Parachute Creek Spill: Williams estimates total groundwater treatment at 26 million gallons #ColoradoRiver

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Williams expects to remove and treat as many as 26 million gallons of groundwater over a half-year to a year at the site of its natural gas liquids leak alongside Parachute Creek. That’s according to a water management plan recently approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division.

The approval comes as Williams has been dealing with a recent spike in benzene levels at a monitoring site in the creek, including a reading of 9.2 parts per billion on Monday. That’s the highest reading in the creek since testing began following discovery of the leak, and follows a reading of 5.5 ppb July 11.

That had been the first reading in the creek above the state drinking water standard of 5 ppb since May 1. However, the state doesn’t consider the creek to be a drinking water source, and instead a maximum standard of 5,300 ppb applies to protect aquatic life there.

Health Department spokesman Mark Salley noted in a recent media update that the contamination is isolated to one creek test location and does not appear to be traveling. “All other sample points remain non-detect for contamination, including the town of Parachute’s diversion point for irrigation water,” he said.

On July 13, Williams began operating new air sparge wells to upgrade a sparge/vapor extraction system. The new wells were placed to stop the flow of benzene-contaminated groundwater around the east end of the system. That flow may be causing the increased benzene readings. A new air sparge/vapor extraction system farther upstream also is scheduled to be activated next week. “The intent of this system will be to treat contaminated groundwater closer to the original source area and speed up the overall cleanup process,” Salley said.

Williams estimates about 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbons in a natural gas liquids pipeline leaving its adjacent gas processing plant leaked from a faulty gauge into soil and groundwater this winter, and that it has recovered about 7,600 gallons.

It plans to remove millions of gallons of groundwater at a rate of 50 gallons per minute, clean it and return it to the aquifer under a system that it has installed and been testing. About 155,000 gallons of tainted groundwater removed in March has been disposed of in an injection well in Grand County, Utah. Williams also has been shipping about 1,500 cubic yards of excavated soil to a landfill in East Carbon, Utah.

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

Donna Gray with the energy company Williams says the system erected [last] Sunday is one of seven aeration and vapor extraction systems. The process is also called air sparging. “That involves introducing air or oxygen to both the surface area and groundwater in the soil, in the spill area,” Gray says.

The technology goes after contaminants like benzene that have been absorbed in soil and dissolved in groundwater. The process is similar to blowing bubbles with a straw into a bowl of water. Once the contaminants make contact with air, they disappear from the water.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Contamination of Parachute Creek worsened this week, more than six months after an oil and gas industry spill, with levels of cancer-causing benzene exceeding the federal safe drinking water limit. Water samples drawn near the spill at a Williams Co. gas-processing plant near Parachute showed benzene levels at 5.5 parts per billion on July 11 and 9.2 ppb on July 15, according to data provided Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

These are the first test results since May showing benzene levels in surface water exceeding the federal standard of 5 ppb. Benzene levels in groundwater remain much higher than the limit. CDPHE water quality overseers have set a state limit for benzene in Parachute Creek at 5,300 ppb, based on aquatic life, because the creek isn’t designated as a water source for people.

Benzene dissipates at sampling locations downstream toward a gate where the town of Parachute can divert creek water for irrigation. CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley said the increasing benzene levels “do not represent a risk to public health.”

Williams last weekend began running new aeration systems to extract benzene vapors – part of a cleanup. Salley said an additional aeration and vapor extraction system will be activated next week in an effort to treat contaminated groundwater closer to the source of the spill and speed the overall cleanup.

Tons of contaminated soil are being hauled to a facility in Utah.

The benzene sampled near the spill “is isolated and does not appear to be traveling,” Salley said. CDPHE officials expect the new system will bring levels down.

