Fountain, Widefield, Security [water] systems contain chemicals linked to health hazards — the Colorado Springs Business Journal

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

Known as perfluoroalkyls, or PFAs, research suggests the chemicals are potent carcinogens and endocrine disrupters at levels far below the Environmental Protection Agency’s provisional exposure limits for drinking water.

And no one seems to know where the contaminants are coming from — or even that they were there in the first place. The city of Fountain’s 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report doesn’t mention PFAs or any other “unregulated reportable contaminant.”

Ron Woolsey, who heads Fountain’s Water Department, was unaware of any PFA contamination of the city’s water supply or of the EPA test results. It’s not clear if the EPA reported these results to the three affected systems.

“We get about 70 percent of our water from the Frying Pan/Arkansas project, via Pueblo Reservoir,” he said. “The remaining 30 percent comes from wells in Fountain and wells on the Venetucci Farm that we share with Security and Widefield. When [CSU’s] SDS [Southern Delivery System] comes on line, we’ll get 100 percent of our water from Pueblo Reservoir.”

CSBJ provided Woolsey with links to source documents uncovered for this story.

“Thanks for that information,” he said. “You’re sort of the canary in the coal mine for us. We’re going to investigate further, talk to [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] and figure out what the next step will be. Those [PFA substances] sound pretty alarming.”

Both Colorado Springs and Pueblo use Fry-Ark water, and no PFAs were detected in their water systems.

It could be that water from Fountain Valley wells or surface water sources are contaminated by either landfills or residue from industrial processes, but no one is really sure.

Wolford Mountain Dam: ” The Consultant Review Board has emphatically emphasized that time is on our side” — John Currier

Wolford Mountain Reservoir
Wolford Mountain Reservoir

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The Colorado River District has been given some breathing room for dealing with a problem dam at its Wolford Mountain Reservoir five miles from Kremmling.

A three-person outside team of dam experts has advised the district that the Ritschard Dam is safe despite the settling that has occurred there, no immediate action is required, and the district should be deliberate in determining how to address the problem.

“The Consultant Review Board has emphatically emphasized that time is on our side,” the district’s chief engineer, John Currier, said in a memo to the district board in advance of its meeting next week.

The recommendation comes as good news to the district, which has identified the dam as the most important issue it currently faces. It already has spent about $1.5 million to install sophisticated instruments to measure the dam’s settlement. Since its completion in 1995, the rock-fill, clay-core dam has settled near its center by about two feet. While earthen dams settle, in this case the drop was a foot more than expected. The dam crest also has shifted about eight inches downstream.

The three-person team, district staff and consulting engineers are now proposing that the district hold a workshop with the Dam Safety branch of the Colorado Division of Water Resources and Denver Water, which has a leasehold interest in the reservoir, to consider next steps.

“We were thinking that some kind of work would begin in 2016 or (20)17, to begin some kind of remediation program, but now we’re saying OK, let’s dig deeper into the issue based on this third-party finding,” district spokesman Jim Pokrandt said.

He said the finding means the district has more time to make sure it takes the right next steps regarding the dam. The most expensive repair would involve rebuilding the dam, which several years ago the taxpayer-funded district estimated could cost $30 million. Another approach could involve injecting concrete into the dam to reinforce it.

The original dam and reservoir project cost $42 million, including land acquisition, permitting, construction and other expenses…

The dam sits on Muddy Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River. The river district has consulted with the town council of Kremmling, which is downstream of the reservoir on the Colorado River, and Grand County commissioners. It also has held public meetings and kept emergency managers informed of the situation.

Bill McCormick, the state’s chief of dam safety, agrees that there is no reason for immediate concern regarding the dam.

“It is displaying some unusual behavior but (the findings of) all the analysis that’s been done to date is that it’s not creating unsafe conditions,” he said.

Still, he said he thinks everyone involved agrees there’s a long-term issue pertaining to continued settling, which requires a long-term solution.

“The long-term solution isn’t clear or obvious just yet but we’re continuing to work on it,” McCormick said.

