@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

West Drought Monitor June 28, 2016.
West Drought Monitor June 28, 2016.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the @ColoradoClimate.

Battle lines form over oil shale — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

As my friend Ed Quillen once said, “Oil shale has been the ‘Next big thing’ in Colorado for over a hundred years.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The White River meanders through Utah on its way to joining the Green River, flowing slowly through land on which an energy company hopes to develop its oil shale holdings.

Opponents and supporters of the proposal by Enefit American Oil have drawn familiar lines in the sandstone of the Colorado Plateau.

Opponents contend that the project threatens the local environment and that development could unbalance the global climate.

Supporters say the project would prop up local economies in two states still reeling from the fall in oil prices that slowed production and put a virtual halt to exploration.

Enefit is seeking a right of way across federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, which listed the route as a preferred alternative in its environmental study of the request.

Oil shale development is a greater threat to the atmosphere than other fossil-fuel development, said John Weisheit of Living Rivers.

“It’s not a contribution to society,” Weisheit said. “It’s a detriment to society.”

More like a lifeline to struggling northwest Colorado and northeast Utah, said Lannie Massey, natural resource specialist for Rio Blanco County.

“This Enefit deal is a good deal for everybody involved,” Massey said. “It would lessen our dependence on foreign sources” of energy and pump new life into the moribund energy industry.

Enefit’s project has attracted an array of opposition, including the Grand Canyon Trust, Earthjustice, Western Resource Advocates, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, as well as Living Rivers.

The northwest Colorado town of Rangely stands to benefit from Enefit’s project because of the town’s proximity. Rangely is about 30 miles from the area via Rio Blanco County Road 23, which could connect to Dragon Road in Utah, and then into the project site.

The project is expected to require about 2,000 jobs, which would be “a huge boost for this area and for this region, eastern Utah and western Colorado,” said Tim Webber, executive director of the Western Rio Blanco County Metro Recreation and Park District.

Bonanza, Utah, and Rangely are the nearest towns and they sit 20 miles apart as the crow flies, 28 miles apart by road. The rough-and-tumble territory in between is pockmarked with drillpads and Gilsonite mines that cut deep, straight-edge swaths into the earth.

Enefit’s oil shale project sits on private land as well as state land set aside for development to benefit Utah schools and other institutions.

Enefit is planning to mine oil shale under 27,243 acres, most it privately held.

The project under consideration by the BLM is a utility corridor over federal land that Enefit would use to extend utilities to serve the project, which projects production of 50,000 barrels of oil per day for as many as 30 years.

Enefit is planning to build three pipelines, expand an existing road and run a 138-kilovolt power line to the project area 12 miles southeast of Bonanza.

“I fly over that area a lot,” said Bruce Gordon of Aspen-based EcoFlight. The corridor land is “relatively pristine” with good habitat for animals, Gordon said.

The area is “pretty industrialized and disturbed already,” said Enefit Chief Executive Officer Rikki Hrenko-Browning.

Enefit could develop its private holdings without crossing federal land, but that would require a constant stream of heavy trucks and other heavy equipment, resulting in reduced air quality, the BLM said in its draft environmental impact statement.

The BLM needs to better understand the oil that would be produced by Enefit, as well as take into account the potential effects on water quality and of spent shale, said Anne Mariah Tapp of the Grand Canyon Trust.

The possible effects of a spill of oil into the White River or Evacuation Creek — and how to clean it up — have gone unstudied, Tapp said.

“Water quality is as important as water quantity,” Tapp said.

The BLM also should have a better idea of what will happen with 23 million tons of spent shale produced every year, Tapp said.

Spent shale — as the rock left over after the process is referred to — contains poisons, such as arsenic, as well as minerals, such as lithium.

Enefit is planning a “zero-liquid discharge” process in which all water to be used will be captured, treated and reused, said Hrenko-Browning. [ed. emphasis mine]

Plans also call for Enefit to have ongoing reclamation in areas of surface mining, Hrenko-Browning said.

Once the BLM completes its process, Enefit will seek permits from the state, including the state mining permit.

Rangely and western Rio Blanco County are working hard to diversify the regional economy, said Massey.

There is more at stake than that, however, Massey said.

Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contain the largest oil shale resources in the world.

