Springs hires stormwater chief — The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District
Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A licensed professional engineer, [Richard Mulledy] has 12 years of civil engineering experience, most recently as deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs.

Mulledy will manage the city’s stormwater infrastructure and administer municipal stormwater programs and procedures as required for compliance with the city’s MS4 permit.

The stormwater manager will oversee a $19 million annual budget and a division anticipated to grow to approximately 60 employees. Mulledy’s annual salary will be $120,000.

Widefield and Security residents advised to test domestic well water

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

Residents in Security-Widefield who have private wells near Fountain Creek should check their water for excess chemicals, federal officials said Monday.

The perfluorinated compounds are commonly found in surface protection products for carpets, but should not be in the local drinking water. The chemicals were found during water quality tests done in January.

Map: Area of contaminated water.

They don’t fall under water quality regulations, but they are on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of things to monitor and keep out of a water supply. Since the amounts of chemicals are trace, the water supply meets the health standards for drinking water, although the effects of consuming the chemicals are largely unknown.

“The EPA has set health advisory limits,” said Brandon Bernard, the water department manager for the Widefield Water and Sanitation District. “The amounts that were detected in our aquifer were well below that. We are talking about (less than) one part per billion, which is like a teaspoon in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”

The EPA, with the help of the El Paso County Public Health and its state-level counterpart, the Department of Public Health and Environment, must determine where the chemicals are coming from and how they got into the aquifer. Until that mystery is solved, it’s unlikely that officials will be able to stop the flow of chemicals, said Tom Gonzales, the deputy director of the county’s health department…

The chemicals came from the Widefield aquifer, which parallels Fountain Creek and is the source for nearly half of the Widefield district’s water. The district has nine wells that pump blended aquifer water, which is mixed with water from Pueblo Reservoir before it goes to local homes.

At least six of those wells showed low concentrations of the perfluorinated compounds, but no levels in other tests. Since the results have varied, more tests will be done, Bernard said.

“There isn’t enough data at this point, really, to get a good idea of what’s going on,” he said.

The state and EPA are putting together a plan to test groundwater and trace the chemicals back to their source. Meanwhile, since county labs can’t test for the chemicals, residents in certain areas who get water from private wells are being asked to get their water tested. The area of concern runs along Fountain Creek from Interstate 25 to the Colorado Springs Airport, between East Fountain Boulevard to the city limits of Fountain. It includes the Widefield water district, which serves 25,000 customers, and water sources in Fountain and Security.

Since the discovery of the chemicals, Widefield has not shut down its water supply, Bernard said. Treatment systems can remove the perfluorinated compounds , and residents who use water from private wells can buy treatment equipment at local home improvement stores, officials said.

US Sen. Bennet is pushing to change the 1872 Mining Act to fund mine reclamation

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From The Durango Herald (Edward Graham):

Legislative efforts to reform the 1872 mining law and establish a royalty fee and remediation fund similar to coal mining have stalled in Congress, with opposition from the mining industry.

On the three-month anniversary of the Gold King Mine spill, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., along with New Mexico Democrats Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, introduced the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 to modernize the 1872 mining law.

Under the legislation, mining companies would be charged a royalty fee on new mines and a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund would be established, similar to the coal mine fund. The senators estimated that the royalty fees would bring in nearly $100 million annually to help remediate abandoned mines.

In an interview with The Durango Herald, Bennet said the focus of the hard-rock mining reform bill is to level the playing field.

“It just doesn’t seem fair to me that you have to pay royalties for coal, oil and gas but you don’t have to pay royalties for mining,” Bennet said. “What this bill does is create a nominal royalty rate and a reclamation fee so that there’s money available to do the cleanup that needs to be done at these mines. And we have less momentum there, and we’ve got to find some way to get bipartisan support for that bill, but we’ll keep working on it.”

The legislation, along with a similar House bill, is stuck in committee. But earlier this week, the La Plata County commissioners sent a letter to Bennet and other congressional representatives voicing their support for reforms to the 1872 mining law.

Philip Clelland, a spokesman for Bennet, said senators sponsoring the legislation continue to advocate for reforms.

“Senator Bennet and the other bill sponsors are talking to Republicans about a possible path forward and potential modifications to the bill,” Clelland said. “The Gold King Mine spill was an unfortunate reminder of the seriousness of this issue, and we hope it spurs action on this and other bills. Coloradans shouldn’t have to live in fear that contaminants from these abandoned mines are in their water. There isn’t an easy path in Congress, but we’re committed to moving this bill forward.”