Water district fights for relaxed quality standard — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Upper Black Squirrell Creek Designated Groundwater Basin
Upper Black Squirrell
Creek Designated Groundwater Basin

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

For years, the Cherokee Metropolitan District has failed to meet one of its water quality standards, and the eastern El Paso County water district has proposed a change in state regulations to make it easier to meet that requirement.

The proposal has started an unorthodox process with the state’s Water Quality Control Commission to allow the district to have a higher level of dissolved solids – like salt – in its water. The change would only affect wells in the district, but the proposal has raised concerns from well-owners about the health of the system’s aquifer and prompted three stakeholder meetings before a rulemaking hearing in August.

The Upper Black Squirrel Creek aquifer has already been degraded by the number of wells that tap into it, well owners argue. Wells in the Cherokee district pull from an aquifer that is recharged with treated wastewater – water that, under a new requirement, would have more dissolved solids. If Cherokee fails to change regulations for its so-called “total dissolved solids” levels, it will have to spend tens of millions of dollars to meet current state requirements – a cost that will be borne by the district’s ratepayers.

The problems date back to 2010, when a new waste water treatment facility was completed without machines to treat water for total dissolved solids, known as TDS. At a Tuesday stakeholder meeting, the first in a series, Cherokee’s General Manager Sean Chambers described the consequences of this to a group of around 30 people.

“So whatever comes in the waste water plant in terms of total dissolved solids comes out the other end,” Chambers said. “Thus, we have a $30 million waste water plant that does not treat a lick of TDS.”

The district’s drinking water quality more than complies with state requirements for dissolved solids levels, but the levels in waste water pose problems. The water district typically measures 600 mg per liter of dissolved solids in its treated waste water, well over the state requirement of 400 mg per liter, said Chambers. Ever since the district opened its new facility in 2010, it has never been compliant with state standards for dissolved solids. By changing the level allowed in its water, the district hopes to save $10 million on costs over the next 20 years while it tries to become compliant.

On Tuesday, the district emphasized that dissolved solids in its water do not pose a public health risk, but only affect the water’s taste. Most water districts around the country adhere to the federal standard of 500 mg per liter of dissolved solids, except for Texas, which has its threshold set at 1,000 mg per liter, said Andrew Ross, with the state’s water control commission.

While the water district is aiming for compliance, well owners fear that more dissolved solids will continue to degrade the quality of the aquifer, said Jerod Farmer, a well owner who attended Tuesday’s meeting. Officials with the water quality control commission acknowledge that a higher presence of those solids in water can impact the aquifer’s quality.

Unlike surface water, which is regulated for quality at the federal level, groundwater quality is regulated on a state-by-state basis. Colorado’s groundwater regulations have remained relatively unchanged since the 1980s, when two regulatory structures were set up- one for statewide regulation, and another to grant individual exceptions to the state’s rules.

The Cherokee district is unique in Colorado – it has the largest facility in the state that dumps its waste water back into the groundwater. Its request to change the dissolved solids requirements in its waste water is equally unusual – the water quality commission rarely handles regulatory changes proposed by an outside agency, representatives said on Friday.

The public will get two more chances to learn about the proposed changes at stakeholder meetings on Feb. 11, time and location to be determined, and March 10 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., location to be determined. Both will help the commission gather as much public opinion and information as possible before the August hearing, said Lisa Carlson, who facilitated Tuesday’s meeting.

“The hope is that, when you get to the hearing, you will all be well educated and understand what the issues are in the process,” Carlson told the audience.

#AnimasRiver: New Mexico plans to sue EPA over #GoldKing mine spill — The Farmington Daily Times

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From the Associated Press (Russell Contreras and Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Farmington Daily Times:

New Mexico plans to sue the federal government and the owners of two Colorado mines that were the source of a massive spill last year that contaminated rivers in three Western states, officials said Thursday.

