Three years after the great floods of 2013, much work remains to be done in Colorado — The Denver Post

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

The yellow-striped chunks of asphalt that cascaded into Coal Creek in the waning days of the summer of 2013 are long gone, while the yawning gap in the road created by rushing floodwaters has once again been spanned.

Still, motorists wait for County Road in Louisville to open to traffic more than three years after it was destroyed in Colorado’s costliest natural disaster.

The reconstruction project just south of the city’s historic downtown, scheduled to wrap up Oct. 15, aptly illustrates the lasting impact the flood of 2013 had — and continues to have — on communities that found themselves in the path of the epic five-day deluge. Last week marked the third anniversary of the deadly storm, which killed 10 people and displaced 18,000 more, destroyed more than 1,800 homes and 200 businesses and racked up costs of nearly $4 billion.

Though the flood has long slipped to the rearview mirrors of most folks, the recovery effort remains strong, said Molly Urbina, executive director of the Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office.

“The summer of 2016 was a very busy season in flood recovery, as we saw many projects coming out of the ground with a lot of construction activity with housing, roads, bridges and watersheds,” she said. “We saw activity begin to peak this year and will continue through 2017 as the process for various projects continues through engineering, environmental reviews and permitting at the local level.”

Besides the bridge in Louisville, there are two other flood-damaged bridges still out of commission in Boulder County, a road wiped out in Larimer County, a park closed in Evans and tens of millions of dollars worth of permanent repairs needed on miles of roads that thus far have only seen a temporary fix.

Of the $353 million the Federal Emergency Management Agency has given to the state for distribution to local communities tackling major infrastructure repairs, $137 million has been disbursed. The remainder, Urbina said, will be paid out “after completion of eligible activities and submittal of required documentation.”

Which means the mopping up of the mopping up is still several years out.

“The one thing that surprised me is how long this process takes,” said Roy Rudisill, director of emergency management for Weld County.

While all roads in the county are passable, there are at least two major repairs on a bridge and road near Kersey still to go, he said. Work on everything related to the 2013 flood, including reimbursement checks from the government, probably won’t close out until 2018, Rudisill said.

So far, Weld County has been reimbursed $7.5 million of the $10.2 million in expenses it submitted to both FEMA and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

For the small city of Evans, reimbursements from a variety of federal agencies have added up to $3.4 million so far. Spokeswoman Kristan Williams said the city has spent more than $5.7 million recovering from the flood, which sent the South Platte River rushing over its banks and into the city’s neighborhoods.

The biggest impact to Evans residents from the flood was the destruction of Riverside Park, Williams said. A small portion of the park has been refurbished and has reopened, but the bulk of the 100-acre facility is not yet usable. It won’t be until 2018, she said.

“This park has been the venue for baseball tournaments and festivals and is deeply missed in our community,” Williams said. “Thousands of hours have been spent by the city to plan, design and work with federal and state agencies to be able to reopen. It is extremely complex and challenging to convey that it isn’t a matter of putting on gloves and picking up trash to be able to reopen it.”

At least $2 million is needed to get Riverside Park back in order, Williams said, but securing funds from a variety of state and federal agencies is no easy task.

“There is a process you follow to make sure you get reimbursed,” she said.

“The process was lengthy”

That process can be painstaking. Longmont, which is eligible for $55 million in FEMA reimbursements for damage to its bridges, roads, wastewater treatment plant and the St. Vrain River itself, has assigned half a dozen city staffers to gather receipts and put together expense reports for FEMA to vet.

Peter Gibbons was hired by Longmont in March to head up the city’s recovery division.

“It doesn’t work as, like, you get this big blank check,” he told the Longmont Times-Call this month. “You get a $55 million obligation, which means, ‘We’re going to give you $55 million as long as you do all the things you said you’re going to do.’ ”

That process is a big reason Louisville’s County Road bridge took so long to rebuild. City Manager Malcolm Fleming said the bridge was not as high a priority as were some other critical flood recovery efforts in Boulder County, but the $3.2 million project was also subject to federal and state procedures and review guidelines.

