Colorado mountain residents blitzed EPA and state officials with questions about cleanup of inactive mines, deeply mistrustful after the EPA-triggered Gold King disaster yet largely leaning towards a superfund approach to stop contamination of Animas River headwaters.
Nearly 50 gathered for a first public meeting Wednesday night in Silverton after local elected leaders held closed talks exploring possible federal help.
“If we do go down this process. … what assurances do we have that we’ll have funding to go into the remedial phase?” San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay asked, leading off questioning.
“Are we just going to have more and more meetings?… We want to see some action,” Commissioner Ernest Kuhlman asked.
Among life-long residents of the area, contractor John Richardson, 68, a fly fisherman, said he favors a broad multi-basin cleanup. “I wouldn’t mind seeing mining come back, but I want to see it all cleaned up,” he said outside the town hall.
In the talks, the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials and local elected leaders reached agreement on a goal of cleaning up Animas headwaters and that the town of Silverton would not be included in a possible disaster designation to launch a superfund cleanup – a key local demand.
But the EPA and locals disagree as to whether an EPA-run cleanup would include just upper Cement Creek — the local preference — or other basins where acidic, metals-laced drainage from inactive mines drains into the Animas River.
The scope of a National Priority List designation was a big part of the talks, said EPA’s Johanna Miller, regional director of superfund site assessment, in an interview.
“We’re all agreed the town of Silverton would not be included, because that is a soils issue, not a water issue,” Miller said. A broader cleanup, beyond Cement Creek to include the Eureka Basin area just east of Silverton, may be necessary, she said. “Limiting it to one basin might not achieve the water quality improvements.”
While EPA officials favor a broad National Priority List designation, Silverton and San Juan County officials have been raising local concerns such as the potential for truck damage to Silverton’s streets and housing for workers they say the EPA would need to provide. And residents widely are worried about timing. “Do you think the remedial process will happen in our lifetimes?” ski businessman Grady Ham asked in the meeting. Superfund cleanups typically run for decades, limited by congressional funding.
Silverton and San Juan County officials have pressed for a narrow environmental disaster designation, covering only the upper Cement Creek area where the Gold King, Red and Bonita, Mogul and Sunnyside and other inactive mines are located, about seven miles north of Silverton. Gov. John Hickenlooper would have to request any designation — by early February if EPA officials are to consider it for a listing this year.
EPA and CDPHE officials have said it’s too early to discuss details of any remedy because the EPA and CDPHE would have to conduct a remediation investigation and a feasibility study.
The EPA set up a temporary water treatment system near the Gold King and Red and Bonita mines to filter out and neutralize heavy metals in settling ponds.
Whether or not to seek an official environmental disaster designation is a question that vexes residents of Silverton (pop. 500), an icy mountain hamlet beneath dozens of old mines leaking acidic metals-laced waste into creeks, which also contain natural concentrations of minerals. And residents’ ambivalence was clear as they asked about whether property owners could be prosecuted and whether, since the EPA caused the Gold King Disaster, the agency would be charged with running a water treatment plant in perpetuity.
“It looks like we don’t have any other choice” but to seek a federal Superfund cleanup, said Vicky Skow at the Kendall Mountain Cafe. “We need the money to clean up, or people won’t come to town.”
Among those opposed to a Superfund cleanup is Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine and of land near the former town of Gladstone where the EPA has set up the temporary water treatment system.
…the climate phenomenon known as El Niño has turned its intensity up to 11 in recent weeks, directing a firehose of moisture at the Southwestern U.S., including drought-plagued California…
This week, forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center in Maryland announced the ongoing El Niño was just as strong as the 1997-98 event — which was the strongest such event on record since reliable data began in 1950. That’s based on sea surface temperature departures from average in a particular area of the tropical Pacific Ocean, known as the “Nino 3.4 region” (other indices using atmospheric measurements actually show this event to be slightly stronger than the 1997-98 event).
Yet this El Niño is not like the 1997-98 event, nor is it all that similar to the other huge El Niño of the past several decades, which occurred in 1982-83. For one thing, the atmosphere and ocean system are doing some strange things across the Pacific Ocean, compared to what one might expect during a “typical” El Niño event.
For example, the western equatorial tropical Pacific Ocean has much milder water than would typically be seen during such an event, and the east-to-west trade winds blowing across the world’s largest ocean have not completely relaxed or reversed, as they often do during a strong El Niño.
In other words, if you look up El Niño in a climatology textbook, you’d see marked differences between the classic maps illustrating a strong event, and this one.