The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Symposium, March 1-2 at the University of Colorado

Tap water via Wikimedia
Tap water via Wikimedia

From the Boulder Daily Camera:

The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Symposium is set to take place March 1-2 at the University of Colorado.

The “WASH” Symposium was started in 2012 by a small, interdisciplinary group of CU students and is now in its fourth year.

This year’s events will feature discussions about water, sanitation and hygiene in conflict and disaster zones, urban challenges, schools and healthcare facilities, innovative financing and sustainability.

The symposium is open to the public. For a full list of speakers and events, see the 2016 program at http://colorado.edu/washsymposium.

#NM Acequia Association: The Role of Mayordomo in Preparing for Spring

An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

From the New Mexico Acequia Association (Olivia Romo):

“Un año si, y un año no” is a dicho spoken by many acequia farmers in New Mexico who understand that our weather cycles present challenges like drought, crops and huertas freezing, and the uncertainty of water flow through the ditches in the Spring. For the Mayordomo, they must prepare themselves for the year-round projects, inventory, annual limpa, and other hydrological observations throughout the year. Being a Mayordomo is one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs on the ditch and it takes a healthy mind, body, and spirit to be able to do the hard physical labor and communicate to parciantes and the comisión con respeto por nuestra agua, gente, y cultura.

In the middle of winter the acequia duties are in hibernation but the Mayordomo is evaluating the snowpack visually and researching how this year’s season will unfold. Asking questions to oneself like, “will the river feeding our acequia experience heavy run off? If the answer is yes, many begin to prepare for extra blocking at the atarque to prevent runoff damages to the banks, compuertas, and silting. In February, as Mayordomo you are firming up your plans for the limpia, formalizing billings (often in cooperation with the treasurer), and securing your date to do an acequia walk to evaluate damaged areas or impacts from desagüe to atarque. This may also be a time for your annual membership meeting or to have a special meeting of the commission or membership according to your bylaws. It would be important to have this meeting after the acequia walk in order to report back on any beaver damns, silt pockets clogged culverts, weak embankments, or damage by gophers or muskrats.

Finally, in late March or early April this is when the acequia work really begins! The phones are ringing, mailing and other notices goes out to the members and the Mayordomo is going through his/her check list of things to get together before the crew is ready to work. There are many dynamics in preparing for the limpia, here are just a few general notes:

1. Gather crew, assemble parciantes, or gather peones

2. Gather appropriate tools (shovels, rakes, chain saw, trailers, backhoe etc.)

3. Inform all other landowners of upcoming limpia so s to avoid easement issues

4. Possibly obtain a burn permit from your county fire marshal

5. Mark out special work areas for cleaning and repair if that is a custom on your ditch

6. Grease all head gates and valves as the limpia progresses.

*Note: Plan the limpia to be done as close to the date of planned opening of the head gate; this prevents wind blowing in debris if too much time passed before opening head gate and letting water flow.

It is now time for the water to flow, open your head gate after triple checking for any debris or blockages and experience the sacred rush of water running through the freshly cleaned ditch. This sound is a reminder of dedication of the numerous mayordomos and possibly your ancestors who have dedicated their lives to this work and life giving element. You can begin to dream of summer, with birds chirping, trees blossoming, and the sounds and smell of earth when she heaves in release as the plows turn dirt. Irrigation will soon be in full swing and the hard work of planting and cultivating will begin and you see yourself spending time with your parciantes and vecinos who are planting, growing, then shortly after preparing fresh meals from their acequia grown crops. Then suddenly the ringing of palas striking rocks and bordos wake you from this day dream, its only April, get back to work there is no time to waste!

Note: Piece includes excerpt from the Mayordomia Handbook/Field Guide & Acequia Governance Handbook, Education Material produced by NMAA.

CMU: The latest Hutchins Water Center newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

Greg Hobbs at the 2015 Martz Summer Conference (of course there is a projected image of a map -- this one was the division of Colorado into water divisions by major basin, heeding the advice of John Wesley Powell)
Greg Hobbs at the 2015 Martz Summer Conference (of course there is a projected image of a map — this one was the division of Colorado into water divisions by major basin, heeding the advice of John Wesley Powell)

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Session #2 of Hutchins Water Center’s annual 3-evening Water Course will be held at CMU Thurs, 2/25 from 6-9pm. The session will feature Grand Junction water attorney Mark Hermundstad and recently retired CO Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs. Attorneys can earn 3 CLE’s and Realtors can get 3 hours of CE credit for attending. The session will also live-stream. Details are http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center/2016-water-course.html.

#AnimasRiver: Silverton and San Juan County OK superfund plan #GoldKingMine

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

Silverton and San Juan County leaders voted unanimously to pursue Superfund status on Monday to clean up the Gold King and other inactive mines in the area. The plan includes 46 mines and two settling areas.