“The process was lengthy, and residents have expressed frustration with how long project has taken,” Fleming said. “However, to get the FHWA funding, we had to operate within the FHWA’s constraints on the design, bidding and construction process, which took time.”

The new bridge couldn’t come any sooner for Myra Chapman, a seven-year Louisville resident enjoying a late morning at Community Park last week. She said the rush-hour backups on State Highway 42 from cars trying to take a left onto Pine Street are getting old. Restoring the County Road link to downtown is vital.

“You have to wait three light cycles before you can turn,” she said. “It’s been a very long time.”

A very long time is something many Boulder County residents, especially those living in the foothills, know a lot about. Roadways paralleling rivers in steep, narrow canyons took the biggest hit, as torrents of water barreled through the narrow passages desperately seeking lower elevation in as little time as possible.

Giant machines moved dirt and rock last week along Lefthand Canyon Drive, just east of where Lee Hill Drive intersects with the mountainous road. Boulder County Transportation spokesman Andy Barth said the work is part of $30 million to $40 million worth of road reconstruction projects expected to be completed in the county in 2017 alone.

“We’ve estimated that we could be in construction until 2019, 2020,” he said.

Boulder County’s roads and bridges took a $150 million hit from the 2013 flood. Barth said $57 million has been spent so far on repairs, with $24.1 million of that total having come back to the county in the form of reimbursements from FEMA or FWHA. There is still nearly $93 million worth of flood-related work to do.

“It wasn’t like the asphalt was just broken — it was scoured down to bedrock,” he said. “This stuff takes a long time.”

It will also take a long time for the resurrection of U.S. 34 west of Loveland, where a 3-mile section of the highway will be closed in both directions to all but canyon residents starting Oct. 17 so that major repairs can be performed.

“The canyon section sustained widespread, massive damage,” according to a description of the coming project on the Colorado Department of Transportation website. “Major sections of roadway were washed away completely, along with access bridges and retaining walls. In the narrows, much of the roadway and grade were undermined, washing out the pavement from below and exposing the wall support structures.”

The closure, between Drake and Cedar Cove, will last until Memorial Day weekend.

Signs of progress

While challenges remain plentiful three years after the skies opened to tragic effect, many communities are successfully putting the flood of 2013 behind them one fix at a time.

In Larimer County, the gigantic task of putting County Road 43 back together again — at a cost of $49 million — has come to an end. The months of escorted traffic through multiple blasts zones as crews resuscitated a road swept away by manic waves of water are no more.

The website that for more than a year informed motorists of nearly constant delays on the route between Estes Park and Drake bears a happy, if short-lived, message.

“Because this project is now substantially complete, this website will be taken down in mid-September,” it reads.

Todd Juergens, road and bridge director for Larimer County, said after spending nearly $46 million on flood repairs through the end of August, the county projects it has nearly $55 million left of repairs to do. That includes reconnecting County Road 22H to County Road 29 over the Big Thompson River west of Loveland, a task he thinks will be completed by the end of the year.

“This is what we do,” Juergens said matter-of-factly of the work in front of him.

The residents of hard-hit Jamestown did what they had to do to come back from nearly total destruction. For months after the storm, dozens of residents were unable to return because of flood damage to their houses — if their houses were standing at all.

Tara Schoedinger, Jamestown’s mayor, said even with up to $20 million in damage and a population of about 20 fewer people than there were preflood, her town has emerged as a “strong and more resilient community” three years after the deluge.

The final home to be rebuilt on a once-sodden ground will be unveiled in the spring. And Jamestown proudly shows off its newly built bridge with burly retaining walls on the west end of town.

Urbina, the head of Colorado’s recovery office, said other postflood accomplishments are worth noting.