“If we can get somebody to commit money and improve the retort process,” Massey said, “it would be a benefit to all of us in the oil shale region.”

#ColoradoRiver: Gov. Hickenlooper endorses Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — @DenverWater #COriver

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed Denver Water’s proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project as a model for achieving a balanced approach to environmental protection and water supply development through an inclusive and collaborative public process.

The endorsement follows the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s issuance of a Section 401 Water Quality Certification on June 23, 2016, which ensures compliance with state water quality standards. The certification confirms that Denver Water’s commitment to extensive mitigation and enhancement measures for the project will result in a net environmental benefit.

“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — also known as the Moffat Collection System Project — will strengthen Denver Water’s system against drought and climate change by nearly tripling the capacity of Gross Reservoir, located in Boulder County.

“Colorado is a growing and dynamic state,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “Denver Water has the critical responsibility to sustain over 25 percent of the state’s population and the majority of our economy for decades to come.”

Since 2003, Denver Water has been involved in federal, state and local permitting processes to evaluate the proposed project and develop ways to not only mitigate identified impacts, but also to enhance the aquatic environment and the economy of Colorado. The 401 certification — one of the major regulatory requirements — recognizes and builds upon other existing Denver Water agreements such as the landmark Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Learning by Doing cooperative effort and the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan.

“The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values,” said Lochhead.

Denver Water expects to secure all of the major permits for the project by the end of 2017. The estimated cost of the project is about $380 million, which includes design, management, permitting, mitigation and construction.

Visit http://grossreservoir.org to read more about the project and http://denverwaterblog.org for videos with voices from a few of the many project supporters including, Gov. Hickenlooper, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Here’s a post from Brent Gardner-Smith (Aspen Journalism) dealing with the subject but with a West Slope angle.

Pitkin County awards contract for Basalt whitewater park

Looking up the Roaring Fork River where Pitkin County intends to build a whitewater park with two wave features. Two Rivers Road is to the left in the photo, taken the first week of July, 2016.
Looking up the Roaring Fork River where Pitkin County intends to build a whitewater park with two wave features. Two Rivers Road is to the left in the photo, taken the first week of July, 2016.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

BASALT – Pitkin County has awarded a construction contract worth $770,000 to a company in Durango to build a whitewater park in the Roaring Fork River near Basalt’s Elk Run subdivision.

The in-channel work, to be completed by next February, includes extensive rock work in the channel and on the riverbank and the installation of two wave-producing concrete structures anchored into the riverbed.

The upstream wave is designed to appeal to kayakers, while the downstream wave should also be suitable for stand-up paddlers at some water levels.

After a recent bid process, the county awarded the contract to build the in-channel features of the whitewater park last week to Diggin’ It River Works Inc. of Durango, according to Laura Makar, an attorney with Pitkin County who is overseeing the project. The whitewater park is being managed by the county attorney’s office, as it started as a water-rights effort.

The company has recently built whitewater parks in West Glenwood and Durango. River Restoration of Carbondale, which designed the West Glenwood wave, has designed the Basalt project and its two wave-producing features.

The in-channel work for the Basalt project includes:

constructing temporary coffer dams to channel the flow of the river into a 60-inch bypass pipe to expose the riverbed for construction;

the placement of boulders in the river to form five grade-control structures above the features;

the anchoring of the two wave structures themselves; and

installation of stabilizing boulders along the toe of a steep section of riverbank.

See drawings.

Looking down the Roaring Fork River at the location where Pitkin County intends to build a whitewater park. Two Rivers Road is to the right. The county is planning to build a ramp, a set of stairs and a pedestrian corral between the river and the road.
Looking down the Roaring Fork River at the location where Pitkin County intends to build a whitewater park. Two Rivers Road is to the right. The county is planning to build a ramp, a set of stairs and a pedestrian corral between the river and the road.

To the river

The county plans to build a modest level of access features and public amenities as part of the project, consistent with approvals for the project granted by the town of Basalt in 2015.

(See “Exhibit A” from town of Basalt ordinance number 18-2015).

The amenities, for example, do not include viewing platforms on the riverbank as shown in some conceptual renderings by the county during public meetings on the project last year.

