Purdy Mesa Reservoir update: Fixes to cost a Purdy penny — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

The dam at Purdy Mesa Reservoir, one of Grand Junction’s reservoirs used for drought reserves on the south side of Grand Mesa, failed after it sustained a major crack and currently is drained of water.  That failure is but one of several age-related problems that need to be fixed. Grand Junction city councilors have informally agreed to a plan to borrow $2.6 million and charge water users the remainder to raise $30 million to fund capital improvements over the next 10 years.
The dam at Purdy Mesa Reservoir, one of Grand Junction’s reservoirs used for drought reserves on the south side of Grand Mesa, failed after it sustained a major crack and currently is drained of water. That failure is but one of several age-related problems that need to be fixed. Grand Junction city councilors have informally agreed to a plan to borrow $2.6 million and charge water users the remainder to raise $30 million to fund capital improvements over the next 10 years.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Amy Hamilton):

Several water-related upgrades and improvements to the failing Purdy Mesa Reservoir dam will increase water bills for Grand Junction residents by 52 percent over the next seven years.

Grand Junction city councilors have informally agreed to a plan to borrow $2.6 million and charge water users the remainder to raise $30 million to fund capital improvements over the next 10 years.

As a result, water bills in 2016 may increase 9.5 percent. That would mean an additional $1.63 more a month for the base rate of 4,000 gallons a month.

Under a plan that councilors are still finalizing, bills will increase by 9.5 percent each year for three consecutive years. The city will then raise water rates 8.5 percent in 2019, 8 percent in 2020 and 7.5 percent in 2021.

The money is needed to make a host of water improvements, city water officials have told councilors at recent meetings. The dam at Purdy Mesa Reservoir, one of Grand Junction’s reservoirs used for drought reserves on the south side of Grand Mesa, failed after it sustained a major crack and currently is drained of water.

An intake diversion at Kannah Creek that was built in the early 1900s and replaced in the 1940s also needs to be replaced, said Bret Guillory, the city’s utility engineer.

In addition, the city needs to replace aging water filters to treat raw water. The funds would cover all the costs to replace all of the city’s underground cast-iron water lines in the next 20 years. The money also would be used for smaller projects, like replacing residential water meters with more accurate meters. Older meters read water usage on the low end, Guillory said.

“My priority is not increasing the homeowners’ rates too much, but increasing it slowly. We need to improve the dam and the failing water lines,” Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein said at a recent meeting.

Councilor Marty Chazen said he wanted city staff to go after grants to improve Purdy Mesa, and the city’s water officials said they would look into those opportunities.

“The decision whether to do this or not is already made. It’s how we pay for it,” Chazen said.

#ClimateChange: How to slow down this runaway freight train of climate change — The Mountain Town News

Our global energy system is like a runaway freight train. Image/Shutterstock
Our global energy system is like a runaway freight train. Image/Shutterstock

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

James W.C. White presents himself first and foremost as a scientist, one who specializes in geological processes. You can call him a climate scientist. He says some things are not a matter of belief, but rather laws of physics. The eventual effect of greenhouse gases on atmospheric temperature is among those basic laws.

But White is also a man of faith, someone who believes in free will and the potential of humans to make choices guided by morals, not laws of nature. I saw this last year when he testified in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan at hearings in Denver. He identified himself as an evangelical Christian.

In a presentation sponsored by the Boulder chapter of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society on Oct. 15, White made no mention of religion. But after explaining for 45 minutes why the laws of physics should alarm us, he delivered his proposed solution. That solution applies not only to climate change, which he said can be solved, if we so choose, but also to the much greater problem of a species that recognizes no planetary limits.

“In the end, I think it is about us growing up as a species. I don’t want to come across as some Tennessee preacher up here,” added White, who grew up in Tennessee, “but in the end it has to be about us becoming better people.”

Jim White via The Mountain Town News
Jim White via The Mountain Town News

A professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, White also has an appointment within the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. For about 25 years, he has been teaching a class on energy and the environment, and his lecture for the Colorado Renewable Energy Society seemed to be a brief summary of that course.

“There are things we know that will happen,” he said at the outset of his lecture. “I won’t get into things we think may happen.”

In its desire to expand, the human species has done only what every other species, from bacteria to primates, attempts to do. “You try to take over the planet,” said White.

In this desire to “have domination over the planet,” however, humans have ratcheted up the game. “I think in the last 30 years, we have demonstrably achieved that goal. While all previous generations saw the Earth as limitless in some ways, all future generations will need to consider planetary limits.”

