Gold King Mine spill

Health and environmental officials in San Juan County are evaluating the Animas River after roughly 1 million gallons of mine waste water were released Wednesday. August 6, 2015. (Photo courtesy San Juan Basin Health Department)
Health and environmental officials in San Juan County are evaluating the Animas River after roughly 1 million gallons of mine waste water were released Wednesday. August 6, 2015. (Photo courtesy San Juan Basin Health Department)

From (Deb Stanley):

More than 1 million gallons of contaminated water was accidentally released from the Gold King mine in southwestern Colorado on Wednesday.

The acidic mine water is traveling down the Animas River and is expected to hit the city limits of Durango at approximately 3 p.m. on Thursday.

“The EPA and State Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety team working to investigate and address contamination at the Gold King Mine in San Juan County, Colo. unexpectedly triggered a large release of mine waste water into the upper portions of Cement Creek,” according to a news release from the La Plata County Office of Emergency Management. “Initial estimates are that the release contained approximately 1 million gallons of water that was held behind unconsolidated debris near an abandoned mine portal.”[…]

County officials said the acidic mine water contains high levels of sediment and metals.

“EPA teams are conducting sampling and visual observations today and will be monitoring river conditions over the next several days,” county officials said. “The water associated with the release is obvious and highly discolored.”

Residents with questions about the water may call 970-385-8700.

The Gold King Mine is just outside Silverton. The mine started operations in 1887. According to, the Gold King shipped more than $8 million in ore during its operations.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Health and environmental officials are evaluating the river, and officials say the mine water is acidic and contains high levels of sediment and metals.

Downstream in Durango, where the water is expected to reach by 3 p.m., city officials are asking residents to cut back on their water use and irrigation of city land at local Fort Lewis College have been stopped.

Photos from the area showed the river’s waters turned a thick, radiant orange. It is approximately 55 miles from the mine to Durango.

The water release was triggered at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday north of Silverton by the Environmental Protection Agency as it was investigating contamination at the abandoned Gold King Mine, federal officials say. The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety said they had been in the area in recent days. The EPA called the release “unexpected.”[…]

The water spilled into the upper portions of Cement Creek, officials say. The fluid was being held behind unconsolidated debris near an abandoned mine portal.

All agricultural water users have been notified to shut off water intake, officials say, and pet owners have been told to keep their dogs and livestock out of the Animas River until further testing is done.

Steve Salka, utilities manager for the city of Durango, said he pulls water from the Animas in the summer to help replenish the Terminal Reservoir. He said while the city’s main water source is another river, the contamination could cause serious problems.

“I want to know what’s in it,” he said Thursday in an interview. “The most important thing is what’s in it. I need to know.”[…]

Joe Lewendowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango said biologists are completing testing the area.

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists are monitoring the impacts to the fish and other wildlife in the Animas River,” he said.

From The Durango Herald (Shane Benjamin):

The city of Durango stopped pumping water out of the Animas River on Wednesday to make sure none of the waste could be sucked up into the city reservoir.

However, the Animas is an important secondary source of water for the city during the summer and residents need to conserve as much water as possible over the next few days until the water in the Animas is safe to use.

“It’s a very important water source in the summer. I can’t keep enough water in the reservoir with it,” said Steve Salka, the city’s utilities director.

During the emergency, Salka is not going to be sending raw water to Fort Lewis College or Hillcrest Golf Course. The city also will not be watering any of the parks for the next three days to help conserve, he said.

On a hot summer day, the city can use up to 9.2 million gallons a day. But the city can pump only 5.3 million gallons a day out of the Florida River.

Right now the city reservoir is about 4.5 feet below capacity, he said.

“This couldn’t happen at a worse time for me, so I have to be really cautious,” Salka said.

Gold King Mine via
Gold King Mine via

Water Lines: Opinion — Feedback sought on #COWaterPlan

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Are you concerned about how Colorado will balance the water needs of cities, farms and the environment in coming decades? If so, you have an opportunity to make your voice heard by state water leaders.

A second draft of Colorado’s first comprehensive statewide water plan was released last month, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board is seeking public input. Comments on this draft must be submitted by Sept. 17 in order to be considered in the development of the final plan, which is due to be submitted to Governor Hickenlooper on Dec. 10, 2015.

