#AnimasRiver: @EPA updates Silverton on cleanup — @DurangoHerald

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):

This time last year, the Environmental Protection Agency, having breached the portal of the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015, was still the target of public lashing for the release of 3 million gallons of mine wastewater into the Animas River.

Yet nearly a year ago to the day, officials from Durango, La Plata County, Silverton and San Juan County were on a tour of Superfund sites around Colorado – an event many note as the turning point in the conversations surrounding listing the mines around Silverton as a Superfund site.

And on Monday, at an EPA-hosted public hearing to update the community of Silverton on the workings of the Superfund site, local officials noted the complete 180-degree turn on the tone of conversations.

“After working with this group, it’s been beneficial,” said San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman, who historically opposed to a Superfund listing. “We’ve learned a lot from it. They are working with us, and we appreciate having a seat at the table.”

San Juan County Administrator Willy Tookey, too, heaped praise on the EPA for reimbursing the more than $349,000 the county spent in response to the spill, as well as contributing to the local economy.

Tookey said the EPA has populated local hotels and restaurants, as well as hired local firms whenever possible. He estimated EPA crews, as well as other federal agencies, spent a total of 775 nights in Silverton hotels.

“So far, it’s been a pleasant experience,” Tookey said. “Its been a real pleasure to work with the folks from the EPA.”

For most of the two hour-plus meeting, EPA officials listed numerous actions taken over the summer in the Animas watershed, as it addresses 48 mining sites contributing to degraded water quality.

EPA officials, in partnership with multiple agencies, said they completed an extensive evaluation of the Animas River Basin, information they will take into the winter months to draft a more complete plan for cleanup.

Other tasks taken over the summer included minor work at the Brooklyn Mine and installation of two meteorological stations, a precipitation gauge and a full weather station around the Superfund site.

The EPA and Bureau of Land Management also installed four groundwater wells at the Kittimack tailings between Howardsville and Eureka to establish the depth of the water table and define groundwater flows.

And the EPA’s Rebecca Thomas said the agency will consider future expansion of the temporary water-treatment plant to treat mine waste from adjacent mines of the Gold King, namely the Red & Bonita, Mogul and American Tunnel.

“(It being so close) we owe it to ourselves to evaluate treating that water,” Thomas said.

In addition, lesser-known actions were discussed: testing to see if dust kicked up from ATVs could potentially be harmful to human health, or if plants in the basin, used by Native American tribes for medicinal purposes, could have adverse health impacts.

Thomas said an estimated 4 million gallons of mine waste discharge into the Animas watershed every day, and the agency will prioritize the major contributors, as well as look for lower hanging fruit for cleanup actions.

“It is going to be a long-term project,” Thomas said. “We are going to be here for years and years.”

@USBR Releases Funding Opportunities for #Drought Contingency Planning and Drought Resiliency Projects

US Drought Monitor November 8, 2016.
US Drought Monitor November 8, 2016.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

Two funding opportunities are now available from the Bureau of Reclamation for entities to develop drought contingency plans and build long-term solutions to drought. These two funding opportunities are part of Reclamation’s Drought Response Program.

The drought contingency planning funding opportunity is for applicants to request up to $200,000 to develop a new drought plan or to update an existing drought plan. Applicants may also request technical assistance from Reclamation for the development of elements of the Drought Contingency Plan. States, Indian tribes, irrigation districts, water districts, and other organizations with water or power delivery authority located in the 17 Western United States and Hawaii are eligible for this funding opportunity. It is available at http://www.grants.gov by searching for funding opportunity number BOR-DO-17-F009.

The drought resiliency projects funding opportunity is for projects that will increase the reliability of water supply; improve water management; implement systems to facilitate the voluntary sale, transfer, or exchange of water; and provide benefits for fish, wildlife, and the environment to mitigate impacts caused by drought.