One example of human mastery: We cause 10 times more erosion than all natural resources.

Another: We can make more fertilizer than all the world’s bacteria. A key discovery about how to short-circuit the natural process was made in the 1930s, and since the 1950s “we have gone from being not a part of the nitrogen cycle to the point that we are on par with all bacteria.”

And this: we have moved past population limits, with rapid expansion beginning about 1800 and now moving rapidly from 7 billion to 9 billion by mid-century. “Growth rates are slowing down somewhat,” said White. “But there’s a lot of momentum.”

global-ghg-emissions-figure3-2014-by-countrymtn

By exploiting carbon fuels, many in the world have been able to lead lives premised on great amounts of energy. It adds up. Together, four major regions of the planet as of 2012 produced over half of the world’s global emissions: China (22%), the United States (14%), the European Union (10%) and India (6%)

co2-emissions-per-countrymtn

Still, an average Indian uses only one-sixth the energy of an average person in Denmark. Along with Indonesia and a great many other countries, India is waiting in the wings, eager to gain the lifestyle of those in the Western world.

Now, about the laws of physics: our climate is governed by three factors: 1) how much energy we get from the sun; 2) how much of that energy is reflected back to space by aerosols, ice, and snow; and 3) the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Energy in the atmosphere is climate by definition,” he said.

Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas. It constitutes just 1 percent of the atmosphere, yet it is a powerful determinant of the environment. With it, the landscapes are green. Without rain and snow, the landscapes turn brown. As the world warms, there will be more water vapor in the atmosphere, amplifying the heating.

“Something very small can have big effects,” said White. “I don’t know why people struggle with that.”

Greenhouse gases give us a livable environment, raising the Earth’s surface temperature by about 60°F. (33°C). Water vapor provides about half of the greenhouse effect.

“If we add a lot of greenhouses into the atmosphere, there will be more energy in the atmosphere and by definition the climate will change,” said White. That is, he added, a physical law, not a matter of belief.

Where has this heat been going? About 90 percent of the increased heat has gone to heat up water, mostly the oceans, and that takes time. “If you’re worried about climate on the planet, look at the ocean,” he said. Unfortunately, we don’t do a good job of monitoring the ocean, he added.

One bedeviling fact of climate change is the lag time of greenhouse gas emissions and their effects, 50 to 100 years.

Now, here’s the worrisome math: We were at 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the start of the industrial revolution two centuries ago. That had grown to just 315 ppm as Jack Kennedy began gearing up for his campaign to be president. Now, it’s at 402 ppm.

“We haven’t had 400 ppm for 3.5 to 4 million years,” observed White. At that time, there were alligators in the Arctic Circle and sea level was 20 to 30 meters higher than it is today.

Arctic sea ice extent for September 2015 fourth smallest since measurements started in the 1970s. The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Image/National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Arctic sea ice extent for September 2015 fourth smallest since measurements started in the 1970s. The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Image/National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Arctic Ocean has not yet warmed sufficiently to support alligators, but it has been thawing at a far more brisk pace than lower latitudes, including places like Colorado. The Arctic sea ice has been rapidly shrinking. Oil companies as well as the world’s major nations have been jockeying to exploit the enormous quantities of oil and gas believed to live below the ocean floor.

“Keep your eyes on the Arctic,” White advised.

With ice melting and the ocean warming, world sea levels will rise. “The physics here are very simple: you put water into a container and warm it up—and it expands,” said White. In addition, there will be melted ice as glaciers on Greenland and Antarctica dissolve.

“The rate of sea level rise is currently such that we expect about one meter of rise by 2100, a rate that is three to five times faster than has been common in the past record.”

A rise of three feet over a century’s time is nothing that people get excited about, but they should, said White. The cost of displacement will be enormous and the refugee issues today caused by war in Syria will seem trifling in comparison.

Efforts are underway in southern Florida to map the effects of the rising Atlantic Ocean. See: http://fiusm.com/2014/11/24/what-sea-level-rise-means-to-south-florida/
Efforts are underway in southern Florida to map the effects of the rising Atlantic Ocean. See: http://fiusm.com/2014/11/24/what-sea-level-rise-means-to-south-florida/

Sea level rise probably won’t stop at one meter, however. If we stay on our current course, a 10 degree increase in temperature is possible. That would mean about 20 meters (65 feet) of sea level rise. The White House would be on the beachfront and Delaware? Under water.

Because of the lag effect of greenhouse warming, we already have considerable warming locked into the atmospheric system. Future sea level rise is inevitable.