The riverside improvements, to be completed by May 1, 2017, include a new ramp, or path, down the riverbank from Two Rivers Road to the downstream end of the whitewater park and a metal stairway down the riverbank across from the entrance to the Elk Run subdivision, at the upper end of the whitewater park.

The downstream ramp is to serve as both a public access path and as an emergency ramp big enough to drive an ATV down if necessary.

The stairway, to be built on the riverbank across from the entrance to Elk Run, may or may not be open to the public and might be used for emergency access only, according to James Lindt, a planner with the town.

The county’s plans also include the creation of five or six parallel parking spaces just downvalley of the whitewater park, on town land on the south side of Two Rivers Road, and the addition of four more parking spaces at Fisherman’s Park, which today can hold about eight vehicles in a small dirt lot next to a picnic pavilion and a bathroom.

The town has also required that the county delineate parking spaces for two or three vehicles with trailers near Fisherman’s Park and resurface the small boat ramp across Two Rivers Road from the park. The county also plans to add boulders in the river to enlarge the eddy at the bottom of the modest boat ramp.

In an effort to make it safer for kayakers and spectators heading to and from the whitewater park, the roadside improvements include a path on the south side of Two Rivers Road, just above the whitewater park, to be formed by two sections of split-rail fence running parallel to the road and the river.

The “pedestrian corral” is designed to safely guide people from the downstream end of the whitewater park back up Two Rivers Road toward Fisherman’s Park, which the county is viewing as the primary put-in for boaters to access the two play waves.

It’s a short float around the corner from Fisherman’s Park to the whitewater park location, but it’s a difficult paddle back up the river, especially in higher water, from the whitewater park location to Fisherman’s Park.

So if a boater parks at Fisherman’s Park and floats down to the park, they will likely need to walk back up through the “corral” when they get out of the river, cross the road at the Elk Run intersection, and then walk on the sidewalk on the north side of the road back to the parking lot at Fisherman’s Park.

Looking up Two Rivers Road as a truck turns into the Elk Run subdivision. The whitewater park is to be built to the right of the view. Fisherman's Park is beyond the entrance to Elk Run, on the left.
Looking up Two Rivers Road as a truck turns into the Elk Run subdivision. The whitewater park is to be built to the right of the view. Fisherman’s Park is beyond the entrance to Elk Run, on the left.

Flashing lights

In an effort to increase pedestrian safety along the busy roadway, the county is also required to install three crosswalks across Two Rivers Road, each with flashing cautionary signs to warn and stop motorists.

The crosswalks are to be located at Fisherman’s Park, at the entrance to the tree farm property about a block down the road, and on the downvalley side of the entrance to Elk Run, at the upstream end of the walking corral. There are currently no marked crosswalks on Two Rivers Road in those locations.

The town intends to discourage accessing the whitewater park from the other side of the river, at the end of Emma Road, past Subway and Stubbies, although there is technically public access to the river from that location on town property. Emma Road is a private road, but it does have a public access easement on it, according to Lindt.

It’s also possible to access the whitewater park from Ponderosa Park, on the south side of the bridge by the 7-Eleven store, where there is public parking and a riverside trail leading up to the whitewater park location.

“The main access to be encouraged is off of Two Rivers Road,” Lindt said.

Construction staging for the project is slated to take place on the Emma Road side of the river, however, and the county is required to leave a dirt roadway for emergency vehicles to use to access the whitewater park when it’s finished.

Exhibit A to the Town of Basalt's ordinance approving Pitkin County's whitewater park.
Exhibit A to the Town of Basalt’s ordinance approving Pitkin County’s whitewater park.

Still Planning

The location for the Basalt whitewater park is not ideal, either in terms of the roadside access or its place on the river, just below a low highway bridge and hard against a steep bank on river-right.

But the choice of location, just above the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers and the Pitkin County line, has been driven more by a water rights consideration than the location in the river itself or in Basalt, where the town is working on a riverfront park downstream of the county’s whitewater park location.

Pitkin County officials have consistently stressed that their primary motivation in pursuing the whitewater park is to establish the water rights associated with the park’s wave-producing features, but they also think it will be a good recreational amenity.

“I think that this is going to be a water park that people will use, people will enjoy, and people will be safe while using,” Makar said.

