Acid mine drainage long a problem for the waterways of #Colorado

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Ninety miles west of Denver, 347 gallons a minute of acidic heavy metals leak into a tributary of the South Platte River every day from the defunct London Mine. Not even the bugs that fish eat have survived in South Mosquito Creek west of Alma, let alone the trout local leaders hope to restore for the South Park recreational economy.

The London Mine is one of many that leach toxic materials into Denver’s watershed. Municipal water treatment plants keep contaminants from flowing out taps in homes; ecosystems, however, continue to be poisoned.

For years, state agencies and contractors worked on a cleanup at the London Mine, including installation of a water treatment plant.

But the resurgent discharge into Denver’s watershed shows how difficult cleanup of old mines can be.

“You’re never going to walk away from these things,” said Bruce Stover, director of Colorado’s inactive mine reclamation program. “Things happen inside mines that are unpredictable. Wood can rot. There’s rock stress. Old mines are constantly changing. Gravity rules.

“You cannot just cork these up so it all goes away. That’s not going to happen.”[…]

On Tuesday, state lawmakers at a legislative committee hearing began investigating the broader problem. Colorado health and natural resources officials told them it is so complex that state agencies have yet to prepare a full inventory and assess which mines are most prone to the kind of blowout that occurred Aug. 5 at the Gold King Mine above Silverton…

Other mines in the metro Denver watershed where state records show continuing contamination of streams and rivers include:

• The Perigo Gold Mine near Nederland discharges toxic liquid at a rate of 174 gallons per minute into Gamble Gulch, which flows into South Boulder Creek above Gross Reservoir, according to a March 2015 assessment by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

In 1993, the Colorado Geological Survey conducted a study of inactive mines on U.S. Forest Service land west of Boulder and ranked cleanup at the Perigo Mine the top environmental priority. In May, backed-up water behind a collapsed portal surged out, spewing several thousand gallons of carrot-orange acid metal-laced water. State records show another blowout in 2011.

• At the Waldorf Mine west of metro Denver, a blowout in 2013 triggered a cascade of hundreds of gallons of orange liquid waste into Clear Creek. State officials said elevated levels of zinc and lead have leaked from this mine for years, about 70 gallons per minute, and records show cleanup is not completed. A mine opening “continually drains and intermittently discharges large surges of contaminated water that erode the mine waste pile.”

• At Geneva Mine above Georgetown, a “belch” in 2013 sent a surge of metals-laced drainage that turned Geneva Creek yellow.

• At the Puzzle Mine above Breckenridge, EPA and state officials have known since 2006 about draining water, at least 50 gallons a minute, laced with zinc and cadmium at levels several times higher than the state standard, records show. A few years ago, Breckenridge residents watched the Blue River turn orange after ice melted inside the mine and pooled contaminants gushed through town toward Dillon Reservoir…

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet has supported action to encourage cleanups by shielding companies and conservation groups from liability, but he has not committed to help create a national cleanup fund drawn from mining industry royalties. Heinrich said he’ll press Bennet, D-Colo., and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner for support.

Bennet’s staffers say the senator is supporting efforts to reform the mining law, including charging mining companies royalties to create a cleanup fund and he is “working with” Heinrich and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall.

Environmental groups contend that, beyond liability reform, better funding is essential to deal with the West’s estimated 500,000 inactive mines, which have tainted 40 percent of watersheds at a time when residents increasingly seek more water.

“The federal and state governments should wake up and fix the problem before more spills occur,” said Alan Septoff of Earthworks, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group. “This matters because the mines drain acid into water that we use for drinking and that drives economies, like the economy in La Plata County.”

Colorado officials said they do as much as they can with limited legal power and resources.

“We know where the draining mines are, but a statewide prioritization has not been done. That’s something we’re talking about now,” Stover said.

Nor does the state keep a list of mine site owners. Most owners are not “viable” as sources of funding for cleanups, state natural resources spokesman Todd Hartman said. Only the EPA can determine whether “potentially responsible parties” may exist and are viable, he said.

Meanwhile, three or four inactive mines blow out each year, spewing backed-up metals-laced waste into waterways. That’s in addition to trickles and seeps from scores of inactive mines that, by state and federal estimates, inject the equivalent of a Gold King disaster every two days.