Williams has blamed the spill on a mechanical failure. It released more than 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbon liquids from a valve on a pipeline, contaminating soil and groundwater. When the spill was revealed, companies and state and federal agencies scrambled to protect Parachute Creek, which flows into the Colorado River.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

WPX spill near Newcastle releases benzene, company upgrades infrastructure in response #ColoradoRiver

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

About 2,100 gallons of produced water from oil and gas development sprayed into a field south of New Castle and a small amount reached a stock pond after a WPX Energy water line valve leaked July 2.

The incident has prompted WPX to make an infrastructure adjustment in what it calls its Kokopelli Field operations in that area.

WPX reported to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that the incident happened when water was being transferred between two storage pits. A valve intended to isolate a lower water line section failed, allowing pressure to build up in that section until an above-ground riser with a pressure rating below that of the line ruptured.

The fluid that reached the field then entered a diversion ditch supplying water to the man-made stock pond, and about two barrels, or 84 gallons, entered the pond.

WPX’s report said the pond sits on a high, arid mesa and “has no means of communication” with other surface water, thus posing no threat to public water systems. Nevertheless, the town of Silt’s water operator was notified as a courtesy. The report said all but about a barrel of the water couldn’t be recovered because it had soaked into the dry soil.

Produced water contains a mix of hydraulic fracturing fluid and water that comes up from the geological formation where oil and gas is being recovered. A soil sample showed benzene to be present at just above the oil and gas commission’s permissible level in a sediment trap in the ditch, with salt measurements also exceeding what’s allowed. WPX spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said that benzene was found along a road and nowhere else, and may not be related to the spill. However, WPX had the trap cleaned out. The ditch also had high salt levels and was to be flushed with fresh water. The landowner was to decide whether more fresh water should be added to the pond to dilute it because of excessive salt, or if the pond should be drained and refilled.

Besides replacing the faulty valve, WPX replaced all risers in its Kokopelli Field with below-ground connections of the proper pressure rating. Alvillar said WPX didn’t install the system that leaked. It bought its Kokopelli assets from Orion Energy Partners.

In an e-mail “action alert” Wednesday, Citizens for a Healthy Community in Delta County cited the WPX spill and others such as this year’s leak from a Williams natural gas liquids line near Parachute Creek. “Equipment failure and accidents happen all of the time, and that’s why we need to keep drilling rigs away from sensitive areas, like riparian zones, water bodies, irrigation systems, cropland and ranches, and homes and schools,” the group said.

Alvillar said WPX handled the incident responsibly. “I think that’s the key to being able to operate, is we just have to expect human and mechanical failures from time to time. It happens and the response is what’s the important thing,” she said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Colorado River Basin: ‘The real concern is, what happens if next year’s dry?’ — Eric Kuhn #ColoradoRiver

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Inflows have been very low this season so the Upper Colorado River Basin will get a break on deliveries to the Lower Basin next water year. Here’s a report from Dennis Webb writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

When states in the lower Colorado River Basin agreed to 2007 criteria under which Lake Powell could potentially provide them less than the normally required amount of water, they “probably never thought it would happen,” says Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.

Now the unthinkable is appearing likely. Under current hydrological projections, it’s expected that the 2007 provision will kick in, providing for Powell to pass on 7.48 million acre-feet in the 2014 water year, which starts Oct. 1.

It normally is obligated to release at least 8.23 million acre-feet per year. While it has come up a bit short some years due to measurement errors, it probably has never released fewer than about 8 million acre-feet annually since Powell first filled after completion of Glen Canyon Dam, said hydraulic engineer Katrina Grantz of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region.

This is what happens when the region experiences the driest 14 years on record, with just three years of above-average precipitation, and drought conditions the last two winters. Kuhn said this year “is shaping up to be one of the four or five driest years for inflow into Lake Powell.”

A total of just 4.43 million acre-feet of water, or 41 percent of average, is expected to flow into Lake Powell this water year—not quite half of what will have flowed out. It’s expected to be holding just 10.5 million acre-feet by Sept. 30, just a few million acre-feet more than it releases each year, and 43 percent of capacity. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons. “I don’t know that I would use the word ‘problem’ exactly but it’s dry. We’re very lucky we have the storage we have to carry us through these dry periods,” Grantz said.