The county is eager to move forward with construction of the in-channel work associated with the whitewater park, and is doing so before a “river recreation plan” and a master plan for Two Rivers Road have been completed by the town. Both plans are cited in the town’s approvals of the whitewater park, but there is not a requirement that they be complete before the county moves ahead.

“Pitkin County doesn’t have control over those planning processes, or control over when those planning processes are complete,” Makar said. “That’s why Pitkin County has gone forward with the instream work and the minimal improvements out of stream. If there were recommendations and changes made by the town of Basalt pursuant to those planning processes, certainly the park could adjust in the future to work with recommendations made by those planning processes.”

For example, there has been discussion of moving Two Rivers Road to the north to create more space to access the river. Lindt said a third public meeting on the river recreation plan will likely be held in August.

A graphic presented at a county meeting held on February 6, 2016 at Basalt town hall. Three variations of the proposed Basalt whitewater park were shown that night. This is the Keep It Simple version that shows the access trail/ramp but no other streamside improvements.
A graphic presented at a county meeting held on February 6, 2016, at Basalt Town Hall. Three variations of the proposed Basalt whitewater park were shown that night. This is the Keep It Simple version that shows the access trail/ramp but no other streamside improvements.
This is Middle of the Road variation of the whitewater park and shows a split-rail fence, but not in a parallel configuration showing a pedestrian corral. (A drawing of the corral has not yet been made public).
This is the Middle of the Road variation of the whitewater park and shows a split-rail fence, but not in a parallel configuration showing a pedestrian corral. (A drawing of the corral has not yet been made public.)
The most elaborate of the three variations, this is called the Events Space variations and shows viewing stands hanging over the riverbank next to Two Rivers Road.
The most elaborate of the three variations, this is called the Events Space variation and shows viewing stands hanging over the riverbank next to Two Rivers Road.

Final plans coming

The county still has to submit a final site plan for the project, which will provide additional details to the parking and pedestrian aspects of the plan, which are being worked on by Loris, a planning firm in Denver. The county must also obtain a construction management plan and a floodplain development permit from the town before construction begins.

Gregory Knott, the chief of police in Basalt, expressed concerns last year during the review process about public access and safety, given the location of the whitewater park along Two Rivers Road.

“Two Rivers Road is not suited to provide parking for individuals utilizing the whitewater park,” Knott said in a referral-comment letter dated Aug. 27, 2015, emphasizing that “parking along Two Rivers Road is not a safe or viable option.”

On Friday, Knott said he is comfortable that the safety measures ultimately included in the town’s October 2015 approval of the park will address his concerns, but also said he still needs to review the final site plan from the county.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates changes to rivers and waterways, issued a 404 permit for the county’s work in the river in 2010, but the initial deadline to complete the work under the permit has expired and the county is currently seeking an extension until February 2018.

Funding for the project has come from the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board and was approved by the county commissioners. The $770,000 worth of work awarded last week does not include the cost of roadside amenities. Makar said an estimate for the final project is forthcoming as design work continues.

The steep riverbank on the Roaring Fork River where Pitkin County intends to build a whitewater kayak park. Looking upstream, early July, 2016.
The steep riverbank on the Roaring Fork River where Pitkin County intends to build a whitewater kayak park. Looking upstream, early July, 2016.

Flow rights

After an expensive water court process the county obtained a conditional water right for the whitewater park and it carries a 2010 priority date.

The right is known as a “recreational in-channel diversion,” or RICD, and county officials see the water right as a way to keep water in the river in the face of future potential transmountain diversions from the upper Roaring Fork.

From April 15 to May 17, the county could call for 240 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water to flow through the park.

Then, from May 18 to June 10, the county could call for 380 cfs.

And during peak runoff, from June 11 to June 25, it could call for 1,350 cfs of water to flow through the kayak park and create the biggest surf waves of the season.

After June 25, the water right steps back down to 380 cfs until Aug. 20, and then back to 240 cfs until Labor Day.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, July 4, 2016.

Red Rocks Community College offers degree in water quality management

Photo via Red Rocks Community College.
Photo via Red Rocks Community College.

From The Lakewood Sentinel (Clarke Reader):

This fall, Red Rocks Community College makes Colorado history by offering a bachelor of applied science degree in water quality management technology.

