Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: State regulators, ‘…ignored warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency, independent firms and their own engineers,’ according to The Denver Post

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Here’s an exposé from Karen Crummy writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. They’re running a series of photos and a aerial view of the area. Check out the cool photo of the construction of one of the leaky ponds. Here’s an excerpt:

Allowing the radioactive waste to remain on site is just the latest chapter in a 50-year saga during which regulators for the state, which owned the land during 20 years that Cotter polluted it, ignored warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency, independent firms and their own engineers.

The result is that while polluted sites such as Rocky Flats became a national model for nuclear decontamination and towns like Grand Junction and Leadville evolved from environmental tragedies to recreation destinations, the cleanup of Cotter has dragged on for nearly 30 years and is at least a decade away from completion. “They were great people. They helped the industry a lot,” said Richard Ziegler, the former executive vice president of Cotter who left the firm six years ago, regarding state health regulators.

State regulators say the ponds’ leaks do not pose an immediate threat because residents no longer drink well water. “Cotter is isolated and not as environmentally dangerous” as some other sites, said Steve Tarlton, who has overseen the Superfund site for the state since 2003…

When Cotter moved to expand its mill in 1978, the EPA issued its first of many warnings ignored by the state: Consider moving the mill to a different site because of the “significant” health concerns, wrote David Wagoner, the EPA’s director of air and hazardous materials. The CBI also asked Al Hazle, head of the radiation control department, not to issue Cotter a new license until the bureau received documents it requested from Cotter. He agreed. The next day, Hazle granted the license. In a 1981 report commissioned by the EPA, the health department questioned why Hazle was not heeding advice from Robert Shukle with the state’s water quality division. Shukle inundated his boss with memos about Cotter’s shortcomings, repeatedly informing the radiation chief that Cotter was continuing to flout regulations, especially by its refusal to put “tracer” chemicals in the newly constructed impoundment ponds to see whether they were leaking.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Superfund site coverage here and here.

Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District rate-payers are worried about the district’s debt load

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From the Tri-Lakes Tribune (Lisa Collacott):

During the Oct. 17 meeting board members voted unanimously to purchase the ranch east of Fountain Creek. It is estimated that the cost of the ranch’s decreed water rights — 3,500 acre-feet annually — will range between $25 and $31 million. More than 100 residents attended the meeting and many were in opposition to the purchase of the ranch.

Woodmoor resident Bob Gountanis agrees that the water district needs to look at renewable water but is opposed to this particular decision. “I think the idea is OK, but the way they went about it is not,” he said. Gountanis said there is not a contract to convert the water from agricultural use to commercial use and there are no estimates on how much it will cost to deliver the water up to Woodmoor.

The water district hosted three public meeting — Sept. 27, 29 and Oct. 8 — to discuss the need for renewable water and the impact it will have on customer’s water bills. Jessie Shaffer, general manager for the water district, said the expected cost for the ranch is expected to be between $25 and $31 million but that is dependent on the water rights that are still to be determined in water court. The cost of delivery is estimated to be between $30 and $100 million.

The water district is looking at a 25-year revenue bond to pay for the purchase of the ranch. The average homeowner will see a $48.50 water investment fee beginning in January 2012 which comes out to an increase of $600 per year. Gountanis said an extra $600 a year may not seem like a lot to some people, however it is a lot for families who are having a tough time because of the economy.

More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here and here.

The Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe is taking over water quality monitoring on their reservation

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Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (George Parrish/Richard Mylott/Colin Larrick/Scott Clow):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the Water Quality Standards for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe with Reservation lands in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The Tribe submitted its Water Quality Standards to EPA earlier this year for review and an approval determination under the Clean Water Act. The Tribe’s standards will be implemented for all Clean Water Act purposes, including issuing and enforcing discharge permits for Reservation surface waters.

Water Quality Standards are the cornerstone of State and Tribal water quality management programs established under the Clean Water Act. These standards define the goals for specific waterbodies by designating their uses, setting criteria to protect those uses, and establishing provisions such as anti-degradation policies to protect waterbodies from pollutants.

The Ute Mountain Ute received program authority from EPA for Water Quality Standards in 2005, and submitted their standards in 2011. EPA has determined that the Tribe’s standards are consistent with the requirements of the Clean Water Act. The approved standards will be used by the Tribe to assess the health of aquatic ecosystems, identify water quality problems, and target and prioritize remediation and restoration projects.

EPA’s approval of the Tribe’s Water Quality Standards is the latest step forward for a tribal water quality program that has been working to protect Reservation waters for over 20 years. The Tribe is currently working collaboratively with surrounding states and federal agencies on a broad range of water quality issues. These include recovery efforts for endangered aquatic species, reducing pollution from mining, irrigated agriculture and livestock, and protecting culturally significant resources.

Out of 46 tribes nationally that have received the authority to establish Water Quality Standards, the Ute Mountain Ute becomes the 37th tribe with EPA-approved standards.

The Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation includes lands in southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah, straddling much of the arid four corners area. Major Reservation waterbodies include the San Juan and Mancos Rivers, and McElmo Creek. The Reservation’s population includes approximately 2,100 enrolled members and its largest community, Towaoc, Colo., serves as the Tribal Government seat. The local economy consists mainly of ranching and farming, oil and gas production, and a tourism trade showcasing western landscapes, natural history and cultural sites.

