Fountain Creek: Pigeon poop main E. coli culprit

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

“After doing some detective work and talking to the city of Manitou Springs, it became likely pigeons might be the source,” said David Mau, hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s right, it was pigeons. In Manitou Springs. With their droppings. “Not a good mystery novel,” acknowledged Rich Muzzy, environmental planning manager for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, which worked with the USGS on the study.

The results of the study will be discussed at a public meeting Wednesday in Colorado Springs. The public is encouraged to attend to voice thoughts on the E. coli problem and ways to deal with it…

Molecular microbiology tests matched E. coli in the water with that found in humans, and while some was found in the creek, it wasn’t enough to explain the summer spike. Next they ran tests for cows, deer, elk, dogs and cats, and they still didn’t find enough matches to explain the high levels. “It has to be coming from some other source, these high E. coli concentrations, and the only potential source after looking at the area was that birds may be the source,” Mau said.

Researchers talked to Manitou officials, and learned there is in fact a healthy pigeon population. While there is no test to link E. coli with pigeon intestinal linings, Mau said one is in development…

Colorado Springs Utilities, which contributed $134,000 for the $450,000 study, has long been blamed by some downstream for the E. coli problem, because of occasional sewage and wastewater spills into the creek. “We’ve been very confident, certainly with the amount of money we’ve invested in our wastewater system, that it wasn’t from our system,” Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said. “We’ve said all along it’s a large watershed and there are potentially multiple sources of E. coli that wind up in the waterway.” Researchers also determined Manitou Springs’ aging sewage system was not to blame, Muzzy said. A few leaking lines were identified and fixed, but high levels remained, he said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Parachute: Benzene probe down to one company

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From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff have dropped allegations against Marathon Oil Co., Petroleum Development Corp. and Nonsuch Natural Gas. They also cleared one Williams Production RMT well pad as a possible contributor to the contamination, but they are looking into whether other Williams operations might be to blame.

The investigation stems from an incident May 30, 2008, in which De Beque resident Ned Prather visited his cabin, drank water from his spring and became sick enough that he had to go to a hospital…

Oil and gas commission staff initially issued what are called notices of alleged violation to the four energy companies based largely on proximity of their operations. However, commission Director Dave Neslin said Thursday that sampling has indicated the contamination is coming from east of the spring, where only Williams has nearby operations. “But we have not yet identified a specific release point,” he said.

Williams spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said that based on the company’s own investigations, it doesn’t believe its well pad and pipeline east of the spring are the contamination source.

More oil and gas coverage here and here and here.

Sterling: City Council wrestling with designing rate structure

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Forrest Hershberger):

Tuesday night, the city council met in a work session to discuss how to establish the rates necessary to fund the [treatment plant upgrades]. Part of the dilemma the city is facing is grant and loan funding may be limited unless the city proves it has an acceptable rate program. Tom Ullmann of The Engineering Company in Fort Collins said part of the reason the rates will change under the proposal offered Tuesday night is changes to the capital improvement budget in the project. He said rates for water use alone could increase as much as 190 percent by the year 2020. “The last time I was here, we were talking about $65 per month, so we are looking at about a $10 increase” since then, he said. He said the present average for water consumption, not including waste water and trash service on the city bill, is about $21.66, and an average monthly consumption of 10,000 gallons for a 3/4 inch tap. He maintained that with the proposed increase over the next several years, Sterling water rates will be only a little higher than Fort Morgan’s rates are now. Much of the two-hour meeting was involved in how best to design a billing system. Options discussed were increase the flat rate on a tier system based on the size of the tap and amount used, or to change the minimum usage. Part of the equation required by the EPA and Colorado Water Conservation Trust is a water conservation plan. The dilemma is that if water customers become too good at conservation, the water fund will be impacted.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Craig: EPA recognizes safe drinking water efforts

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Here’s a release from the EPA:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded the City of Craig, Colo., with the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) Award for Sustainable Public Health Protection. The City is being recognized for significant investments in safe drinking water, including updating its drinking water treatment technologies.

The City of Craig received a DWSRF loan in 2008 to fund the improvement of its under-sized and antiquated drinking water treatment facilities. This project includes the replacement of a chlorine gas disinfection system and inadequate contact basin with an ultraviolet/sodium hypochlorite on-site generation system. These upgrades will help the City meet future safe drinking water requirements to reduce illness linked with the contaminant Cryptosporidium and other disease-causing microorganisms. Craig participated in the development of the required design criteria for the UV treatment technique, which is a prototype for future systems in Colorado. “The City of Craig offers a potent example of the type of investments that will help our nation’s communities provide safe drinking water for decades to come,” said Carol Rushin, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator in Denver. “The effort that has been made to improve drinking water treatment capabilities in Craig is a clear investment in the future health of the community.”

Since the first Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) loan was made in 1997, assistance recipients have shown exceptional creativity in designing projects that promote sustainability and protect public health. The 2008 DWSRF Awards for Sustainable Public Health Protection recognize the most innovative and effective projects that further the goal of clean and safe water through exceptional planning, management, and finance.

