2014 Colorado legislation: Well users hope to see legislation grease the skids for aquifer recharge

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state needs to take another look at groundwater storage as a way to improve efficiency in water use. “We need to come back and revisit aquifer storage, and look at a better way to manage groundwater resources,” Dick Brown, representing El Paso County water users, told the water resources review committee of the state Legislature this week.

In 2007, there appeared to be momentum for water storage in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek aquifer east of Colorado Springs. The state had funded technical studies that showed there was ample space in the groundwater basin for water storage.

But the technological and legal hurdles are daunting for local water districts, said Sean Chambers, manager of the Cherokee Metropolitan District, one of 11 water providers in El Paso County looking at groundwater storage as a potential solution for future water needs. “It’s one of the challenges that management districts have,” Chambers said. “Our resources are minimal, so support from a larger government agency is needed to make sure it is managed well.”

Groundwater storage would fit well with water leasing programs or water bank plans that are being eyed in the Arkansas River Basin.

Water attorney Andy Jones said several of his clients in the South Platte River basin also see the need for changes to improve management of resources. He submitted draft legislation to the committee.

Kevin Rein, deputy director for the Division of Water Resources, told the committee legislation is needed to give management districts more latitude in making decisions. “One size does not fit all,” he said.

More 2014 Colorado Legislation coverage here.

Montezuma County has juridiction over the Red Arrow Gold Corporation’s illegal milling operation

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From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The site was recently ordered to cease and desist by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, who fined Liukko $337,167 for operating a mill without a license and five other mining violations.

Inspectors found dangerous levels of mercury inside the building and arsenic pollution in tailing piles outside the site and at the mine site in the nearby La Plata mountains. The Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating the sites for cleanup and remediation.

“We did not know it was there, and did not receive any plans from the operator that it was going on,” said county planning director Susan Carver. “It is a violation of the land use code because it is an industrial use that requires a high-impact permit and hearings before the county planning board and commission.”

Carver said Red Arrow Gold Corporation could face penalties for non-compliance but the decision would be up to the county commissioners.

“Operations there have ceased at this point,” she said. “It is a concern because of the health hazards for neighbors and for employees. Safeguards would have been required and evaluated under our permit system.”

Commissioner Larry Don Suckla, who represents the Mancos area, was angered by the illegal mill site.

“It is very upsetting because (the mill) broke the rules and created a risk to the safety of county residents and the town of Mancos as well,” he said. “This type of operation is far different than panning for gold.”

The commissioners are considering holding a community meeting with mine regulators to inform the public of the situation. Whether the county will levy penalties of its own, Suckla said, “Everything is on the table at this point. I feel like we were misled.”[…]

Decontaminating the milling site and mine have been handed over to the EPA and are in the planning stages. State mine regulators are expecting a cleanup to be completed by the end of the year.

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More coverage from Nancy Lofholm writing for The Denver Post:

While the town of Mancos worries over what a rogue gold mill might have put into its air, water and soil, Colorado mining authorities have called on the federal government to deal with what is being described as one of the most serious cases of pollution from illegal gold milling in the state.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine just how bad contamination is from a mill that had been using mercury to remove gold from ore at an under-the-radar, unlicensed mill on the edge of the southwestern Colorado town.

The EPA also will decide whether the mill should be designated for a Superfund cleanup. The Superfund program was created in 1980 to clean up the worst uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the country.

The Red Arrow Gold Corp. mill contamination was discovered in June, and the mill was shut down by the state that same month. Mercury was found in two metal and cinder-block buildings just west of town when the company, which also owns the historically rich Red Arrow Mine, was placed in receivership. The division has fenced off and locked the site.

An initial investigation of the mill buildings turned up mercury contamination throughout the operation. Mercury was found in plastic buckets of sludge and in an overturned washtub that served as a vent hood. Inspectors’ photographs show droplets of mercury on drains, a jug marked “21.5 lbs Mercury” and stock tanks filled with sediment. Piles of processed material outside the building were covered with plastic tarps held down by old tires.