The New Mexico Environment Department said it filed a notice of its intention to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the spill, becoming the first to do so. The lawsuit also would target the state of Colorado and the owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside Mines…

The spill sent a yellow plume through the Animas Valley and into New Mexico and the San Juan River, forcing farmers and municipalities to shut off their taps. Farmers and ranchers on the Navajo Nation were left without a key water source for their crops and livestock for weeks.

The New Mexico regulators said they will sue if the EPA does not begin to take meaningful measures to clean up the affected areas and agree to a long-term plan that will research and monitor the effects of the spill.

“From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business,” said Ryan Flynn, state Environment Department cabinet secretary.

The federal agency is reviewing New Mexico’s plans to sue, spokeswoman Christie St. Clair said.

“EPA is working closely with the states to develop a long-term monitoring plan to evaluate potential environmental impacts from the spill and will be meeting with representatives in early February,” St. Clair said. “EPA is also reimbursing state and local agencies for response-related costs associated with the spill.”

Larry Perino, a reclamation manager for Sunnyside Mine, said the mine was not involved in the spill and has no responsibility.

“We will vigorously defend ourselves from any potential legal action,” he said.

A representative for Gold King Mine did not immediately respond to an email requests seeking comment.

Roger Hudson, a spokesman for the Colorado attorney general, said the office has not yet seen the notice and had no comment. Hudson did not say if Colorado also planned to sue the EPA.

Flynn said Colorado balked when New Mexico asked for information about the spill’s effects on the Animas River watershed that the two states share. In fact, Colorado asked New Mexico to pay about $20,000 for a public record’s request, he said.

The Navajo Nation has said it may consider legal action against the EPA but nothing formal has been filed…

The owners of the two mines have been disputing the source of the wastewater buildup for years. Colorado-based San Juan Corp., which owns the Gold King Mine, claims it stems from a project in the 1990s to plug a segment of the Sunnyside Mine. They say the plug caused the wastewater to build up and get pushed into surrounding mines, including Gold King.

Canada’s Kinross Corp., which owns Sunnyside, disputes those claims.

In 2011, Kinross offered $6.5 million to help clean mining waste from the upper Animas River while vowing to “vigorously contest” any effort to make Sunnyside liable for Superfund-related cleanup costs.

The mine has yet to spend the money but supports a “collaborative approach” among various parties, Sunnyside reclamation director Kevin Roach said.

#ClimateChange: Carbondale carbon tax — The Mountain Town News

Carbondale is a town of 6,500 people located 30 miles west of Aspen. That’s Mt. Sopris, Colorado’s loveliest mountain, in the background. Photo source/Wikipedia - See more at:
Carbondale is a town of 6,500 people located 30 miles west of Aspen. That’s Mt. Sopris, Colorado’s loveliest mountain, in the background. Photo source/Wikipedia – See more at:

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Carbondale proposes to levy tax on carbon in electric, heat bills

Although one resident has called it ridiculous, residents in Carbondale in April will decide whether to adopt a carbon tax. If approved by voters in the town of 6,500 people, it would be among just a handful of municipal carbon taxes in the United States.

Proponents estimate that the tax would add an estimated $5 to $7 per month to the utility bill of an average home and $20 to $40 for an average business. It would not apply to sale of gasoline.

Under the plan approved by town trustees on Wednesday, revenue would be used to continue and expand programs to improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses and incentivize renewable energy. Funding has ranged from $65,000 to $100,000 for such programs, but the source of that funding—the town’s share of proceeds from natural gas and oil extraction in Garfield County—is expected to diminish in future years.

“It actually started with the trustees,” says Erica Sparhawk, of the non-profit advocacy group Clean Energy Economy for the Region, or CLEER. “This is a very educated group of trustees, dedicated to sustainability, and they take their clean energy goals seriously. So they asked us to help them research and analyze different potential funding sources, so that these kinds of programs without the town having to tap their general funds.”

With just a modest business and industrial sector, 60 percent of Carbondale’s greenhouse gases come from the town’s 2,400 homes. The town’s climate action plan envisions upgrades to those homes so that they use less energy and, coincidentally, are more comfortable to live in. The program being envisioned would address 1,000 homes in the next five years.

