From the Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):
Colorado taxpayers have spent at least $6 million on the state’s water plan, an eight-month-old document that has led to little, if any, real water policy action.
“That’s more than I expected,” said Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, a member of a legislative water committee that took public comment on the state water plan a year ago.
According to information obtained by The Colorado Independent, the price tag for the state’s first water plan is at least $5,964,227.
That amount doesn’t include hundreds, if not thousands of work-hours state employees at the Colorado Water Conservation Board spent combing through and responding to more than 30,000 public comments about early draft of the plan, which was finalized in November.
Nor does it include travel costs for CWCB employees. The board’s director, James Eklund, made more than 100 presentations on the water plan over the course of two years.
It also doesn’t include the travel or per diem costs for the 10-member legislative committee that visited nine communities throughout Colorado last year to gather public input on the plan.
According to Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, “It is difficult to tease out [travel] costs related to plan due to the typically statewide and water-related nature of the CWCB’s work” and the interim water committee since in most cases the water plan would have been discussed as part of other discussions and conversations around water-related matters.
Some $287,263 in tax dollars paid for project management fees, layout, design, photography, printing and video production, as well as a rental fees for meeting spaces and an event at the Colorado History Center for the plan’s official roll-out last November.
According to the CWCB, $5,659,364 was spent by the state’s nine basin roundtables to develop the “implementation plans” that are the basis of the state water plan. These plans detail ways each region of the state would help to solve a potential one million acre-foot water storage projected by 2050.
An acre-foot of water is the amount of water it would take to cover Mile High Stadium from end zone to the other with a foot of water.
The basin roundtables are groups of water providers, as well as representatives of agricultural, environmental, recreational and other water users. The basins refer to eight major waterways in the state, plus a separate roundtable convened for the Denver metropolitan area.
Eight implementation plans were developed. The Denver and the South Platte roundtables collaborated on their plan, for a total cost of $2.2 million. But just how those dollars were spent is still unknown.
The other six roundtables collectively spent about $3.4 million to develop their plans.
Sen. Pat Steadman, a Democrat on the Joint Budget Committee, was taken back when informed about the costs, especially for the amounts tied to the basin roundtables.
“Where did they get the money?” he asked.
Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered Colorado’s first statewide water plan to ward against an impending water shortfall. By 2050, Colorado needs as much new water as it takes to serve about 2 million people.
They say the revised, 416-page document still is less of a plan than a water study — a detailed account of the struggles faced by water users throughout the state, painstakingly compiled by an administration more interested in making everyone feel heard than in making tough decisions.
Critics say the plan still lacks priorities and actionable specifics and that it fails to address the most practical question – how to pay for solutions. They’re also disappointed that it sets no clear expectations for how much, statewide, all of Colorado’s water users should be conserving.
The Guardian newspaper this week produced a report stating voters, especially young ones, are increasingly dismayed that climate change has been “the missing issue of the 2016 campaign.”
In Colorado, that means turning a cold shoulder to global warming, an issue that a 2013 Yale study found is “very or somewhat important” to 73 percent of Coloradans – 70 percent of whom believe climate change is real.
“There are fewer and fewer people who believe climate change isn’t real, and fewer people who believe that humans don’t have some role in causing it,” former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter recently told RealVail.com.
In his recent book “Powering Forward,” Ritter says a transition away from coal as the state’s primary resource for generating electricity is inevitable because Coloradans increasingly prefer cleaner-burning natural gas and carbon-free renewables resources such as wind, solar and biomass. But he argues the state owes hard-hit coal-mining communities a “Just Transition.”
Many residents of struggling coal towns on Colorado’s Western Slope, from Hayden to Delta, blame the climate policies of Ritter and his successor Gov. John Hickenlooper for undermining state coal production. But both men counter that market forces – primarily the abundance of cheap natural gas and ever-more affordable renewables – are driving down demand for coal.
The perfect storm of coal company bankruptcies and plummeting natural gas and renewable prices is being driven by those market forces more than state and federal policies, Ritter argues in a recent RouteFifty.com story produced by RealVail.com. And he adds that even conservative lawmakers are beginning to realize the value of promoting renewable resources.