County wins money for reservoir study — Montrose Daily Press

From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Montrose County on Thursday nabbed a significant award from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which unanimously approved a combined total of $300,000.

The money from the state’s Water Supply Reserve Account will be used to help fund a feasibility study of up to four possible reservoir sites on the West End. The county will spend $966,000 on the study, which was included in its annual budget.

The conservation board, as part of its Montrose meeting, awarded approval of the funds on the condition that some of the money be spent to assess the effect each proposed site will have on recreational uses, especially rafting, on the San Miguel River.

The county is glad to comply with the condition, and would have noted that on its application had the form allowed for it, Marc Catlin, Montrose County’s water rights manager, told the board.

“If there’s going to be a future on the West End, those people are going to need water,” Catlin said.

The county needs to determine where and how reservoirs would be built to impound the water it secured under a 2012 water rights decree.

“It’s the result of two and a half years of hard work and paying attention to detail, wanting to do the right thing,” Montrose County Commissioner Ron Henderson said later on Thursday.

“It’s finally starting to pay off. It’s just a really nice thing for the West End of Montrose County, actually, the whole county, but most especially the West End.”

Montrose County in a controversial move previously filed for water rights on a 17.4 stretch of the San Miguel. Under settlements reached, the county agreed to a volumetric use limitation of 3,200 acre-feet. An acre-foot is roughly the amount of water it would take to cover a football field at a depth of 1 foot.

Conditions of the water right decree include a means of capturing and impounding the water. The county, which is considering four possible sites for a reservoir, needs to know the best place to site it and therefore applied for funding to offset feasibility study costs.

It sought $50,000 from the Southwest Water Board and $250,000 from statewide accounts, both to be approved by the conservation board.

April Montgomery, a conservation board member representing the San Juan and San Miguel basins, on Thursday commended the county and Catlin for having been proactive.

“I think it’s setting an example,” she said, referring to the county’s feasibility study. The county showed forethought in looking at multiple uses, Montgomery said.

Fellow member Patricia Wells, representing the City and County of Denver, called Montrose County’s approach commendable.

“It’s simply a very good approach,” she said.

“Storage is part of the answer for the future,” Catlin later told the Daily Press. “The state’s moving toward multiple use. I think this is the first project that is investigating multi-use at the feasibility stage.

“It’s a good thing for the community.”

Ouray County also won funding, $50,000, from the board. The money will help fund the upper Uncompahgre Basin water supply protection and enhancement project.

A call on water in 2012 served as a wakeup call, Ouray County Attorney Marti Whitmore told the board. That dry year brought to the forefront the need to plan for accommodating needs, while also sustaining agriculture and tourism, industries that are part of Ouray County’s economic backbone, she indicated.

Whitmore said she anticipates that Ouray’s study will show a need for additional water storage.

The board awarded 15 Water Supply Reserve Account grants Thursday.

“We passed all the grant applications. There was about $5.5 million, total, in grant applications we approved,” said James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board director.

#ClimateChange: Governor Hickenlooper announces Colorado Climate Plan

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper, business and industry leaders and department directors today released the Colorado Climate Plan, a statewide strategy of policy recommendations and actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to increase Colorado’s level of preparedness.

“Colorado is facing a potential increase in both the number and severity of extreme weather events,” said Hickenlooper. “We’ve seen what Mother Nature can do, and additional risks present a considerable set of challenges for the state, our residents, and our way of life. This comprehensive plan puts forth our commitment from the state and sets the groundwork for the collaboration needed to make sure Colorado is prepared.”

Colorado has warmed substantially in the last 30 years and even more in the last 50 years, with projected temperatures rising an additional 2.5 degrees by 2050, as reported by Climate Change in Colorado: A Synthesis to Support Water Resources Management and Adaptation. Rising temperatures pose many challenges to Colorado’s environment, health, economy and infrastructure. In response to these risks, the state developed a plan for mitigating and adapting to a broad range of possible impacts from multiple sectors.

The Colorado Climate Plan focuses on seven main sectors including water, public health, energy, transportation, agriculture, tourism and recreation, and ecosystems. The plan also includes a chapter highlighting ways local governments and businesses are playing a significant role.