“While certain measures and certain indices and variables we look at at certain times may look like 1997-98… I think every El Niño expert is looking at this and saying ‘whoa, what a unique animal we have here,'” said Michelle L’Heureux, a climate forecaster and El Niño specialist at the Climate Prediction Center.
But most of all, this El Niño is taking place against the backdrop of global warming, meaning it is occurring at a time when the oceans are hotter and the air is milder and laden with more moisture, on a global basis, than it has ever been before in human history.
During 2015, global ocean temperatures repeatedly set all-time high temperature records and then exceeded them the month later. Specifically, parts of every major ocean basin were record warm during much of 2015. In November, the most recent month for which such data is available, the global sea surface temperature was the highest on record for that month, surpassing the previous record set in 2014 by 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0.20 degrees Celsius.
The average global sea surface temperature for the year-to-date was the highest for January–November in the 136-year period of record, at 1.30 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0.72 degrees Celsius, above average, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0.09 degrees Celsius. It’s likely that scientists will announce within the next week that 2015 featured the warmest oceans of any year on record. This is due in part to El Niño, but largely manmade global warming.
While El Niño can account for an unusually mild Pacific Ocean, for example, it cannot account for the fact that parts of every major ocean basin were record warm in August and for much of 2015. It also cannot account for the rapid accumulation of ocean heat well below the surface that has been taking place.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at Stanford University, told Mashable that the eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean is warmer right now at this time of year than it has ever been, and this has a big effect on the weather in the midlatitudes.
No El Niño event is the same, Swain said, but since the last supercharged-El Niño ended in 1998, there has been more than a decade of global warming. “This record event is evolving in a different climate context than any of the events that we’ve previously observed,” he said.
This doesn’t mean that we have no idea what this El Niño will bring. Case in point: The forecast for a wet mid-to-late winter in California, which appears to be panning out. But it does mean that, increasingly, we should expect the unexpected.
“El Niño is still El Niño, but it’s a different El Niño,” Swain said.
The state health department and the Environmental Protection Agency are requiring commercial and industrial water lines to be equipped with backflow devices which prevent the spread of contaminated water into a community’s drinking water system. The Holly Trustees were briefed on the development during their monthly January meeting by Mark Hartman, a water circuit rider, representing the Colorado Rural Water Association in Pueblo. The governing state ordinance 11.39(1), regarding the Backflow Prevention and Cross-Connection Control Rule, states that, “For all public water systems, the supplier must comply with the requirements specified in this rule beginning January 1, 2016.” The devices need to be installed at a reachable service line or a plumbing fixture and must be inspected annually to maintain their proper function. Holly Town Administrator, Jerry L’Estrange, presented the Trustees with a sample ordinance on the regulations last month for their review.
Hartman suggested the Trustees become pro-active in their efforts to achieve compliance before the state steps in and begins to levy fines and penalties for any delays. “The faster you work on this, the better off you will be in determining your own timeline for completion,” he stated, adding that the state health department isn’t showing a lot of leniency right now when it comes to issuing fines. “The state will come in and do an audit, a Sanitary Survey, to make sure your water system is in compliance with state regulations,” he explained. Usually, a community is given 120 days to make needed corrections to make sure that all public water systems are protected from backflow potential. He added, “The sooner you begin to make corrections after your receive results from your Sanitary Survey, it shows that you’re acting in earnest as opposed to delaying which could be interpreted that you’re acting in duress, and that could make a difference with the state.” Each customer, he said, would be responsible for having the device installed at their location.
L’Estrange said the Trustees need to agree on and approve an ordinance which will follow the rules and regulations for the backflow devices. Hartman said there are usually four steps which a community should follow to get set up: develop an ordinance, outline and plans and regulations, take a survey of all the commercial and industrial customers and provide a public education campaign so residents become aware of the needs for the system. He estimated the timeline to take about a year and a half for the project for Holly. He added that the town is not alone in this situation as all small communities throughout the state will be impacted.
For more than 50 years, the federal government has recommended adding fluoride to drinking water because it can prevent teeth demineralization.
The local effort to eliminate fluoride from drinking water has been lead by Jim Forleo, a chiropractor who said too much fluoride can have negative effects such as joint pain.
“They are giving us a drug without our consent,” he said.
However, the panel argued fluoridation helps strengthen teeth and lower the average number of cavities in adults and children.
“This is one of the most cost-effective prevention strategies you can develop,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s executive director and chief medical officer.