“This is one of the most serious cases we’ve come across of illegal milling,” said Tony Waldron, who is with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. Testing thus far has shown the entire mill is probably contaminated with mercury. On some pieces of equipment, it is concentrated as much as 744 times the allowable level. The highest concentrations were measured at 32,000 parts per million. The standard considered safe for industrial operations is 43 parts per million.

Mercury can cause nerve damage in humans, and its use in separating gold from ore would not have been approved, Waldron said.

Tailings outside the mill buildings and also piled outside a nearby lumber operation were found to be contaminated with arsenic, but Waldron said the arsenic-laced tailings don’t pose a health hazard where they now sit.

“Obviously, we are concerned about the potential spread of mercury,” said Mancos town administrator Andrea Phillips. “We don’t know enough yet to know exactly what our concerns are.” Phillips has asked the EPA and state mining regulators to hold a public information meeting so that concerned Mancos residents who have been calling town hall can get some answers.

Red Arrow Gold Corp. president Craig Liukko might be able to provide some of those answers, but he did not show up at a Mined Land Reclamation Board hearing in Denver on Aug. 14, and he has not been seen lately around Mancos, Phillips said. In his absence, the board cited Liukko for the contamination and for operating a mill without a permit. The board fined him $285,000 for the 57 days the mill was believed to have operated in violation of state laws. All but $100,000 of that will be suspended if Liukko complies with corrective actions the division orders. Red Arrow was also ordered to reimburse the division $52,167 for the cost of its response to the mill discovery.

Liukko did not return a call asking for comment. In a conversation a month ago, he said his company had gone to great lengths to be cautious with the small amount of mercury he said was used in the gold-separating process. He said he did not think the mill needed approval to operate because it was a “pilot project.”

Liukko, whose family acquired the Red Arrow Mine nearly 30 years ago, also blamed an out-of-state hedge fund for Red Arrow’s troubles.

In a tangled financing agreement, Maximillian Investors of Delaware sued American Patriot Gold, He-Man LLC and Red Arrow Gold Corp., resulting in the receivership and the revelation that Red Arrow, which had promised investors large returns, had only $2,043 left in a bank account.

The Red Arrow Mine had delivered riches in another era. The mine’s ore body discovered in 1933 produced 4,114 ounces of gold between 1933 and 1937. In those days, ore from the mine was shipped to Leadville for smelting and then sent to the Denver Mint. The gold from Red Arrow included a legendary 5.5-pound nugget.

Marcie Jeager, who is handling the receivership through Jeager Kottmeier Associates of Denver, said she is focusing her asset-recovery efforts on the mine. It is permitted to operate by the state and is not contaminated like the mill. “We want to preserve the mine permit so someone else can buy that as a permitted mine that has value,” she said.

The mine

The Red Arrow Mine’s ore body discovered in 1933 produced 4,114 ounces of gold between 1933 and 1937. The gold mine and mill had operated off and on since 1988. It had most recently resumed operations in 2006.

State authorities took emergency actions in June to shut down the mine over mercury contamination. 43 parts per million of mercury is the standard measure considered safe for industrial operations 32,000 parts per million of mercury measured on equipment at the Red Arrow Mine, the highest concentration found there.

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

It’s “one of the uglier cases of using hazardous chemicals and illegal milling” that state mining regulators have seen, said Julie Murphy, a lawyer for the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…

On Wednesday [August 14], the state Mined Land Reclamation Board slapped fines totaling $337,167 on the mill’s operator, Red Arrow Gold Corp. If Red Arrow cooperates with the cleanup and increases its bond with the state, $185,000 of the fine will be suspended. The facility has been shut down since April because of a bankruptcy dispute. The state got involved in June and issued a cease-and-desist order on the mill. The state contracted with Walter Environmental to test for contamination inside and outside the two buildings on the site, and the results came back last week…

Inspectors painted an alarming picture of what they found at the two small buildings, which sit across Grand Avenue to the north of the Western Excelsior aspen mill. They showed pictures of a series of machines that use mercury to separate tiny gold particles from rock taken from Red Arrow’s mine about 10 miles northwest of Mancos. The mercury-gold mixture was heated to separate the gold and attempt to recycle the mercury through a scrubber. A galvanized steel washtub was flipped upside down and used as a hood to catch mercury near the scrubber.

