#AnimasRiver: Bennet and Gardner hope to push payments from the EPA #GoldKingMine

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Colorado senators Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, joined Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, John McCain, R-Arizona, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, in endorsing the measure, according to a news release…

In a prepared statement, the senators said they hope to push the Environmental Protection Agency to cover costs incurred beyond Oct. 31, 2015, which the agency said it would not do, barring extenuating circumstances.

The measure would require EPA to pay all costs eligible for reimbursement unless the agency proves that the amount is not consistent with what is mandated under federal law.

If approved, EPA would have 90 days to pay out claims and give notice whether the agency will pay within 30 days of reaching a decision. It would also establish a water quality-monitoring program, which the EPA would reimburse local agencies to operate.

“It’s been more than a year since the Gold King Mine spill, and it’s unacceptable that the EPA still hasn’t fully reimbursed Colorado communities for their costs,” Bennet said in the prepared statement.

“The communities in southwest Colorado paid out of their own pockets to maintain drinking water, provide for extra staffing costs, keep the public updated, provide water for irrigation and monitor water quality. This amendment ensures that the EPA fully reimburses these communities and works collaboratively to institute a robust long-term water quality monitoring plan.”

Reimbursements to entities affected by the Gold King Mine spill, for which the EPA has taken responsibility, have trickled in since an agency-contracted crew released a massive plume of mine wastewater more than a year ago…

According to EPA records, the agency has paid more than $5.2 million in costs associated with the Aug. 5 blowout, but local agencies say outstanding costs remain unpaid.

San Juan County (Colorado) administrator Willy Tookey said the EPA has paid more than $250,000 (EPA records show $269,196) to the county and town of Silverton, yet $90,000 remains outstanding.

Megan Graham, public affairs officer for La Plata County, said the county has received $172,000 in costs, and is waiting for an additional $87,000. EPA records indicate $369,578 has been paid out to La Plata County, and it was unclear Monday why there is a discrepancy.

The city of Durango, too, says it’s due more money, having been paid $45,410 of its $444,032 request. Finance director Julie Brown said the city was notified Monday that the EPA intends to pay $101,465.

Local companies and individuals impacted by the spill also are caught in the EPA’s waiting game for reimbursements.

As of July, the EPA received 68 claims for financial reimbursements, yet the agency has not made any awards. The EPA has maintained it must conduct all reviews and investigations before awarding grants for financial damages.

It was unclear Monday what the 68 filings totaled in cost amount. However, a response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October, when there were just over 30 filings, showed claims of financial damages surpassed $1.3 million.

Those who believe they have been financially damaged by the EPA-triggered event have until Aug. 5, 2017, to file a Form 95, the claim process for financial reimbursements from economic loss caused by wrongful U.S. government actions.

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best
The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

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

A great big thank you to all who came out and participated in our 22nd Annual Eagle River Cleanup! Over 300 volunteers came out to clean nearly 70 miles of the Eagle, Upper Colorado, and Gore Creek. Stay tuned for how many bags and tons of trash were cleared from our rivers! Good times were had afterwards at the “Thank You” BBQ in Arrowhead. As always, thank you to our presenting sponsor, Vail Resort’s Epic Promise. This event would not be possible without all of our generous business partners, and we’d like to especially thank Vail Board of Realtors, Antlers at Vail, Newfields, and United Companies.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill update: Cotter to pay ~ $1 million for EPA oversight

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Cotter Corp. has agreed to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nearly $1 million to cover past costs the government agency incurred while working at the Superfund site during a two-year period.

The Cotter Corp. oversees a now-defunct uranium mill just south of Canon City which has been on the EPA’s Superfund cleanup list since 1984. Officials are in the process of decommissioning the mill.

The agreement requires Cotter to pay EPA $957,604 for past oversight costs, incurred between 2012 and 2014. Funds are required to be paid to the EPA by Sept. 23 and will be placed in a special account and used to pay for any future costs at the site, according to Richard Mylott, EPA spokesman.

Public comment submitted in June urged the EPA to seek full restitution.

“The EPA believes the settlement is in the government’s best interest. The EPA will immediately recover $957,604 in past response costs that will be used to fund EPA’s future work at the site and avoid potentially protracted expensive litigation,” according to the 19-page settlement agreement.

One public comment submitted indicated it is difficult for the public to weigh-in on the agreement because government documents were not made available to assess what the total cost of oversight has been to the EPA. Certain EPA billing documents were not made public because of confidential business information which protects the documents from being released under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the agreement.

In a separate agreement, penned in June 2014, Cotter Corp. has agreed to pay EPA’s costs for oversight of the mill’s cleanup into the future.

Cotter produced uranium oxide, or yellowcake, at the mill in Fremont County from 1958 until 2006. Contamination to groundwater and soil resulted from the use of unlined impoundment ponds to hold tailings between 1958 and 1979.

In addition, a June 1965 flood caused the impoundments to overflow into Sand Creek, releasing contaminates into the nearby Lincoln Park neighborhood, Mylott explained.

Cotter officials have been working to clean up contamination since 1988.

