Hello again from our newsroom on the banks of the upper Roaring Fork River. We hope these warm, late-summer days have been treating you well as you enjoy clean air and abundant moisture (if you need to see the receipts on that, check out our regular Data Dashboard updates).
We are excited this week to have published another long form, enterprising story from Data Desk Editor Laurine Lassalle, surveying the scene as public health officials team up with wastewater treatment plants to better understand what wastewater data can tell us about COVID-19 in our communities.
The data is in some ways a better tracker of a community’s disease burden than the incidence rate and test positivity metrics we’ve become accustomed to since the pandemic began. This is especially true in a community like Aspen because those test and case counts only capture a community’s resident population. But in Aspen, a majority of the people going to the bathroom within the boundaries of the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District are not likely to be local residents during the busy season, and thus not counted in those more common metrics, meaning the public may be blind to a large portion of the virus’ local footprint. (According to county data referenced in an Aspen Journalism report from 2020, Pitkin County, which has fewer than 18,000 residents, hosted over 53,000 people each day including residents, commuting workers, tourists and part-time homeowners when the valley saw its seasonal population and economic peaks in 2018.)
And with the rise of at-home tests, which typically do not get reported to public health departments even when they are positive, wastewater COVID-19 tracking is an increasingly important tool for public health officials. But it can be enigmatic. The variables that drive the amount of virus in the wastewater, including population density and occupancy, can be hard to pin down. Spikes can be detected without a clear cause, and no correlation in local case counts observed through recorded testing. According to state health department officials, something as inconsequential as a tour bus emptying its sanitation tanks during a pit stop can cause a big spike — as could a large event bringing in waves of visitors incubating higher disease rates.
So, the data must be approached with caution with an eye toward long-term trends as opposed to individual data points. But we encourage you to read more to get a better handle on this interesting and new framework that will continue to be with us as we adapt. It wasn’t like wastewater plants were sending samples to the state twice a week to be tested for pathogens before.
Also, please check out our Tracking the Curve updates each Tuesday and Friday, which continue to be the best way to follow COVID-19 trends in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties. And don’t miss this week’s Data Dashboard, where the influence our manipulated water system has on river health is on clear display.
Thank you for reading, and supporting, Aspen Journalism.
– Curtis Wackerle
Editor and executive director
As more sanitation districts test wastewater for COVID-19, questions remain on interpreting the data￼
Sewer data can detect virus’ presence long before anyone infected shows symptoms or gets tested
By Laurine Lassalle | August 23, 2022
“Since April, we’ve seen a disconnect between our incidence rates, our positivity and our wastewater measurements,” Pitkin County epidemiologist Carly Senst told county commissioners July 26. “The wastewater is showing much higher prevalence than what we’re seeing come through.”
Above average temperatures through the first half of August
By Laurine Lassalle | August 25, 2022
• The Fork ran at 105% near Emma, 44% in Aspen.
• Lake Powell’s elevation has lost six inches since last week.
• Aspen high temps reached 87°F on Aug. 9, about 10 degrees above normal.
Documenting COVID-19 in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties
By Laurine Lassalle | August 23, 2022
Pitkin County has reported 10 new COVID-19 cases since Thursday and Garfield County has added nine cases. Eagle County has recorded three cases since Thursday.
“Now, another wave of narrators is bringing Aspen’s story back to life, hopeful that both newcomers and people who’ve lived here for decades will read it and remind themselves of why they began their own Aspen journeys. ‘To Aspen and Back: An American Journey’ resonates. Clifford’s story and her perspective of Aspen evokes a feeling of familiarity in many of us who also find ourselves in a place that is seemingly out of time.”
Source: aspendailynews.com | Read more
“’We want growth on our terms,’ said Jeff Fiedler, one of three Lake County commissioners. ‘We want to keep what’s special about this place. We have one school district, one Safeway, one post office. We all know each other. Nothing against people who visit, but we don’t want to be 70% short-term rentals and second-home owners.'”
Source: coloradosun.com | Read more
“The fossil fuel industry’s ambitions are now directly linked to wind and solar development: The bill prohibits leasing of federal lands and waters for renewable energy unless the government has offered at least 2 million acres (810,000 hectares) of public land and 60 million acres (24 million hectares) in federal waters for oil and gas leasing during the prior year. The law does not require leases to be sold, only offered for sale.”
Source: apnews.com | Read more
“‘We saw the future of agriculture today, the future of food production, and it’s a more sustainable future, which it has to be when we’re having these tough discussions about the Colorado River Compact and the changing nature of water in the west,’ Polis said. Polis recently signed House Bill 22-1301, which will utilize hydroponic indoor farming for controlled environment growing year-round in Colorado and use less water than traditional agriculture methods.”
Source: postindependent.com | Read more
“Ganahl also advocated for more water storage, stating as governor she would push Congress and the White House to streamline red tape in the permitting process. She would also convene an Endangered Species Act committee that would exempt water storage and irrigation from prohibitions tied to the act. Ganahl criticized the water plan, stating it includes frameworks, studies and intends to create documents and models but not take any real action. She said she would simply work ‘to develop more water.’”
Source: coloradopolitics.com | Read more
“Bennet declined to offer details about what he described as a ‘backstop’ to state efforts, but he emphasized that the bill will ‘not look like the federal government dictating outcomes for states. It would look like the federal government providing resources to support the consensus that states reach.’”
Source: eenews.net | Read more
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