EPA and Partners Launch Challenge to Recycle Nutrients from Livestock Waste

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pork and dairy producers, and environmental and scientific experts to launch the Nutrient Recycling Challenge, a competition to develop affordable technologies that recycle nutrients from livestock waste.

Every year, livestock producers manage more than one billion tons of manure, which contains valuable nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – that plants need to grow. Challenge participants will develop technologies that extract nutrients from livestock manure to generate products with environmental and economic benefits that farmers can use or sell.

“Scientists and engineers are already building technologies that can recover nutrients, but further development is needed to make them more effective and affordable,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “The Nutrient Recycling Challenge will harness the power of competition to find solutions that are a win-win for farmers, the environment, and the economy.”

During the four-phase competition, innovators will turn their concepts into designs and eventually into working technologies that livestock farms will use in pilot projects.

Phase I, which begins Nov. 16 and ends Jan. 15, calls for papers outlining ideas for these technologies. Phase I prizes will be announced in March and include up to $20,000 cash to be split between up to four semi-finalists; invitation to a two-day partnering and investor summit in Washington, DC; and entry into subsequent phases of the challenge with larger awards. Final awards will be announced January 2017, with farm demonstration pilots to follow.

Partners in the Nutrient Recycling Challenge are:

• American Biogas Council
• American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers
• Ben & Jerry’s
• Cabot Creamery Cooperative
• Cooper Farms
• CowPots
• Dairy Farmers of America
• Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy
• Iowa State University
• Marquette University
• National Milk Producers Federation
• National Pork Producers Council
• Newtrient LLC
• Smithfield Foods
• Strategic Conservation Solutions
• Tyson Foods
• U.S. Department of Agriculture
• Washington State University
• Water Environment Research Federation
• World Wildlife Fund

For more information: http://www.nutrientrecyclingchallenge.org

#AnimasRiver: Colorado disputes key part of EPA’s account of toxic waste spill from old mine — USNews.com

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

From USNews.com (Dan Elliott):

Colorado officials say they didn’t endorse an Environmental Protection Agency cleanup operation that caused a massive spill of toxic wastewater from an inactive mine, disputing a key claim by federal agencies that state experts signed off on the plan.

State officials neither approved nor disapproved of the operation, according to a Sept. 2 letter to the EPA from Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The Associated Press obtained the letter through an open records request.

King’s letter is a blow to the EPA’s contention that outside technical experts supported its plan to push a drainage pipe through debris covering the entrance to the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado on Aug. 5. The debris gave way, unleashing a torrent of 3 million gallons of wastewater laden with heavy metals from inside the mine.

The letter also raises questions about an investigation of the spill by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which claimed two mining experts from the state approved of the project. Some members of Congress have questioned whether the bureau’s investigation was sufficiently independent. The bureau is part of the Interior Department and is separate from the EPA.

The Bureau of Reclamation had no immediate comment on King’s letter. Spokesman Peter Soeth said Thursday the employee who wrote the report was out of the office and could not be reached.

The EPA said it was reviewing King’s letter. In a written statement, the agency said only its inspector general received the letter, and other officials didn’t see it until Tuesday…

An EPA internal review made public Aug. 26 said the two mining experts from the state Department of Natural Resources and EPA officials believed the water inside the mine was under little or no pressure. The EPA said the state experts were at the Gold King Mine on the day of the spill in a supporting role for the cleanup operation.

But King’s letter said the state experts didn’t make any determination of how high the water pressure was inside the mine. He said they were not involved in the Gold King operation and had gone to the mine only because an EPA official at the scene wanted to talk to them about future work there, not the work going on that day.

The Bureau of Reclamation report, released seven weeks after King’s letter, described the two state experts as being even more deeply involved than the EPA report did.

The state experts discussed the EPA plan for the Gold King Mine with the chief EPA official on scene “and were in agreement to proceed,” the Bureau of Reclamation report said.

In an email to the AP, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said that was incorrect. He did not elaborate.

Hartman said a Bureau of Reclamation official spoke with both the state mining experts before the report was issued.

He said the department would not make the two experts available for an interview. They were identified as Bruce Stover, director of the Inactive Mine Reclamation Program, and Allen Sorenson, project manager and geological engineer for the same program.