Ritter, who now serves as the director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, has been working with 13 western states on plans to comply with the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which is stuck in a legal quagmire that ultimately may be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. That makes November’s election all the more critical, Ritter says.
“Certainly, as we’ve seen by [Antonin] Scalia’s death, appointment of the next justice could mean a lot about what happens even at state level on environmental and energy policy, so a lot of this is still up in play, but understand that even with all of that happening, states are doing a variety of really important things in transitioning to clean energy,” Ritter said.
Ritter points to a recent clean energy accord signed by 17 governors, four of them Republicans.
“States with very conservative governors are doing what I would consider to be some very important things,” Ritter said. “Partly that may be because they realize the business opportunities that are available, they realize that the price of wind and solar have come down so dramatically that while they’re still intermittent, they’re fairly cheap.”
Climate concerns aside, mproving technology plays a big role in that transition, he adds.
“They realize there’s great research and development on the energy storage front, so if you get to a point where you combine rooftop solar with storage, people are actually able to provide their own power from the sun, and that makes them independent in many respects, and there are a lot of conservatives that like that idea,” Ritter said.
The presidential election features a likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, who outright denies global climate change is happening, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.
The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday morning, specifically, it is mobilizing contractors to shore up the mine’s opening and the waste rock pile just outside the adit. The operations are expected to continue through October.
“We anticipate that the interim water treatment plant (below the Gold King) will continue to capture and treat any discharge from the mine,” the EPA said in a news release. “However, should any of this work impact downstream watersheds, EPA will notify stakeholders.”
The work will include installing steel bracing and concrete, the removal of waste sludge stored in the mine’s temporary water treatment plant and an analysis of how to move forward with water treatment in the long run.
With the beginning of the new initiative, the EPA is signaling it has heard the complaints of communities downstream of the mine who say they weren’t notified quickly of the Gold King disaster. The agency says it has an expansive notification plan in place to prevent any further communication issues.
Perhaps the biggest focus, however, of downstream stakeholders has been the still-leaching mine’s temporary water treatment plant. Officials have been worried about the EPA’s commitment to keep open the facility, which has been running since October.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Cory Gardner and local leaders for months have urged EPA officials to commit to keep this temporary plant running, and maybe expand it, until a federal Superfund cleanup of old mines is done.
The plant’s future, as of Friday, remained an unknown though the EPA said it has committed to taking a hard look — including public input — about how to proceed in the long-term. The plant will continue to operate as officials investigate alternatives.
Meanwhile the House of Representatives passed a funding bill for mine cleanups today. Here’s a report from Kate Magill writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:
The bill, introduced by Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., would create the Energy and Minerals Reclamation Foundation, which would be tasked with obtaining and using funds for the cleanup of abandoned coal mines, hard-rock mines and onshore oil and gas wells.
Hice’s legislation is part of a three-part bill package introduced to address abandoned mine cleanup. The other two bills include the Mining Schools Enhancement Act and the Locatable Minerals Claim Location and Maintenance Fees Act, which also includes good Samaritan language that was added by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.
The Foundation Act specifically refers to mines that are located on federally managed lands. If created, the foundation would be a nonprofit corporation that would not be associated with an agency or government establishment. It would be led by a board of directors appointed by the Interior Department secretary.
The purpose of the foundation would be to obtain and administer private donations to be used for the “activities and services of the BLM,” according to the bill. In addition to the cleanup of abandoned mine sites and oil and gas wells, these activities include caring for wildlife habitats, National Conservation Lands, and cultural, recreation and historical resources. The foundation would also raise money for educational and technical resources to help with the management of the Bureau of Land Management.
Though Tipton supported Tuesday’s passage of the Foundation Act, he believes it is just the first step in the process of reclaiming abandoned mines, and it needs to be followed by the passage of good Samaritan legislation, according to Liz Payne, a spokesperson for Tipton.