Red Rocks is the first community college in the state to offer a BAS degree, the result oftwo years of work by college faculty.

“The accreditation to offer a BAS will expand the learning opportunities for the students,” said Chelsea Campbell, faculty lead of the Water Quality program, in an email interview. “This accreditation gives us the ability to offer more hands-on training for students and help them become better prepared for a career in the water industry.”

The water quality management technology program focuses on applications, regulations and technologies of water, and has been around since the 1970s, Campbell said. The campus’ water quality building contains a hard, wet lab for the two water and wastewater analytical classes, and an outdoor distribution lab. The outdoor distribution lab is a live lab where students are able to experience all of the elements seen within the distribution system. The curriculum is directed in a specific way to increase likelihood of employment in the industry.

“The BAS allows us to be pioneers in creating educational pathways that perhaps have not yet existed in this industry,” said Linda F. Comeaux, vice president of instructional services at the college. “Our students will get, what I believe, is the best learning experience, the elevated/upper division knowledge and hands-on, applicable experience to go right into the workforce and secure in-demand jobs.”


“I am most looking forward to the growth of opportunities for students, especially since the water industry has very few degrees that are specific to water,” Campbell wrote. “Most degrees are focused around the environment or more generic sciences. This degree provides students courses that match their specific interests. Employers can now hire graduates that match their specific needs and the graduates can get the degree they really want.”

As with most programs at Red Rocks, Water Quality is designed to be affordable and flexible — classes are offered in a variety of modalities including online, traditional classroom and hybrid.

“We already have Ph.D. and qualified faculty on staff that will be able to teach some of these upper division courses,” Comeaux wrote. “I am looking forward to the faculty having the opportunity to utilize additional parts of their spectrum of knowledge and do what they do best — give our students exceptional experiences.”

Brush Town Council reviews new flood plain maps

Brush back in the day. Photo via Vintage Paper Memories.
Brush back in the day. Photo via Vintage Paper Memories.

From the Brush News-Tribune (Katie Collins):

Flood Insurance Rate Map Project (FIRM) Update

One project in particular, the revamped area Floodplain map, topped last Monday night’s session with a presentation from Colorado Water Conservation Board Floodplain Mapping Coordinator Thuy Patton, who gave councilors and visitors an in-depth preview of the new map, its borders and insight into how it could affect insurance rates for many citizens owning property within the city limits.

With the first of such maps being issued as far back as 1977, and the latest revised in 1981, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made attempts to update those into the digital age and the Colorado Water Conservation Board took over the effort in 2008 to continue to bring those maps into the 21st century and to include the many changes that the Brush area has experienced in the past 35 years.

The new City of Brush Floodplain map will continue to be presented through the City of Brush and the public can feel free to make their voices heard on the redesigned borders during a Tuesday, July 12 public meeting, set to be held in the Morgan County Fairgrounds’ Mark Arndt Events Center, beginning at 4 p.m.

There, officials from the City of Brush, Floodplain Mapping Coordinator Thuy Patton and National Flood Insurance Program Coordinator Stephanie DiBetitto, will be on hand to answer questions, hear concerns and provide an interactive map for folks to plug in their address to see where they land on the new floodplain portions, as well as see how their insurance may be affected. The map, though slated for a 90-day public appeal period following the meeting before possible approval, will not go into effect until June of 2017.

More information on the Floodplain Map changes, as well as an updated map, can be found through the City of Brush online at http://www.brushcolo.com, the Colorado Water Conservation Board website at http://www.cwcb.state.co.us or inside the pages of the Brush News-Tribune and at http://www.brushnewstribune.com.

More coverage from Katie Collins writing for The Brush News Tribune:

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began a map modernization program in 2001, a lack of funding ended that initiative in 2008, halfway through the completion of Colorado area maps. In an effort to identify current and more accurate flood risks in the area, the Colorado Water Conservation Board signed up as a partner and in 2009 the program transitioned into the Risk Map Program, the agency took the FEMA maps and expanded them to provide in-depth and up-to-date floodplain risk awareness to community officials and citizens and to provide better assistance in flood mitigation.