More than 100 affordable housing units in flood-impacted communities have been built, many of which are available for residents displaced by the flood. One hundred sixty-nine businesses and farms in Colorado have received money through the Community Development Block Grant program. Also, 74 watershed restoration projects in the state will be implemented through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program.

“The strength shown by the disaster survivors and the leaders at the local level continues to inspire us, and the state will remain a partner working side by side with them until this recovery is complete,” Urbina said.

2013 Flood recovery by the numbers

  • FEMA public assistance (infrastructure): $355 million
  • FEMA individual assistance: $62 million
  • FEMA reimbursements distributed via the state: $137 million
  • Total damage from storm: $3.9 billion
  • Killed: 10
  • Evacuated: 18,000
  • Homes destroyed: 1,852
  • Businesses destroyed: 203
  • 3-month temperature, precipitation, and #drought outlooks through December 31 from the Climate Prediction Center

    Temperature outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Temperature outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Precipitation outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Precipitation outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Drought outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Drought outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.

    Conservation Prevents #ColoradoRiver Shortage Declaration — Circle of Blue #COriver

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    A resolute effort in Arizona, California, and Nevada to reduce Colorado River water use is slowing the decline of Lake Mead and delaying mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from the drying basin.

    The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees lake levels, forecasts that Arizona, California, and Nevada will draw less than 7 million acre-feet from the river this year, some 500,000 acre-feet less than they are permitted to consume and the lowest since 1992. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough water to flood an acre of land with one foot of water.) At Lake Mead’s current water level, 500,000 acre-feet equals slightly more than six feet in elevation — just enough water to tip the lake into shortage levels, if it had been used.

    The savings have been building. Four major conservation programs since 2014 have added roughly 10 feet of water to Lake Mead since 2014, according to Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Office. These programs, collaborations between federal, state, and local agencies, pay farmers not to grow crops, line earthen canals with concrete to prevent leaks, remove grass from golf courses, or install more efficient irrigation equipment. The savings are banked in Lake Mead.

    “These programs are working,” Davis told Circle of Blue. “These partnerships are working. They are making a difference.”

    The August analysis of the basin’s hydrology, an assessment carried out every month by the Bureau of Reclamation, concluded that the water level in Lake Mead will be above 1,075 feet in elevation next January. Those dates are important because the August study determines how much water the Bureau will release from Lake Powell into Lake Mead the following year and whether there will be a shortage in the three lower basin states. A shortage, which has never been declared, happens when the August study shows that Lake Mead will be below 1,075 feet in January. That will not happen next year. The lake’s forecasted water level in January is 1,080 feet.

    The benefits of conservation spread beyond next year. The risk of a shortage in the near-term will go down. The last time the Bureau ran the numbers, in April, the results showed a 56 percent chance of shortage for 2018. The updated calculations, which will be published next week, will show “greatly reduced odds,” Davis said.

    Water managers in the basin say that conservation gains can be maintained and extended. “All of the programs are long-term, reaching out several decades,” Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, told Circle of Blue.

    More Challenges Still To Come
    Even with the conservation success, hard decisions are close at hand. One, the basin must come to terms with the “structural deficit.” This is the term water managers use to describe a basic imbalance: in a year with average water releases from Lake Powell, the water level at Lake Mead will drop by roughly 12 feet because demand exceeds supply. James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, called the structural deficit “a root discussion over the last several years” among all seven basin states.

    Two, the risk calculations will change as the four states in the upper basin — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — pull more water out of the basin.

    Three, water managers and politicians alike must figure out what to do about the Salton Sea, a festering sore in the basin’s politics. The sea — in fact, a lake — was created in 1905 when the Colorado River burst through a dike and filled a desert depression that had no ocean outlet. In later years, the Salton, now California’s largest lake, swelled with farm drainage and grew saltier from evaporation.