Payne said it is a positive step to raise money to do site cleanup, but good Samaritan groups need liability coverage, a key component of the language Tipton added to legislation. Such coverage would protect groups that have the technical expertise to reclaim abandoned mine lands from being held completely liable for unforeseen problems such as a mine blowout.
Hice introduced the bill in part because of the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill, so that more private sector resources could be dedicated to cleanup efforts.
“By incorporating private sector policies and procedures, H.R. 3844, the Bureau of Land Management Foundation Act, revamps and improves the cleanup of contaminated water in abandoned mine sites,” Hice said in a statement following the passage of the bill.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it has been assigned to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
A proposal to deploy the powerful Superfund program to clean up leaky Colorado mines — including one that unleashed millions of gallons of wastewater last year — isn’t stirring up much passion, despite formidable resistance in the past.
Some people who live in the scenic southwest corner of the state feared a Superfund designation would scare off vital tourist traffic, even though dormant mines have been belching poisonous wastewater into rivers for years.
Others objected on the grounds that it was a federal intrusion. Some worried Superfund status, which delivers federal money up-front for extensive cleanups, would diminish the chances of mining making a comeback.
But as of Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had received only seven written comments opposing the planned cleanup, and 18 supporting it.
“I’ve gotten more letters to the editor on this topic,” said Mark Esper, editor of the Silverton Standard, a weekly newspaper in the heart of the storied mining district in the San Juan Mountains. “I’m a little bit surprised,” he said.
Since opening the public comment period in April, the EPA said, the agency has received a total of just 33 written comments , with 25 clearly for or against. Others made suggestions about specific sites or commented on other projects.
Monday is the deadline for the public to weigh in.
Opposition to a Superfund designation softened after a 3-million-gallon spill from the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015, even though it was an EPA-led crew that inadvertently triggered the blowout during a preliminary cleanup operation.
Many people came to believe only the federal government could pull off the sweeping cleanup that will be required, Esper said. The project is expected to cost millions and take years.
Silverton Town Administrator Bill Gardner said the scant comments might signal that residents had their say during months of public meetings.
“I’m hoping that people feel included and that their concerns have been heard,” he said.
Tainted wastewater from the Gold King reached the Animas River in Colorado and the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah. The EPA estimates the spill sent 880,000 pounds of metals into the Animas, including arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc.
Water utilities shut down their intake valves and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers. The EPA says the water quality quickly returned to pre-spill levels.
After local officials and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper endorsed a Superfund cleanup, the EPA proposed the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund area in April. It encompasses 48 sites that spill a combined 5.4 million gallons of acidic waste daily, the agency said.
The EPA could formally create the Superfund district as early as this fall, after the agency reviews the comments and makes any changes to the plan.
If the area is designated a Superfund site, the EPA would examine the mountains for pollution sources and compile a list of cleanup alternatives. Long-term cleanup work would begin once the EPA chooses an alternative.
Graded on 17 energy and environment bills picked by Conservation Colorado, 31 of 34 Democrats in the state House scored 100. Eleven of 17 Democrats in the Senate got perfect scores, as well.
On the Republican side, Rep. Kevin Priola scored the highest in his House caucus, 44 percent. Sens. Randy Baumgardner, Bill Cadman, Larry Crowder, Owen Hill, Ellen Roberts, Mark Scheffel and Jack Tate topped all party members in the upper chamber at 27 percent each.
Of the three Democrats who were less than perfect by Conservation Colorado’s grade, Rep. Ed Vigil scored the lowest, 67 percent, for his votes on three unsuccessful bills, House Bill 1441, requiring the Public Utilities Commission to consider the full cost of carbon for electricity generation; House Bill 1310 to make operators liable for oil and gas operations; and House Bill 1355 on local governments’ authority over where oil and gas facilities locate.
Reps. Millie Hamner and Paul Rosenthal each scored 89 percent. Rosenthal was docked for his vote on House Bill 1355. Hamner was flagged for voting against House Bill 1228, which became law and allows one-year water rights transfers.