“When we began the update, it was mainly an effort to convert from paper to digital offerings for all of Morgan County,” said Thuy Patton, E.I., CFM, who works as a Floodplain Mapping Coordinator for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “However, when we met with many communities, we found that local flood data was incorrect and the topography was bad.

A map revision analysis was done and we incorporated that into the large scale map update, and distributed those preliminary maps to Morgan County Communities on March 16 of this year,” she continued as she spoke before the Brush City Council on Monday night.

Patton noted that two main items had stood out from that study concerning Brush, including a change in flow rates, which found discharge had been reduced by 30 percent since the 1970s Beaver Creek study, going from 55,200 cubic feet per second to 32,400. The second big change found was that the original study hadn’t included all five structures that cross of the Beaver Creek in and around the city of Brush.

With the newly updated maps now complete, officials from the Colorado Conservation Board are seeking public commentary on the new borders that now include 100-year floodplain limits as well as 500-year areas. Among the many changes to the borders are many surrounding Mill Street, with those north of it possibly due to experience an increase in risk, and those south somewhat of a decrease.

More information on the changes, the map history and on insurance rates and policies that could be affected by the map update will be available to all during a public open house, set to be held on Tuesday, July 12 starting at 4 p.m. at the Morgan County Fairgrounds’ Mark Arndt Events Center in Brush.

There, officials from the National Flood Insurance Program, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, FEMA and local officials will be on hand to help citizens understand the changes and how it may affect them. An interactive map that allows community members to plug in their address online to see where their properties lie within the new map borders will be made available there along with stations that will provide one-on-one assistance for anyone interested.

Following the open house, officials will post two publications in the Brush News-Tribune and Fort Morgan Times, and a 90-day appeal period will follow the second publication, in which anyone concerned can submit a technically based appeal. A period of resolving those issues will follow, should any arise. A date will set in which the map will officially go into effect and during the Monday night meeting, Patton proposed that date will likely lie somewhere in June of 2017.

More information on the updated maps, including links to the 1981 and current maps and to a video of the Monday night presentation, are posted on the City of Brush website at http://www.brushcolo.com and can be obtained by visiting City Hall at 600 Edison Street. Information from the Colorado Water Conservation Board can be found online at http://www.cwcb.state.co.us and on the National Flood Insurance Program at http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart. Updates can also be found by following http://www.brushnewstribune.com.

Public water supply issues continue in Widefield, Security area — The Denver Post

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment emphasized, in a preliminary health assessment, that there’s no established link between these perflourinated chemicals (PFCs) and the elevated kidney, lung and bladder cancer documented in Security, Widefield and Fountain.

Air Force officials on Tuesday confirmed they are stepping in with $4.3 million to set up a temporary water treatment system to try to reduce exposures to contaminated water. The Air Force also has agreed to accelerate testing at military airfields suspected as a source. They are doing this as a “good neighbor gesture,” officials said, not as an admission of fault.

CDPHE officials recommended that — as a precaution — residents in areas where PFCs levels are above the EPA’s newly established 70 parts per trillion health advisory limit should consider alternative sources of water…

Widefield water department director Brandon Bernard welcomed the Air Force intervention, aimed at deploying granulated carbon treatment technology, to give utilities “breathing room” to explore options for dealing with the PFCs in their water supplies. Most well water in the Widefield aquifer contains PFCs above the EPA limit, utility officials said, and they have joined counterparts in neighboring Security in blending water from wells as much as possible with water piped 40 miles from Pueblo.

Yet Widefield (pop. 18,000) cannot get by without using water from its 11 wells, [Brandon Bernard] said. “When we don’t have to run our wells, we won’t,” he said. “But at times of peak demand, 80 degrees, we are forced to run our wells.”


The utilities south of Colorado Springs have been scrambling since May 19, when the EPA tightened its previous 400 parts per trillion (ppt) health advisory limit for PFCs. The communities south of Colorado Springs, with a combined population of around 80,000 people, rank among the hardest-hit of 63 areas nationwide where the chemicals, widely used to fight petroleum fires, have been measured at levels the EPA deems dangerous.

These PFCs are among the worst in an expanding multitude of unregulated contaminants that federal scientists are detecting in city water supplies, including hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and anti-depressants. PFCs don’t break down and boiling water won’t get rid of them.