“We appreciate what EPA was attempting to do at the Gold King mine,” King said later Thursday in a statement. “We share EPA’s desire to see those historic mine sites cleaned up. The investigation’s conclusions into the events surrounding the discharge were not consistent with our staff’s involvement and we felt it important to make sure the investigators were aware of our perspective. The letter speaks for itself.”

Providers utilizing the Denver Basin Aquifer are moving towards supply security

Denver Basin aquifer map
Denver Basin aquifer map

From the Centennial Citizen (Paul Donahue and Eric Hecox):

Is our water future secure?

It’s a question on the minds of many in Castle Rock and the entire south metro Denver region — and for good reason. After all, water is what makes our outstanding quality of life possible. If we want future generations to enjoy our communities as we do, we must ensure they have access to a secure and sustainable water supply that meets their future needs.

From conversations throughout the region, we know Castle Rock residents and those in the entire south metro area understand the critical role water plays in delivering the quality of life we desire for our children, in addition to supporting property values, job creation and economic growth.

We know residents are aware the region historically has relied too heavily on declining groundwater supplies and must diversify its supply for long-term sustainability. We know they view water as a top priority for the region and support an all-of-the-above approach that includes conservation and reuse, storage and new renewable supplies.

We also know Castle Rock residents as well as residents across the south metro area value partnership among leaders throughout the region to get the job done in the most economically responsible manner. Working together to secure water rights, build infrastructure and efficiently use storage space helps spread the costs and the benefits to customers throughout the region.

The answer to the question on people’s minds is not clear-cut. While our region is on the path to delivering a secure water future for generations to come, this effort is ongoing and will require continued support from our communities to see it through to the end.

The good news is that we have a plan, and we are executing that plan.

Thanks to innovative conservation approaches, the region has seen a 30 percent decrease in per capita water use since 2000. That means the typical south metro household or business, including those in Castle Rock, is using 30 percent less water than just 15 years ago. Declines in the region’s underground aquifers — historically the main water source for the region — have slowed considerably in that same time period, a testament to efforts across the region to diversify water supplies and maximize efficiency through reuse.

At the same time, major new water infrastructure projects are coming online throughout the region that bring new renewable supplies, storage capacity and reuse capabilities. These include the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership with Denver Water, Aurora and several other regional organizations including Castle Rock Water, the Chatfield Reallocation Project, Rueter-Hess Reservoir, the Northern Project and Castle Rock’s Plum Creek Purification Facility, to name a few.

The 13 members that make up the South Metro Water Supply Authority provide water to 80 percent of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County. Together, they are partnering among each other as well as with local government leadership and water entities across the region and state to execute their plan to secure a sustainable water future for the region.

Since becoming a member of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, Castle Rock Water has helped lead implementation of the WISE project, new water storage reservoir projects and other regional renewable water supply efforts. WISE water will be available to Castle Rock residents by 2017 and even earlier for some of the other South Metro residents. A project like WISE represents as much as 10 percent of the renewable water needed for both current and future residents in Castle Rock.

The members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, including Castle Rock, each have long-term water plans. Through partnerships, these projects are made possible by sharing in the needed investments and other resources when completing the time-consuming task of acquiring additional renewable water and building the required infrastructure.

This collaboration is supported by the state and is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. This regional support has been critical in providing feasible strategies to ensure water for future generations.

Is our water future secure? No, not yet. But we’re well on our way to getting there.

Paul Donahue is the mayor of Castle Rock and has served on the town council for eight years. Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority made up of 13 water provider members that collectively serve more than 300,000 residents as well as businesses in the south metro Denver area. South Metro Water’s membership spans much of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County, including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Pines.

Trustees approve contract for hydroplant, hatchery flood work — Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Estes Park
Estes Park

From the Estes Park Trail Gazette (David Persons):

The Estes Park Town Board approved on Tuesday night a professional services contract and a design-build contract to the FlyWater/Otak team for the Fall River hydroplant and upper Fish Hatchery reaches stabilization project.

The Fall River channel and stream banks between the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary and downstream of the western-most Fish Hatchery Bridge (Project Reach) experienced significant damage as a result of the 2013 flood and now pose a public safety hazard.

This damage included the loss of fish habitat, damage to the channel, significant bank erosion, and areas of considerable deposition. Approximately 100 feet of the historic 30-inch iron penstock connecting the Cascade Dam and the Hydroplant was exposed due to stream bank erosion.

