#AnimasRiver: NM and #Colorado Congressmen draft mining legislation after Gold King mine spill

Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015
Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015

From MiningTechnology.com:

US Senators have introduced a new bill to help the Navajo Nation and communities in north-west New Mexico and south-west Colorado recover from the Gold King Mine spill.

The bill was introduced by US Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado…

Outlining allowable damages, the bill will is aimed at ensuring spill victims can receive compensation for their losses.

An Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims will also be established within the EPA to carry out the compensation process under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Under the new legislation, the EPA is required to work with affected states and tribes, as well as other relevant agencies to identify the dangerous abandoned mines across the west and establish a priority plan for cleanup.

Agencies have to alert nearby communities and develop a contingency plan in case of a spill before deciding on any cleanup or remediation in an abandoned mine…

Ensuring that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to work with affected communities, the Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act of 2015 would also require the agency to work with the states and tribes to fund and implement long-term monitoring of water quality from the mine.

Michael Bennet said: “In addition to the acid mine drainage that polluted our river, the disaster took its toll on businesses throughout the region, particularly our recreation and tourism industry.

“This bill ensures that those businesses, individuals, water districts, farmers, and local and tribal governments will be compensated by the EPA for costs they incurred due to the spill.”

Meanwhile, the Animas River Stakeholders Group meets in Durango for the first time in two years. Here’s a report from Jonathan Romeo writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

The Animas River Stakeholders Group made its way downstream Tuesday, holding its first meeting in Durango in almost two years.

The decision to hold the group’s monthly meeting at the La Plata County Administrative Building was directly related to the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill that has drawn a renewed interest in the mine waste pollution occurring in the Upper Animas watershed.

Peter Butler, one of the coordinators of the group, said it’s now important to weigh the risks of managing a one-time major blowout as opposed to continuous metal loading. He said the ARSG is aware of four other major blowouts in the last 20 years, but preventing such an event can become very complicated. Sites at risk can be hard to identify, because sometimes a mine entrance can appear stable, and a collapse can occur further back in the workings, triggering a blowout.

In the aftermath of the Gold King spill, several departments compiled a preliminary “midnight list” for Gov. John Hickenlooper, identifying the most at-risk mine sites. Of the 230 potential risk sites statewide, 44 are located in the Upper Animas mining district.

But even with those sites identified, the question then becomes what method do you use to prevent such an event, and how much money are you going to spend? Stakeholders also called into question whether efforts should be directed toward continual acid mine drainage, which has longer-lasting impacts on the environment.

“People are focused on a blowout, but when you start talking about what physically you can do about it, it becomes a hard issue,” Butler said. “I’m trying to put that a little bit to the side so we can focus on continuous flow.”

Doug Jamison with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment admitted he is in support of a Superfund, but he said the Environmental Protection Agency and the state health department are offering the designation as only a potential solution. As in past meetings, officials for the two agencies were unable to answer specific questions related to site boundaries, timelines and the promise of funding – stressing the need for more data…

Only a little more than a month since the Gold King Mine discharged 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage, most communities have not reached a consensus on whether to choose a Superfund. Jamison said the community around the state’s most recent Superfund site, Colorado Smelter, took almost a year to decide. However, which communities will factor in to the decision for the Upper Animas mining district’s treatment is still unclear.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Durango Herald:

Researchers say they found scattered accumulations of heavy metals along a 60-mile stretch of riverbank in Colorado and New Mexico a month after the Gold King Mine wastewater spill and say that any potential threat to crops and livestock should be studied further.

David Weindorf of Texas Tech University and Kevin Lombard of New Mexico State University said they found patches of discolored sludge containing elevated levels of iron, copper, zinc, arsenic and lead along the Animas River from around Farmington to just north of Durango.

The concentrations of those metals were higher than at other sites they tested on the riverbank and on nearby irrigated and non-irrigated land, Weindorf said.

None of the high readings was found in ditches that carry irrigation water to crops, Weindorf said. Irrigation systems along the Animas were closed before the mustard-colored plume of tainted wastewater drifted downstream after the Aug. 5 blowout at the Gold King…

EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen said the agency will review the researchers’ findings. She said the EPA plans its own long-term monitoring project and has asked the affected states and tribes for their input.

Weindorf described his and Lombard’s work as a pilot study and said he didn’t want to cause undue alarm, but he believes soils need to be tested over the long term. Over time, the metals they found along the riverbank could be washed into the river, get into irrigation ditches and gradually build up in the soils of land used to grow food and to graze livestock.

“There’s a risk those metals could work their way into our food chain or the food chain for animals. That’s why we want to do this long-term study,” he said.

Weindorf and Lombard have asked the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to fund a three-year study that would closely monitor five or six sites along the river. They estimated it would cost $750,000 to $1 million. No decision has been made.

Weindorf and Lombard conducted their pilot study Sept. 1-3.

Lombard, who works at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center in Farmington – where the Animas joins the San Juan River – said researchers also took soil samples from irrigation ditches before the polluted plume passed to compare with future tests…

Asked about that kind of cleanup, the EPA said it doesn’t anticipate any human health problems from contacting or accidentally ingesting river water, and that the risk to livestock was low.

Colorado officials believe risks are low for most human exposure and don’t warrant removing sediment, health department spokesman Mark Salley said.

The department advised avoiding any contact with discolored sediment and water and washing after any exposure.

The New Mexico Environment Department hasn’t reviewed Weindorf and Lombard’s findings but believes contaminated sediment is one of the more serious risks, spokeswoman Allison Majure said. New Mexico is planning its own long-term monitoring.

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