Community water fluoridation is a primary attack against cavities, and it promotes healthy teeth development, especially among children in poorer communities who have limited access to dental care, he said.
While many factors including diet contribute to cavities, the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water helps lower acidity in the mouth.
“It’s constantly bathing the teeth to counteract that demineralization,” said James Sutherland.
In the meeting, fluoride opponents, countered that while a certain amount of fluoride may be safe, shouldn’t the weight and medical condition of the person help determine the appropriate dose.
“At what point do we know what the dosage is?”asked Jane Burnier.
In April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended lowering the dosage of fluoride because so many people are exposed to it in toothpaste and mouthwash.
The Utilities Commission will talk about how to structure the decision-making process in February. It could make a recommendation as early as March, Chairman John Ballew said. But the commission is not on a set timetable.
Once a recommendation is made, Durango City Council will have the final say because fluoridation is not required by any government agency.
Join us Friday, January 15 for our 3rd Annual Permit Party and the film premiere of “River of Sorrow” by Rig to Flip. Doors open at 6PM and the film starts at 7. Live music by Last Nickel begins at 8. A silent auction with incredible gear and adventures (like a trip for 2 down the Yampa River!) will be held from 6 to 8:30. Tasty vittles from Absolute Bakery and beer from Dolores River Brewery will be available for purchase. Childcare and children’s activities will be provided so bring the whole family! Tickets are $10 at the door, $5 for students, and kids 12 and under are free! Don’t miss this incredible annual celebration of the Dolores River!
Flood-related issues were just part of a package of topics that Domenico and Commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner covered in their “State of the County” review of what they identified as Boulder County’s accomplishments in 2015 — and what residents can expect from their county government in 2016.
They led off their annual report by noting that it may take another couple of years to complete flood recovery efforts and get more of Boulder County’s flood victims permanently resettled.
Last year, Boulder County spent about $11 million on flood-related road and bridge work. This year, repairs and replacements of county government’s transportation infrastructure are expected to cost another $41 million.
This year’s flood recovery projects on county parks and open space lands are to include work at Pella Ponds south of Hygiene and the Walden Ponds Wildlife Habitat southwest of North 75th Street and Jay Road, as well as continuing repairs to the Anne U. White Trail that runs through the Fourmile Creek Canyon.
Boulder County will be continue providing flood-survivor case management services to connect residents with available funding toward their still-unmet needs after the 2013 devastation. The commissioners said the county expects to be responsible for trying to close about 235 of those still-open cases.
The commissioners also highlighted numerous non-flood-related projects and services planned for the coming year. Among them:
The Parks and Open Space Department will continue working toward a goal of having at least 20 percent of the croplands it leases to private farmers be certified as organic, or in transition to organic, by the year 2020.
Pueblo County commissioners are close to closing one chapter of their 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System, but some other parts remain an open book.
Commissioners Monday received staff’s findings on revegetation and land restoration efforts by Colorado Springs Utilities under the 1041 permit. They are expected to finalize that at a public hearing at 9 a.m. Jan. 25.
The findings would allow the release of about $674,000 in bonds held for the 17-mile route of buried SDS pipeline through Pueblo County. The issue has been touchy because of concerns about the sufficiency of ground cover and the legal challenge brought by Walker Ranches.
Walker Ranches settled differences with Utilities in a $7.1 million agreement that included an ongoing partnership between Utilities and landowner Gary Walker to take care of problems along that 7-mile leg.
The county’s experts concur with Colorado Springs that other efforts have been sufficient to restore the land to the same condition as surrounding areas, but commissioners want to be sure that Colorado Springs won’t just walk away if drought returns and the work along the pipeline route is damaged.
As a result, Utilities will annually inspect the easement and issue a report to the county.
Commissioners also want to hear public concerns.
“None of us wanted to approve the findings until they are posted for comment,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. The findings are available from County Planning Director Joan Armstrong or online at the county’s website.
Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen said the report filed by county land-use attorney Gary Raso captured the board’s intentions, while creating a manageable path for Utilities.
Commissioner Terry Hart wanted to be sure the Jan. 25 hearing could include more public testimony if it is warranted.
Raso said the county settlement does not preclude private landowners who are not satisfied from taking action on their own.
The revegetation issues are covered under just two of the 30 terms and conditions of the 1041 permit. Some of those have been satisfied under previous agreements, but two big pieces of the puzzle remain unsolved:
The timing of $50 million in payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The district has taken the position that the payment is due now, but Utilities maintains it would not start until after water has been delivered to customers.