White likened it to a freight train. It takes a while to get going, but once it gets going, it takes a while to stop. But we haven’t even decided to slow the train.

“We have to manage expectations,” he said. “You can’t continue to burn fossil fuels and put C02 into the atmosphere and [think] you won’t change the world.”

White’s takeaways were that we must control population, we must empower women, and we must care about our shared planet.

#AnimasRiver: Interior Department Delivers Gold King Mine Technical Assessment to Environmental Protection Agency

goldkingminereport10222015cover

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation delivered a report on its Gold King Mine technical evaluation to the Environmental Protection Agency today. EPA requested an independent review to assess the cause of the August 2015 Gold King Mine Blowout near Silverton, Colo. and provide recommendations to prevent future incidents from occurring.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Technical Service Center in Lakewood, Colo. conducted the independent assessment on behalf of Interior. The TSC provides water resources management-related scientific, applied research, and engineering services. The report was peer reviewed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and produced in accord with Interior’s scientific integrity policy.

The report, entitled ‘Technical Evaluation of the Gold King Mine Incident,’ is available for viewing at http://on.doi.gov/1RdRhD6.

Here’s the executive summary from the report:

On the morning of August 5, 2015, mine reclamation activities led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) onsite project team triggered an uncontrolled rapid release of approximately 3 million gallons of acid mine water from the Gold King Mine located about 5 miles north of Silverton, Colorado. Commonly referred to as a “mine blowout,” the outflow carried with it iron­ oxyhydroxide sediments that had deposited inside the mine workings. The iron­ oxyhydroxide absorbed heavy metals when it formed in the mine, and when released it changed the acid water to a vivid orange-brown color. The blowout eroded soil and rock debris from the mine portal, eroded pyritic rock and soil from the adjoining waste-rock dump, and eroded road-embankment fill from several downstream unpaved road stream crossings. Most of the eroded rock, gravel, and sand were deposited in Cement Creek. As the flow continued downstream, deposition of small amounts of soil particles mixed with orange- brown iron-oxyhydroxide precipitates containing heavy metals continued to occur along the Animas River and San Juan Rivers until the plume reached Lake Powell in Utah on August 14, 2015.

EPA requested an independent technical evaluation of the Gold King Mine incident. The evaluation provided in this report was performed by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and peer reviewed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

In preparing this report, BOR found that the conditions and actions that led to the Gold King Mine incident are not isolated or unique, and in fact are surprisingly prevalent. The standards of practice for reopening and remediating flooded inactive and abandoned mines are inconsistent from one agency to another. There are various guidelines for this type of work but there is little in actual written requirements that government agencies are required to follow when reopening an abandoned mine.

The uncontrolled release at Gold King Mine was due to a series of events spanning several decades. Groundwater conditions in the upper reaches of Cement Creek have been significantly altered by the establishment of extensive underground mine workings, the extension of the American Tunnel to the Sunnyside Mine, and the subsequent plugging of the American Tunnel. The final events leading to the blowout and uncontrolled release of water occurred due to a combination of an inadequately designed closure of the mine portal in 2009 combined with a misinterpretation of the groundwater conditions when reopening the mine portal in 2014 and 2015.

In attempting to reopen the Gold King Mine, the EPA, in consultation with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS), concluded the adit was partially full of water based on excavations made in 2014 and 2015 into the downstream side of backfill placed at the portal. Adit seepage was observed in the downstream excavations to be emerging at an elevation about 6 feet above the adit floor. It was incorrectly concluded that the water level inside the mine was at a similar elevation, a few feet below the top of the adit roof. This error resulted in development of a plan to open the mine in a manner that appeared to guard against blowout, but instead led directly to the failure. The collapsed material in the adit and the backfill added in 2009 were derived from the collapsed rock and soil that contained a significant amount of clay. It was not a typical roof collapse comprised of mostly cohesionless broken rock. The clay content contributed to the significant attenuation (head loss) of flow in the collapsed debris and the placed backfill as the mine water flowed through it. Also, deposition of iron-oxyhydroxide sediments inside the mine likely contributed to additional reductions in the seepage flow as the sediment layer grew thicker with the passage of time. Changes in seepage were observed and documented in photographs in both 2014 and 2015, but its implications with respect to attenuation of the flow through the fill were not accounted for.
After the EPA project team concluded that the adit was not full to the top with water, they implemented a plan to open the mine in a manner similar to the one used successfully to reopen the adit at the nearby Red and Bonita Mine in 2011. The plan consisted of excavating the fill to expose the rock crown over the adit but leave the fill below the adit roof in place. Then a steel pipe (“stinger”) would be inserted through the fill and into the mine pool, a pump would be attached, and the water in the mine would be pumped down.

