News 5 Investigates discovered a mobile home complex in eastern El Paso County has violated water quality regulations for years, putting dozens of people at risk.
Many of the findings centered around violations at the Arrowhead Mobile Home Park are not easily accessible online to the public. Instead, we had to file open records requests to obtain complaints and inspection reports.
A viewer news tip led us to discover a much bigger problem.
Carol Klesser contacted News 5 Investigates after the floor inside her daughter’s mobile home started to sink just months after moving in.
“The pipes are broken underneath,” Klesser claims.
Two separate invoices for repairs indicated the piping underneath her daughter’s home is “recalled” and “no longer allowed to be used”.
Although News 5 is not able to verify whether the entire complex has recalled water and sewage pipes, we found something more alarming.
Klesser and other residents complain the drinking water smells bad and claim a sewage odor lingers outside.
Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross asked Klesser whether she drinks tap water from the kitchen sink.
“No,” Klesser replied. “Sometimes it smells.”
After hearing from other neighbors about similar issues, we started digging for answers.
We found 3 complaints alone in 2015 that were made to El Paso County officials over concerns with groundwater and wastewater.
Each time, El Paso County said “the State has inspection responsibility for this”.
3 years earlier in 2012, an inspector with the county notified the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about violations including unauthorized discharge of sewage into groundwater.
The report said Arrowhead Mobile Home Park violated the Colorado Water Quality Control Act and suggested that “sewage (domestic wastewater) had been allowed to seep into the ground and groundwater”.
More than 5 years after that 2012 report was filed, the mobile home complex still appears to be illegally discharging wastewater on the property.
News 5 Investigates traveled to Denver to speak with Mandy Mercer, an enforcement specialist for the Water Quality Control Division which sits under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, also known as CDPHE.
“CDPHE views any violation as an issue that needs to be resolved immediately,” Mercer said.
Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross replied, “We are talking about an issue that is 5 years ongoing. Is this acceptable?”
“I guess I’m going to pause us because the state can’t talk about what is an acceptable length of time,” Meghan Trubee, a community relations liaison for the state’s Water Quality Control Division said.
Trubee advised Ross’ question was “subjective” so Ross rephrased the question.
“You just mentioned that any issue or complaint into your office is taken very seriously and if a problem is discovered, it needs to be fixed immediately,” Ross told Mercer. “This is 5 years ongoing.”
“Well you know certainly there are thousands of wastewater treatment facilities in Colorado and a limited number of staff to deal with issues like this,” Mercer said.
Mercer adds the State has sent notices to the property owner requesting he stop discharging wastewater into the ground—fearing possible health risks to not only people, but wildlife.
“We’ve worked with El Paso County Health Department to address these concerns.”
While News 5 Investigates did find record of county employees visiting the property to investigate complaints, our investigation couldn’t find any evidence of a state public health and environment employee following up on the wastewater problem.
Ross asked, “So nobody from CDPHE has been out to Arrowhead Mobile Home Park?”
“As far as I know, not for any wastewater concerns,” Mercer said.
Mercer did say her agency has been in contact with the property owner, who has since promised to build a new, compliant wastewater treatment facility that will not threaten the environment and nearby property owners.
“At this point in time, the wastewater lagoon is discharging into groundwater,” Mercer said.
Ross replied, “At what point do you say to the property owner that enough is enough?”
“I feel like we’ve been aggressive in working with the owner and really trying to drive the process forward,” Mercer said.
We have confirmed the property owner has hired an engineer to design a non-discharging wastewater lagoon. A formal action plan has been submitted and is currently under review.
However, until people like Carol see results, she doesn’t trust the water in her daughter’s complex.
“We buy bottled water here,” she said. “I want this fixed so my grandkids and daughter can live here safely.”
News 5 Investigates continued to press the Water Quality Control Division for a time frame on when the problem would be fixed.
Mercer told News 5 she is “confident and optimistic” that a function and compliant wastewater treatment facility will be in place by the end of 2018.
If you know of a property owner or business illegally discharging wastewater into the environment, you should contact city or county officials first and then file a formal complaint with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
If you have done both of those things and never received a response, we’d like to hear from you. Our email address is News5Investigates@KOAA.com.
Dayton Orsburn, the property owner for Arrowhead Mobile Home Park issued the following statement Thursday afternoon:
Thank you for your inquiry regarding the Arrowhead Mobile Home Park. Please accept this written statement, as I don’t want anything to be lost in translation. Arrowhead received a “compliance advisory” letter regarding the wastewater facility from the CDPHE in 2012. The facility was operated by a licensed wastewater facility operator that had handled all communications and regulatory compliance with the CDPHE from 1996 until his death in 2008. The park’s manager who had worked with the operator took over his role at that point. We believed the facility was properly permitted and were caught off-guard by the CDPHE’s 2012 letter. We had every intention of fixing the problem if one existed, and we sent a letter to the CDPHE explaining our confusion. However, not fully grasping the severity of the issue, we determined it must have been a false alarm when no further communications were received from the CDPHE. We then received the CDPHE’s Notice of Violation for the facility in May 2016. Since that time, Arrowhead has retained engineers and consultants that have been in constant communication with the CDPHE and have worked diligently to address the issue. The engineers and CDPHE have determined that the facility requires some modification to meet current CDPHE requirements. The process is lengthy, and we are currently in the site application and design review stage of the Notice of Violation’s compliance procedures for the modification. This has been a difficult time for my wife and I, and we hope to receive the CDPHE’s approval of the site application and design for the modification in the coming months so that we can complete the compliance process as soon as possible. As for the complaints of leaks and old pipes in the homes, the residents own their homes or are buying the homes and are responsible for the working order of their pipes and fixtures. Like other water and sanitation providers, Arrowhead is only responsible for the facilities up to the point of connection with the homes. I hope this answers your questions and thank you again for requesting my side of the story. We are doing everything we can to fix the issue and look forward to putting it behind us.
News 5 has learned Orsburn has offered to pay $1,800 to fix the floor in Klesser’s mobile home.