The projects had to meet three mandatory criteria to qualify for the Awards, including compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, financial integrity and public health benefits. Each nominee had to demonstrate leadership in at least one or more of the following criteria: better management practices, full-cost pricing/affordability, efficient water use, watershed approach, innovation in financing, innovative approach to planning and/or project implementation, and creative use of partnerships.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, as amended in 1996, established the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program to make funds available to drinking water systems to finance infrastructure improvements. The program also emphasizes providing funds to small and disadvantaged communities and to programs that encourage pollution prevention as a tool for ensuring safe drinking water.

For more, visit EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund web site.

More water treatment coverage here.

CDOT: Pave the Poudre?

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Bump and Update: From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Trevor Hughes):

On Friday, CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said LaFarge plans to require tanker subcontractor Transtank of Greeley to sign papers committing to using alternative routes. Some of the tankers have been delivering asphalt to the project up the canyon on Colorado Highway 14, while others have dropped down through Walden from Wyoming, Stegman said.

More coverage of the cleanup from Trevor Hughes writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

On Friday, Environmental Protection Agency on-scene coordinator Paul Peronard said heavy equipment likely will speed removal of the asphalt from Thursday’s spill. In the most recent spill, the asphalt largely settled into a pool of water like a thick, sticky black carpet…

On Friday, Belfor workers brought in an excavator. Early indications suggested the excavator would be able to roll up the edge of the spill, pulling out large chunks. “If this works out well, it should go a lot faster, and with a lot less labor having guys in the river,” [Environmental Protection Agency on-scene coordinator Paul Peronard] said in a news briefing Friday…

Peronard said the asphalt has little “innate toxicity.” He said floating booms appeared to have soaked up most of the spilled diesel.

The second asphalt tanker in 9 days went into the Poudre River yesterday. The tanker was ferrying cargo up Colorado 14 to a CDOT project on Cameron Pass. Here’s a report from Trevor Hughes writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

The crash came the same day the EPA and other officials were preparing to declare complete the cleanup from a similar Aug. 25 crash. Alexander, who witnessed Thursday’s crash, is a senior chemist with URS Operating Services, an EPA contractor overseeing the first crash cleanup…

Thursday’s spill left a thick black blanket of asphalt on the river bottom right downstream of the crash. The Aug. 25 spill seemed to have run downstream a little further. Test results from that crash have revealed no significant water pollution, but officials on Thursday said the diesel spill might pose more of a risk. Capt. Patrick Love, a spokesman for Poudre Fire Authority, said the river levels on Thursday morning were low because river managers were withholding irrigation flows while the Aug. 25 cleanup wrapped up. Love said the lower levels meant Thursday’s spill had a chance to settle instead of being washed downstream. Major Justin Smith of the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said the river would likely be closed to recreational use between mile markers 113 and 119, and he urged downstream anglers to release any fish they catch, just in case.

This morning, EPA officials were planning to begin cleanup efforts in earnest. They planned to build a temporary rock dike across the Poudre, drive an excavator to the other side and use the machine to pull the congealed mass toward the shore, where it could be cut up. EPA on-scene coordinator Paul Peronard said the water where the asphalt mass settled is about 10 feet deep. The prior spill happened in a much shallower area, allowing workers to simply stand in the river and cut the mass apart. In this case, Peronard said, workers will use the excavator to draw the material to shallower waters, cut it apart and send the bagged chunks back across for removal. Peronard said the EPA and the local fire and law enforcement agencies that responded to the crash will seek to recover their costs from the load’s insurer. Peronard said the cleanup itself would likely cost about $60,000. And he said the spill, which violates the federal Clean Water Act, could draw additional fines of up to $25,000 per day until cleaned up.

More Poudre River watershed coverage here.

Aspinall Unit operations meeting summary

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

The August 27, 2009 meeting to coordinate Reclamation’s operation of the Aspinall Unit was held at the Blue Mesa Elk Creek Visitor Center. The meeting summary and associated handouts can be found at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/mtgs/amcurrnt.html

Highlights of the operation meeting include:

April through July inflow to Blue Mesa was 772,000 af which is considered an average wet year. (The May 1 April – July forecasted inflow was 690,000 af.) The 31-year average is 720,000 af. 2008 inflow was 1,006,000 af.

Runoff was early and forecasted inflow increased significantly after May 15.

The Black Canyon water right has been quantified and this year’s average daily spring peak of 6,730 cfs in the Black Canyon exceeded the water right, which varies based on Blue Mesa Reservoir May 1 forecasted inflow. At Delta, flows peaked at 12,500 cfs with no significant problems reported. Flows in critical habitat peaked at 12,900 cfs as measured at Whitewater and there were 13 days above 8,070 cfs (half-bankfull). Endangered fish flow recommendations, based on May 1 forecast, would call for 10 days above 8,070 cfs and a peak of 8,070 cfs.

Ramping rates steeper than planned occurred as flows reached their peak causing safety and fishery concerns.

Blue Mesa filled and summer flows through the Black Canyon finally settled at around 1,000 cfs. Flows will decrease gradually in September to the 600-700 cfs range and then increase in late November and December to around 2,000 cfs for hydropower production.

If you have any suggestions on improving the operation meetings or summaries, please let us know. The next operation meeting will be on Thursday, January 21, 2010 in Montrose; location to be announced later.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.