A critical difference between the Gold King plan and that used at the Red and Bonita Mine in 2011 was the use in the latter case of a drill rig to bore into the mine from above and directly determine the level of the mine pool prior to excavating backfill at the portal. Although this was apparently considered at Gold King, it was not done. Had it been done, the plan to open the mine would have been revised, and the blowout would not have occurred.

The incident at Gold King Mine is somewhat emblematic of the current state of practice in abandoned mine remediation. The current state of practice appears to focus attention on the environmental issues. Abandoned mine guidelines and manuals provide detailed guidance on environmental sampling, waste characterization, and water treatment, with little appreciation for the engineering complexity of some abandoned mine projects that often require, but do not receive, a significant level of expertise. In the case of the Gold King incident, as in many others, there was an absence of the following:

1. An understanding that water impounded behind a blocked mine opening can create hydraulic forces similar to a dam.

2. Analysis of potential failure modes.

3. Analysis of downstream consequences if failure were to occur.

4. Engineering considerations that analyze the geologic and hydrologic conditions of the general area.

5. Monitoring to ensure that the structure constructed to close the mine portal continues to perform as intended.

6. An understanding of the groundwater system affecting all the mines in the area and the potential for work on one mine affecting conditions at another.

This evaluation report provides a detailed account of the basis for these findings and recommendations for prudent engineering considerations that EPA (and others) should consider to preclude the occurrence of similar incidents.

It is important to note that although the USACE peer reviewer agreed that the report properly describes the technical causes of the failure, he had serious reservations with the chronology of events internal to EPA from the day of the telephone call to BOR and up to the day of the mine failure. He pointed out that the actual cause of failure is some combination of issues related to EPA internal communications, administrative authorities, and/or a break in the decision path, and that the report was non-specific regarding the source of information concerning EPA documents and interviews with EPA employees and the onsite contractor. The USACE believes that the investigation and report should have described what happened internal within EPA that resulted in the path forward and eventually caused the failure. The report discusses field observations by EPA (and why they continued digging), but does not describe why a change in EPA field coordinators caused the urgency to start digging out the plug rather than wait for BOR technical input as prescribed by the EPA project leader.

The BOR Evaluation Team (evaluation team) believed that it was hired to perform a technical evaluation of the causes of the incident, and was not asked to look into the internal communications of the onsite personnel, or to determine why decisions were made. The evaluation team did not believe it was requested to perform an investigation into a “finding of fault,” and that those separate investigative efforts would be performed by others more suitable to that undertaking.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Federal investigators said Thursday that engineering errors by an Environmental Protection Agency-contracted team “led directly” to the August Gold King Mine spill, which could have been prevented.

The much-anticipated 132-page report from the Interior Department following the spill of an estimated 3 million gallons of acidic mining sludge into the Animas River, pointed to miscalculations and poor planning…

The Interior Department was charged with conducting an independent investigation after national and international coverage of the event that turned the Animas River orange, shutting the river for eight days because of initial spikes in heavy metals, including lead, copper and cadmium.

The investigation revealed that the EPA team should have drilled into the mine from above in order to determine the level of the mine pool…

EPA officials said the agency is reviewing the report.

“This report, in combination with the findings of EPA’s internal review of the incident, will help inform EPA’s ongoing efforts to work safely and effectively at mine sites as we carry out our mission to protect human health and the environment,” said Nancy Grantham, an EPA spokeswoman.

As for not drilling into the mine to determine the level of water, Grantham said the team found that “site conditions made it difficult to undertake such drilling.”

The report is careful to point out that while the EPA team caused the incident, there could have been a blowout regardless.

“With the passage of time, the continued sediment buildup would have made the ‘plug’ even less able to transmit seepage flow. Eventually, even if no action had been taken, it may have failed on its own,” the report states.

Investigators also went on to highlight the historical context of the blowout, pointing out that the owners of the neighboring Sunnyside Mine installed bulkheads, increasing wastewater in nearby mines. Groundwater conditions in Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River, have also been altered by extensive underground mine workings, the extension of the American Tunnel to the Sunnyside Mine and the plugging of the American Tunnel.

