Water Xaris(right) with her wife Koriandir Xaris(left)
By Rosemary Lytle
Water Xaris had been a key leader on the Colorado Springs, Colorado “Womxns March” leadership team for two years when environmental justice was added to the platform of ideas and actions to be discussed. As someone who grew up inspecting the “brown cloud” that hung over her hometown -- the infamously polluted “Mile High City” -- she knows environmental injustice very well.
At one time, Denver, Colorado’s brown cloud was such a national joke that a CBS sportscaster quipped, after the Broncos 1989 Super Bowl loss, that Denver had never been numero uno in anything -- except carbon monoxide. A high-altitude, thin-oxygen city, Denver is in a river basin bounded on the West by the Continental Divide; a perfect recipe for winter smog.
In 1975, when Water was about 6 years old, Denver violated federal carbon monoxide standards 177 times. Even as a child, she knew her hometown was a polluted and odiferous city. “When I was growing up, you knew exactly where you were Denver, based on whether or not you could smell the stench of pet food production at the Purina plant.”
It’s been documented that strong odors from industrial sources is a type of air pollution that affects residents of communities both physically and psychologically. There were reports that Denver’s smells woke some people up in the middle of the night, that they had headaches, that they had respiratory issues. Some endured it. Some moved out of the neighborhoods most affected altogether. “Even as a child, it was overbearing and some people just couldn’t take it.”
But it wasn’t until adulthood that Water left Denver behind as a home base. And like many people, this Mom of three grown sons moved, too -- not to escape the pollution necessarily -- but to follow her heart. She met her future wife Koriandir Xaris and because Koriandir, an electrician, was a business owner in the Springs, Water left the Mile High City and moved south to what is often called “The City Beautiful.”