Curtis Kimbel (EPA): ‘The material appears to be coming from Suncor property, migrating under the Metro Wastewater property and daylighting in Sand Creek’


From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“The material appears to be coming from Suncor property, migrating under the Metro Wastewater property and daylighting in Sand Creek,” said EPA emergency response manager Curtis Kimbel.

State health department managers today told the Associated Press that Suncor Energy reported a break in a spur of an underground pipe that runs between a storage tank and refinery about a half mile from where the oily ooze is leaking into the creek.

Hazardous Waste Corrective Action Unit supervisor Walter Avramenko said more tests are needed to confirm the break is the source…

The EPA also has launched comprehensive water and soil sampling along Sand Creek and the South Platte. The first lab results from earlier tests are expected this afternoon, and EPA contractor said.

First responders are still using vapor monitors that indicate an ongoing need for respirators.

Meawhile Reuters Africa is reporting the Suncorp says they’ve stanched the leak. Here’s an excerpt:

Suncor Energy said on Wednesday it has contained a leak of an oily substance near its Commerce City refinery in Colorado that was running into Sand Creek…

The Canadian energy firm said it had not yet identified the source of the leak, but acknowledged it was likely coming from its 93,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the area. It said plant operations were unaffected…

EPA spokeswoman Karen Edson said workers were using absorbent booms to contain the substance along a 200- to 300-meter stretch of the Sand Creek. Suncor workers are also building a ditch to keep it from flowing further, she said…

Suncor’s Commerce City plant recently underwent a $540 million upgrade to enable it to handle more heavy oil sands crude from Canada.

While minor spills and leaks are not uncommon near major energy facilities, a series of larger pipeline leaks in recent years and fierce resistance to a proposed major new conduit from Canada has heightened awareness of the environmental risks they pose.

Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment issued Suncor’s Commerce City plant a compliance order on October 26, 2011, a copy of which was sent to Reuters.

The order says that a department investigation indicated “that recent releases of hazardous waste and hazardous constituents on-site, are now migrating off-site in excess of applicable standards.”

The order set specific dates for Suncor to show it was complying with health and safety orders at its facility.

“The seeps that began on Sunday would appear to be different from the issues that are discussed in the compliance order,” said Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “However, that is going to be subject to investigation.”

More coverage from Anthony Swift writing for the Switchboard. From the article:

The spill was discovered on Sunday morning by Trevor Tanner, a fisherman who saw sheen on the South Platte River and said the area smelled like a gas station. In his account:

“I walked several hundred feet up Sand-Creek and there was an oil sheen the whole way and there was even a weird milky chocolaty sludge trapped in the small back-eddy below the confluence. My fly smelled like gasoline. My fingers smelled like gasoline. I could see micro-currents and upwells in the water column that you usually just can’t see. Something was terribly wrong.”

When Mr. Tanner found the hotline number and called it, the spill response coordinator initially wanted him to call back in twenty minutes. On Monday officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arrived onsite and Suncor reported a leak. On Tuesday evening Suncor and EPA officials decided to dig a trench. This afternoon, EPA officials announced that three small booms erected on a bank of Sannd Creek appear to be containing the oil and preventing further contamination.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates linked the spill, which is now being investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to the recent announcement by Anadarko Petroleum that up to a billion barrels of oil may be recoverable in the Wattenberg Field over the Niobrara Shale formation in Weld County.

WRA officials are concerned that the Suncor spill into Sand Creek north of Denver has already made it into the South Platte, which is a major water source for Colorado’s Front Range. Stepped up drilling by Anadarko and other companies in the state’s most populous areas could have similar consequences, the group argues.

“Municipal water systems are designed to treat bacteria and pathogens, but not hydrocarbons like those that might come from an oil refinery,” said Drew Beckwith, WRA’s water policy manager. “That’s not to say that the water can’t be kept safe, but we need to consider the potential consequences before something like this happens on a larger scale. The potential for problems becomes exponentially greater as drilling moves closer to population centers.”


More coverage from the Environmental News Service. Here’s an excerpt:

Suncor is the oldest of the tar sands producers; up to 90 percent of its production is derived from tar sands bitumen. Suncor recently upgraded the Commerce City facility so it could refine more heavy tar sands crude coming in from northern Alberta, Canada via the Express and Platte pipelines.

The extent of the contamination is still unclear, said Mogerman, who says much of the spill could be escaping the booms set out to contain it. “If the leak involves tar sands diluted bitumen, the contamination could be more severe,” he said. “Tar sands diluted bitumen spills are associated with significantly more submerged oil, which cannot be contained by surface booms.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap


From the La Junta Tribune Democrat (Bette McFarren):

The financial report was presented by Director Wayne Whitaker, treasurer. October revenues were $17.91. Expenses were $37,575.37, for a net deficit of $37,557.46 for the month of October. “Sounds like farming,” commented Director Leroy Mauch. There are other assets, as shown on the LAVWCD Enterprise-Activity Account Balance Sheet as of Oct. 31, 2011. Total current assets are $462,903.82 and total property and equipment are $16,916,269.78. Total current liabilities are $125,686.97.

More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here and here.

The Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District has approved its 2012 budget


I could not find a deep link to the article from the Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner). Here’s an excerpt:

Projected revenues total $522,575 and expected expenditures total $521,905.

Of the anticipated revenues, $246,062 or 48 percent is from metered water sales and $167,759 or 32 percent is from metered sewer charges. The remaining dollars — $108,754 or 20 percent will come from property taxes, the sale of new taps, leases and interest.