Applications may be submitted under one of two funding groups for resiliency projects:

  • Funding Group I: up to $300,000 for projects that can be completed within two years
  • Funding Group II: up to $750,000 for larger projects that can be completed within three years.
  • For drought resiliency projects, states, tribes, irrigation districts, water districts, and other organizations with water or power delivery authority in the 17 Western United States or United States Territories as identified in the Reclamation Act of June 17, 1902, are invited to leverage their resources by cost sharing with Reclamation. Applicants must also provide a 50 percent non-Federal cost-share. It is available at http://www.grants.gov by searching for funding opportunity number BOR-DO-17-F010.

    The fiscal year 2017 budget request includes $4 million for the Drought Response Program. Applications are due on February 14, 2017, by 4 p.m. MST as indicated in the funding opportunities.

    For more than 100 years, Reclamation and its partners have worked to develop a sustainable water and power future for the West. This program is part of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program, which focuses on improving water conservation and sustainability, while helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use.

    To find out more information about Reclamation’s WaterSMART program, visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart, or visit the Drought Response Program at http://www.usbr.gov/drought.

    The Water Values: Planning for Water Resources in the Face of #ClimateChange with Erin Wilson


    David McGimpsey’s latest podcast is now available. Click here to listen.

    Grand County: Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District board discusses sewer line extension


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

    The ongoing animosity surrounding a sewer line extension within the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District (TLWSD) continued Monday night when the TLWSD Board of Directors responded to 17 questions posed by local citizen Michael Eha…

    The meeting covered a broad range of topics but the capacity crowd of attendees was primarily focused on issues surrounding a highly contentious sewer line extension project the District is undertaking in the Pine Beach area. Among the citizens most adamantly opposed to the Bine Beach sewer extension is Michael Eha.

    Eha and other citizens impacted by the Pine Beach sewer extension have requested the Board engage with citizens in a question and answer session. The Board did not engage in a Q&A session.

    Instead the Board requested Eha submit a list of questions in writing so the Board could prepare answers. The Board’s response to Eha’s written questions was scheduled as an agenda item for the evening. The Board refused to entertain additional questions from the crowd and instead responded only to those questions previously submitted by Eha. Responses were prepared ahead of time and were read aloud to the crowd by various members of the Board, TLWSD staff members and the District’s Attorney.

    As the Board took up the issue Board Chairman Bill Heffron pointed out the proceedings were an, “unusual” agenda item for the Board.

    “This Board has a history of asking that questions be submitted in writing,” Heffron said. “It gives us an opportunity to research and give a fully developed and through answer. That is what we are doing here tonight.”

    Heffron continued by asking that additional Board responses to citizen questions no longer be scheduled as agenda items, preferring instead that such interactions occur through correspondence only and outside regularly scheduled meetings.

    Heffron asked if that was the consensus of the Board to which the other Board members stated yes.

    As the segment began Michael Eha raised an objection to the Board. Eha said it was his understanding that the agenda item would be a question and answer session with additional dialog between constituents and the Board and not merely an agenda item wherein constituents were not allowed to ask follow up questions.

    Chairman Heffron said, “We are not accepting questions. We are responding to questions that have been posed.”

    When those in attendance raised additional questions later in the meeting Chairman Heffron used his gavel liberally to bring order to the crowd.

    “Are we going to entertain taking questions from the floor?” Heffron asked the other Board members.

    All other Board members said they wished to press on with the Board responses and not field additional questions.

    In the lead up to the meeting Monday night Michael Eha submitted a list of 17 questions for the Board. Eha submitted his questions at the request of the District, which does not typically hold any formal Q&A sessions. Additionally the Board does not respond to questions posed to the Board during the Public Comment portion of their meeting.

    The responses prepared by Three Lakes for the meeting ostensibly answered the questions posed by Eha though several questions were answered through legalese that appeared to avoid the deeper substantive issues posed by the questions.

    For example, one of the questions posed by Eha was, “We find the Board to be cavalier in their decision making, and would like to give them the opportunity of explaining. Exactly what are the qualifications of each board member that allows them to impose such financial hardships on residents?”

    The response provided by the Board quoted the Colorado State statutes that outline the requirements for election to any special district board in the state. The Board offered no additional response to the question beyond the relevant state statutes outlining Board membership requirements.