In the Senate, Mary Hodge was the lowest scoring Democrat with 80 percent. She lost points on two bills. She voted with Republicans in favor of Senate Bill 007, which would have encouraged the use of biomass fuel for renewable energy generation in areas with high risk of wildfire.
She also voted in favor of Senate Bill 210, which would have allowed voters to decide whether to borrow money to expedite major road-and-bridge projects.
Democratic Sens. Kerry Donovan, Cheri Jahn, John Kefalas, Linda Newell and Nancy Todd each scored 91 percent. They also voted for Senate Bill 007, which passed the Senate 24-11, but was killed by a Democrat-led House committee.
The lowest scores in the Senate went to Republicans Kevin Grantham, Kent Lambert and Vicki Marble, each with a 9.
The lowest scores in the House, at 11 each, were assigned to Republicans Justin Everett, Gordon Klingenschmitt, Clarice Navarro and Jim Wilson.
Security will be able to use increased capacity in the Southern Delivery System pipeline to deal with contaminated well water in the Fountain Creek aquifer.
Security Water District reached an agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities to increase the amount of water transported through SDS in order to eliminate perfluoralkyl substances, or PFASs, in drinking water.
“The start of SDS could not have come at a better time,” said Roy Heald, Security Water general manager. “We always said SDS was being built to improve reliability to the existing water systems and the situation with PFASs in drinking water underscores that.”
SDS went online in April.
The cause of the PFAS contamination is unknown, but it typically finds its way into water systems through manufacturing processes or deicing at airports.
When contaminants were first detected, Security stopped using some wells and initiated voluntary watering restrictions.
Security, located south of Colorado Springs, historically blended equal parts well water and surface water. The majority of customers are not affected by PFASs, but in some parts of the district increased use of groundwater normally would be needed to meet summer watering demands.
Security also gets some of its water from the Fountain Valley Conduit, which, like SDS, pumps water from Lake Pueblo to El Paso County.
“We are pleased to work with our longtime SDS partner Security Water to help resolve the water contamination issues,” said Dan Higgins, Colorado Springs Utilities chief water services officer. “SDS is already showing how critically important it was for all the communities who partnered to build it.”
Meanwhile, here’s a report about the public meeting held yesterday about the problem from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:
More than 1,000 people south of Colorado Springs packed a high school Thursday night and buffeted government officials with questions and concerns about an invisible toxic chemical contaminating public water supplies…
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials repeated recommendations — especially for women and children, because they may be more vulnerable to the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — to switch to other water as a precaution.
“You may or may not be getting your tap water from an area of concern,” CDPHE water-quality official Tyson Ingals told residents. “We have about 60,000 people in the areas of concern. We estimate 10,000 to 15,000 may be receiving water with PFCs above the level of the heath advisory.”
What about schools? residents asked. How long have people here been drinking water tainted with PFCs? What about property values? Should pets be drinking different water? Could organically home-grown vegetables be tainted?
Local utility officials in Widefield, Security and Fountain — all partially dependent on municipal wells drawing from tainted groundwater — assured residents they are intensifying efforts to dilute supplies by mixing in cleaner water piped from Pueblo, 40 miles to the south. A CDPHE preliminary health assessment has found elevated cancer in the area, but officials emphasized no link to PFCs has been established…
Officials from El Paso County, the CDPHE and the military now are looking more closely at contamination in the Widefield-Security-Fountain area. Of 43 private wells tested recently, county officials have received results from 37 tests, with PFC levels in 26 exceeding the EPA limit, spokeswoman Danielle Oller said.
In Security, all 32 municipal wells are contaminated, and water officials ranked the wells based on levels of contamination. One well where the level was nearly 20 times higher than an EPA health advisory limit has been shut down. Security officials urged voluntary cutbacks in lawn watering to reduce the need to use contaminated groundwater.