Gary Wockner, campaign coordinator for the group Save the Colorado, considers the situation more dire. “The bottom line is that more water is being taken out from the system than is flowing into the system and it absolutely is unsustainable,” he said.

Indeed, Bureau of Reclamation data indicates that its total reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin by Sept. 30 is projected to be at 49 percent of capacity, at about 28.9 million acre-feet, Grantz said. The previous low since Powell was first filled was 50 percent, in 2004. Combined, Powell and Lake Mead are projected this fall to reach their lowest percentage of capacity since Powell’s filling, at 45 percent, or 22.6 million acre-feet, compared to a previous low of 46 percent in 2004.

Powell’s current predicament comes as the Bureau of Reclamation also is considering ways of trying to head-off what it has projected could be an annual shortfall of 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060 in the Colorado River Basin.

Wockner notes that more projects are planned to use diverted Colorado River water along the Front Range. “You can’t take any more water out of the system without it impacting someone else’s water supply,” he said.

Potentially historic lows

Current projections have Powell dropping by the end of 2014 to an elevation within about 10 feet of its low point in 2004, Grantz said. By early 2005, Powell reached its lowest level since it first filled.

History suggests it’s a time for concern, but not panic. In 2010 water-watchers were worried about low water levels in Lake Mead, but then came epic winter snows. “That bought three years of relief, probably,” Kuhn said.

Said Grantz, “One big (water) year can really help us out a lot.”

Indeed, part of the reason Powell will be able to release less water is because Mead will be high enough under the 2007 criteria to make do with less. Those same criteria allow for increased releases from Powell under certain circumstances to help Mead.

For Kuhn, “The real concern is, what happens if next year’s dry?”

Grantz said the Bureau of Reclamation is expecting a below-average runoff year next year, partly because soil is so parched that precipitation is more likely to be absorbed by it rather than reaching streams.

Kuhn fears that could lead to low enough water by 2015 that it could start to affect hydroelectric production at Glen Canyon Dam. He said water less than 25 or 30 feet above the power plant intakes could be low enough for a vortex to form, damaging turbine blades.

Revenue from that plant helps pay for river hydroelectric projects and operation and maintenance of electric lines, as well as programs such as endangered fish recovery.

Grantz said the Bureau of Reclamation believes it would take three or more years of continuing dry conditions before power-generation problems could arise.

Kuhn also believes the reduced release of water from Powell next year would likely result in the declaration of a first-ever water shortage for Nevada, Arizona and Mexico by 2015 or 2016. While the reductions they would experience wouldn’t necessarily cause great hardship at first, that would change if the shortage declaration went into a second year, he predicts.

Kuhn said some of his concerns remain hypothetical ones until it’s known what this winter brings. But at the same time, he said planning ahead for possible continued drought provides more flexibility than waiting until next April to act.

One thing that strikes him is that even while the river is currently challenged at a systemwide level, that isn’t necessarily reflected in local-level decisionmaking. For example, Denver Water recently eased its watering restrictions after late-season snow resulted in its reservoirs filling.

How much water is in Lake Powell may not greatly concern a lot of upstream municipalities and other water users, but Kuhn believes it should, given the need to meet downstream obligations. “I think in future drought years we’re going to have to have a system in place so as Powell approaches these lower levels we start to cut back” consumption, he said.

When Denver eased its restrictions, it asked residents to continue using less, citing the need for everyone to do their part to protect against the possibility of another dry winter.

Here’s a recap of Colorado River Day events from Sam Waters writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Thursday marked 92 years since the Colorado River got its name and folks in five cities across the country took time to honor the famous waterway and talk about its importance. In its second year, Colorado River Day took place in Grand Junction, Denver, Las Vegas, Santa Fe and Phoenix. The event was organized by a wide coalition of organizations including the National Young Farmers Coalition, Save the Colorado, Protect the Flows and Nuestro Rio, in an effort to bring people together in support of maintaining the river. This year’s event focused on water conservation.

