Sediment monitoring along Animas River begins — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Contamination of river sediment became a public safety concern after the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill that released about 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage into the river.

But heavy-metal pollution from historical mines above Silverton is an ongoing problem, and data from Mountain Studies Institute collected in February showed that aluminum and iron were at levels that could be unsafe for aquatic life if they persist at that level. Iron remained at an unsafe level for aquatic life in March, according to the MSI report.

The Environmental Protection Agency said earlier this week that it will provide $600,000 for additional monitoring, and part of that funding will help San Juan Basin Health Department, Fort Lewis College and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment study the river. The EPA initially designated $2 million to all the states and tribes involved for river monitoring.

“We know moms and dads are going to want to know continuously the water is safe,” Bennet said.

It is not clear how the $600,000 will be divided between the states and tribes, said Nicole Rowan, clean water program manager for CDPHE. But water and sand sampling will happen at the beach, along with other recreation sites yet to be determined, to understand how the spring runoff might change the composition of the sediment over the spring and summer, said Brian Devine, water program manager for the San Juan Basin Health Department.

If the researchers don’t find anything concerning, the testing could end in August, he said.

He could not say when the data will be released, but it would be shortly after testing is complete.

Other long-term testing to better understand the river system and alert public officials to problems also is underway.

The U.S. Geological Survey installed three water quality monitors along the Animas in Colorado in March and April that measure acidity, cloudiness and temperature that can indicate higher metal levels. No automated sensor can track the concentration of metals.

If any of these indicators reach concerning levels, local researchers receive alerts in the form of text messages, emails and phone calls, Devine said. This allows researchers to physically take samples from the river and then, if necessary, alert emergency managers at the city, county and state levels, Devine said.

“We’re pretty sure we’ll have no need for that,” he said.

These readings are also available online in real time.

Fort Lewis College also is installing two new Sonde monitors, one at Baker’s Bridge and upstream from the 32nd Street Bridge, said Heidi Steltzer, an associate professor in biology, who has led research on the river.

These sensors track similar factors monitored by the USGS and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. The Sonde sensors also track algae, nitrates and ammonium, which indicate pollution from fertilizer, another ongoing problem in the river.

The San Juan Health Department would like to use the additional funding from the EPA to allow for the Sondes data to be live on the web.

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

2016 #coleg: CWCB funding, water project permitting liaison for Gov’s office on the line

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Woodland) via The Sterling Journal-Advocate:

Two bills that would begin work on the state’s water plan are moving through the legislature in the waning days of the 2016 session.

The first is an annual bill that funds water projects under the direction of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Among the projects listed in the 2016 measure:

• $200,000 to conduct a study on underground water storage along the Front Range. That study is contained in a bill that’s awaiting a final vote in the Senate. The measure, House Bill 16-1256, looks at water storage on the South Platte, and could include above-ground storage as well. James Eklund, who heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told lawmakers earlier this session that they could use existing data to do much of that study.

• $1 million to continue the statewide water supply initiative. Known as SWSI (pronounced SWAY-sea), the initiative, launched in 2010, developed a study that revealed the state would be short 1 million acre-feet of water by 2050. As part of the statewide water plan, the water conservation board pledged to update the 2010 study within the next year.

A second bill, Senate Bill 16-200, would create a position in the governor’s office to act as a liaison between local, state and federal agencies on water project permits for storage, hydroelectric facilities, diversions and more. The hope is the position would decrease the amount of time it takes to get state and federal permits. The position would be short-term, to end by September 2019.

The bill, which was introduced last week, won unanimous approval in the Senate Friday. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is sponsoring it in the Senate; Rep. Ed Vigil of Alamosa, a Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, will be its House sponsor. The bill is supported by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and several other state agencies, according to Sonnenberg.

Hickenlooper acknowledged the problems with permitting during a news conference Wednesday. He said the Obama administration is open to shortening some of the processes around infrastructure, including water. Some of it is red tape, Hickenlooper said, and some of it is relevant process. The question becomes whether there’s a way to separate out the red tape from appropriate processes, and whether the state needs another person to do that. [ed. emphasis mine]

While Hickenlooper said he is still trying to find ways to eliminate positions, he would defer to the water conservation board and the basin roundtable groups as to whether they have the resources to handle that on their own or if another person is needed to manage that.

It’s not just a time constraint, Hickenlooper said. When the permitting process is extended, the costs climb along with it.