Some of the plan’s key recommendations include:

Water: Promote and encourage drought preparedness through comprehensive drought planning mitigation implementation; incorporate climate variability and change into Colorado’s Water Plan.

Public Health: Coordinate with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Public Utilities Commission, the Colorado Energy Office, and additional stakeholders to develop and implement a Colorado-specific plan to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel fired EGUs, in accordance with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan; continue to assess potential correlations between vector-borne diseases and climate factors.

Energy: Assure the timely and complete attainment of the state’s RES 2020 goals; assist all utilities (investor-owned, municipal, and cooperative) in identifying and implementing best practices for integrating cost-effective renewable resources, both utility-scale and distributed; increase access to capital for commercial, residential, agricultural, and industrial customers seeking to improve the energy performance of their facilities.

Transportation: Promote and encourage fuel-efficient vehicle technologies and programs to reduce vehicle emissions; provide guidance to local governments on land use planning strategies to promote efficient use of public resources and reduce GHG emissions through compact, transit-oriented development that utilizes smart growth practices and complete streets.

Agriculture: Partner with research institutions and federal agencies to support producer’s efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change through improved irrigation and efficiency and enhanced tillage practices.

Moving forward, the Colorado Climate Plan will serve as a roadmap for state agencies to confront some of the worst effects of climate change and identify priority actions. The state will work to ensure the plan complements other relevant efforts, including the Climate Change in Colorado Report, and the Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study.

Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said, “​The Climate Plan helps develop our strategies for protecting public health as our climate changes. It also demonstrates our commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through EPA’s Clean Power Plan and Colorado’s own initiatives.”

“This plan outlines many steps state agencies can take – and are taking – to both reduce the emissions that affect our climate and prepare for the potential impacts that temperature and weather changes may have on our economy and lifestyle in Colorado,” said Mike King, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources.

Contributing agencies include the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Energy Office, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Colorado Tourism Office and the Department of Local Affairs, along with input from key stakeholders.

“This plan highlights the results to date of Colorado’s leadership in innovative energy production and efficient energy consumption,” said Jeffrey Ackermann, director of the Colorado Energy Office. “Our continued progress is reinforced by forward-thinking policies like the renewable energy standard, strong public-private partnerships and creative strategies to foster new market development.”

Public and private sector organizations also contributed to the plan including Apt Environmental, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, Colorado State University/ Colorado Water Institute, Denver Water, Fort Collins Sustainability Group, Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, Rocky Mountain Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Western Water Assessment/ CIRES/ University of Colorado, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Xcel Energy and 360 Colorado.

The plan, developed to meet the requirements of HB 13-1293, lays out many of the ways the state is working to find solutions. Each state agency that helped develop the plan will hold public engagement sessions specific to their agency throughout the coming year.

The Colorado Climate Plan, along with additional information related to the state’s response to climate change is available at

Click here to read the report.

Statewide annual average temperature 1900-2012 via Western Water Assessment
Statewide annual average temperature 1900-2012 via Western Water Assessment

#AnimasRiver: EPA considers treatment facility — The Durango Herald

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)
Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Documents released this week highlight a bidding process that began a little over two weeks after last month’s spill. The request is for a subcontractor to begin work in anticipation of a treatment facility. Water would be piped from the Gold King Mine near Silverton to Red and Bonita Mine and the “future site” of a water-treatment plant in Gladstone.

The EPA tasked Environmental Restoration, LLC with the Request for Proposal. The contractor was performing reclamation with the EPA on Aug. 5 when an excavation error by the team at Gold King caused an estimated 3 million gallons of orange mining sludge to pour into the Animas River. Initial tests showed spikes in heavy metals.

Experts agree that the best solution is a treatment facility, though such a plant would be costly. The EPA offered no cost estimates for such a facility, nor would it say where the funding would come from. A reclamation expert with the Colorado School of Mines told The Durango Herald a temporary treatment plant would cost around $3 million…

“The issuance of a work order doesn’t mean that there has been a final decision to build a wastewater treatment plant. Agency staff initiated the RFP process immediately after the spill so that the procurement process would be well underway if that decision were to be made,” said EPA spokeswoman Christie St. Clair…

“The agency is conducting an analysis to determine if a temporary treatment plant provides a measurable benefit to water quality downstream in the Animas River,” St. Clair said. “The agency is closely coordinating with officials in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Southern Ute tribe, Mountain Ute tribe and Navajo Nation to develop a comprehensive, long-term plan for the Gold King Mine site.”[…]

“The system must be able to be operated all year at elevations between 11,400 feet and 10,500 feet. Extreme cold and heavy snow are to be expected and planned for. The system must be self-contained as there are no amenities on site,” the RFP says.