“I think history has been made. This is one of the most important decisions ever made by county commissioner or town council,” said San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier…

“There were two big concerns about Superfund that this community had,” Silverton Standard editor Mike Esper told CPR News January. “One: It would kind of foreclose on the future of returning to mining. And the other one, the big one: The bad publicity. We are totally reliant on tourism at this point. … But, the Aug. 5 blowout … kind of blew that argument out of the water. That game is over. We had the bad publicity by not having Superfund, and by not addressing the problem that’s only going to make the publicity worse.”

The spill also brought new and wider attention to southwestern Colorado’s inactive mines beyond the Gold King, some of which leach water laced with heavy metals like zinc and iron.

Fetchenhier worked closely with the EPA before the vote to secure certain assurances in writing. Those included making sure that town and county leaders have a seat at the table during the long remediation process. That’s where EPA officials decide which mines need work, and what that work will be.

The Superfund site could be finalized as soon as this fall. But it will take years of research before actual clean up can begin.

From the Farmington Daily Times (Steve Garrison):

The town of Silverton and San Juan County, Colo., will request that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper support a Superfund designation for 48 polluted mines in the mountains north of Silverton.

The request will come in the form of a letter to Hickenlooper, specifically asking him to work with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials to add the Bonita Peak Mining District — the name selected for the cleanup site — to the Superfund National Priorities List as a federal cleanup site.

Town and county officials have negotiated in the past months with the EPA regarding what mines and mine-related sources would be included for cleanup as part of the Bonita Peak Mining District.

The EPA states in a letter to Hickenlooper dated Feb. 19 that the 48 mines and mine-related sources dump arsenic, cadmium, copper, manganese, zinc, lead and aluminum into the Animas River at a rate of 3,740 gallons per minute or 5.4 million gallons per day.

Hickenlooper must inform the EPA by Feb. 29 whether he supports the designation.

The Superfund designation would allow the EPA to use funds appropriated by Congress to remediate the mining district and sue parties responsible for the contamination. The EPA’s Superfund appropriation in fiscal year 2015 was $1.1 billion, according to the U.S. EPA’s website.

Town and county officials voted unanimously in favor of the decision at a special meeting held here Monday afternoon.

Officials told the approximately 80 residents in attendance that voting in favor of the Superfund designation meant Silverton would continue to be involved in the remediation process.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Reversing decades of opposition, Silverton and San Juan County leaders voted Monday to ask the state to pursue a Superfund cleanup of the Gold King and 45 other inactive mines contaminating headwaters of the Animas River.

Local leaders also are lining up Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet as backup for dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency…

And local officials are demanding the EPA continue running a temporary water treatment plant above Silverton to reduce contamination until a final cleanup is done. Superfund cleanups typically take longer than a decade, depending partly on congressional funding.

“I was not in favor of Superfund. I still don’t like it. But if we don’t do it, it will be done for us,” Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman told 90 or so residents packing Silverton’s Town Hall before the vote.

“If we don’t make this move, they will, and we won’t have a seat at the table.”

Silverton’s seven town trustees and San Juan County’s three commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to Hickenlooper urging him to ask the EPA to designate a “Bonita Peak Mining District” environmental disaster — the first step toward a Superfund cleanup…

The locals are pressing the EPA to commit to running a temporary water treatment plant above Silverton until a final cleanup is done and perhaps install another plant.

The EPA put in the plant to remove millions of tons of metals sludge still draining from the Gold King, although not from other nearby mines.

Silverton officials say they want the EPA to treat waste from those mines, too, during a multiyear Superfund process.

2016 #coleg, HB16-1005: “You’re not going to be able to measure it” — Reagan Waskom

Photo via the Colorado Independent
Photo via the Colorado Independent

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

For the second year in a row, a legislative storm is brewing in Colorado over who legally owns drops of rain.

A bill that would allow gardeners to store 110 gallons of runoff from their roof in up to two rain barrels passed on a 10-2 bipartisan vote in a House committee Monday. Republicans in the state Senate let a similar bill expire without a vote on the chamber floor at the end of last year’s session.

Opponents cited state water law that says rainfall must be allowed to move unabated back into the ecosystem to feed aquifers and reservoirs for those who hold expensive water rights.

In theory, proponents say, when the rainwater goes on gardens or lawns, it would then return to the larger environment. In the bargain, rain-barrel users would get a sense of how little it rains in Colorado and how much water they use on their property,

“This is a simple tool that will encourage water conservation and encourage people to use water wisely at their homes,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge, who is one of the bill’s sponsors.