    The Salton has been shrinking since 2003, when a historic agreement between Imperial Irrigation District and state, federal, and tribal agencies resulted in a large transfer of water from farm to city, which reduced farm runoff. As part of the agreement, Imperial delivered water to prop up the lake, which is also an important habitat for birds migrating along the Pacific flyway. But those deliveries will cease at the end of 2017, after which the lake will go into a tailspin, shrinking rapidly and becoming several times saltier than the ocean. Pesticides, salts, and toxic dust on the seabed poses an immediate health threat to the people of the Coachella Valley, Imperial County, and Mexicali, a border city of 1 million people. A solution to the Salton Sea problem is inevitably tied to Colorado River issues upstream.

    “Being one of the largest users on the river, it’s in our best interest to look out for and promote the health and welfare of the system as a whole,” Marion Champion, spokeswoman for Imperial Irrigation District, told Circle of Blue. “That said, we will need some reassurances from the state of California that it will live up to its restoration promises for the Salton Sea.”

    Imperial has the largest allocation of Colorado River water — 3.1 million acre-feet, more than one-fifth of the river’s average annual runoff — of any user in the basin. Champion said that she expects Imperial to be a part of a basin-wide drought plan, but only if the Salton Sea is addressed, with either money or water, or both.

    “That participation is contingent on a state led restoration plan and implementation commitment to ensure our community’s public health is protected,” she said.

    Estes Park: Fish Creek restoration project

    Fish Creek Road after September 2013 floods via YouTube.
    Fish Creek Road after September 2013 floods via YouTube.

    From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (T.A. Rustin):

    Students from Estes Park High School teamed up with ecology experts from the Estes Valley Watershed Coalition on Wednesday to help rebuild the ecosystem along lower Fish Creek. That area was devastated by the flood in 2013, washing away vegetation, eroding the banks, destroying the utility infrastructure, and damaging homes.

    The Coalition has been working for the last year to restore areas damaged by the flood. They selected this area of Fish Creek as their first project, according to Molly Mills, Coordinator of the Coalition. Nearly a year ago, she met with Chuck Scott, principal of the high school, and asked if the Coalition could work on restoring the river banks adjoining school property.

    “I asked him for permission to work on school property,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘Only if you involve the kids and make this a learning experience,'” said Mills.

    Mills agreed at once to the plan, and she took the responsibility for securing grant funding and obtaining legal permission to work on the river banks. That required several months, since there are numerous overlapping jurisdictions involved in the Fish Creek watershed.

    With guidance from teacher Alex Harris, the high school’s Environmental Club began planning and recruiting their classmates for this event. Mills did some training with the students, teaching them about riverine ecology, and the proper techniques for planting trees. The students in the club then created training materials for the student volunteers.

    “This has been a student-run project the whole way,” said Mills. “I brought the idea to them, and the funding; they organized the volunteers, mapped it out, and got the logistical support.”


    Beginning early in the morning on Wednesday, students transported plants and supplies in pickup trucks to three areas along Fish Creek. More than 300 students arrived and split into teams to get to work on the riverbank. They began by pulling and bagging noxious weeks that have proliferated since the flood. They also cleared the banks of accumulated flood debris and trash.

    The Coalition brought in 3,000 trees, provided by the Colorado State Forest Service. The specific species had been selected by Mills in consultation with ecology experts. They included river birch, alder, chokecherry, and cottonwood. Mills’s ecology consultants marked the locations for each tree. Working in teams, the students dug holes, planted the trees, and carried buckets of water from Fish Creek to water them.

    Nearly the entire student body has been involved in this project, including the Culinary Arts class, which planned and prepared lunch for the students, teachers and volunteers. Students in the Film Studies are making a documentary to tell the story of the project. The faculty and administrators also supported the project…

    Randy Mandel, representing the Colorado Water Conservation Board, walked among the groups of students. A water and ecology specialist, Mandel explained to the students how their efforts would improve the watershed. Mandel noticed a student struggling with the root ball of a tree. He bent down and guided her in the proper technique.