On the expense side, $192,908 or 32 percent are salaries, $97,625 or 19 percent are administrative, $62,500 or 12 percent is water costs , $60,377 or 12 percent is the Johnson Place Ranch lease payment, $59,000 is wastewater/sewer system costs, $34,740 or seven percent is loan payments and $14,755 or three percent is health insurance.

Proposed projects to be completed in 2012 are adding four new fire hydrants and replacing two existing ones for a cost of $12,000; various wastewater plant maintenance including sludge dredging, grit and grease removal, and odor prevention at a cost of $35,000; a seepage study for $5,000; water and sewer line mapping at a cost of $2,000 to $5,000; and billing upgrade for $2,000 to $5,000.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Final EIS for Windy Gap Firming Available to Public


Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The Bureau of Reclamation announces the availability of the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project.

To access the Final EIS, Executive Summary, and supporting technical reports please visit A list of libraries where the Final EIS is available is also included on the website.

To receive a copy of the Final EIS on compact disk, please submit a written request to the attention of Lucy Maldonado through regular mail or e-mail:
Bureau of Reclamation
11056 W. County Rd. 18E
Loveland, Colorado 80537

The Windy Gap Firming Project was proposed to Reclamation by the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Reclamation prepared the Final EIS in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

The Final EIS discloses and summarizes the anticipated effects of the proposed project and four alternatives, including a No Action Alternative. It also recommends a preferred alternative and outlines environmental commitments and mitigations.

More coverage from Tom Hacker writing for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. From the article:

Chimney Hollow, just west of and slightly smaller than Carter Lake, is the key feature of the Windy Gap Firming Project and would store 30,000 acre feet of water. Thirteen municipalities and utilities, including Loveland, share ownership of the project…

The project, like its Colorado-Big Thompson predecessor, would divert Western Slope water from the upper Colorado River Basin to the east slope, where it would be stored at Chimney Hollow and delivered to Front Range water users.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

Sand Creek: The Environmental Protection Agency has taken over at the spill site near Commerce City


Here’s an in-depth report about the spill and cleanup efforts from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing, check out the cool video and photo slide show. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials have known about hazardous leakages in the area for at least a month, documents show. And for a week, toxic vapors at the nearby Metro Wastewater Reclamation District facility have forced workers to wear respirators. But nobody checked the rivers or tried to stop the seepage. Damage remains unassessed.

Suncor Energy cleanup crews slogged through the muck and used vacuum trucks Tuesday to remove surface material caught in booms strung across Sand Creek northwest of the company’s oil refinery. Late Tuesday, they began digging a trench to try to catch the muck as it leaks out of the bank of Sand Creek.

“We want to keep that out of the river — protect the river,” said Curtis Kimbel, the Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator.

Lab tests of water and soil samples taken late Monday and early Tuesday have not been completed, and the source remained a mystery in an industrial area where refineries have existed since 1938. “But based on the odor and the sheen, we don’t want it to go in the river,” Kimbel said.

More coverage from (Jeffrey Wolf/Brandon Rittiman/Kyle Clark):

State officials say the refinery suspected of leaking the possibly hazardous liquids into Sand Creek has been under a corrective order for several decades because of contaminated groundwater. Colorado health department spokesman Warren Smith says the state has been monitoring contaminated plumes from the Suncor Energy refinery and he says it’s likely the source of an oily liquid that has been seeping into the creek about a mile from the refinery…

“We don’t how much went downstream. We do know now that it is contained,” Karen Edson with the EPA said. The EPA says the amount that went downstream isn’t enough to cause major alarm, but it’s still worth taking precautions around the South Platte near Commerce City…

“There’s a good possibility the material could be from us. We don’t know for sure. But we’re not gonna mess around with that. We’re going to take responsibility. The environment needs to be protected,” John Gallagher with Suncor said.

More water pollution coverage here.

Restoration: CCC ditch site mitigation on the San Miguel River helps fish, irrigators and improves boating safety


From The Telluride Daily Planet (Benjamin Preston):

Built in the 1950s, the diversion had wreaked havoc on the riparian ecosystem, posed a hazard to boaters and kept a 1,500-foot stretch of the riverbed dry. Noting the need to reestablish fish habitat and improve safety for boaters, a coalition of environmental groups, state and federal agencies, and the CCC embarked on a 10-year restoration project. That project is now complete.

“There were a whole lot of partners in this, the most important of which was the CCC,” said Dan Kowalski, an aquatic biologist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They own the diversion structure and the water rights, so without them this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Construction, which entailed building a fish ladder and a low-flow channel, wrapped up last month. When it was built, the dam bypassed several thousand feet of the river before reentering downstream. To fish, the low concrete structure seemed an impenetrable wall, particularly to the Flannelmouth sucker, which aren’t particularly good jumpers. The fish ladder was designed to accommodate both nonathletic fish like suckers and agile sport fish like brown and rainbow trout.

As with any project involving water rights and multiple jurisdictions, hatching a practical venture involved careful planning and piecemeal fundraising by environmental groups, as well as cooperation between them, the owner, and state and federal agencies…

“This was one of those projects where different people pushed the rock up the hill at different times,” said Amy Beatie, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust. “Over 10 years, people came and went.”

Funding came from a variety of sources, including the Nature Conservancy, the Southwest Water Conservation District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Walton Family Foundation, the Telluride Foundation and a sizeable grant from the state’s Fishing is Fun program, which uses money from federal excise taxes on boating and fishing.

Here’s the Coyote Gulch post with the announcement from the Colorado Water Trust

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here