The sufficiency of stormwater control. The Environmental Protection Agency last month announced possible legal action against Colorado Springs for violation of its stormwater permit.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is scheduled to meet with commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 25, primarily on the stormwater issue. The Fountain Creek board likely will discuss the payment issue at its Jan. 22 meeting.
Utilities plans for the 50-mile SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs to be online by April, Project Director John Fredell said Monday.
Pueblo County wants to hear your opinion on whether Colorado Springs Utilities is doing its job to restore land after building the Southern Delivery System…
It says Springs Utilities has held up its end of the bargain…
Commissioners will make a decision Jan. 25 on whether the group has done enough to restore the land, but they need your help to decide that.
“We want to take input from those who have been impacted or anyone else that has an opinion about whether or not revegetation and restoration has been met,” County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen said.
You can share your thoughts with the county by calling 583-6105 or you can go to to Pueblo County Commissioner’s meeting on Jan. 25 at 9 a.m.
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):
For many westerners, concerns over the future of water are as important as the economy and unemployment, according to results from Colorado College’s 2016 Conservation in the West poll.
The sixth annual State of the Rockies Project poll of thousands of residents in seven western states shows many people fear for the future of water in the West. The sentiment might come from a change in national economics and a rash of news about drought, said Eric Perramond, the director of CC’s State of the Rockies.
“I would say that the concerns for water use now equal and just barely exceed concern about unemployment. And that’s not unexpected given the economic recovery,” Perramond said. “(And) like most Americans, we tend to pay more attention when something is in our face.”
Conducted through phone calls to 2,800 people, the poll also gauged public opinion on federal public lands, another hot topic in the West where a Sagebrush-style rebellion in Oregon broke out in protest of federal ownership. The poll indicated public opinion seems to favor certain public lands remaining under federal oversight.
The State of the Rockies poll tends to cut through the political rhetoric, said Brendan Boepple, the project’s assistant director. When it comes to public lands and resources, people seem to be more willing to cooperate than political agendas would lead them to believe, he said.
“I think our polling shows that a lot of people want to come together on these issues,” Boepple said.
More than 80 percent – and in some cases 90 percent – of those polled in southwest states rated low river level as having high importance.
While concerns from Colorado residents weren’t as high as those of New Mexicans, Colorado recently completed its first statewide water plan, an answer to concerns that Colorado is unprepared to meet a future with more people and less water. Coloradans are also more willing to reduce water consumption than residents of other states, the poll found.
The Colorado water plan, released in December, offered many solutions to state water shortages – among them building more storage, taking water from agriculture and conservation. But if anything, the poll suggests that the days of public support for dams are over. Those polled staunchly favored conservation as the best way to handle shortage, and were opposed to diversions and reservoirs.
“That should be encouraging, at least to state water planners,” Perramond said. “In some ways it echoes what we have seen in the past 30 to 40 years. Any new facilities are hugely controversial and really difficult to get any support for.”
This year the poll expanded its scope. It added Nevada and new questions, including those about federal ownership of public lands. Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates conducted the poll. The poll typically costs $150,000 to $200,000 to conduct, Boepple said.
The years of poll data will provide fodder for undergraduate researchers at CC, Perramond said.
“It’s a great set of data for anybody out there who wants to actually understand how westerners think about public lands and natural resources,” he said.
A Colorado College poll released Monday indicates a majority of Westerners don’t support the mission championed by the Oregon militia led by Ammon Bundy, said Ken Salazar, the former U.S. senator for Colorado who served four years as President Obama’s interior secretary.
The State of the Rockies Project’s Conservation in the West Poll of voters in seven Mountain West states indicated 58 percent oppose turning over lands currently under federal control to state governments, and 60 percent oppose selling pieces of public lands to reduce the federal budget deficit.
In the Bundy family’s home state of Nevada, only 30 percent of respondents said they supported the family’s mission to have the federal government cede authority to states. Ammon Bundy is leading the Oregon protesters who are occupying government buildings at a remote wildlife reserve. His father, Cliven Bundy, led a standoff in Nevada with federal agents over the Bundys unpaid grazing fees with federal authorities in April 2014.
“This research couldn’t come at a more important time, when the nation’s eyes are focused on the West,” Salazar said Monday of the new poll and the Bundy-led protest.
Colorado is among the states where some Republicans have explored the idea of state and local governments taking control of federal lands. An unsuccessful bill in last legislative session would have set up a Colorado committee of local officials to study the possibility.