The CDPHE’s preliminary health assessment — “Southeast El Paso County Perfluorinated Chemicals Preliminary Assessment of Cancer” — found that overall cancer cases from 2000 to 2014 were “statistically higher than expected,” based on El Paso County cancer rates.

State health investigators determined that “lung cancers were about 66 percent higher, kidney cancers were about 17 percent higher, and bladder cancers were about 34 percent higher than expected.” However, each of these cancers has been linked to smoking, CDPHE officials said, and tobacco use in the area was relatively high…

Air Force officials stepped in with $4.3 million “as an interim measure,” said Maj. William Russell, spokesman for the 21st Space Wing at the Peterson Air Force Base, which is east of Colorado Springs and north of the contaminated watersheds.

Federal water experts at the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA and CDPHE officials and local utility crews have been discussing a temporary fix and heard from the Air Force civil engineers last week. Details were to be considered this week for a system for trying to remove PFCs, Russell said.

Air Force officials nationwide are investigating potential sources of PFC contamination and on Tuesday said they would begin drilling at Peterson Air Force Base in October…

Air Force investigators “are hoping to have that internal draft report by March 2017.”

Meanwhile, base officials are checking aircraft hangar fire suppression systems and investigating past use of PFCs. “They are also replacing their current stock” of an aqueous film-forming foam that may contain PFCs “with a newer EPA-compliant synthetic foam,” according to prepared material released Tuesday.

Peterson Air Force Base crews have used this standard fire-suppressing foam on airfields. For years, they’ve provided firefighting and emergency services to Colorado Springs in exchange for using land leased from the city. They also used the foam from 1970 to 1990 in training exercises at the base involving fire departments from across the region. This did not violate EPA guidelines, officials said.

After about 1990, training was done in a lined basin using water to fight controlled propane-fueled fires, officials said, and the foam then was used only in emergency response…

CDPHE officials had urged the Air Force to accelerate testing and on Tuesday said they are pleased with the response.

“Human studies show increased exposure to PFCs might increase the risk for some health effects,” Salley said. “However, these studies have scientific limitations, and results have not been consistent. The most consistent health effects in human studies are increases in blood cholesterol and uric acid levels, which may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease or high blood pressure.

“Studies have shown more limited findings related to low infant birth weights. It is not yet clear whether PFCs cause cancer, some studies have shown associations with higher level exposures to PFCs and increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer in humans and liver, pancreas and testicular cancer in laboratory animals. There is a large amount of uncertainty on exposure levels and health effects for PFCs.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The Air Force’s announcement Tuesday offered a possible stop-gap solution to a problem that local water district managers say may take years to permanently fix, and it comes as residents there flock to purchase bottled water.

The chemicals, called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, “possibly” came from Peterson Air Force Base, where firefighters used a foam rich in those chemicals for decades to put out aircraft fires, said Steve Brady, a spokesman for the base’s 21st Space Wing.

Base officials decided to expedite in-depth testing to pinpoint the source of the contaminants after a preliminary report in June suggested the installation as a possible source…

The Air Force expects to install granular activated carbon filters – devices that can filter PFCs from the water, Air Force officials said.

The devices are positioned at or near well heads, filtering water as it is pumped from the ground. Doing so would allow local water districts to once again rely more heavily on the Widefield aquifer – a vital water source for each community.

Still, the development appears unlikely to help residents for much of the rest of this summer, due to the time needed for installation, said Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts.

“This will just help solidify not having a concern next summer and in years to come,” Heald said.

Once installed, local water officials said the project could help keep residents from receiving water laden with PFCs, which have been linked to low birth weights in newborns or certain cancers.

The chemicals aren’t regulated, but the Environmental Protection Agency still sets baseline levels at which the public must be notified about potential health effects.

In May, the EPA lowered its baseline level to 70 parts per trillion, and the EPA said adverse health effects might happen after prolonged use.

All public wells for the Security, Widefield and Fountain water districts tested above the new health advisory levels – leaving local water officials scrambling to minimize exposure.

Fountain shut down all of its wells, and it has only used clean surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir to keep people from drinking contaminated water from the aquifer.

Its reliance on surface water has essentially left the city running at 80-percent capacity – a move its been able to achieve so far, due to mandatory watering restrictions, said Curtis Mitchell, the city’s utilities director.