Trustees, as the elected members of the town board are called, believe it’s important to create n income-qualifying program, so that lower-incomer residents can benefit from the carbon tax.

Other potential use of revenues could include a large solar farm and a local micro-grid with battery storage.

Once a coal-mining town

The irony of Carbondale adopting a carbon tax is obvious. Mid-Continent Resource’s coal mine was a major payroll in the town for decades. The mine closed in 1991.

“What better place than a town called Carbondale to implement a local carbon fee and put talk into action?” asks Mayor Stacey Bernot, a native, who grew up in Carbondale when it was still a mining town.

But the demographics of the town have changed dramatically in the last 25 years, and Carbondale is now home to wide variety of innovators, creators and activists but also to a large population of immigrants who work in the construction and service sector of the Aspen-area economy. Latinos, mostly immigrants, compose 30 to 40 percent of the town’s population, and they tend to live in trailers and other lower-end housing.

Lately, carbon of another sort has concerned town residents, because of the potential for drilling for natural gas in nearby Thompson Creek Valley. It’s part of the broad swathe of the mineral-rich Piceance Basin that arcs across west-central Colorado.

Town residents have loudly opposed drilling, as they generally see drilling incompatible with the hunting and recreational uses of the valley. by one study, the Thompson Divide provides 300 jobs in the Carbondale-area economy.

Sparhawk says trustees recognize what some—including this writer—called out as an inconsistency: How can you oppose drilling in your backyard while using natural gas to heat your homes and, increasingly, to produce your electricity?

Trustees recognize the need to walk their talk, says Sparhawk. “If we are going to oppose drilling in the Thompson Divide, then we in the community need to lessen our demand for natural gas.”

Six funding mechanisms were evaluated as dedicated revenue sources for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements in Carbondale, but after a series of work sessions with town trustees, efforts narrowed to the tax on carbon used for home heating and that proportionate of the electricity that comes from carbon sources.

Trustees are scheduled to finalize the ballot proposal at their Jan. 13 meeting.

Modeled on Boulder

Carbondale’s plan is modeled on the tax adopted in 2007 by the municipality of Boulder, Colo.. It is described on the Boulder’s website as the “nation’s first voter-approved tax dedicated to addressing climate change.”

The tax costs the average household about $1.33 a month and now generates $1.8 million a year. The tax is administered through Xcel Energy, which also provides electricity to Carbondale.

Boulder sustainability officials claim to that use of the tax money has been used to stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

“What’s really interesting about Boulder’s carbon tax,” says Will Toor, a former mayor, “is just how popular it has been.” Boulder is deeply divided about whether to get a divorce from electrical provider Xcel Energy, but the 77 percent of voters last November decided to extend the tax through March 2023.

The tax applies only to electricity, and it exempts any energy produced without burning fossil fuels.

Other jurisdictions also have carbon taxes. In Arcata, Calif., a college town two hours north of San Francisco, voters in 2012 passed, by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent, what they call an excessive electricity use tax. According to the city’s website, the 45 percent tax is assessed on residential household meters that use more than 600 percent of baseline electricity or more than an average of three residential households from one meter.

Washington D.C. also has a carbon tax levied on natural gas and electric bills. The tax in 2014 delivered $20 million to the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund, which is used to improve energy efficiency and expand renewable energy.

Just one mountain town in Colorado has flirted with a carbon tax. Joan May, an elected commissioner in San Miguel County, proposed a carbon tax on electricity and natural gas that would have generated $100,000 a year. Few towns are as liberal as Telluride, but the tax lost badly at the polls.

May says she failed to do her work in advance, leaving voters confused about the administration and use of the money. “I would solicit more support before we put it on the ballot,” she says. “It was basically ready, fire, aim.”

She says she wouldn’t change the proposal itself, though. Similar to Boulder and other programs, the money would have gone into a fund that could be tapped for energy efficiency improvements.

Argument against

In Carbondale, CLEER avoided May’s mistake in Telluride by holding community meetings. Still, there’s a bit of pushback. In a letter published in the Sopris Sun, Carl Ted Stude, a retired environmental engineer and a 10-year resident of the town, dismissed the idea as impractical.