More Mancos River Watershed coverage here and here.

The One World One Water Center – August 2013 Newsletter is hot off the presses

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Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Ken Wright and his wife, Ruth, have donated $15,000 to establish the Edward Krisor Endowed Urban Hydrology Fund. Wright’s company, Wright Water Engineers, Inc., has contributed $5,000 to the fund as well. The founder of WWE, Wright is the chief financial officer and chief engineer.

The Krisor fund will support OWOW Center studies specific to urban hydrology, storm-runoff management and the creation of government institutions focused on developing and improving urban drainage design criteria and water management policy.

High Country News: Why aren’t experimental floods helping native fish below Glen Canyon Dam? #ColoradoRiver

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo/USBR

Here’s a report from Sarah Keller writing for The Goat. Click through and read the whole article and to check out the graphics. Here’s an excerpt:

Now, managers are trying to balance the need for beach-restoring floods, which increase non-native trout numbers upstream, with the need to maintain chub habitat in the Grand Canyon. That left some researchers asking the question: If big, artificial floods didn’t help humpback chub as expected, what are the root causes of their low numbers, and what will help them thrive?

Despite being limited by food availability, the warm water-loving chub has gradually been making a comeback. They’ve likely benefited from recent increases in water temperatures as drought has lowered Lake Powell, and from trout control measures. Managers have removed rainbows from the Grand Canyon main channel in the past. The Fish and Wildlife Service may do that again, if trout numbers increase, and they march downstream. The National Park Service is already controlling rainbow trout, along with brown trout, in the side streams Shinamu Creek and Bright Angel Creek.

But a majority of the Grand Canyon’s roughly 10,000 chub live in or around the Little Colorado River, and biologists worry that if that single population becomes diseased, or something toxic spills into the river, it could doom the entire species. So National Park Service biologists have also been reintroducing chub to additional side streams, and this May, they discovered chub from an introduced population spawning for the first time in Havasu Creek, in the Grand Canyon — an encouraging sign.

More on the Colorado River from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Here’s an excerpt:

Fully half of the Colorado River’s water comesfrom Colorado, with lesser amounts from other states before the river is stopped at Glen Canyon Dam to create the reservoir most people call Lake Powell.

Now comes the news that because of the drought that has continued more years than not since 1999, less water will be released from Powell downstream to Las Vegas, Arizona and California. Also as a result, less electricity can be produced at Hoover Dam.

This was not surprising news. Water experts for some years have spoke with increasing alarm about the razor-thin margin between supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin.

As is, water hasn’t reached the Pacific Ocean with regularity since the 1960s – and not at all since the late 1990s.

Bull’s eye for this story is Las Vegas. A century ago, it wasn’t much more than a railroad depot in a place that annually gets only 4 inches of precipitation. Mafia dons and gambling and giant hotels all came later. When the Colorado River Compact was drawn up in 1922, only 700,000 acre-feet out of what the compact framers optimistically estimated were an annual 16 million acre-feet of flows were allocated to Nevada. California could see its future needs, and Colorado presciently saw the need for a compact before California slurped up all the water. But nobody foresaw The Strip.

More Colorado River Basin coverage from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Arizona, California and Nevada can’t demand more water from Colorado for nearly a decade, but a day of reckoning is growing nearer, water officials said. The possibility of a call on the river, however, is underscored by the aridity of 2013. “It looks like 2013 will be the third-driest year for Lake Powell,” Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said Tuesday in a meeting with The Daily Sentinel editorial board. “Low reservoir levels have everyone’s attention.”