The situation appears most urgent in Security and Widefield, where water districts still use contaminated wells to meet demand.

Officials for those two water districts have been diluting that contaminated water with surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir, limiting the number of residents exposed.

The Security Water and Sanitation Districts’ tactic could cause water rates to rise in the future, Heald said. It has instituted voluntary watering restrictions to limit water use – tamping down costs and limiting the need for well water.

Meanwhile, the Widefield Water and Sanitation District is on track to run out of clean surface water by sometime in November, said Brandon Bernard, its water department manager. At that point, every resident in the district would receive chemicals in their tap water, because it would have to rely solely on contaminated well water.

For now, the areas most often receiving contaminated tap water are those in the western portions of Security and Widefield.

Infants, pregnant and nursing women and women planning to become pregnant who live in affected areas may want to switch to bottled or treated water, health officials say.

The Air Force is working with the Army Corps of Engineers’ “rapid response group,” which plans to conduct a site visit Wednesday in the Pikes Peak region, said Tom Zink, who is the Corps’ Air Force national program manager for environmental support.

The visit also will focus on private wells, Zink said.

So far, 26 private wells tapped into the Widefield aquifer have tested above the EPA’s new levels, according Danielle Oller, an El Paso County Public Health spokeswoman. That equates to slightly more than half of the wells tested so far.

The aquifer stretches from Stratton Meadows area to Fountain and extends east to the Colorado Springs Airport…

The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Peterson Air Force Base was among 664 military sites across the nation due to be examined for the presence of PFCs. Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy also were on the list.

At Peterson Air Force Base, firefighters used the foam during training exercises from 1970 through about 1990, base officials said in a statement Tuesday.

The training site also was used by fire departments across the region, and it was in compliance with EPA standards at the time, the installation’s statement said.

Since roughly 1990, firefighters have trained in a lined basin using water and fighting flames fueled by a special propane system – not jet fuel. Since then, the foam has only used “in emergency response situations,” the base said.

Base officials said they are replacing their stock of firefighting foam with a new, EPA-compliant variety, and they are double-checking aircraft hangar fire suppression systems for residual chemicals.

Click here to read the release from Petersen Air Force Base via The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck).

From KRDO.com (Chris Loveless):

The Air Force has awarded a $4.3 million rapid response contract as an interim measure to evaluate and treat PFC contaminated water in Security, Widefield and Fountain.

“This proactive measure is being taken as a good neighbor approach while the investigation continues,” said Lt. Col. Chad Gemeinhardt, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron commander.

The money will be used to evaluate affected potable water systems and develop short-term treatment solutions.

Peterson Air Force Base says that the treatment system is expected to be granulated activated carbon filters installed in the affected potable water systems to remove PFCs from drinking water.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will meet with El Paso County Health, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Air Force Civil Engineer Center and water district representatives July 6 to determine the best course of action.

Peterson Air Force Base officials requested and received an expedited date for further investigation as a possible source of the chemicals. The site investigation contractor will arrive at Peterson July 7, to determine best locations to drill monitoring wells. The wells will determine source and extent of the contamination, if any is found.

Drilling will begin in October 2016 and an internal draft report from the contractor is expected in March 2017. Soil samples will also be collected and sampled for PFCs to try and determine the source, according to Air Force Civil Engineer Center officials. The base was originally scheduled for further testing in May 2017, but testing was moved up to October 2016 based on the request.

Peterson provides airport firefighting and emergency services to the city of Colorado Springs in exchange for leased property from the city, and are the first responders for any aircraft or medical emergency on airport property.

Peterson used aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, in joint fire training on Peterson, where fire departments from across the region used the training sites to adequately prepare for emergency response actions to provide public safety. The AFFF was used in a legal, responsible manner in full compliance with Environmental Protection Agency guidelines at the time.

An industry-standard fire suppressant used to extinguish flammable liquid fires such as jet fuel fires, the foam was used from 1970 until about 1990 when Peterson firefighters began training in a lined basin using water to fight a controlled propane-fueled fire, which provides realistic firefighting conditions in an environmentally-safe and controlled manner. Since developing the new lined training area, AFFF has only been used in emergency response situations.