Meanwhile, the EPA on Thursday released a long-term monitoring plan to evaluate water conditions after the spill. Tests have continued to show that water quality has returned to “pre-event” conditions, though the Animas has long been plagued by inactive-mine leakage.

“This monitoring plan represents the next phase of this important work and reflects our commitment to continue working closely with state, local and tribal officials to evaluate the potential impacts of the spill,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

The long-term plan calls for sampling for water and sediment quality, biological impacts and fish tissue under a variety of flow conditions at 23 sites in Cement Creek, the Animas and San Juan rivers and the upper section of Lake Powell within Colorado, Southern Ute Reservation, New Mexico, Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, the Navajo Nation and Utah.

Stakeholders, including state, local and tribal officials, have until Oct. 8 to comment on the monitoring proposal.

The goal is to begin long-term monitoring in the fall. Data would be collected for one year and reviewed to determine if additional steps are needed.

Colorado finalizes climate plan

Summit County Citizens Voice

Colorado recorded the greatest increase in average maximum temperatures — between .7 and .9 degrees — from the old normals, compiled between 1971 and 2000, and the new normals, which are based on temperature readings between 1981 and 2010. On average across the U.S., the new average temperatures are about .5 degrees warmer. Colorado recorded the greatest increase in average maximum temperatures — between .7 and .9 degrees — from the old normals, compiled between 1971 and 2000, and the new normals, which are based on temperature readings between 1981 and 2010. On average across the U.S., the new average temperatures are about .5 degrees warmer.

Multiple state agencies will eye adaptation, mitigation strategies

Staff Report

Colorado’s new climate plan calls for an all-hands-on-deck approach, with various state agencies working together, and with the public, to address the potential impacts of rising temperatures.

Acknowledging that average temperatures in the state could rise by as much as 2.5 to 5 degrees Celsius in the next few decades, Gov. John Hickenlooper called on Colorado make preparations now.

“Colorado is facing a potential increase in both the number and severity of extreme weather events,” Hickenlooper said in a prepared statement. “We’ve seen what Mother Nature can…

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Environment: Scientists call for ban on plastic microbeads

Summit County Citizens Voice

This image captured by an electron microscope shows polyethylene microbeads widely used in shower gel. Photo courtesy Thompson/Bakir/Plymouth University. This image captured by an electron microscope shows polyethylene microbeads widely used in shower gel. Photo courtesy Thompson/Bakir/Plymouth University.

8 trillion microbeads per day and counting …

Staff Report

As more and more research shows the impacts of microplastic pollution in a wide range of ecosystems, a team of researchers says the best way to protect water quality and wildlife is an outright ban on the common use of plastic microbeads.

The tiny pellets are used in everyday cosmetic and cleaning products and end up being flushed down drains. Since they’re not captured by wastewater treatment plants, they end up in the environment, either directly in the water or in the sludge from sewage treatment facilities that’s then spread on land.

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Mines draining to Denver? Not on our watch.

Mile High Water Talk

Contaminated waterways are in the spotlight, but what does this mean for your drinking water?

Water quality investigators gather samples all year long. Aubrey Miller (left) and James Berrier, drill through two feet of ice on the Colorado River near Kremlin to gather samples. Water quality investigators gather samples all year long. Aubrey Miller (left) and James Berrier, drill through two feet of ice on the Colorado River near Kremlin to gather samples.

By Travis Thompson

After the Animas River vividly meandered through mountains and towns like an orange-colored serpent as a result of the Gold King Mine spill in early August, conversations ignited about abandoned mines in Colorado.

While this topic is very serious, it isn’t new. Mines have such a prominent place in our state’s history that there are tours and museums dedicated to mining’s past, including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s replica mine shaft exhibit.

So, what does this mean for Denver Water? A recent Denver Post article could leave customers wondering about the water quality impacts from some of the mines in Denver’s watersheds. While…

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