    The full list of all questions submitted by Eha, as well as the District’s responses, can be obtained through a request to the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District.

    The cause of the contention in the TLWSD stems from plans the District has to install a new sewer main line in the Pine Beach area. District resident Gayle Langley, one of a handful of individuals impacted by the Pine Beach sewer extension project, outlined her concerns to the Board during the Public Comment period.

    “As a constituent, and as someone who is not financially able to pay the fees you are asking me for in the time frame you are asking, I am asking you once again to find a way to make a longer term loan program,” Langley said.

    “I’m still looking at 40 to 50 thousand dollars. I cannot pay that off in a four or five-year period of time. I’m asking you to find a way to make it a win win for everybody.”

    #Snowpack news: Snowfall important for Colorado at all elevations — 9News.com

    Westwide SNOTEL map November 14, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL map November 14, 2016 via the NRCS.

    From 9News.com (Jeremy Moore):

    Although snow in the high country is the primary source of Denver’s drinking water, snow at lower elevations is also important.

    “To replenish the soil in our yards, for our plants and our gardens and our trees,” Travis Thompson said, Senior Media Coordinator with Denver Water. “And it also just helps, having that healthy landscape, means that’s less water that we’re actually using, taking from those reservoirs that the mountain snowpack fills during the spring.”

    In addition to improving the health of vegetation and reducing fire danger, snow in Denver also helps replenish water supplies further down the South Platte River in Northern Colorado and Nebraska…

    Snow at the end of the week likely won’t make up for the many recent weeks of unusually warm, dry weather in Denver.

    @EPA sues the Springs — #Colorado Springs Independent

    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Not surprisingly, the federal government sued the city of Colorado Springs on Nov. 9 over the city’s repeated violations of the Clean Water Act and the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. The allegations arise from the city’s failure to deal with drainage and failure to comply with its permit to discharge stormwater into the municipal storm sewer system, which ultimately flows into the Arkansas River.

    The suit comes despite Mayor John Suthers orchestrating a deal with Pueblo County earlier this year to fix the city’s storm drainage system, costing taxpayers and Colorado Springs Utilities ratepayers $460 million in the next 20 years.

    Suthers took office in June 2015, following years of violations in controlling stormwater. Suthers lamented to other media the City Council’s move to abolish the city’s Stormwater Enterprise in 2009. But Council did so after voters approved Issue 300 that fall, which aimed to dismantle the enterprise. (At the time, the city attorney’s office felt the language in Issue 300 failed to force the shutdown of the enterprise, but City Council defunded it anyway, citing voter intent.)

    The EPA, however, cites the city’s soft treatment of developers — along with its lack of a stormwater program — for the violations. In early 2013, the EPA issued a scathing report outlining violations and followed up in August 2015 with an equally critical report.

    Specifically, the lawsuit notes the city backed off of requiring detention ponds and other flood-control measures in Cottonwood Creek that would have cost $11.4 million, and instead reduced developers’ fees. But that violates the city’s discharge permit, the lawsuit states. It also notes drainage violations at First & Main adjacent to Powers Boulevard and Flying Horse Pond Filing 26 on the city’s far north side. In addition, the city allowed seven residential developments to be built without requiring stormwater controls, in violation of its discharge permit and its own requirements, the lawsuit says. Moreover, the city didn’t enforce its rules when developers violated the city’s stormwater requirements, according to the suit.

    “Unless enjoined, the city’s violations will continue,” the lawsuit states, noting it is seeking unspecified civil penalties.

    “On Wednesday, the city was served with a broad and unspecific filing from the EPA, citing Colorado Springs for deficiencies in its stormwater system since the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise in 2009,” Suthers said in a statement. “While we recognize that stormwater was underfunded during that time, this was extremely frustrating, considering the commitment the mayor and city council have already made to massive stormwater improvements over the next 20 years.”

    Suthers also noted it makes more sense to use city money to fix the problem than pay to litigate the lawsuit or remit fines. “We will ask the federal judge to look at our efforts and our commitments toward real progress and hope that a more constructive resolution can be reached,” he said.