The Tribe maintains a copy of its Water Quality Standards on its website: http://www.utemountainuteenvironmental.org/index.cfm/water-quality/surface-water/surface-water-quality-standards/

The Tribal Environmental Program website: http://www.utemountainuteenvironmental.org/

For more information on Water Quality Standards and the Clean Water Act visit: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/index.cfm

More coverage from The Durango Herald:

The newly approved rules will be used for issuing and enforcing discharge permits for surface waters on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation, which straddles three states and much of the Four Corners. They also will protect specific water bodies, including McElmo Creek and the San Juan and Mancos rivers, on the reservation.

The move is the latest in the tribe’s 20-year effort to protect its reservation waters, and officials said it is among other crucial collaborations to protect endangered species, reduce mining pollution, provide irrigation and protect water resources.

More San Juan River basin coverage here and here.

U.S. District Judge William Martinez orders halt to the DOE approval of exploration, mining and all other activities on 31 leases in southwestern Colorado

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Matthew Beaudin):

…but the actual effect of the ruling is unclear: The DOE had already halted activity in the region while it conducted its own departmental environmental review…

In his 53-page opinion, U.S. District Judge William Martinez said federal officials violated environmental laws when they opened those lands back up to leasing, and even ran afoul of the Endangered Species Act. The ruling invalidates environmental reports that indicated that reviving mining operations would have what the department calls “no significant impact” in the region.

The ruling also says the 31 leases in existence under the program and halts the DOE from further mining-related activities and issuing any new leases until a more thorough environmental analysis is undertaken — something the department was, as of this summer, in the process of doing itself. The DOE, though, may have to widen its scope now.

Martinez scolded the department for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of renewed mining in the region, noting that “considerable exploration and mining has already occurred on these lands: indeed, uranium and vanadium mining has been taking place on these lands (on and off) since 1949.” The department, he wrote, should also consider the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill’s impacts on the region, rather than ignore it because it’s not yet built, as it had done initially.

“Not only does the DOE know that uranium continues to exist under the ULMP lands, but the DOE has precise estimates for the amount of uranium that exists and the rate that it can be extracted makes sense to point out that it appears that the Piñon Ridge Mill is in a much more advanced stage as of the date of this decision,” Martinez wrote…

Curtis Moore, a spokesperson for Energy Fuels, the company hoping to build the mill, said the decision doesn’t affect the mill, and that, even though the company held some of the frozen leases, Energy Fuels wasn’t planning on tapping them any time soon. The business model for the mill won’t change, he said. “It looks like this is the court basically ordering the Department of Energy to do already what it was in the process of doing,” Moore said.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The decision throws out 31 leases to six companies, including the firm that wants to build a uranium mill near Naturita and a company owned by state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

U.S. District Judge William Martinez invalidated the leases because the Department of Energy did not do a deep enough environmental study before it issued them. The DOE said this summer it would do the study, but Martinez issued the ruling anyway on Wednesday, saying he wanted to make sure DOE leaders did not change their minds again…

Coram, who represents part of Montezuma County, owns Gold Eagle Mining. The company holds three of the leases that were overturned, but Coram said the court ruling is not a problem. The DOE already has said it would take 12 to 15 months to do another environmental study. “It puts everything down the road to about 2014, as far as we’re concerned. That was the schedule we were working on anyway,” Coram said. “I’m certainly not concerned about it.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Loveland: 2011 Colorado Ag Water Summit December 1

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Here’s the webpage with registration details from the Colorado Ag Water Summit. The Interbasin Compact Committee is meeting the day before.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Water and its impact on agriculture, municipalities and public policy will be the focus of the 2011 Ag Water Summit on Dec. 1 at The Ranch at the Larimer County Fairgrounds in Loveland.

Topics include public policy, developing water storage and delivery projects, working with municipalities and environmental groups, new technology, alternatives to ag water transfers and recent litigation and rules impacting ag water.

Featured speakers include John Stulp of the governor’s office, Department of Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, Jim Martin of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jennifer Gimbel of the Colorado Water Conser-vation Board, Bob Streeter of the Colorado Wildlife Commission and others.

For more information and to register, visit http://www.coagwater.org.

Cost for agricultural producers before Nov. 4 is $50 and $75 after that date. Nonproducers are $75 before Nov. 4 and $100 after. Students are free, but registration is required.

The Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District heard a pitch for a potential cloud-seeding program at their last meeting

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Cloud-seeding, using silver iodide crystals fired from ground cannons, is already widely used in Colorado. Mainly using for increased snowpack in the mountains, the cannons are also used for hail suppression in some areas like the San Luis Valley. There are 111 generators in the state, said Joe Busto, who coordinates cloud-seeding for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Programs have continued for decades and in the last six years, the state and cooperating agencies have spent $3.9 million for cloud-seeding programs…

Just over the state line, Kansas has been conducted summer cloud seeding to suppress hail and increase rainfall since 1975, said Walt Geiger, meteorologist for the Kansas program. He explained the Kansas program to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District last week, and suggested a similar approach could help Eastern Colorado…

Airplanes fly both into and below thunderstorms, using dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) and silver iodide both to reduce the size of hail and increase rainfall. Updrafts allow silver iodide crystals to flow into the clouds from below. Dry ice is released into the clouds by planes flying near the edges of storms…

The theory behind cloud-seeding is that it increases precipitation by injecting trillions of nuclei into clouds. That encourages more rain or snow, and reduces the size of hail by creating more targets for loose droplets to cling to in the clouds. Large hailstones gain size as droplets attach to them as they move through clouds. Airplanes are are used on the plains because ground cannons are not effective in reaching the zone where hail forms — about 11,000-16,000 feet above ground, where there are freezing temperatures, even in summer. Above that zone, ice crystals don’t precipitate as easily.

More cloud-seeding coverage here and here.