Runoff for the water year, which ends Sept. 30, was 35 percent to 50 percent of normal through July, setting the stage for dire predictions of runoff in the coming years.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority this month called for federal disaster relief to address the water scarcity in the Colorado River system and the Bureau of Reclamation announced this week that it was looking to store more water in Lake Powell in 2014 than it might otherwise.

The upper-basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are required under a 1922 agreement to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water to the lower basin each year, as well as water for Mexico. That hasn’t been a problem because the requirement is based on a 10-year rolling average.

The current average includes the high-water year of 2012, Kuhn noted, but that year eventually will be factored out and its influence could be leveled out by a succession of low-runoff years. “As a practical matter, we’re not going to run into a compact problem until 2021, 2022, 2023,” Kuhn said.

The compact states also have a “peace agreement” that expires in 2025 and the parties appear committed to observing it, Kuhn said.

Still, the low levels of water in the Colorado River reservoirs are pumping new importance into talks about how to manage the river, Kuhn said.

Another agreement among the River District, Western Slope water users and Denver Water has yet to be signed by all parties, but already is paying off for the Western Slope, Kuhn said. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provides for the river levels to be maintained at the levels that would be required if the Shoshone generating station in Glenwood Canyon were operating even at times that the plant is down or operating at less than capacity. The agreement is being honored, Kuhn said, as are provisions governing the operations of Green Mountain Reservoir.

“Everyone is sticking to the agreement,” said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who represents the county on the River District board.

More coverage from Anne MacKinnon writing for WyoFile.com. Here’s an excerpt:

Congress, sadly “dysfunctional” in this era, has to recognize that the nation must put money into scientific research and plans that help people, infrastructure, and natural resources to adapt and change to meet the uncertainties of climate change, said Pat Mulroy, outspoken general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

She said people involved in the Colorado River have managed in the past dozen years to negotiate deals and create relationships that can be built upon now. Negotiators will be able, she said, to come up with ways in which there will be no water battles, and no “winners and losers” on the river, despite dwindling supplies.

Everyone will stand to lose a little, but no one, perhaps not even the river itself, need face the disaster of no water for vital needs. Congress, however, will have to act, backing whatever joint proposals develop to prevent such a disaster.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Drought news: Water temperatures soar below Pueblo Dam, not enough stored water to make a difference

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Wildlife officials are watching water temperatures in the Arkansas River for potential harmful effects on fish. “The combination of low flows and weather are making for uncomfortable conditions for fish up and down the river,” said Doug Krieger, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. While fishermen have reported finding some dead fish, it appears that fish in the water are not stressed, he added.

As temperatures climbed into the 90s this week, water temperatures in the Pueblo reach of the Arkansas River have hit 80 degrees or higher each day after flows dropped below 40 cubic feet per second at Moffat Street on Monday. Closer to Pueblo Dam, temperatures have been about 70 degrees.

The problem is being complicated by mud that washed into the river near the Nature and Raptor Center earlier this month, said Ben Wurster, of Steel City Anglers and Trout Unlimited. “It’s been so dry, and with no moisture the water heats up,” Wurster said.

There is little that can be done. There are about 5,000 acre-feet of agricultural water stored in Lake Pueblo, but farmers likely want to hold it back to start crops next year. Parks and Wildlife has some water, but not enough to make a difference. Cities have curtailed exchanges into Lake Pueblo, but are not releasing any additional water.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works and Colorado Springs have an agreement to release water to maintain flows of 50 cfs below Pueblo Dam once the Southern Delivery System is in operation. Conditions this week are not dry enough to trigger releases, even if that agreement were active.

In another development, the Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado Springs reached a temporary agreement to release water through the river gate on the North Outlet Works rather than the spillway.

Under its SDS contract, Reclamation will own the North Outlet Works, which was built by Colorado Springs. Details still are being negotiated.