This draft follows years of debate between Front Range and West Slope water providers, environmental advocates, river recreationists, farmers and ranchers over how to meet a projected gap between available water supplies and demands, particularly in growing Front Range cities. There are three main sources to turn to: transferring water from agriculture, pulling more water from West Slope streams across the Continental Divide, and significantly ramping up water re-use and conservation.

Like the original draft released in December 2014, the new draft dodges controversy and lays out a toolbox of actions alongside detailed information about current water supplies, demands and climate change projections. Particular project proposals are found in the “basin implementation plans” developed by roundtables of water providers and stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins.

The new draft does, however, contain significantly more nuts and bolts on how to move forward on measures such as promoting conservation, improving the efficiency of the project permitting process, and developing new funding mechanisms. The concept of environmental resiliency is also incorporated more fully into this draft of the plan.

In addition, the new draft includes a revised framework for discussing the perpetually hot topic of the potential for a new project to divert more water from the West Slope to the Front Range. The framework sets out “realities and issues proponents for a new transmountain diversion should expect to address,” including the fact that water would likely not be available to divert in some years, due to existing uses and downstream obligations.

In the realm of urban conservation, the second draft of the plan contains beefed up sections on increasing the re-use of municipal water and integrating land-use and water planning, since large-lot subdivisions consume more water than denser development with less turf.

In relation to agricultural water, the second draft discusses measures to increase efficiency and conservation — while noting that the two are not equivalent. Increasing efficiency involves getting better at delivering water directly to where plants need it and nowhere else, which can actually make crops grow more vigorously and thus consume more water. Conservation, on the other hand, involves reducing the consumption of water, which can be accomplished through planting less thirsty plants, giving crops less water than needed for maximum growth, planting less acreage, or getting rid of water-sucking weeds.

While efficiency can have water quality benefits and improve stream flows between the point of diversion and the point where unconsumed water trickles back to the stream, only reduced consumption can make additional water available for other uses.

The draft plan also dedicates considerable ink to “alternative transfer mechanisms” that allow farmers to provide a portion of their water to cities on a temporary basis instead of permanently selling the water rights and drying up their land. Using such mechanisms could be less damaging to rural communities than “buy and dry” practices, but they are more complicated to implement.

Permitting process proposals include ensuring that all agencies with a say on a project are involved early on. Funding proposals include establishing a guaranteed repayment fund to facilitate multi-party projects and green bonds for environmental and recreational projects.

One message that comes through in reading the draft plan is that no one big project or mandate will provide the answer to meeting all of Colorado’s future water needs. The needs are diverse and dispersed, and a diverse and dispersed set of tools are needed to address them. And each tool comes with its own set of technical, legal and financial challenges. The draft plan attempts to chart the course for resolving those challenges, in the hope that the results will add up to a water future for Colorado that matches Coloradans’ values.

You can decide for yourself whether you think the right tools have been identified and the strategies proposed are adequate by going to You can find the complete text of the plan under the “Resources” tab by clicking on “2015 Second Draft of Colorado’s Water Plan.” Clicking on “General Information” under the “Resources” tab will give you access to a webinar and a July 2015 update that outline changes incorporated into the new draft. The “Get Involved” tab provides several options for submitting input.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to You can also find the Water Center at or

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

#Drought news: Quiet monsoon signal across the Desert Southwest

Click on a thumbnail to view a gallery of drought data.

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

The Southern Plains and Southeast

Above-normal temperatures and a generally dry week means drought is regaining a toe hold on the landscape from eastern Texas all the way to Florida. Building off of the expanding dryness last week, a large expansion of D0 is noted across western and northern Louisiana, eastern Texas, extreme southeastern Oklahoma and southwest Arkansas. Many locales in these states have seen less than half their normal rainfall over the past two months and less than 10% of their normal rains over the past 30 days. The quick-hitting, flashy nature of this developing drought across both regions bears watching given the time of year and the fact that the shorter-term forecasts don’t appear overly promising, particularly in the Southern Plains and lower Mississippi basin. Things can go downhill in a hurry this time of year and El Niño’s chokehold on tropical storm activity to date is only enhancing the dry signal. Of course, that same pesky culprit, El Niño, may well be the one that comes to the rescue this fall and winter given the stronger likelihood of a cooler and wetter winter across the Gulf Coast region…stay tuned. As such, D0-D1 expansion is prevalent on this week’s map throughout eastern Texas, most of Louisiana, eastern Mississippi, Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and a good chunk of Georgia. However, not all places saw expansion in the Southeast this past week as D2 was eliminated in extreme southeastern Georgia and D0-D2 was trimmed in general up and down Florida’s east coast from Jacksonville to Miami. Locally heavy rains (2 to 4 inches) were the reason behind the improvement this past week…