    Gary Miller, President of the Coalition, said that the flood impacted Fish Creek more severely than any other area in the Estes Valley, and therefore was chosen as the first project.

    “The Coalition was formed to bring together organizations interested in sustainable restoration of the flood damaged areas,” he said. The Estes Valley has seen three 500 year floods since 1979, and Miler predicted that we should expect more in the future. “We need to be prepared for the next huge event,” he said. He pointed out that this project has served to educate the students about the broader problem of environmental disasters.

    Mills said that this is the first phase of the revegetation of the Fish Creek watershed. The next phase will be putting up fencing around the young trees to encourage the elk and deer to browse elsewhere.

    “Otherwise,” she said, “they will eat everything we’ve planted.”

    In the next few months, the Coalition will be mulching the area and broadcasting native grass seeds to improve the ground cover.

    La Junta scores $5,000 source water protection grant

    La Junta back in the day via
    La Junta back in the day via

    From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Tom Seaba):

    The City of La Junta has received a $5,000.00 matching grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to help with the development and implementation of a Source Water Protection Plan (SWPP) for their drinking water intakes. The development of a SWPP involves identifying a source water protection area; creating an inventory of potential contaminants to the drinking water; and developing best management practices (BMPs) to help mitigate those potential contaminants.

    Colorado’s Source Water Protection program is completely voluntary, and is designed to help public water systems take preventive measures to keep their sources of drinking water free from potential contaminants. This program does not impose any new regulations on the use of personal properties. Rather than developing new regulations to enforce, the main goal of developing the SWPP is to raise awareness within communities about the importance of source water protection. The program is founded on the concept that informed citizens, equipped with fundamental knowledge about their drinking water source(s) and the threats to it, will be the most effective advocates for protecting this valuable resource.

    Kimberly Mihelich, a Source Water Specialist with the Colorado Rural Water Association (CRWA), will be helping with the coordination and facilitation of this process. CRWA is a nonprofit organization and receives funding from state and federal agencies to help communities with source water protection and other technical issues water systems face.

    The planning process will take place during a one four-hour workshop on Thursday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers of La Junta’s Municipal Building (601 Colorado Avenue, La Junta, CO 81050). Lunch will be provided. Interested community members are invited to attend. For further information please contact Tom Seaba (City of La Junta) at (719) 469-6636, Joe Kelly (City of La Junta) at 384-7358, or Kimberly Mihelich (CRWA) at (719) 248-9116.

    #AnimasRiver: EPA awards $260,000 more in grants in wake of #GoldKingMine spill — The Denver Post

    Gold King Mine circa 1899 via The Silverton Standard
    Gold King Mine circa 1899 via The Silverton Standard

    From The Denver Post (Kieran Nicholson):

    The Environmental Protection Agency is awarding another round of grants — this time totaling $260,000 — toward cleanup costs and response to the Gold King Mine spill in southwestern Colorado.

    The funding will be distributed, according to a media release from the office of Sen. Cory Gardner, as follows: Southern Ute Indian Tribe, $58,684; La Plata County, $7,495; City of Durango, $9,993; San Juan County, $80,213; San Juan Basin Health Department, $4,591; and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, $101,465.

    From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

    According to EPA records, with the addition of the most recent award, San Juan County has received a total of $349,409. San Juan County Administrator Willy Tookey could not be reached for comment, but based on agency records and previous interviews, that leaves about $10,000 outstanding…

    The agency has paid $377,073 to La Plata County and $55,464 to the city of Durango, EPA records show.

    But local and state leaders say the money hasn’t come fast enough; the EPA’s latest award comes two weeks after a bipartisan group of senators from the four impacted states backed a measure to expedite reimbursements to entities affected by the spill.

    The provision was incorporated within the Water Resources Development Act this month. It requires the EPA to reimburse claims within 90 days if the costs are deemed in accordance with federal law and establishes a long-term water quality monitoring program for which the EPA is authorized to reimburse local entities and tribes.