The proposed project work consists of approximately 3,250 linear feet of stream bank stabilization and channel restoration along a reach of Fall River. The project reach is defined by 2,700 feet from the Hydroplant Museum going west to the border of Rocky Mountain National Park and 550 feet going east of the Hydroplant Museum defined as the Upper Fish Hatchery reach. These contract agreements include finalizing the remaining portion of the design and completing all construction work.

Estes Park Environmental Planner Tina Kurtz explained to the board that the $300,000 two-phase project will be funded in two ways.

Kurtz said a CDBG-DR grant for $150,000 is pending the Environmental Assessment which should be completed later this month. The funding request is expected to be granted in December. An additional grant for $150,000 from Colorado Senate Bill 14-179 requires a 1-to-1 match. The CDBG-DR grant would be considered that match…

Later on Tuesday night, the town board voted to reallocate $780,000 in the CDBG-DR grant from the Scott Ponds and put it toward the Fall River hydroplant and upper Fish Hatchery reaches stabilization project.

Mining industry backs ‘Good Samaritan’ fix for Gold King — The Colorado Statesman

Summitville Mine superfund site
Summitville Mine superfund site

From The Colorado Statesman (David O. Williams):

Mention the practice of re-mining to anyone familiar with Colorado mining history, and the specter of the 1990’s Summitville disaster — dwarfing last summer’s Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River — is likely to loom large.

Taxpayers have doled out more than $150 million to try to clean up the mess left by a Canadian company that declared bankruptcy in 1992 after it dug up old mine works in the San Juan Mountains near Del Norte and piled them into a cyanide heap leach to extract gold, silver and copper.

But once the company pulled the plug, acid mine drainage made its way downstream, where it killed off a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. Colorado and federal regulators had to scramble to keep the situation from becoming even worse.

Re-mining, or going back in to recover minerals from old, abandoned mines, is now being mentioned as a possible means of getting modern mining companies to help clean up the toxic drainage from thousands of old, abandoned hardrock mines contaminating streams across the West – like the Gold King Mine near Silverton.

“Yes, I support [re-mining] as long as it’s done in a safe and responsible manner,” U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, recently told The Colorado Statesman. Lamborn last month introduced the Locatable Minerals Claim Location and Maintenance Fees Act to “incentivize private sector actors to remediate abandoned mine lands.”

Under Lamborn’s bill, so-called “Good Samaritan” permits would provide limited liability protections for non-profit groups, local governments and the mining industry to clean up abandoned mines. Under current law, Lamborn says the most qualified parties for cleanup efforts are “scared away” by the possibility of assuming 100-percent liability for old mine sites.

Re-mining is floated as a way to incentivize and help pay for cleaning up old mines, but some environmental groups balk at the idea of letting modern mining companies take on old mine messes because of the possibility of making things worse.

“That’s why we wrote the bill so that if you act in a grossly negligent or even willfully negligent way, you still have huge liability, so only people who are using good-faith efforts are able to be exempt from liability,” Lamborn said. “Anyone else who’s a bad actor is not let off the hook.”

Lauren Pagel, policy director of the nonprofit environmental group Earthworks, testified last month before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment that the mining industry cannot be allowed to call the shots with Good Samaritan cleanup legislation.

“If a ‘Good Sam’ version passes that the mining industry favors, it would allow a private entity to create an Animas [River]-type spill, and exempt the polluting party from responsibility for their mistake or from compensating damaged communities downstream,” Pagel said.

But Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, said Good Samaritan legislation will remove the disincentives to private-sector cleanups of abandoned mines, which include perpetual liability under the Clean Water Act and operator status under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA — the law overarching EPA Superfund.

“Public sector and EPA cleanups will continue, but to the extent that private-sector mining companies are allowed to participate, there is no harm in allowing those companies to help defray costs through the removal of any minerals they may be able to extract,” Sanderson said.

Doug Young, senior policy director of the Keystone Policy Center, a nonprofit conflict-resolution organization based in Keystone, is working is help draft Good Samaritan legislation that works for everyone. He told the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment he’s been working on the issue for 20 years and hopes to avoid the usual pitfalls.

“There are folks who are nervous about the idea of re-mining, because it could be a loophole that could be abused, meaning people go in and the cleanup is secondary to recovering minerals,” Young told The Statesman, adding that cleanup has to come first. “We don’t want more Summitvilles or more Gold King Mines. There’s a way you can craft it to be careful about that.”