It’s not the idea of a carbon tax that dismays him. He supports phasing in of a carbon tax at the national level. “I believe the preponderance of scientific evidence that emissions of carbon dioxide are contributing to global warming that will have long-term consequences that are more catastrophic than, say, a reduced ski season at Aspen.”

Stude sees a national tax being phased in

while subsidies and mandates for ethanol, wind turbines and cultured algae are phased out. But a municipal carbon tax in a small town like Carbondale makes no sense, he argues.

“A carbon tax at the local level would involve substantial administrative effort (read ‘economic waste’) in calculating and assessing the tax.”

Allyn Harvey, a trustee in Carbondale, doesn’t think administration will be inefficient. CLER has met with Xcel Energy, Holy Cross Electric and Source Gas, the three energy utilities, and it’s not a difficult process. A greater concern, he says, is the impact on Latino and other poor families, especially if nobody speaks English. “They may be leery of people knocking on their odors to talk about energy,” he says,.

But Harvey sees this as a major opportunities, not just for poor people to ultimately benefit from more comfortable, energy efficient homes, but for Carbondale to take control of its own destiny.

“If we wait for the federal government to take action and for partisanship to end so that we can enact a carbon tax nationwide, ti will be generations form now,” he sways. “I think there’s an opportunity for the local community tot take actions and do something about a problem that we all recognize.”

[Rio Grande] Roundtable changes water leadership — The Valley Courier

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

After a decade of service as chairman of one of the San Luis Valley’s leading water groups, Mike Gibson handed the “gavel” over to Nathan Coombs on Tuesday.

Gibson, of Alamosa, has led the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable for the past 10 years while also working full-time as director of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, where he has served for 14 years. He retired from the district and as chairman of the roundtable board. The board, which is comprised of representatives from throughout the basin, elected Coombs from Conejos County as the new chairman.

Vice Chairman is Heather Dutton, who followed Gibson as director of the SLV Water Conservancy District and has been active in the roundtable for some time, and board secretary is Cindy Medina of Conejos County, who has held that office in the past. The roundtable administers a pot of local funds allocated by the state from severance tax funds. State legislation set up the roundtables in each basin in the state and provided for funding on a local and statewide level for water projects ranging from feasibility studies to ditch canal repairs. The Rio Grande Basin has been highly successful in the past decade in drawing funds for local water projects.

Board members recognized Gibson for his leadership during his final meeting as chairman on Tuesday in Alamosa . U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s San Luis Valley aide Brenda Felmlee also shared the tribute Tipton had read into the congressional record in Washington D.C. honoring Gibson for his leadership with the conservancy district, roundtable , water congress and other water organizations, effective management and multiple awards. Tipton also recognized Gibson for his willingness to cooperate with others for the success of the basin.

Tipton said Gibson was “among the very best of the water managers in the 3rd Congressional District” and thanked him for his valuable work.

“I could not have done what I have done without the support especially of my board of directors,” Gibson said. The board allowed him to serve in the voluntary position as chairman of the roundtable in addition to his full-time job with the conservancy district, Gibson said, because his board recognized the importance of the water issues the roundtable was handling.

“They were very kind and supportive of letting me pursue those other interests, and hopefully I have made a contribution,” Gibson said.

Gibson also acknowledged his wife Gigi for her support. Gibson said he took early retirement from the mining company in Craig where he was working and when he learned there was an opening with the Nature Conservancy at their newly acquired Medano Ranch in the Valley, he applied for and obtained the job, with Gigi’s support.

“She said ‘it’s going to be an adventure’ .”

From the Nature Conservancy Gibson became involved in water projects and the conservancy district.

In addition to recognizing Gibson’s efforts, the roundtable acknowledged the leadership of Vice Chairman Rio de la Vista and Secretary Cindy Medina who have volunteered countless hours on water committees in addition to the roundtable meetings themselves. For example, they were involved in developing the Rio Grande Basin water plan, which was included in the statewide water plan recently approved by Governor John Hickenlooper .