    “The announcement of this additional funding is a step in the right direction as Southwest Colorado continues to deal with the aftermath of this disaster,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, R-Colo., said in a statement. “Two weeks ago, we passed a bipartisan amendment in the Senate that required the EPA to fully reimburse the state, tribes and local communities who responded quickly to the spill. We are pleased that the EPA responded with these additional reimbursements, and we will continue to push the agency to complete the reimbursement process as soon as possible.”


    EPA spokeswoman Laura Jenkins said the $262,000 sum was awarded through cooperative agreements that local entities struck with the federal agency. Jenkins said no companies or individuals who have filed claims have been reimbursed to date.

    Colorado College community pitches in on Fountain Creek cleanup

    CC President Jill Tiefenthaler hands out snacks to volunteers. Photo via Colorado College.
    CC President Jill Tiefenthaler hands out snacks to volunteers. Photo via Colorado College.

    Here’s the release from Colorado College:

    More than 350 members of the Colorado College community participated in a local day of service, cleaning up trash along neighboring Monument Creek. Participants worked in two-hour shifts and collected a total of 3,140 pounds of trash from both sides of a two-mile stretch of the creek.

    The daylong event, sponsored by CC’s Collaborative for Community Engagement, EnAct, and the Regional Business Alliance, brought out CC faculty, students, and staff, as well as neighbors and area alumni.

    The lure of the water and the potential of the area appealed to many, including those who went as part of a CC class called Re-enchanting the World: Reality in Ecological Perspective, co-taught by mathematician Mike Siddoway and theologian Phil Devenish. Among them:

  • Cassie Cohen ’17, a psychology major from Lincoln, Massachusetts, says she wanted to help clean up the creek “because it feels like a part of our campus.”
  • Leah Di Filippo ’17, an economics major from Gladstone, New Jersey, says cleaning the watershed area “will help change how it’s viewed and how it’s branded.”
  • Ben Garinther ’17, a fly fisherman from Baltimore with a self-designed major in environmental philosophy, says “This creek should be valued more. It would be unreal to come down here and fish in Monument Creek.”
  • Rebecca Glazer ’18 from San Francisco with a self-designed major in philosophies of sustainable development, says “It’s important. CC has a responsibility for the waterway that flows through it.”
  • Local alumna Carrie Ryden ’95, MAT ’96 joined the cleanup effort, along with husband Doug and 9-year-old daughter Hazel. “It’s something we can all do together as a family, and the fact that we’re doing it as part of a community is even better,” she says.
  • Other communities were represented as well. All six Greek life organizations on campus participated, and well as nine Colorado College athletic teams, including men and women’s lacrosse, women’s basketball, men’s soccer, cross-country, tennis, women’s rugby, Nordic skiing, and swimming and diving.

    A variety of student organizations joined the effort, including Mortar Board, CC’s Student Government Association, President’s Council, Chinese Students Association, Community Engaged Scholars, and Boettcher Scholars. Entire CC offices had strong showings, including Human Resources, the Career Center, and Communications. Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler was on site during the afternoon, handing out water and a variety of snacks to the volunteers.

    Community members got involved as well, with participants from the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, Regional Business Alliance, Old North End Neighborhood, Steele Elementary School, Palmer High School, and Patty Jewett Neighborhood Association.

    Jake Walden ’16, a fellow in the President’s Office and lead coordinator on campus for the effort, said he was pleased with the enthusiastic turnout. The event was capped off by a community barbecue for volunteers, which was hosted by members of EnAct, a CC student environmental organization, and paid for by the CC Student Government Association.

    #Drought news: “Denver’s northern and eastern suburbs have been added into a growing area” of D1 — CBS Denver

    Colorado Drought Monitor September 27, 2016.
    Colorado Drought Monitor September 27, 2016.

    From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

    According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Denver’s northern and eastern suburbs have been added into a growing area of moderate drought, which now extends from Aurora to Fort Collins.