#AnimasRiver: Lackawanna Mill cleanup update

Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best
Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

On Monday, a joint project between the Bureau of Land Management, the town of Silverton and volunteers from around the area hauled away the last metal debris around the Lackawanna Mill, a site just north of Silverton not included in the EPA’s Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund designation.

“While there’s still talk about how to deal with the big things, we’re looking around to see what are the little projects we can do that can have some punch,” said Lisa Richardson, a … technician for BLM.

The remediation of the Lackawanna Mill Site began in 1996 when crews removed piles of mine tailings that were dumped beside the Animas River when the mill operated from 1928 until it shut down sometime in the 1960s.

“The river was eroding into the tailings,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator with the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “Because it was right on the banks of the Animas it justified doing that.”

As a result, an area that once leached heavy metals into the Animas River is now a thriving wetland, home to several beaver ponds and prime habitat for riparian and avian life.

In 1999, the town of Silverton used a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to purchase about 26 acres for $110,000 with the intent of expanding Kendall Mountain Recreation area, which included part of the Lackawanna mill. The BLM also owns a portion of the land.

At the time, Silverton town officials proposed repurposing the historic mill into a space that would promote economic development and heritage tourism. Such ideas as a museum, artist residency, hotel and even an amphitheater were thrown into the mix. Lack of funding stalled the project.

However, last year life at the Lackawanna Mill seemed to reawaken. The town of Silverton launched a project to repair the building’s failing roof and other crumbling infrastructure.

“It (the damage) was significant,” said Chris George, parks, facilities and recreation coordinator for the town. “There were a lot of areas we couldn’t stand on until it was reinforced.”

The project, completed this year, didn’t address any of the structural needs inside the decrepit mill, George said. And many outstanding issues, such as utilities and access, remain a major obstacle to Lackawanna breathing new life.

“It would be an incredibly challenging job to make that a piece of economic return,” said town Administrator Bill Gardner. “Will it happen someday? I hope so. The dream is still there.”

Regardless, Richardson said removing the debris, which included rusty scrap metal, car parts, plywood and “just junk,” was significant both aesthetically – the mill is visible from town – and environmentally as the site is located above the wetlands and beaver ponds.

“It’s been used as a dumping site, so a lot of the junk is not associated with the mill, archaeologically speaking,” she said. “If we can, we want to keep those things on-site and put them in places where they won’t end up in the beaver ponds, which are really taking off.”

Richardson said the genesis of the debris cleanup day started when Outward Bound, an outdoor education program, approached the BLM with the idea of a community service project at Lackawanna.

Last year, a class of Outward Bound students built a temporary boardwalk across the wetland, allowing crews of mostly volunteers access to the mill site.

“All this volunteer work has led this project to cost almost nothing,” Richardson said.

Altruism is no stranger in the once-heavily mined San Juan Mountains around Silverton. The mining has impacted water quality in the Animas watershed since it started in the 1870s. For the past two decades, efforts to improve the watershed have been led by the Animas River Stakeholders Group, a coalition of mainly volunteers.

“If you add it all up over 20 years, there’s probably a million dollars of volunteer time from the stakeholders group,” Butler estimated, adding that the group has held similar community cleanup days.

“I think people really enjoy the beauty of the landscape around them, and this is something simple and easy they can do to try and improve environment.”

Despite the goodwill of countless individuals and organizations, the scope of hard-rock mining’s legacy around Silverton and the effects to downstream communities proved too large for a grass-roots movement to handle.

Last week, the EPA officially declared a number of mine sites responsible for degrading water quality as a Superfund site, thereby taking control of future cleanup efforts on a substantial portion of the district.

The EPA, for its part, has maintained in the year since one of its contracted crews triggered a massive blowout at the Gold King Mine that the agency will involve local entities as best it can.

Bill Simon, a retired co-founder of the stakeholders group credited with organizing countless cleanup days, said he’s not so much opposed to federal intervention as he is to losing community involvement.

“The advantage of doing that is you develop a sense of stewardship so that they care for what they’ve done and fully understand the consequences, environmentally, of extraction endeavors,” Simon said. “It gives an idea of the true cost.”

Next year, if the funds are available, Richardson said a project will aim at reseeding the grounds around Lackawanna. She hopes to draw out volunteers for that effort, too.

Pitkin County closes Roaring Fork River in Basalt

Looking down at th Roaring Fork River from Two Rivers Road at the location of the whitewater park that Pitkin County is building in the river. The river is now closed to boaters from Fisherman's Park in Basalt to below the construction site, according to the county.
Looking down at the Roaring Fork River from Two Rivers Road at the location of the whitewater park that Pitkin County is building in the river. The river is now closed to boaters from Fisherman’s Park in Basalt to below the construction site, according to the county.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

BASALT — Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said Monday that the county had “closed” the Roaring Fork River at Fisherman’s Park in Basalt so that boaters don’t run into temporary dams the county is building as part of installing a whitewater park.

Ely said the temporary rock dams would be “a significant hazard.” There will initially be two cobble dams pushed up in the river, one just below the other, but eventually they will function as one diversion structure.

The river is to be closed for boating and other uses from Fisherman’s Park, on upper Two Rivers Road, through the construction site, where two wave-producing concrete forms are to be installed.