Travis Smith of Rio Grande County, a local and statewide water leader, said all of those who have been part of this water effort should be recognized for what they have been able to do by working together over the past 10 years.

Smith said these positions in leadership on the roundtable have been voluntary and not without criticism.

“It’s a unique experiment,” he said.

Smith also encouraged the young people who are now taking leadership roles on water issues.

“We want to raise up water leaders,” he said.

Craig Godbout, staff member with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which oversees the statewide and roundtable-level funding, gave the group an update on what it can expect for revenues in the near future. He said since oil and gas prices “have tanked,” severance tax revenues for water projects will likely be reduced this year by 20-30 percent compared to last year’s funding . Usually the statewide fund receives about $3 million from severance taxes in January, Godbout said, but it will probably receive $1.5-2 .5 million this year, and the basin roundtables that usually receive $120,000 infusion of funds in January will probably see $60,000-100 ,000.

Currently the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable has a balance of $318,000 in its local fund with about $110,000 in pending requests for funding , which would bring the balance down to $208,000, Godbout explained. Many of those who request locally allocated funds also request statewide funds, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board gives the final approval to both.

On Tuesday the roundtable approved, with board member Charlie Spielman dissenting, a $100,000 funding request from the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) to assist with a conservation easement on the Nash Ranch near Del Norte. Of the $100,000 request, $10,000 will come from basin allocated funds and $90,000 from the statewide pool, if approved by the state water board this spring.

Matching funds will come from the Gates Family Foundation , Great Outdoors Colorado and the landowner, RiGHT Executive Director Nancy Butler told the roundtable members.

The easement will preserve about 200 acres, which includes hay production, cattle grazing and wetlands. RiGHT Stewardship Director Allen Law said this property is especially crucial in providing habitat for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher . Other benefits of the conservation easement are protection for wetlands and against development encroachment. Butler said RiGHT has received letters of support from the Town of Del Norte, Rio Grande County, Rio Grande Water Users and Colorado Division of Water Resources.

Spielman said he opposed funding this request because he did not believe it was the most effective use of funds to deal with the basin’s primary problem of imbalance between agricultural water use and supply.

“Implementation of this conservation easement will not have a significant positive effect dealing with the main problem,” he said. He also said if one of the goals was to prevent residential development on the property, he did not see that this property would be marketable for much more than a couple of 40-acre tracts if it were developed.

Wetland biologist Cary Aloia said if the property was developed, however, the lost southwestern willow flycatcher habitat would have to be mitigated elsewhere.

Rio Grande County Commissioner Karla Shriver said another consequence of development could be artifi- cial dams caused by property being built up for roads and homes. Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten agreed that building up roads for even small developments along the river could create dams and cause problems with flooding.

Aside from Spielman’s “no” vote, the funding request was approved on Tuesday.

The roundtable board on Tuesday also heard the preliminary request, with a final request expected next month, from Judy Lopez for outreach and education. The request is for $30,000 from the basin funds for three years for a total of $90,000.

Silverton to EPA: Keep #GoldKing sludge out of #AnimasRiver — The Denver Post

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 The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado mountain residents hardest-hit by the EPA-triggered Gold King Mine disaster say they’d like to make Silverton a research hub to find a better way — beyond building water treatment plants — to deal with thousands of mines leaking toxic acids.

Since August, the Environmental Protection Agency has relied on a temporary plant to remove millions of tons of metals sludge draining from the Gold King — muck from a 500-gallon-per-minute flow that won’t reach the Animas River. Running it costs taxpayers $16,000 a week.

And permanent treatment plants here and at thousands of other draining inactive mines around the West would cost billions. Beyond construction, operating costs can top $1 million a year.

Of course, the EPA must treat Gold King discharges for now, Silverton town administrator Bill Gardner said, but perpetual water treatment “may not be the longterm solution.”

Gardner advocated harnessing high science to map out underground terrain in detail, then control drainage using sophisticated plugs and sensors in tunnels.

