proof from yet another nonprofit organization that water quality remains top of mind for many Eagle River Village residents.

Elyse Howard, development director for Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley, told me her organization receives approximately 70 applications for homeownership annually, and then the board of directors approves six families to purchase homes. The number of families approved is determined by the number of homes the Habitat chapter can build in a one-year period. Since the local chapter’s founding in 1995, it has built 79 homes.

“A high percentage of our applicants come from the Eagle River Village mobile home park,” Howard said. “During the years of home visits to interview perspective families, our selection committee has witnessed firsthand the water the residents do not feel safe drinking and lack of access to safe play.

“Due to the urgent health and safety concerns we have seen in our 25 years of home visits, we know families in the Eagle River Village mobile home park have a strong need for safe, affordable housing,” she added.

The park owners, Littleton-based Ascentia, told me they want to hear from residents about water quality or any other issue, and they provided this contact information:

Ascentia urges Eagle River Village mobile home park residents with water quality or water pressure issues to call Eagle River Village Community Manager Maria Cisneros at (970) 446-8646.

Residents can also reach out directly to the Ascentia home office in Littleton (anonymously if they wish) by email at contactus@ascentia.us or by calling (303) 730-2000.

Residents can also contact the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment directly by email at cdphe.commentswqcd@state.co.us or by calling (303) 692-3500.

For more information on the state’s new Mobile Home Park Oversight Program created by last year’s legislation, call (833) 924-1147 (toll free), email MHPOP@state.co.us, or go to their website by clicking here.

Anyone interested in helping out should contact the Eagle Valley Community Foundation by calling (970) 977-1093 or going to their website: https://eaglevalleycf.org/get-involved/

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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