Alamosa: Report on 2008 salmonella outbreak blames aging infrastructure, inspection regime

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Here’s a look at the City of Alamosa’s response to last week’s report on the 2008 salmonella outbreak, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin has responded to a recently released state report on Alamosa’s 2008 salmonella crisis. “There’s no big surprises,” he said…

Koskelin added that the Weber Reservoir was not in the best shape at the time of the salmonella crisis but was already slated to be out of service. Koskelin said the Weber Reservoir was constructed in 1979 and the roof was replaced in the 1980’s. He said all the indications the city had were that the reservoir was not in great condition but not in terrible condition and within a matter of months was to be taken off line. (It is currently only used for irrigation purposes, not as part of the city’s potable water supply.) Before the 2008 water crisis, the Weber Reservoir was not the center of attention, Koskelin said. “We were deeply involved in constructing the water treatment plant. We started designing the plant in 2004 … That was taking up much of our attention.”[…]

“If the water treatment plant had been in eight months earlier than it was, and it was under construction, none of this could have happened,” Koskelin said…

Koskelin shared a copy of Liquid Engineering Corporation’s 1997 report with the Alamosa city council. The inspection listed the reservoir as clean, the roof in good condition and the walls showing “minor spalling” (chipping, flaking) and bowing outward. Koskelin said the bow occurred when the concrete was initially poured. The report noted that the corners of the wall surface were in poor condition with cracking, spalling and exposed aggregate but were still satisfactory. “That’s exterior damage,” Koskelin said. The report also marked the concrete slab/ring as satisfactory but also showing cracking, spalling and erosion or exposed aggregate. The 1997 report also noted “minor corrosion on roof support structures.” The report stated sand had built up on the west side from the inlet, and sediment was observed on the floor, but no leaking was observed in any part of the reservoir at that time.

More Alamosa coverage here and here.

Routt County: Study into possible effects of coalbed methane exploration and production on groundwater and surface water underway

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From the Craig Daily Press (Collin Smith):

An ongoing study into the possible effects of coalbed methane production in the Sand Wash Basin now shows the area has deep faults potentially connecting coal seams and near-surface water reservoirs. This would mean activity in those coal seams could affect water resources used by local residents…

Officials from the Colorado Geological Survey are completing the study, which is slated to cost about $121,000. Moffat County contributed $1,500, Routt County $500 and state water groups funded the rest. Researchers said they are done mapping the methane and water resources of the basin, and next plan to build an analytical model that will help evaluate what impacts may arise in the future from coalbed methane production…

Peter Barkmann, managing hydrogeologist for the Geological Survey, said companies may have to do additional research before starting coalbed methane production in the Sand Wash Basin. “I think, if anything, the complexity of the basin tells me there’s going to have to be a pretty careful examination done before a company attempts to produce coalbed methane,” Barkmann said.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

$1 million for restoration from Shattuck Chemical site settlement

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From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

Because the site is in the South Platte River watershed, the restoration efforts are broad. About 280 acres of wetlands on the Eastern Plains will be restored at a cost of $818,000, based on an initial $75,000 from the Shattuck settlement. Adding funds and services to the project are government agencies, private businesses and landowners, said Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Matt Filsinger. Among those participating are Ducks Unlimited, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, the Harmony Ditch Co. and Drakeland Farms.

The Shattuck settlement also will help pay for a $235,000 restoration of Overland Pond Park. “It was felt that since Shattuck was an urban Superfund site, some of those funds should stay in Denver,” Archuleta said. The Fish and Wildlife Service will put $120,000 toward the project, and the remainder of the $235,000 will come from funds and services from community groups, such as the Greenway Foundation, and city agencies, such as Denver Parks and Recreation. “Overland Pond Park has been loved to death,” said Casey Davenhill, administrative coordinator for the nonprofit Greenway Foundation. “Those 8 acres are really heavily used.” The park, created in the early 1970s, has small habitat zones representing Colorado from the prairie to alpine forest, Davenport said. “This has made the park an important educational resource, and that’s something Fish and Wildlife wants to support,” Archuleta said. The project will include grading trails, new signs, upgrading the pond area and new plantings, according to a Wildlife Service draft restoration plan…

The draft restoration plan is open until early December for public comment and can be viewed at:

More restoration coverage here.

S.B. 1777: Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2009

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From the Colorado Independent (Katie Redding):

With so many previous versions defeated, proponents of Udall’s new version laugh wryly when asked if the bill will pass this time around. In fact, there are indications that this time may be different. Having Udall in the Senate, where he’s been able to attract the attention of the Environment and Public Works Committee, will help, according to Cathy Carlson, policy adviser for the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Earthworks. “He’s met a few times with Sen. [Barbara] Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, and she’s expressed interest in trying to do something with this bill,” Carlson said. Carlson also believed the bill has a friend in the Obama administration. “It’s a priority for the secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, who is from Colorado,” she said. Carlson — who recently returned from meeting with the staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about the bill — said she expects the committee will hear the bill by spring…

The bill has also been narrowed and tightened in order to cut down on the chances that it could be misused, which has brought more supporters on board. Both Carlson and Roger Flynn, director and managing attorney for the Lyons, Colo.-based Western Mining Action Project said their organizations opposed the 2006 version of this bill — as did many of the major environmental groups — because it waived liability from nearly every landmark piece of environmental legislation. Both have since worked with Udall to narrow the bill, and both support the recently introduced version of the bill, which exempts Good Samaritans and no one else from lawsuits under the Clean Water Act. Asked about the potential for the bill to be misused by mining companies, Paul Frohardt, administrator of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, pointed out that the bill can only be used to clean up abandoned mines — not sites where the responsible party continues to operate.