“We can make lemonade out of lemons,” potentially bringing non-tourism business Silverton needs — and a widely applicable solution.

“We’re trying to be stewards of this watershed. This is the West. Water is precious out here. We get that big picture,” he said. “And right now we need to deal with this huge ticking time bomb around us: these leaking mines. We need to look at a holistic approach focused on inner mountain flows of water.”

The Arkansas Roundtable ponies up $194,000 for multi-use project

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Can a water project be all things to all people?

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District wants to find out.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable approved a $194,000 grant last week to determine if irrigated agriculture, environmental, recreation, municipal supply, hydropower and aquifer storage can be satisfied in one project.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grant at its March meeting.

The project involves the 200-acre Lake Ranch near Salida, which the district owns.

Right now, the property is irrigated by a center- pivot sprinkler, but the plan is to expand the types of uses to include a hydropower system on the Cameron Ditch above the property, recharge ponds and wetlands on two corners of the field which are not being used and research on another corner. Farm structures occupy the remaining corner of the field.

In addition, a leasefallowing program would provide water to nearby cities, and results would be used in educational programs.

“This is the smaller program, to see if some of these ideas work,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Ark district.

If they do, a much larger project on Trout Creek that would cover 1,800 acres and could provide an additional 20,000 acre-feet in storage would be attempted.

That would be a boon to the Upper Ark district, which formed in 1979 to improve water use for numerous smaller entities in Chaffee, Custer and Fremont counties. Past studies have looked at improving how water supply is measured, the availability of underground storage and developing a leasefallowing tool to measure consumptive use when transfers occur.

“Multiple purpose projects are necessary for providing additional needed water supplies in the 21st century,” the district noted in its grant application.

Purgatoire River
Purgatoire River

More Arkansas Roundtable coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Several ditches along the Purgatoire River are in line to get a much-needed $271,000 makeover through a state grant approved last week by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The roundtable approved a $90,000 grant request to improve structures on six ditch companies that have deteriorated through erosion. The ditches, along with the Purgatoire Conservancy District, will contribute $121,000 and apply for a $60,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The CWCB still must act on the grant and loan at its March meeting.

“All of the ditches are in the Trinidad Project,” said Jeris Danielson, manager of the Purgatoire district. “We estimated we could lose 10 percent of the water.”

The ditch companies include Picketwire, Enlarged Southside Irrigation, Chilili, Baca, New John Flood and El Moro. All are located in the Trinidad area of Las Animas County.

The project will rebuild headgates, flumes and culverts at various locations. As part of the project, about 1,000 feet of bank along the Purgatoire River will be restored and stabilized.

The Trinidad Project is a federal project that relies on water stored in Trinidad Reservoir. Over the last 20 years, it has averaged only 40 percent of its full supply. The improvements will restore about 5,000 acre-feet (1.6 billion gallons) annually toward basin water needs, according to the application.


Finally, here’s a report about efforts to mitigate flooding in La Junta from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

An $85,000 plan to remove a “pinch point” in the Arkansas River that has caused flooding in North La Junta got the blessing of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week.

The roundtable approved a $25,000 grant toward the project by the North La Junta Water Conservancy District to deal with a problem that has persisted since a flood in the spring of 1999. Other funding is being provided by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Otero County and La Junta.

The grant will take out several islands of tamarisk, or saltcedar, using a drag line and reconfigure dikes that apparently only aggravated flooding through the area. Combined, the projects will increase the channel capacity of the Arkansas River through North La Junta.

“This is one of my favorite projects because we did it with one engineer and no lawyers in the room,” quipped Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

The 1999 flood did serious damage to North La Junta, and the district has worked steadily since then to improve channel capacity through the area. Floods in recent years have renewed fears that past efforts were not as effective as hoped.

In another move, the roundtable approved a $48,000 grant toward a $54,800 project to replace a domestic water supply pipeline that serves about 175 families in the McClave area. The grant helps hold down water rates for customers in an area that eventually will be served by the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grants at its March meeting.