“This shows us the Bundy family and the politicians who side with them are out of step with Westerners’ views,” Salazar said in a conference call with reporters about the Colorado College poll.
Just 33 percent of registered voters in seven states favored states taking over management of federal lands, compared with 58 percent opposed. The split was 31 percent in favor and 59 percent opposed in Montana. Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming respondents all preferred retaining federal management of public lands by at least 52 percent. Utah voters split with 41 percent in favor of state control and 47 percent opposed.
“The bottom line is that Montanans are adamantly opposed to any efforts to weaken our public lands,” Business for Montana’s Outdoors director Marne Hayes said of the results. “Our public land and water in Montana, and our access to them, is a powerful economic advantage. We are proud of the results of this poll, which suggest that any plan to transfer control of our public lands or sell them off is a non-starter.”
Overall, the poll found that 73 percent of voters believed having federal public lands helped the local economy, while 19 percent thought it had little economic impact and 6 percent said federal lands hurt the economy.
In state-specific questions, the poll found that 77 percent of Montanans support presidential authority for designating national monuments, with 58 percent of them saying the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument has been a “good thing” (11 percent said it was a “bad thing”). The seven-state average in favor of presidential monument authority was 80 percent. Utah voters had the lowest support, at 66 percent in favor of monument authority.
Looking ahead to the upcoming elections, 84 percent of Latinos consider issues involving public lands, waters, and wildlife as an important factor as other issues like the economy, health care and education when deciding whether to support an elected public official. Even so, 61 percent of Latinos think that most presidential candidates don’t understand issues involving public lands, waters and wildlife. Comparatively, 56 percent of Latinos think Congressional candidates are just as uninformed.
“Hispanics view the protection of our public lands as a moral obligation. It’s natural that this community would be drawn to candidates who support conservation,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation. “With the tremendous growth of the Latino voter bloc, especially in the Western states, we’re going to see engagement in environmental policy and advocacy for our public lands at levels we’ve never seen before.”
Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Bundys, who are at the center of a 10-day siege of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon, don’t represent the views of Western residents and are merely jockeying for attention.
“The Bundys and those who sympathize with them are far out of touch with most folks living in the West. By and large Westerners do not agree with the policies or sentiments being advocated in Oregon,” Salazar said in a Monday teleconference. “Bundy and his ilk are just squeaky wheels getting the grease.”
“What Westerners are actually concerned about is drought and water scarcity, our dependence on foreign oil, climate change and the outdoor recreation economy. Westerners want our public lands to stay public,” he said. “We may not all agree precisely on how to strike the right balance between conservation and development, but anyone who tells us we should hand our American lands over to private owners and to the states are telling us a story that will not stand the test of time.”
Interestingly, Utah residents — more than those in any other state involved in the poll — are likely to disagree with Salazar on that point.
When asked if they support or oppose turning national public lands over to the control of the state, only a slight plurality of Utahns said they opposed the move, 47 percent to the 41 percent who said they were in favor of the transfer. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent and involved 400 residents who were close to evenly split among those who identified themselves as Republican and those who said they were “Independent.” Fourteen percent said they were Democrat…
Utah residents, specifically, said they are in favor of the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument, with 66 percent who signed off on the idea.
Of those residents who took part in the poll, a significant majority said they lived in a big city or the suburbs — 63 percent — compared with 12 percent of those who said they lived in a rural area.
Poll results also indicate that the angst over the 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has tempered, with only 25 percent of Utah residents who insist it was a “bad thing,” in contrast to 45 percent who say it was a good thing. Another 30 percent remain undecided.
Mark Ward, senior policy analyst with the Utah Association of Counties, said rural voters and urban voters differ distinctly when it comes public lands, something that should be kept in mind with this poll’s findings.
“If you don’t live in rural Utah you are prone to think of public lands as totally iconic, these vertical up and down, spectacular-every-acre view,” he said. “But the reality is while all of Utah is beautiful, the vast majority of the acreage is quite ordinary by everyday standards. It is rangeland, it is desert and it is slopes.”
They survey also shows that the majority of Western voters, 52 percent, indicate they support continued oil and natural gas production on public lands, but want stronger safeguards to protect water and the land.
Water, in fact, resonated with Utah voters, with 88 percent of those polled indicating drought is a serious issue and 75 percent who felt conservation should have higher priority than diversion of water of water from rivers in less populated areas.
Another 56 percent of Utah voters said they would be “very willing” to make changes in their household use of water to reduce water by 20 percent, while 35 percent said they would be somewhat willing.