“I, again, want to strongly warn the public and the regulators of the potential for catastrophic future failure of the concrete dams placed in the American Tunnel by the operators of the Sunnyside Mine, which would result in a blowout of many magnitudes greater than the one EPA triggered at the Gold King Mine,” Gold King Mine owner Todd Hennis said in a statement.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said he is focused on making sure future incidents are prevented, damages are assessed and the EPA makes good on its promise to repair damages and compensate victims.

“It’s what we believed from the beginning, this was preventable. It was a mistake, but it was not malicious,” Hickenlooper said. “The world is not a perfect place.”

One outstanding question is whether the state should file a lawsuit against the EPA. But the governor was cautious, stating: “It’s unclear whether there are sufficient damages to warrant the rather significant cost of a lawsuit. … Lawsuits should be a last resort.”

Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said the report adds a certain emphasis to any conversation on negligence.

“From a legal perspective, this adds an interesting layer to the story because … it does appear the report does establish negligence on behalf of the EPA, and that creates a different question about the nature of the accident,” Coffman said. “There are accidents that would have happened no matter what, and there are accidents that are preventable.”

The report stops short of assigning fault to any individuals, despite prior claims from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that it would determine fault and any negligence.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official whose review of the conclusions was included in the report expressed “serious reservations” over the EPA’s failure to explain exactly how its communications broke down and why its officials were so insistent on starting work without more information about the complexities involved.

Richard Olsen, a senior geotechnical engineer with the Corps, also questioned why a change in the EPA field coordinator for Gold King led to an “urgency to start digging” even though another EPA official had expressed some uncertainty about the potential risks.

That second EPA official in July asked for an outside review of the agency’s plans by one of the Bureau of Reclamation engineers involved in Thursday’s report. A meeting between the EPA and the engineer had been scheduled for Aug. 14 – nine days after the blowout.

The technical report on the causes of the Aug. 5 spill has implications across the country, where similar disasters could lurk among the hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that have yet to be cleaned up. Some estimates put the total cost of containing this mining industry mess at more than $50 billion.

The report says the root causes of the Colorado accident began decades earlier, when mining companies altered the flow of water through a series of interconnected tunnels in the extensively mined Upper Animas River watershed.

From the Associated Press (Matthew Graham) via The Farmington Daily Times:

The spill that fouled rivers in three states would have been avoided had the EPA team checked on water levels inside the Gold King Mine before digging into a collapsed and leaking mine entrance, Interior Department investigators concluded.

The technical report on the causes of the Aug. 5 spill has implications across the United States, where similar disasters could lurk among an estimated hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that have yet to be cleaned up. The total cost of containing this mining industry mess could top $50 billion, according to government estimates.

The root causes of the Colorado accident began decades ago, when mining companies altered the flow of water through a series of interconnected tunnels in the extensively mined Upper Animas River watershed, the report says.

EPA documents show its officials knew of the potential for a major blowout from the Gold King Minenear Silverton as early as June 2014. After the spill, EPA officials described the blowout as “likely inevitable” because millions of gallons of pressurized water had been bottling up inside the mine.

The Interior report directly refutes that assertion. It says the cleanup team could have used a drill rig to bore into the mine tunnel from above, safely gauging the danger of a blowout and planning the excavation accordingly. Instead, the EPA crew, with the agreement of Colorado mining officials, assumed the mine was only partially inundated.

“This error resulted in development of a plan to open the mine in a manner that appeared to guard against blowout, but instead led directly to the failure,” according to engineers from Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, who spent two months evaluating the accident…

Members of Congress seized on the report to slam the government’s handling of the spill. But whereas Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado focused their ire on the EPA, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, also of Colorado and a Democrat, repeated his call for industry reforms to speed mine cleanups.

Guidelines for cleaning up abandoned mines focus on details such as water sampling and treatment. Yet they have “little appreciation for the engineering complexity,” and require but don’t receive significant expertise, the Interior Department’s 132-page report concluded.

Plugging abandoned or inactive mines has been common industry practice for more than a century. The report lists 31 mines across the U.S. where so-called bulkheads were installed since the 1950s to stem the flow of water into or out of a mine.

With coal mines, monitoring and cleanups are funded in part by a fee companies pay. No such arrangements exist for inoperative hard-rock mines, and that’s a national problem, the report noted.

Given industry opposition to efforts to hold mine owners accountable, the cleanup has been left to a scattering of federal and state agencies, without common standards or even lists of the most problematic mines.

In the wake of the Gold King spill, EPA temporarily halted some work at 10 polluted mining complexes in Montana, California, Colorado and Missouri because of similar conditions.