Good Sam sans mining reform

Pagel argues the EPA already has a process called an Administrative Order of Consent that removes liability for groups truly interested in cleaning up old mines. What’s really needed, in her opinion, is reform of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, which does not require royalties for mining hardrock minerals on public lands. Such a pool of money could be used for cleanup of the thousands of abandoned mines leaching into streams around the West.

“The only way to begin to address the pollution associated with old mine sites is to create a robust Hardrock Mine Reclamation Fund — similar to the fund that was created in the 1970s for the coal mining industry,” Pagel testified.

Lamborn, however, says mining reform is a non-starter in a Congress controlled by his party, primarily because it will kill mining projects and jobs.

“[Earthworks’] approach to reforming the mining act is never going to happen, so they’re chasing a pipe dream — plus it’s a totally different subject anyway,” Lamborm said. “To obtain a global solution is simply beyond what can be accomplished right now, so some people are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet last week joined New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, all Democrats, introducing the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015, which would reform the mining act to charge royalties and create a cleanup fund.

But Young, who worked on Good Samaritan legislation for years for Tom Udall’s cousin, former Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, says mining reform is too tough a fight in the current congressional gridlock.

“If you create a program of Good Samaritan and deal with the liability, the funding will come without having to do a frontal, uphill political battle of either amending the 1872 Mining Law or proposing other fees and royalty funding provisions,” Young said, adding there are 30 watershed groups in Colorado focused primarily on abandoned mine drainage.

Superfund tour through Colorado paints positive picture — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

It was a long, difficult road as the community of Leadville went through a more-than-20-year process through the Environmental Protection Agency’s hazardous cleanup Superfund program. But local government officials here on Thursday told a large constituency of Southwest Coloradoans that, ultimately, it was worth it.

Various agencies from the Animas River watershed are on a three-day tour of several Superfund sites in Colorado, hoping to gain knowledge on the process as stakeholders look to make a decision about long-term water treatment in the Animas basin.

The situation in Leadville, in many ways, has a striking similarity with the leaking mine network north of Silverton – with its long mining history, relative isolation and fragile economy…

But after more than a century of unregulated mining in Leadville, a two-hour drive west of Denver, an adit suffered a blowout, causing a die-off along the Arkansas River down to Pueblo. In 1983, Leadville was placed on the EPA’s Superfund list, just a few years after the program was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the town was officially taken off the National Priorities List. After the many battles between local, state and federal agencies, local officials there said it left a bittersweet feeling throughout the community.

“In the beginning, it definitely had an impact on our economic development,” said Howard Tritz, an assessor at the time. “It was a real obstacle. But the stigma of being a Superfund site has pretty much blown away; people are starting to come back here. It was bittersweet.”[…]

Melissa Sheets, a reclamation project manager with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said this week’s tour, which includes a number of stakeholders, is a sign the agencies have learned from past mistakes in dealing with local communities.

“I think we’re learning as Superfund grows up,” Sheets said. “Unfortunately for this community (Leadville), they got the Superfund designation when this program was brand new, so I think they got a lot of the bumps in the road. This outreach we’re doing is absolutely unprecedented. We’re trying to make sure everyone has an opportunity for input.”

After visiting Leadville, the group went to Minturn’s Eagle Mine Superfund site, where residents said there really was no other option beside Superfund.

“There’s always some tension and disagreement as to what cleanup measures are going to be most effective,” said Bob Weaver of Leonard Rich Engineering. “But it’s really important to realize everybody wants to achieve the same goal. You’re not always going to agree, but it’s a lot better than doing nothing.

Representatives from the Animas River were sure to point out the many differences between Leadville and Minturn, ranging from potentially responsible parties to differences in geology. But San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman said overall it’s been a productive trip.

“I’ve learned a hell of a lot,” he said. “Anything we’re going to get is from working together. That’s what we’re doing here.”

Durango Mayor Dean Brookie said seeing the actual physical implementation of Superfund helped push the decision-making process…

Leadville Mayor Jaime Stuever offered one last bit of advice for the group before a tour of the California Gulch Superfund site.

“We live in an environment in today’s world were we have problems,” he said. “If you look at how many years mining took place here, you realize it takes a long time to clean up a mess that’s been here many, many years. How could we have done it ourselves? We couldn’t have done it ourselves.”