Gunnison River basin: CPDHE orders U.S. Energy Corp. to clean up water from the Mt. Emmons mine

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From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

The first thing to know is that the town of Crested Butte drinking water is fine…

The state is demanding that U.S. Energy Corp, the company that ultimately owns the Mt. Emmons Project molybdenum mine, correct the situation immediately. U.S. Energy CEO Keith Larsen said the company is confident the situation will be rectified. “We can work through the issues. We want to have a face-to-face meeting with the state to talk about the things found in the report,” he said. “But the crux of the issue is, what is the obligation of a landowner to treat those waters that are contaminated with heavy metals that migrate onto your property during a heavy runoff?”

The state’s Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has given U.S. Energy until this week to respond to findings outlined by the department. An official “Compliance Advisory letter” was sent to U.S. Energy at the end of December. That letter “is intended to advise US Energy Corp. of possible violations of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, its implementing regulations and permits, so that it may take appropriate steps to avoid or mitigate formal enforcement action.” The company must begin increased monitoring of the water immediately and “prepare a plan to reduce concentrations to below the standard, review with the Division and implement the plan as approved by the Division.” A progress report is expected by February 1 with regular updates expected throughout the year.

According to the letter from the state, sampling conducted by the mine company on its property between the fall of 2008 and the fall of 2010 showed violations in water quality standards. In May 2009, huge violations of the water quality standards in terms of heavy metals including aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, lead manganese, pH and zinc were found. The samples in some cases were more than 30 times the upper limit of the state’s standards. For example, the upper limit for cadmium is 4.3 micrograms per liter but 140.6 micrograms per liter were found. The upper limit for aluminum is 750 micrograms per liter. But the sample showed 11,497.9 micrograms per liter…

“I think what happened was that naturally occurring seepage from the mountain after the snowfall runoff picked up some metals,” Larsen continued. “We are the ones monitoring the situation.” “I think what it gets down to is, what is the obligation of any landowner to treat offsite heavy metals that migrate onto your property with heavy runoff. Is that our obligation?

Other landowners in the Crested Butte area might be subject to the same responsibility.” [High Country Citizens’ Alliance executive director Dan Morse] said HCCA feels the polluted water is coming off U.S. Energy’s private land and unpatented mining claims. “We understand there is a bulkhead in the 2000 level of the Keystone mine [2,000 feet below the Mt. Emmons peak] that is holding back about 170 vertical feet of water,” said Morse. “The question is, does all that water create artificial seeps and springs that allows polluted water to reach the surface? Are there fractures in the rock causing this water to get to the surface and ultimately pollute Coal Creek? The fact is, Coal Creek is contaminated with heavy metals… and the question remains, are they from this source?”

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

The Colorado Water Quality Control Division asks for more dough and personnel

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

John Klomp, a former Pueblo County commissioner who now sits on the state Water Quality Control Commission, said there aren’t enough people working in the division to police every waterway. At the same time, there needs to be emphasis on Fountain Creek and Klomp is working to assure the manpower is available to evaluate information provided to the state. “Fountain Creek is a higher priority. It needs to be monitored and monitored regularly,” Klomp said.

The Water Quality Control Division listed the primary “workload drivers” that will lead to the shortage of manpower in the memo:

– Population growth, that increases demand for a static or declining water supply and increases the number of permits needed. The state has nearly doubled the number of stormwater permits since 2004, for example.

– New and revised rules and regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency will mean more complex permit enforcement.

– The number of samples requiring evaluation jumped from about 640,000 in 2002 to more than 1 million last year. Court rulings require more things be monitored. For example, a 2009 ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an EPA rule exempting pesticide applications from discharge permits. That action alone will increase the number of discharge permits by 2,000, or 20 percent of the state total.

– Aging and failing water and wastewater infrastructure will increase demand for funds, as well as state oversight.

The impacts of trying to keep up with the required work would mean the division has to prioritize inspections, focusing primarily on emergencies. That would reduce protection, the memo states. The division responds to 40 to 60 emergency situations annually.

Right now, the state annually inspects less than 3 percent of 5,500 activities covered under stormwater permits, and less than half of the state’s 2,000 wastewater discharge facilities. About 200 wastewater facilities are discharging domestic waste to groundwater without a permit, endangering the quality of groundwater.

More water pollution coverage here and here.

2010 Colorado election gubernatorial transition: Governor Hickenlooper — ‘…the natural resource that may, in the end, have the greatest impact on Colorado’s economic growth, is water’

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

Gov. John Hickenlooper said during his first State of the State address on Thursday that water will be a priority for his administration, and he believes the state’s first master plan for the future of water use in Colorado is a sturdy foundation…

He praised the Interbasin Compact Committee’s report released last month that for the first time articulated a strategy for sustained availability of water in Colorado. It supports conserving water for agriculture, but balances that with ideas to keep water flowing to urban population hubs. The report called for drastic departures in conservation from the status quo. “It’s not the total solution, but it’s within reach,” Hickenlooper said of the report, which he described as “the essential building blocks of a long-term, viable solution.”

Keeping water available to farmland is key to the state’s future, he said. “You hold highest and most sacred agriculture,” in his water philosophy, Hickenlooper said.

At the same time, ignoring urban needs for water could doom the state’s economy. “The bottom line is if Douglas County runs out of water or Aurora runs out of water and they suspend building permits for a year and that gets into Time or Newsweek, it affects the values of every person’s home in the state,” he said “We’re all joined at the hip already.”

To preserve a water supply that meets the state’s agricultural and urban needs, Hickenlooper wants to explore shifts in thinking, like subsidized rotational fallowing. “They get paid just like they would have, but they don’t farm a piece of land that year,” he said. “Ranchers and farmers are pretty receptive to this.”

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.