Security Water and Sanitation District manager Roy Heald has divided the city into three zones and said about 25 percent of residents live in a zone receiving water from contaminated wells. The residents in two other zones “are supplied water mainly from surface water sources,” Heald said…
Next week, utility officials plan to begin re-plumbing, installing new pipelines, trying to blend in more water from Pueblo into that zone and other areas…
Air Force representatives at the forum, where residents filled an auditorium, adjacent cafeteria and stood in hallways at Mesa Ridge High School, said the Air Force will pay $4.3 million to set up temporary treatment systems — while local utilities address the long-term implications of contaminated groundwater and a possible fix. Military airfields are suspected as a source of PFC contamination, and a broad investigation is planned, with drilling in October at Peterson Air Force Base east of Colorado Springs.
“Our short-term to mid-term solution is to use more surface water, which is not affected by these contaminants. Our mid-term to long-term solution will be to treat the groundwater,” said Heald, who met with Air Force officials and will continue those discussions. Security also has requested financial help from the EPA, CDPHE and elected officials.
“Security Water is a relatively small water district, and the costs of managing this issue is expensive for our customers,” Heald said.
Security residents typically pay about $25 a month for their water.
Widefield officials said they’ll set up a free bottled water distribution station — limiting residents to 10 gallons a week. They’re relying as much as possible on water from Pueblo, although they may draw from contaminated wells to meet peak demands during summer as temperatures rise.
Fountain utility officials planned to notify residents about PFCs in notices mailed along with July water bills. Fountain normally draws from eight municipal wells, all now contaminated with PFCs above the EPA limit, and has shifted to water from Pueblo while contract engineers search for a solution.
Yet Ingals from CDPHE pointed out that these cities “cannot function on surface water alone. … There are groundwater wells that are being pumped. … The wells kick on and off at different intervals. … Because it is not predicable, we cannot tell you that it always is safe…
CDPHE experts in February began a preliminary assessment of cancer rates in the area south of Colorado Springs and on June 30 completed a report showing elevated cancer rates. The CDPHE team found lung cancer rates 66 percent higher than expected, bladder cancer up 17 percent and kidney cancer up 34 percent. CDPHE officials emphasized there’s no clear link to PFCs…
The assessment looked at births from 2010-14 and all cases of 11 types of cancer from 2000-2014 in 21 census tracts covering Security, Widefield and Fountain. CDPHE researchers compared these with birth and cancer data from the rest of El Paso County.
They found no spike in low birth weights in the areas where water is contaminated with PFCs. But there were a higher-than-expected rates of lung, kidney and bladder cancers.
“Of these types of cancer, only kidney cancer has been plausibly linked to PFC exposure in human and laboratory animal studies,” Van Dyke said.
The increases may be explained by higher rates of smoking and obesity in the area. Smoking and obesity, CDPHE officials said, may be factors explaining the increased kidney cancer.
More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):
Residents from across Security, Widefield and Fountain flocked to hear more than a dozen federal, state, local and military officials hold a town hall about the work being done to clean the water in the Widefield aquifer.
As the evening wore on, one question rose above the rest: Why must residents have to incur more costs for bottled water and home filters because of a problem that wasn’t their fault?
“Why does the consumer have to pay more?” one man asked, to applause. He received no answer…
Roughly 60,000 people are served by water districts pulling from the contaminated Widefield aquifer, most of whom are in Security, Widefield and Fountain, officials said Thursday.
However, the majority of those people receive clean surface water pumped in by the Pueblo Reservoir. About 10,000 to 15,000 people receive contaminated water from wells tapped into the aquifer – and even they sometimes receive clean surface water, depending on daily water usage, a state health official said.
In general, those affected homes are along the western portions of Security and Widefield. Fountain has switched to clean surface water…
Throughout the meeting, officials stressed they are doing all they can to fix the problem.
Within a month, the Widefield Water and Sanitation District plans to set up a water dispensing site, allowing residents along the western portions of Widefield to receive up to 10 gallons of water a week. It is also working on a construction project to pump in more surface water.
Security officials announced a deal Thursday with Colorado Springs Utilities to increase the amount of Southern Delivery System water it will receive.
The project, which could take three months to complete, will likely end the community’s reliance on well water until a more permanent solution can be implemented. It might, however, come at the cost of higher water rates next year, the district’s water manager said.
Fountain officials also are working on a treatment plant.