The Grand Junction event, held at the river overlook at Eagle Rim Park on Orchard Mesa, had a variety of speakers who talked about the importance of the river and conserving water.

Grand Junction City Council members Bennett Boeschenstein and Jim Doody spoke along with the town of Paonia’s mayor, Neal Schwieterman. Farmer Brad Webb of Mesa Park Vineyards also spoke as a representative of the local agricultural community. “We’re here today to encourage our elected officials to talk about conservation,” said event organizer Kate Greenberg of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “We’re focused on conservation both from a municipal and agricultural standpoint.”

According to the Colorado River Day website, the Colorado River and its tributaries run through seven states and supply drinking water for 36 million Americans. The river system irrigates 15 percent of the nation’s crops and facilitates recreation, which adds up to $26 billion annually and supports a quarter-million American jobs.

“Essentially no matter where we live in the West, we’re affected by the Colorado River,” Greenberg said.

Most of the speakers mentioned that conservation is “the low-hanging fruit” and is a great step in ensuring the sustainability of the river.

In addition to hosting media events in five Western cities, the organizations putting on the events asked mayors across the southwest to sign a statement saying they support conservation first, Greenberg said.

She said the statement will be delivered to the U.S. Department of the Interior and seven Colorado River states urging them to produce actionable measures on urban water conservation, agricultural water conservation and healthy river flows via the basin study work groups.

They are also hosting social media events and are asking people to use the hashtag #CoRiver on Twitter and connect with their elected officials that way.

“It’s our responsibility to take care of this river not for today, but for tomorrow,” Councilor Doody said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Fountain Creek: Will Mayor Bach get on board with the pending El Paso County stormwater study?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to fix Fountain Creek is anxious to see how Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach will react to findings of an El Paso County stormwater task force. The question was raised at Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District by Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart. “The district has a statutory function to tackle flood control,” Hart said. “We have a major role.”

While most of the participants in the stormwater task force are also represented on the Fountain Creek board, Pueblo County’s interests can be incorporated through the district.

But Hart questioned El Paso County and Colorado Springs representatives about Bach’s willingness to allow the stormwater study and funding recommendations to move forward. Bach balked at the task force findings in January that Colorado Springs has a backlog of $680 million in stormwater projects. He ordered up a separate study to verify those needs.

The task force is wrapping up phase II of its study and will issue another report in October. “Hopefully, when the report comes out, (Bach) will jump in,” said Gabe Ortega, Fountain mayor pro-tem, who chairs the Fountain Creek board. “The majority of the region is on-board and ready to move forward.”

Richard Skorman, a former Colorado Springs councilman who lost to Bach in the 2011 election, said the task force is sorting out the possibilities of how funds to address stormwater could be raised — through a fee based on area or sales tax, for instance — and has not reached a recommendation.

Whichever method of funding is chosen, a public vote is likely to be required, and officials are aiming for a 2014 election date.

“I think the mayor is willing to sit down and look at a regional meeting, but he’s not embracing the task force,” Skorman said.

Why it matters

Pueblo officials have sought protection from floods on Fountain Creek while Colorado Springs worked to expand its water system to accommodate the rapid growth that has occurred in the past four decades by providing redundancy in water supply and to meet the needs of future growth.

Having a stormwater enterprise in place was listed as a given in Colorado Springs Utilities permits for its $940 million Southern Delivery System.

Last week, Bach and City Council President Keith King told Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace that the city is not required to have an enterprise in place or fund stormwater projects at a specific level.

Pace disputed that, but Pueblo County commissioners would have to hold a formal hearing to determine if Colorado Springs has violated the conditions of its 1041 permit for SDS.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has asked the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for SDS because stormwater control has deteriorated since 2009, when Colorado Springs City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise, based on its interpretation of a municipal ballot question.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.