Environmental Protection Agency officials said Wednesday they are deciding where to haul sludge from the temporary water-treatment plant for Gold King Mine wastewater.
The EPA periodically has updated the communities of San Juan and La Plata counties in recent months as a Superfund proposal moves forward, and most aspects of the agency’s work has been in the evaluation stages thus far.
On Wednesday, the EPA told La Plata County commissioners that the agency is considering whether to dispose of nontoxic sludge produced by the temporary treatment plant at a mining district site or a landfill.
La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake said he opts for the least expensive option.
“It’s not toxic waste, so it can go anywhere,” he said.
Commissioners inquired about the life of the plant, which is supposed to end this fall.
“It was designed and constructed to be an interim measure,” Superfund project manager Rebecca Thomas said. “We’ll continue to evaluate options, but we’ll come up with a comprehensive remedy for the entire mining district.”
Thomas said for now, the temporary plant is operating as usual, and a long-term solution could include a permanent water-treatment facility.
The EPA also is evaluating what Superfund designation will mean for private property owners, officials said Wednesday.
Here’s the release from the US Department of Interior (Peter Soeth):
The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Interior today announced more than $47 million in investments to help water districts and producers on private working lands better conserve water resources. The funds include $15 million in USDA funds and $32.6 million from the Bureau of Reclamation for local projects to improve water and energy efficiency and provide a strengthened federal response to ongoing and potential drought across 13 states in the West.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Reclamation Commissioner Estevan Lopez announced the funding in Brighton, Colo. The Bureau of Reclamation funding will support 76 local projects through the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART program. Funding from USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will support on-farm water delivery system improvements through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, in tandem with the 76 Interior-funded projects. Vilsack and Lopez were joined by a local water authority and landowner who spoke about the importance of the federal funding in the cost share program.
“By working with communities and producers to more wisely manage the water they have, we help ensure that this and future generations will have sufficient supplies of clean water for drinking, agriculture, economic activities, recreation, and ecosystem health,” said Secretary Vilsack. “As drought continues across the west, our farmers and ranchers are stepping up to the plate to partner with communities and strengthen efficiency to better conserve our water supply.”
“Water and energy efficiency are intricately linked,” Commissioner López said. “When we conserve water, we also conserve the energy it takes to move it. One way we can achieve these efficiencies is to bring federal resources to the table for local projects that focus on saving water. This program represents one more way we’re focusing resources on projects to provide resiliency in the face of drought.”
Interior’s funding is made available through competitive grant programs, which are part of the WaterSMART sustainable water initiative. The grants and selection process are managed by Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, which is the nation’s largest wholesale water supplier, providing one in five western farmers with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland and potable water to more than 31 million Americans across 17 western states.
Of the 76 new projects announced today, Reclamation has selected 53 projects in 11 states to receive a total of $25.6 million in WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grants which, when leveraged with local and other funding sources, will complete more than $128 million in efficiency improvements. In addition to the new grants announced today, Reclamation will provide $2.1 million to support previously selected WaterSMART projects. Together, these projects are expected to enable water savings of more than 123,000 acre-feet. More details on the program and projects announced today can be found on the WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grants website.
Alongside the 53 water and energy efficiency grants, Reclamation also selected 23 additional cost share grants through its WaterSMART Drought Response Program, totaling $4.9 million, which when leveraged with cost-share funding will provide a total of $23.5 million in efforts associated with the program. More detail on the program and the projects announced today can be found on the Drought Response Program website.
Through its EQIP program, NRCS is investing $5.2 million in on-farm assistance to complement several projects that have been funded previously by BOR, and will provide an additional $10 million in 2017 to support some of the Reclamation projects announced today. NRCS is able to complement WaterSMART investments by targeting assistance in areas where WaterSMART sponsors indicated that water delivery system improvements might facilitate future on-farm improvements. NRCS will work with producers in select WaterSMART project areas to offer financial and technical assistance for practices that increase on-farm efficiencies, such as improving irrigation systems.
USDA works with private landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices that conserve and clean the water we drink. USDA support—leveraged with historic outside investments—boosts producer incomes and rewards them for their good work. At the same time, USDA investments have brought high quality water and waste services to rural communities, which are vital to their continued health and economic viability. For information on USDA’s drought mitigation efforts, visit USDA Drought Programs and Assistance. To learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners adapt to changing climate conditions including drought, visit the NRCS’ drought resources.
This partnership is a priority action identified in the President’s Memorandum Building National Capabilities for Long-Term Drought Resilience and accompanying the Federal Drought Action Plan. USDA, as permanent co-chair, is working with DOI and other members of the National Drought Resilience Partnership to better coordinate drought-related programs and policies, help communities reduce the impact of current drought events and prepare for future droughts.
From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the grants Thursday in Brighton, just outside Denver. He was in Colorado to speak at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen on Friday.
The grants will help complete 76 projects and save 123,000 acre-feet of water, or about 40 billion gallons, each year, said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan Lopez.
The projects are in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Vilsack said $15 million of the grants will come from his department and $32.6 million from the Bureau of Reclamation, part of the Interior Department.
He said the grants are an effort by the Agriculture and Interior departments to coordinate their drought-response efforts. President Barack Obama in March directed government agencies to cooperate on drought preparedness and planning.
“We’re not going to go off in one direction and have the Bureau of Reclamation go off in another direction,” Vilsack said.
The water districts are all connected through the Fountain Valley Authority and the Southern Delivery System project, which just went online last week. Right now, the SDS is coming in handy for Fountain, Security and Widefield.
Colorado Springs ratepayers turned Thursday’s public meeting about updates to the long-term Integrated Water Resource Plan into a Q&A session, asking what happens when neighboring districts are impacted by fracking, drought and contamination. Springs Utilities revealed to News 5 that the company is already helping in the efforts to deliver clean water to the three impacted communities after learning they had man-made compounds above the EPA’s new advisory level in their groundwater. “Right now, Springs Utilities staff is working with the staff of those entities to determine how they can use their allocations through the Fountain Valley Authority and SDS to augment their groundwater sources,” says CSU water resources manager Brett Gracely.
Colorado Springs shares the Widefield aquifer where the PFCs were found, but it has not used any water from it since the early 2000s. Now the other, smaller districts are scrambling to find other options. Springs citizens agree they should be good neighbors, but are still concerned about their own water. Ratepayer Dennis Moore says, “We’ve got to do something to help them, but how do we help them within our own resources without depleting our resources? It’s going to be interesting, so they’ve got to find a manageable way to do that.”
Instead of using its planned share of Pueblo Reservoir water through SDS and the FVA pipelines, Colorado Springs is letting the others siphon off a greater allotment, using other already established sources to provide water to its customers. Gracely says, “Because it’s a joint public health concern, it’s not well-defined, so we’ll do what we can in terms of in-kind services and our existing collaborations.”
As Colorado Springs continues to explore new options for retaining and delivering water for future generations, citizens agree that it is better to have extra as an insurance plan, since you never know when you will need it. “I remember back when, when people were fighting SDS and everything,” says Moore, “and now I’m beginning to see it’s a very good reason to have it.”