On Monday, crews with Diggin’ It Riverworks Inc. out of Durango, were using an excavator in a dry river channel, on river left, to shape a bypass channel.

The temporary dams will direct the flow of the river into the bypass channel and, for a short stretch, through a 60-inch pipe.

The Fork was flowing past the job site at about 215 cubic feet per second on Monday.

“First order of business, move the water out of the channel,” Ely said, while showing local reporters the site. “And then come into the channel and construct the two waves.”

The work is being staged from the cul-de-sac on upper Emma Road, just upriver from Stubbies Sports Bar.

By Monday afternoon crews had built an access road from the cul-de-sac to the edge of the riverbank. The excavator will next get in the main channel and build up the diversion dams.

An excavator working on the bypass channel for the whitewater park in the Roaring Fork River in Basalt, on Sept. 12, 2016. Work in the channel itself is expected to begin soon.
An excavator working on the bypass channel for the whitewater park in the Roaring Fork River in Basalt, on Sept. 12, 2016. Work in the channel itself is expected to begin soon.

Warning signs

Boating traffic is light on this section of the Fork this time of year, as boaters — be they rafters or anglers — are more likely to put in below the Fryingpan River, which adds another 300 cfs to the Fork’s flow.

But there’s still perhaps enough flow in the Fork above Basalt for an enthusiast in a kayak or ducky to bounce down the river from the put-in at Wingo Junction.

Ely was asked if he was “concerned about the clueless floating down.”

“Totally,” Ely said. “You’ve got to plan for the lowest common denominator. So we’re just going to advertise the heck out of it and sign it all over the place.”

On Monday morning, a message from the county on Aspen Public Radio announced that the river was closed. And the county intends to put up warning signs directing any boaters to take out at Fisherman’s Park, which is river-right just below the low Highway 82 bridge.

It’s about four blocks along Two Rivers Road from the take-out at Fisherman’s to the end of the in-channel work. The next obvious river access is farther downstream, at the bridge on Basalt Avenue by the 7-Eleven store. And the next boat ramp suitable for a small raft is on Willits Lane by the Fed Ex facility.

The project also includes work on the eddy and the ramp at Fisherman’s Park, so at some point taking out there will also be ill-advised.

Ely said he expected that the river would be put into the bypass channel by Oct. 1 and that the river might be returned to the main channel by Dec. 1.

The overall project, at a cost of $770,000, is to be completed by Feb. 1. As of now, the closure is scheduled through Feb. 1.

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely on Sept. 12, 2016, pointing out aspects of the county's whitewateer park project. The project is being managed by the county attorney's office as the project is primarily about securing a recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, water right.
Pitkin County Attorney John Ely on Sept. 12, 2016, pointing out aspects of the county’s whitewateer park project. The project is being managed by the county attorney’s office as the project is primarily about securing a recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, water right.

Power to close

When asked if the county had the legal right to “close” the river to boaters — and other river users, including anglers — Ely said the county owned the land under the project site and had all the permits in place to do the earthwork. And state water law allows for the diversion of water.

Boaters may still have the legal right to float to the construction site, but they will be met with a hazardous dam and an impassable bypass channel if they do.

Ultimately, boaters may appreciate that the temporary in-channel work is expected to yield two play waves, more flow in the river and a recreational water right.

Ely said that the state law around water rights for recreational in-channel diversions, or RICDs, required that two structures be installed in the river.

And Ely said securing the water right “was the primary motivation for building this thing – to call water to this spot in the river.”

“So we have to have two different wave structures,” Ely said. “The upper one will be a little bit more radical and should present a decent wave for people to play in with kayaks – with play boats – and the lower wave will be a little bit gentler, and really ideal for anybody who is learning, or for kids, to come in and to utilize it.”

Ely said he expects that kayakers will surf the play waves, and then get out on river left and walk back up to do it again.

The public land on river left along the whitewater park is owned by either the town of Basalt or Pitkin County.

Ely said he expects people to get to the surf by driving up Emma Road, parking in the cul-de-sac, and walking the short distance to the play waves.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. A version of this story was published in the Daily News on Sept. 13, 2016. The printed version contained a reporting error regarding the timing of the project, as it said the river would be restored to its main channel in October. However, the river is to be moved to the bypass channel by Oct. 1 and returned to the main channel – perhaps – by Dec. 1.

Also see a recent story on the project by The Aspen Times.

Registration for CWOA Conference, Water: Uniting Across Divides, closes this Friday, September 16th!

From email from the Colorado Water Officials Association (Karlyn Armstrong):

Registration for this year’s CWOA Conference, Water: Uniting Across Divides, closes this Friday, September 16th! The main conference, taking place on Thursday, September 29th in Lakewood, features talks from Bob Randall, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources, State Representative Jeni Arndt, and many more! Additional networking and education opportunities are available on September 28th and 30th.

Continuing Legal Education credits and continuing education credits for those licensed by the Board of Examiners are available for conference attendees! A copy of the conference agenda is attached. You can CLICK HERE to register for the event. For more information, please check out the conference website HERE.

Click here for the conference schedule.

Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through September 12, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through September 12, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.