The West

As can be expected this time of year, it was a pretty uneventful week on the precipitation front across most of the region, including a quiet monsoon signal across the Desert Southwest. The West remains unchanged this week but the impacts (near-record/record low streamflow, water supply, water temperatures, fire, etc.) are still being felt and are of major concern as we head toward a new water year with September now on the horizon…

Looking Ahead

For the period August 6 through August 11, monsoon precipitation will again be relatively scarce across the Desert Southwest and the rest of the West will be seasonally dry as well. Prospects for the southern Plains and lower Mississippi Basin don’t look good either. Better odds for the wet stuff can be seen in the upper Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic (heavy rains are forecasted for Virginia, Delaware and extreme western Carolinas along with northeastern North Carolina), the Southeast (central Alabama and the western half of Georgia) and along the coastal reaches of the Gulf Coast region (from southern Alabama across the Florida Panhandle and into northern Florida) if all goes as forecasted. Temperatures for this same period show cooler weather across the Great Basin with near-normal readings likely in the Pacific Northwest and rest of the West Coast. Cooler weather is also expected across the northern Plains, New England and Mid-Atlantic. The only real projected hot spot over the next 5 days can be found in the central Plains, the southern and central Rockies and front ranges, southern Plains and lower Mississippi Basin where temperatures are expected to run 3 to 9 degrees above normal.

The 6-10 day (valid for August 11-14, 2015) and 8-14 day (valid for August 13-19, 2015) outlooks appear pretty similar and the models are in good agreement about the building of a ridge across the west-central U.S. during this timeframe. This will likely bring a late summer heat wave across the Great Plains, upper Midwest, lower Mississippi Basin, the Rockies, the Desert Southwest and along the southern coastal tier areas of Alaska. Cooler weather is expected in the Pacific Northwest, western Great Basin and the Northeast. One significant feature worth noting is that the 8-14 day outlook projects a stronger likelihood of above-normal temperatures across the West and into the Southeast and Carolinas and across a larger portion of southern Alaska, which the 6-10 day outlook does not.

As for precipitation during these time frames, below-normal totals are more likely, and coincide with, the projected hot spot areas depicted across the entire mid-section of the country from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada (Texas to Michigan and most points in between across the Great Plains and Midwest). Better chances of precipitation can be found in eastern Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, east-central Great Basin, the Atlantic Seaboard region from Maine to north Florida and the coastal areas in the Gulf Coast region from Mississippi eastward to Florida. The southern tip of Florida looks to remain dry at least through the middle of the August as well.

Click on a thumbnail below to view a gallery of drought data from early August for the past few years.

“Allegations and lawsuit against [Robert Lembke] ‘are not supported by the actual facts'” — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Steve Raabe):

Silver Peaks Holdings LLC last week filed a statement saying its 2012 allegations and lawsuit against Lembke “are not supported by the actual facts.”

Weld County District Court Judge Julie Christine Hoskins earlier this week granted a motion by Lembke’s company to dismiss the lawsuit against him.

The suit claimed Lembke and two of his associates used land for the Silver Peaks real estate development as collateral to finance water-delivery systems for other real estate projects along the Front Range through Lembke’s United Water and Sanitation District.

Silver Peaks contributed 550 acres of land near Lochbuie to a partnership with Lembke for a proposed 2,300-home development. Silver Peaks subsequently claimed that Lembke and his partners used the land to secure financing for a $14 million water system to fulfill contracts with other water districts instead of providing water for the Lochbuie development.

However, Silver Peaks manager L. Kelley Carson said in her statement that “further investigation has determined that none of the defendants … engaged in any wrongdoing.”[…]

A spokeswoman for Lembke said a settlement also was filed in the case. Settlement terms are confidential, although Carson’s agreement to submit a retraction was part of the agreement, the spokeswoman said.

K.C. Groves, an attorney for Silver Peaks, acknowledged Thursday that his client and the Lembke partnerships have reached a “global settlement of their disputes” that involves dismissal of the lawsuit and two related cases.

Here’s the Coyote Gulch post when the lawsuit was filed.