Abandoned hard-rock underground mines are not subject to the same federal and state safety requirements other mining operations must follow, and “experience indicates that they should be,” the report concluded.

“A collapsed flooded mine is in effect a dam, and failure must be prevented by routine monitoring, maintenance, and in some cases remediation. However, there appears to be a general absence of knowledge of the risks associated with these facilities. A comprehensive identification of sites, evaluation of the potential to fail, and estimation of the likely downstream consequences should failure occur, are good first steps in such an endeavor.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley and Jesse Paul):

Man-made changes in the underground landscape, including installation of bulkhead plugs at the nearby Sunnyside Mine, primed conditions for the 3 million-gallon blowout, according to a 132-page report released by the U.S. Department of Interior.

The Aug. 5 spill above Silverton could have been avoided if the EPA and its contractors used a drill to check wastewater levels inside the mine before digging with heavy machinery to open a clogged portal, the report said…

“Current state of practice”

Tens of thousands of abandoned mines across Colorado and other Western states have yet to be cleaned up. And the federal investigators from Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation found that the conditions that led to the Gold King disaster “are not isolated or unique and in fact are surprisingly prevalent.”

There are no standards for reopening inactive mines, the review found.

However, cleanup workers in 2011 at the adjacent Red and Bonita Mine used a drill to bore into the mine from above and check the level of wastewater in the mine prior to excavating backfill at the portal.

“Although this was apparently considered at Gold King, it was not done. Had it been done, the plan to open the mine would have been revised, and the blowout would not have occurred,” the report said.

EPA officials pointed to their internal review blaming “technical challenges, safety, timing and cost” as factors in why the agency failed to drill into the mine to check the level of wastewater. They also blamed “the steepness and instability of slopes” at the mine, citing safety.

The investigation concluded the Gold King disaster “is somewhat emblematic of the current state of practice in abandoned mine remediation. The current state of practice appears to focus attention on the environmental issues.

“Abandoned mine guidelines and manuals provide detailed guidance on environmental sampling, waste characterization, and water treatment, with little appreciation for the engineering complexity of some abandoned mine projects that often require, but do not receive, a significant level of expertise.”

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet issued a statement saying “the EPA made unacceptable mistakes and did not have adequate procedures in place.” Bennet said he is working on legislation to shield groups that embark on voluntary cleanups at inactive mines from liability and on “hard rock mining reform” to help clean up mines and reduce the risk to communities.

House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing recap

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Mining-reclamation experts this week told a congressional panel that good Samaritan legislation and funding for restoration efforts are “inseparably tied together.”

The comments came during a hearing Wednesday on good Samaritan cleanups of abandoned mines, held by the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment…

In the wake of the Gold King incident, Congress has taken a look at how to address tens of thousands of inactive leaking mines across the nation. At least 23,000 mines have been identified in Colorado alone.

The debate has hit familiar political currents, with Republicans pushing back against efforts to collect fees and royalties from hard-rock mining to fund restoration efforts. Instead, the GOP favors legislative efforts to eliminate liability concerns for private entities – referred to as good Samaritans – who want to independently restore inactive mines…

“The lesson from Gold King is not so much that an EPA contractor screwed up, as it is that we need to have a much greater sense of urgency about addressing the problem of pollution from abandoned mines all across the nation,” said Chris Wood, president and chief executive of Trout Unlimited.

Republicans on the committee pushed back, highlighting that good Samaritan legislation might be the only pragmatic thing to consider.

“Would you prefer having no cleanup be performed at an abandoned mine site, or having a good Samaritan perform a cleanup?” asked Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana.

Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks, said it is not an either/or conversation.

“I would hope we could also get good Samaritans additional funding from reclamation funds to do these cleanups,” Pagel said.

Doug Young, senior policy director for the Keystone Policy Center in Colorado, cautioned against repeating the same discussions from the past, encouraging lawmakers to steer away from addressing the issue through the Clean Water Act.

Instead, Young suggested taking a look at reforms to the federal Superfund program, which targets blighted areas. He also advocated for offering incentives to good Samaritans to bring their own resources.

“I agree this is a major funding issue,” Young said. “I just think there’s a way we can do this without directly having to assess a fee or royalty.”

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: Comments sought for decommission plan

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Public comment is being sought on a Quality Assurance Project Plan designed to help health officials oversee decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill.

The plan establishes the requirements for environmental data collection. It can be viewed at recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm

State health officials will be accepting informal public comments until Nov. 13. Submit comments to Jennifer Opila at jennifer.opila@state.co.us.