Restoration: Partial cleanup of Saints John Mine in Summit County planned for summer

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Beautiful as Saints John Creek may look, it’s heavily polluted with cadmium, copper, lead and zinc that leaches into the water from weathered waste rock and from the underground workings of the former mine. Concentrations of some of the metals, especially zinc, are so high that the water is deadly to fish and to the aquatic bugs they feed on. As a result, the short stream segment has been listed as impaired since 1998.

This summer, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety plans to start cleaning up the mess with an ambitious $500,000 restoration project that involves moving some of the exposed tailings away from the water to an upland repository, where they’ll be capped and covered with native vegetation.

State officials may also divert some of the water pouring out of an old mine opening to prevent the water from coming in contact with the weathered rock. Altogether, they hope the work will reduce the amount of dissolved zinc in the water by about three pounds per day. Zinc is particularly toxic to trout, impairing their ability to breathe.

More water pollution coverage here.

Loopholes in the Clean Water Act are potentially detrimental to waterways

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From the Colorado News Connection (Kathleen Ryan) via the Fowler Tribune:

…some worry that loopholes in the Clean Water Act could allow the mining industry to turn Colorado’s lakes and rivers into dumping ponds for waste. One loophole allows mines to treat nearby lakes, rivers and other wetlands as “water treatment systems,” exempt from Act provisions. The other allows for toxic mine tailings, or waste, to be treated as “fill.” Prior to 2002 that designation was limited to non-toxic waste such as rock, soil and clay.

Tony Turrini, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, says the solution isn’t to stop mining, but to make sure it’s done sensibly.

“We certainly appreciate the economic benefits that a mine can bring to a local community, but we do insist on responsible mining. Discharging waste into waters is not responsible mining.”

The National Wildlife Federation and other groups are calling for the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to close the two loopholes, saying it will allow for new hardrock mining at proposed sites while at the same time preserving Colorado’s environment.

More water pollution coverage here.

Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Protect the Flows asks Governor Hickenlooper to put the kibosh on the project

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Here’s the release from Protect the Flows.

118 West Slope businesses sent a letter this morning to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, expressing their opposition to the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline. The businesses are members of Protect the Flows, a coalition of over 500 small business owners in the seven state Colorado River region (AZ, CA, CO, NM, NM, UT, WY) who depend upon flows in the Colorado River and its tributaries that are adequate to support the recreation economy.

In the letter…Protect the Flows asks that the administration cease devoting state resources to studying the Flaming Gorge pipeline upon conclusion of the state’s special task force examining the project’s feasibility. As the task force has deliberated, troubling facts about the pipeline have continued to emerge, opposition to the pipeline has continued to grow, and federal agencies have continued to deny all permit attempts for the pipeline. Protect the Flows indicated that they would welcome a dialogue on water that welcomes and fosters ideas beyond the proposed pipeline and adequately accounts for the economic interests of the recreation and tourism industry. The task force, known formally as the Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee, is funded by a state grant issued by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is scheduled to continue discussions through the end of 2012.

“The state’s task force is focused only on one increasingly controversial idea — the Flaming Gorge pipeline proposal,” said Molly Mugglestone, Coordinator for Protect the Flows. “But to come up with the most effective solutions on future water usage we must apply a broader, more inclusive framework, like the one that was applied in achieving the newly completed agreement between Denver Water and West Slope interests.”

Protect the Flows recently released a report showing that the Colorado River and its tributaries support a quarter million American jobs and generates $26 billion annually in total economic output. In Colorado alone, the Colorado River supports about 80,000 jobs and about $9.6 billion in total economic output.

The proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline puts that economy in harm’s way. The plan would siphon 80 billion gallons each year from the Green River (a Colorado River tributary), which was recently declared the second most endangered river in America by American Rivers, for shipment to the Front Range. Moreover, the State of Colorado estimates that construction costs for the pipeline could reach $9 billion. An economic study by Western Resource Advocates indicated that the pipeline would take nearly a quarter of the Green River’s flow, which would result in a $58.5 million dollar annual loss to the region’s recreation economy. That same study reported that the water delivered to the Front Range by the pipeline would have to be sold at a price that is the most expensive in Colorado’s history (up to 10 times more than any existing project) because of the pipeline’s steep construction and operation costs.

“Construction of this pipeline would be devastating to the entire Colorado River System,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, President of Adventure Bound River Expeditions in Grand Junction, which employs 30 people. “The significant loss of flows in the Green River would dramatically impact the quality of river recreation and affect tourism for everyone downstream all the way to Mexico.”

Protect the Flows has committed to spend 2012 reminding Governor Hickenlooper and state officials that public resources would be better spent on more affordable solutions that support recreation industry jobs, such as improving water conservation efforts, water reuse and recycling, and better land-use planning and growth management.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: ‘There was and continues to be tension between the Western and Eastern Slopes’ — Mike Gibson

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Water 2012 series. Mike Gibson describes the workings and role of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable with respect to the IBCC and other basin roundtables. Here’s an excerpt:

There was and continues to be tension between the Western and Eastern Slopes as some feel water should be moved to the Front Range, and many on the Western Slope do not share these ideas. Similarly, these diverse opinions were held in other river basins…

Members of the [Rio Grande Roundtable] RGRT have participated in discussions to address the issues facing other basins and the state. It has been concluded that meeting the shortfall in municipal water (600,00 acre-feet by 2050) will be achieved by conservation, implementation of projects under construction or design, new projects in the future, such as new reservoirs, potential new sources of water, and transfers from the agricultural sector. While the latter may be the easiest way to meet the shortfall, there is general consensus that such transfers should be minimized to preserve the agricultural lifestyle and economy of the State. These deliberations also considered the necessary water for recreational use and maintenance of the natural environment…

The Water Supply Reserve Account has been funded to $41.8 million of which $4.8 million has come to the Rio Grande Basin. The process to obtain these funds is for the proponents to discuss their project with members of the roundtable and its chairman. If it is determined the applicant and their project will meet the necessary criteria for funding, a formal application is completed and presented to the roundtable for their endorsement. The request is subsequently reviewed by CWCB staff and finally presented to the CWCB for approval.

The WSRA funds that have come to the Rio Grande Basin have covered a variety of “water projects” across the Basin, including reservoir studies and rehabilitation; on-site improvements to diversion structures and head gates; repairs of water conveyance structures; river restoration; the conservation of agricultural land and its associated water; and outreach and education. Recipients have included irrigation and reservoir companies and non -profits involved with conservation and restoration. The projects have been geographically widespread, from Creede, to Fort Garland, to San Luis and have been completed on the Rio Grande, Alamosa, and Conejos rivers and their tributaries. Since WSRA funds have been available, the Valley has addressed many outstanding issues that were known but did not have a mechanism to be implemented.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.