    A second area of moderate drought was developing in east-central Colorado on the eastern side of the Palmer Divide.

    Moderate drought means damage has been reported to crops or pastures and that water shortages are either developing or could be imminent.

    A large part of northwest Colorado remains abnormally dry, or in pre-drought, along with some of the mountains in southern Colorado.

    Fraser River: Union Pacific Railroad violating discharge permit?


    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

    The discharge is occurring at a location very near the Moffat Tunnel and is derived from a culvert located beneath a set of metal stairs that descend right to the banks of the Fraser.

    The UPRR has a permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) officially allowing the discharge of the water, but correspondence between Grand County officials and representatives from the CDPHE indicates the current level of pollutants being released are not allowed under the existing permit.

    In correspondence with state officials Grand County has stated the organic compounds found in the discharge are toxic and some are carcinogenic. Emails written by Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris to officials from the CDPHE states, “the Railroad has classically discharged these organics, without disclosure to the state, in high concentration pulses which escape routine sampling. The existing and proposed permits do not currently include any organics, let alone include limitations for these.”

    Emails sent by Morris to officials from the CDPHE on Wednesday Sept. 28 state, “I hope the CDPHE will have the opportunity to investigate this case further and address this specific source of contamination.” Officials have also sent photographs to the CDPHE of the point of discharge that show dark, black, almost opaque water flowing from the discharge culvert into the Fraser. The photos appear to have been taken on Sept. 14, 2016.

    Notably, a letter sent on Sept. 19 by Morris to the State’s Clean Water Enforcement Unit, a division within the CDPHE, states, “The Railroad curtailed the polluted discharge by 5:00 pm on the same day that that we were notified of the pollution.”

    Correspondence between Morris and CDPHE officials indicates the permit allowing the discharge of water into the Fraser by the UPRR has been in existence since 2007. Additional email correspondence between Morris and State water officials states, “UPRR has stated that this discharge is associated with annual maintenance activities, and the Railroad has declined to report the discharge as a spill. However, nothing in the permit indicates that pollution of this level is permitted, and it would seem to be a violation of their permit.”

    A water treatment plant, to treat the water discharged into the Fraser by the UPRR, is currently under construction, according to a letter sent to the CDPHE by Grand County in late June regarding a draft permit for the UPRR’s Moffat Tunnel West Portal.

    The letter goes on to state, “To the best of Grand County’s knowledge, there is and has been no treatment of this discharge prior to release to the Fraser River.” The letter also points out that state regulations state, “state water shall be free from substances attributable to human-caused point source or nonpoint source discharge in amounts, concentrations or combinations which are harmful to beneficial uses or toxic to humans, animals, plants or aquatic life.”

    The letter goes on to state that the County, East Grand Water Quality Board and the Town of Winter Park conducted sediment and aqueous testing in Oct. 2015 but that such testing occurred too late after the August cleaning operations to, “indicate the presence of more than one volatile organic carbon (toluene) or significant concentrations of suspended or dissolved contaminants in the aqueous samples.” Samples were collected at sites 287 feet upstream from the discharge point and 2,138 feet downstream.

    The letter does state the downstream samples, “indicate the presence of several semi-volatile organic carbons (SVOCs) and diesel range organics (DROs) that are either not present in the upstream samples (SVOCs), or are present at significantly higher concentrations downstream compared to upstream (DROs) indicating that their presence is a direct result of the tunnel discharge.” The letter noted the lab that tested the samples indicated the existing sediment matrix downstream from the discharge point was, “complex and likely to have a number of interferences.”

    Fish in the Fraser River have struggled because there was too little water for the riparian area that had been created by natural flows. Segments have now been mechanically manipulated to be more narrow. Photo/Allen Best.
    Fish in the Fraser River have struggled because there was too little water for the riparian area that had been created by natural flows. Segments have now been mechanically manipulated to be more narrow. Photo/Allen Best.