Will fish and water bugs be decimated by systemic pesticides?
FRISCO — Neonicotinoid pesticides are spreading throughout the environment with as-yet unknown effects on human health, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The agency found the systemic pesticides in more than half the streams sampled across the country and in Puerto Rico during a survey between 2011 and 2014. This study is the first to take a nationwide look at the prevalence of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural and urban settings.
The research spanned 24 states and Puerto Rico and was completed as part of ongoing USGS investigations of pesticide and other contaminant levels in streams.
For longtime valley residents, the recent mine waste spill into the Animas River near Durango prompted memories of the winter of 1989-90, when the Eagle River through Minturn ran a dull, depressing orange. Its clarity today is thanks to constant work.
The Eagle Mine — located in a tight valley between Minturn and Red Cliff — closed in 1984. After the mine closed, countless gallons of water flooded the mine works and, five years later, into the river, turning the stream orange. Locals were aghast, of course.
When the river ran orange, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had already added the mine to its list of Superfund sites for closely monitored cleanup, but the extent of the problem was still being determined.
While the river today looks normal — with the exception of some of the orange-tinged boulders in the river — the cleanup continues and will into the foreseeable future.
The “responsible party” for the mine cleanup is CBS, which acquired the mine when it bought Viacom, the previous responsible party. The mine ended up in the hands of those media companies via previous acquisitions and mergers. Today, CBS still pays for much of the work, and will essentially forever. The state and federal governments are also involved.
Because water continues to seep into the mine works — a vast underground network of caverns and tunnels — contaminated water is piped out of the mine and treated at a site at Maloit Park in Minturn. About 250 gallons of water per minute comes out of the mine and is pumped into a facility that allows heavy metals to settle out. About 250 pounds of metallic sludge per day comes out of the water.
The Eagle River Watershed Council was created out of that environmental disaster. The group, which today looks at the entire length of the river, remains intimately involved in the continuing work at the mine.
“There’s been a lot of progress,” council director Holly Loff said. “But there could always be more.”
The biggest issue today is the age of the equipment, particularly the pipelines carrying contaminated water to the treatment plant. That pipeline, which is above ground in a harsh winter environment, sprung a handful of notable leaks a few years ago. One, in 2009, turned the river orange again for a brief period. Another, bigger spill in 2012 put 428,000 gallons of contaminated water into the river, turning it green.
When word came about those spills, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District shut off the intake to its Avon water treatment plant.
The district’s Todd Fessenden, who is in charge of drinking water treatment and supplies, said the Avon plant was built to accommodate and treat the metals in the river, but not in the concentrations seen when there’s a spill. That’s why the intakes were shut down.
MONITORING THE MINE
Given the complexity of the mine’s treatment system, Loff said it’s important to have more and better monitoring on the pipeline and pumps, since humans can’t have their eyes on the system all the time.
Eagle River Water & Sanitation District community affairs director Diane Johnson said the district uses remote monitors at many of its facilities, and they work well. One monitor, in a remote area without cell phone service, is linked to a satellite.
At the moment, though, sometimes the district gets some notifications the old-fashioned way — someone in town will notice something about the river and make a call.
As the Animas River reflected the golden Sunday sunrise, Kenny Frost and Lyndreth Wall, prayed that the waterway would heal from recent heavy-metal pollution.
“Water is life; water is sacred,” said Frost, a Southern Ute Sun Dance Chief.
A heron soared over the river, as Frost and Wall, a Ute Mountain Ute, sang and prayed in Ute for the river.
About 20 people from all over the region came to be a part of the blessing at Santa Rita Park. At the same time, groups in other parts of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Germany and Canada also prayed for the health of local and global waterways.
Frost hopes the blessing of the river can lead to an annual Indigenous Water Prayer Day, which would be held on the third Sunday of August. Internationally, it would draw attention to rivers and other waterways at risk from pollution. Locally, it would be a reminder of how the river ran orange this month and the potential for it to happen again.
“The danger is still there,” he said…
“We’re not going to blame anyone because we want to keep everything positive,” Frost said.
However, he did express skepticism about the safety of the river water, noting ongoing health advisories. Everyone is still advised to wash with soap and water after coming in contact with discolored river sediment.
He also highlighted the hardship that the pollution caused for those in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation, where communities temporarily lost their water source for crops and livestock after the spill…
After songs and prayer, Frost closed the ceremony by inviting everyone to bless the river by pouring in bottles of pure water and sprinkling handfuls of crushed corn over it.
Sam Anderson, an energy specialist with the department, explains how the program works.
“This entails converting existing irrigated lands to pressurized irrigation such as a center pivot,” Anderson says. “It would include installing hydropower equipment to power that equipment or provide electricity to the grid that would offset their energy costs for their agricultural operations.”
He says right now there’s $100,000 available for two projects, but more funding will be offered in the future.
“Our program has a budget of $3 million over the next four years,” Anderson says. “And, we plan to do 30 of these projects. So on average there will be about $80,000 per project available to the farmers for technical assistance and financial assistance.”
He says the goal of the program is to help farmers use water more efficiently and reduce their energy costs.
Earlier this year, the state received $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for the initiative.
Anderson says people interested in applying should contact their local NRCS office.
The deadline for applications for the first round of funding is Aug. 17th.
Nearly two years after the September 2013 floods, permanent repairs are still ongoing — and in some cases just starting — on mountain roads scoured by roiling waters.
Gov. John Hickenlooper famously promised to reopen highways washed away within three months of the floods, a promise kept by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Hundreds of millions of dollars, most coming from the federal government, have poured into the mountain roads west of Fort Collins since then, making construction cones seem like permanent fixtures to those venturing above the foothills.
On Tuesday, another section of road was added to the to-do list of Northern Colorado road crews when the Larimer County Commission voted to repave an 800-foot stretch of road in Drake to grant more permanent access to a CDOT repair shop. It’s part of more than a dozen sites being handled by a contractor at a cost of about $700,000 — a drop in the bucket of $120 million in road repairs being overseen by Larimer County.
The county is on the hook for $10 million of those costs, with the majority covered by various federal agencies. The state is matching the county’s contribution.
“Everyone has access, so now it’s all about bringing those roads back up to pre-flood conditions, or close to it,” Assistant County Engineer Rusty McDaniel said.
McDaniel expects the permanent rebuild process, which will leave roads suitable for long-term use, to last about another two or two-and-a-half years — a similar timeline to when CDOT hopes to repair state highways that wind west of the Front Range. It’s a timeline CDOT more than defends; spokesman Jared Fiel highlighted it as ambitious.
Most projects like rebuilding U.S. Highway 34, which cuts from Loveland to Estes Park, would operate on a seven-to-10 year timeline, Fiel said.
“Obviously, you’re looking at a state highway going through a canyon where you have environmental concerns, concerns for both natural resources as well as wildlife in the area and all those things, plus you’re trying to get traffic up and down,” Fiel said.”So the whole process is actually quite daunting.”[…]
Fiel expects the permanent rebuild process to start at the end of this year, with off-road work being done in the eastern entrance to the canyon, where sheer rock walls loom over the road. That should have “very, very minimal impact” on travelers, Fiel said. More apparent — and potentially painful, to motorists at least — work could start once the winter weather clears in spring of next year.