Colorado is the only state that bans rain barrels and is one of just four states that restrict so-called rainwater harvesting, joined by Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute and chairman of the Colorado State University Water Center, said an experiment showed no detectable impact on downstream runoff. Nearly all of it is absorbed in the soil, just as it would if it was not captured.

CSU is neutral on the bill, he said.

“The water that’s captured in a rain barrel would be captured in the soil, anyway,” Waskom said. “You’re not going to be able to measure it.

“It’s very important, every drop, to the downstream users,” he said.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, a chief opponent last year, said the bill would face problems in the Senate if it does not acknowledge the state’s prior appropriation doctrine, which ensures those with senior water rights get their share. The bill also must identify a state agency or other authority to see that happens, he said.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Colorado would become the last state in the West to allow its residents to collect rainwater in barrels from their rooftops under a bill that won approval in a House committee on Monday.

Similar to a measure that failed last year, the bill would allow homeowners to have up to two 55-gallon rain barrels, but they can only use the water for the purpose of irrigating their lawns and gardens.

In the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee, which approved the measure on a bipartisan 10-2 vote, proponents of HB1005 said even if all homeowners in the state took advantage of the bill, it would impact a small amount of water in the state.

Yet opponents said that amount is still an impact that could make or break a single farm or ranch downstream.

Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs in northeast Colorado, said all water in the state is part of a prior-appropriated system that is based on first in time, first in line. That means people own water rights, and those with the most senior rights get the water first.

Taking any water out of the system is a violation of that major tenet in water law, he said.

“Every drop of water is valuable,” Yahn said. “Anytime you get any runoff from your lawn, if you have captured some of that in a rain barrel, you’ve taken water out of the system.”

Proponents, however, said water that is allowed to run off of rooftops either evaporates before making it into that system or is absorbed by plants.

Trapping it and letting people put it for outdoor use causes homeowners to save water because they are using less from their taps, meaning more ends up for downstream use.

“We have an opportunity to support a pretty straightforward bill that will encourage the urban and suburban water users across the state to think twice about the amount of water that they are putting on their landscaping,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, one of the sponsors of the bill. “If they can save even a little bit, it will translate down the line to more water for farms.”

Some opponents of the bill said they would have an easier time with it if it included a clause that would allow for moratoriums on rain barrel use at times when there is a “call” on a river.

That happens when downstream water users who have more senior rights demand their water in dry years.

Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, said the state’s water engineer needs to have more control over the use of such barrels, but the bill doesn’t allow for it.

“To say (there is) a de minimis impact is not necessarily the truth, and is not anything we can prove,” he said. “Because of that, I want to see in the bill someplace that there is an easier way for the state engineer or objectors to come in and talk about this.”

The measure heads to the full House for more debate.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

After a slippery ride, lawmakers on Monday advanced a measure that would allow Coloradans to collect rain water that falls on their roofs.

The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee backed House Bill 1005 by a vote of 10-2, after a more than two-hour hearing. It now heads to the full House for consideration.

The measure is written similar to last year’s bill, which died on the second-to-last day of the session after it failed to receive a Senate floor vote despite a last-minute effort to garner support.

The bill would allow people to capture rain from their roof in up to two 55-gallon barrels for use in their garden or on their lawn.

Sponsors of the bill are hopeful that they can muster enough support to drive it through the legislative process, especially following a study by Colorado State University in September that stated that allowing 100 gallons of rainwater storage per household would not decrease surface runoff by any detectable amount on a typical lot.

“Instead of it going into your windowsill, or possibly a sidewalk, you could use it where you see fit … on your tomato plants and your flower garden,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Critics raise concerns about eroding the state’s prior appropriations system, in which water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.

In an effort to address the water rights controversy, some rural lawmakers pushed an amendment that would have allowed the state engineer to intervene if complaints over water rights arise. But the amendment was defeated.

“It was mentioned that a lot of the opposition would go away if … the state engineer had the authority to intervene or had some oversight if necessary. … To me, this amendment actually does that. … I just think it would take a lot of the angst about this bill away,” said Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, who voted for the bill despite the amendment failing.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, raised concerns with Colorado being a water provider among 18 states that have a prior appropriations system. He voted against the measure.

“We’re not even talking the same thing here,” Coram told supporters of the bill. “We’re a headwater state. We’re the rooftop. We run in every direction.”

State water officials did not take a formal position on the legislation. But James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the effort could help with a narrative on water conservation in the West.

“The concept of residential rainwater harvesting aligns with the CWCB’s philosophy of promotion of education and water stewardship at a local level …” Eklund said.