Colorado Migrants Putting New Pressures on State’s Aging Infrastructure

Rusty burst pipe squirting water at high pressureOn Wednesday, March 2, U.S. News and World Report‎ officially named Denver the best place to live in the country. Of course, the recent influx of new residents to Colorado suggest that U.S. News and World Report‎ is slightly behind the times. And as Colorado’s transplant population grows, so too have resentments among many Colorado natives, some of whom have started putting green “NATIVE” bumper stickers on their cars.

Not only are some natives badmouthing the transplants, but the increasing population has also put new strains on Colorado’s already aging infrastructure. Highways are busier than ever, and bitter budget fights have made long-term investments in the state’s infrastructure difficult to secure. Plus, Colorado’s water and sewer system is particularly at risk.

In regions where the temperature regularly drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, water and sewer lines are much more likely to crack, as pressure from ice in the ground puts even more strain on aging pipes.

This March, KUSA reporter Kyle Clark offered a transplant’s perspective on the situation in a defensive yet optimistic commentary piece.

He wrote, “Denver is faced with an affordable housing shortage, infrastructure overload, and tough choices on government spending. But Denver is also blessed with an expanding tax base, enterprising new people and their businesses, and the infectious spirit of a city on the rise.”

While Clark’s article was about Denver specifically, it could be applied to Colorado at large. At the same time that eager young professionals are flocking to Denver and Boulder, a so-called Green Rush is luring many migrants to rural Colorado, where they hope to make green by growing green.

The marijuana migration first came to light into an investigation into Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Dear, who was living off the grid in an RV in Parks County. Officials found thousands more migrants in rural Colorado, lured by the promise of cheap land and little government oversight. Now, they’re living off the grid, without addresses, water, or sewer service.

At least one Colorado mountain town hopes that the problem and the solution are one and the same. In 2014, voters in DeBeque approved Mesa County’s only recreational marijuana shops. In 2015, the town earned more revenue from marijuana taxes than they ever did from sales tax or energy impact fees.

Town officials fear it’s only a matter of time before more towns approve competing marijuana enterprises. Until they do, officials are planning to use the extra revenue to invest in much-needed infrastructure projects, scholarships, and other community improvement programs.

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