Carlson also noted that the bill prohibits so-called “re-mining.” That is, the bill doesn’t allow anyone to extract minerals for commercial use from these clean-up sites. Environmental groups worry that if re-mining is allowed, mining companies will try to re-mine existing mine waste with Good Samaritan permits, under the premise that are cleaning up the site. Flynn also points out that would-be Good Samaritans must apply to the state for a permit — and that permitting has a public hearing process. “So if a mining company did try to use the law to set up a “dummy nonprofit” to clean up its mess, said Flynn, “a quick review of that dummy nonprofit would show that it’s not a real organization.”

The bill also makes Good Samaritans liable if they make the pollution worse, said Carlson — thereby addressing the concern that a well-intentioned Good Samaritan might actually make a bigger mess of the site, due to poor planning or inexperience. “Although anything is possible, the bill is certainly not designed to [let mining companies abuse it], and there are some safeguards in there,” said Flynn. Still, he warns that the environmental community will have to be vigilant to make sure that mining companies aren’t successful in pushing loopholes for the industry, like re-mining permits, into the bill. “You can be sure that people will be watching out to make sure the mining companies don’t do an end run around this,” he said…

So far, many of the groups that opposed the controversial 2006 version of the legislation don’t appear to be firing off letters about this one. “I don’t believe it’s something we’re working on,” said Nick Berning, spokesman for Friends of the Earth. A spokesman for the National Resources Defense Council said the organization has no position on the new bill. Meanwhile, at the Clean Water Network, which has not yet taken a position, Colorado Watershed Assembly executive director and Good Samaritan proponent Jeff Crane recently joined the board of directors, in part to convince the group to support Good Samaritan legislation this time around…

Of the groups that opposed the 2006 legislation, so far only one, Earthjustice, has indicated to The Colorado Independent that it would not support Udall’s current Good Samaritan legislation. “We will not support a bill that makes exemptions from environmental laws,” said spokewoman Jessica Ennis. “The Clean Water Act is a landmark environmental law. Waiving environmental laws to clean up the environment just does not sound like the best approach.

More S.B. 1777 coverage here.

Colorado Springs: City council approves dismantling of stormwater enterprise

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The phase-out [over two years] will give the city time to finish some projects already under way, allow it to repair a levee that protects thousands of homes and meet unfunded federal mandates. It will mean the city won’t be able to start several projects that are needed or to respond to citizen requests regarding stormwater. Colorado Springs also intends to fulfill its commitments on Fountain Creek related to Southern Delivery System despite ending the stormwater enterprise, and several on council voiced support for a regional solution in El Paso County that could include a vote to create a stormwater enterprise in the future. “The two-year phaseout will give us time to work on a regional solution, allow us to complete our projects and come up with a regional stormwater plan,” said Bernie Herpin, one of five council members supporting the phase-out…

The Templeton Gap Levee is the only Army Corps of Engineers levee in Colorado Springs, said stormwater director Ken Sampley. The levee, built in the late 1940s, needs between $4.24 million and $6.74 million in work to protect up to 3,000 homes and 300 businesses. If the work is not done, they would be required to obtain flood insurance.

Under the two-year phaseout, Templeton Gap will be completed, but more than 20 other projects won’t begin as scheduled. When the stormwater enterprise was created, there was a $300 million backlog in projects, with $60 million in critical needs. Sampley showed slides of bridge supports beginning to wash out and areas that were eroding because there has been only funding for piecemeal work…

In addition to Templeton Gap, there are $2.3 million of projects that have been started remaining in the pipeline, and four projects on Sand Creek totalling about $2.4 million. Sampley also recommended maintaining minimum funding for regulatory requirements, emergency operations, health and safety, which together total almost $5 million. By 2012, all those costs will be paid for from the general fund under the plan reviewed by council Monday…

The city also is prepared to meet its obligations of $125 million of spending on Fountain Creek through the financing of SDS, a $1 billion-plus water supply project that includes a pipeline from Pueblo Dam. Colorado Springs ratepayers will bear that expense. Colorado Springs also has included funds for improvements at Clear Springs Ranch south of Fountain and dredging the Fountain Creek channel in Pueblo as part of next year’s budget.

More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chaćon):

A split Colorado Springs City Council decided Monday to phase out the enterprise over two years, allowing the city-owned business to finish projects under construction and also reconstruct a decades-old drainage channel that’s been deemed “minimally acceptable.” Council members Tom Gallagher, Darryl Glenn, Jan Martin and Randy Purvis called for an immediate end of the enterprise…

Enterprise Manager Ken Sampley said the council’s decision could hamper the enterprise’s ability to collect fees over the next two years, even from people who have been paying them. “I’d like to think that everybody paid them (in the past) because they were good citizens and wanted to pay their Stormwater Enterprise fee,” he said. “That may not be the case. I think it’s reasonable to believe that if there is no provision for certifying (delinquent accounts) to the treasurer, we will be collecting, definitely, a lower percentage.”[…]

The initiative requires an immediate end to the enterprise, said [Douglas Bruce sponsor of Issue 300 passed by Colorado Springs voters November 3], who is threatening to start a petition drive for a permanent property tax cut if the city doesn’t get rid of the enterprise right away. “I don’t make threats,” Bruce said Monday night. “I’m just advising them that there’s going to be adverse consequences if they don’t give the people what they want.”

More stormwater coverage here.