#AnimasRiver: @EPA — Cement Creek, #GoldKingMine, summer project plan

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

At the Animas River Stakeholders Group meeting in Silverton on Thursday, Superfund site project manager Rebecca Thomas told the 20 or so attendees the EPA has laid out a work plan for the summer.

Thomas said much of the work will be a continuation of last year’s activities, including collecting data and water samples, as well as looking at flow control structures at the Gold King Mine, the site of the EPA-triggered mine spill in August 2015.

The EPA also will install a pressure gauge system to monitor the bulkhead at the Mogul Mine, adjacent to the Gold King, which are both significant contributors of heavy metals into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

The EPA wants to install a ground monitoring well between the inner and outermost bulkheads at the American Tunnel, the drain for the Sunnyside Mine workings. It’s suspected the American Tunnel’s water level has reached capacity and could be responsible for increased discharges out of adjacent mines, such as the Gold King.

Thomas said crews will compile more data for the possible closure of the bulkhead at the Red & Bonita Mine, another contributor into Cement Creek. Specifically, EPA wants to better understand the water hydrology of the mine workings.

As for the EPA’s interim water-treatment plant at Gladstone that treats discharges out of the Gold King Mine, Thomas said the agency is looking at about six sites to store the mine waste.

“This is increasingly more important for us as we start to run out of room for sludge management (at Gladstone),” Thomas said.

She said there may be more than one location for the mine waste, and that the agency hopes to have that finalized by May.

Thomas added that the EPA is planning a few quick-action remediation projects at sites within the Superfund listing where there is an immediate benefit to the environment, water quality and managing adit discharges.

She said 27 of the 48 sites qualify for early-action remediation, which could include fixing mine waste ponds, remediating waste rock dumps or redirecting clean surface water away from known polluted areas.

“There’s no way we’re going to get all the work done, but the hope is to get some of the work done,” Thomas said.

The Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Forest Service – all working on the Superfund site – also listed a few projects they have planned for this year.

Most notably, the BLM has permission to undergo a pilot project with Texas-based Green Age Technologies to test a new treatment on mine wastewater that many in the stakeholders group have said holds promise for low-cost water treatment.

The BLM and Green Age will spend 21 days treating discharges out of the American Tunnel and Gold King Mine with a technology known as cavitation, which separates metal ions from water.

The EPA had promised the town of Silverton before the community supported Superfund designation that the agency would embrace new technologies for mine-waste treatment.

@EPA rule for funding cleanups put on hold

From the Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via DenverRite.com:

Facing pushback from industry and Republicans in Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency delayed on Friday a proposal that would require mining companies to show they have the financial wherewithal to clean up their pollution so taxpayers aren’t stuck footing the bill.

Contaminated water from mine sites can flow into rivers and other waterways, harming aquatic life and threatening drinking water supplies. Companies in the past avoided cleanup costs in many cases by declaring bankruptcy.

Newly sworn-in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a longtime critic of the agency during his previous position as Oklahoma attorney general, said the four-month delay would give more opportunity for public comment.

The financial assurance rule was proposed during the Obama administration and fiercely opposed by mining industry representatives, who contended it was unnecessary and redundant because of other programs meant to prevent mines from becoming government cleanup liabilities.

“By extending this comment period, we are demonstrating that we are listening to miners, owners and operators all across America and to all parties interested in this important rule,” Pruitt said in a statement.

Environmentalists generally endorsed the proposal as a way to make sure mining companies were held accountable. “It appears the new EPA administrator is already favoring industry over public interest with this delay,” said Bonnie Gestring with the advocacy group Earthworks.

The delayed rule was unveiled late last year under a court order that requires it to be finalized by December 2017. The order came after environmental groups sued the government to enforce a long-ignored provision in the 1980 federal Superfund law.

EPA officials said Friday they still intend to meet the court-ordered deadline.

The proposal would apply to hard-rock mining, which includes mines for precious metals, copper, iron, lead and other ores. It would cover thousands of mines and processing facilities in 38 states, requiring their owners to set aside sufficient money to pay for future clean ups.

From 2010 to 2014, the EPA spent $1.1 billion on cleanup work at abandoned hard-rock mining and processing sites across the U.S.

Companies would face a combined $7.1 billion financial obligation under the proposed rule, costing them up to $171 million annually, according to the EPA. The agency said the amount could be covered through third parties such as surety bonds or self-insured corporate guarantees.

Roaring Fork Valley: Cutthroat Trout — Conservation Through Uncertainty — Wilderness Workshop

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Click here for all the inside skinny on the presentations March 1st and March 2nd. Here’s an excerpt from the website:

For decades, biologists accepted that Colorado’s native cutthroat trout could be distinguished by their location: Greenbacks were east of the Continental Divide, Colorado River cutthroat were west, Rio Grande cutthroat were in their namesake watershed, and the Yellowfin cutthroat have been extinct from Twin Lakes since the early 1900s.

However, using innovative genetic technology, researchers recently revealed that remnant Greenback populations on the eastern slope were actually Colorado River cutthroat trout, and fish that genetically resembled Greenbacks were unexpectedly numerous on the western slope. This was a blow to recovery efforts for Colorado’s Greenback cutthroat trout, a Threatened Species, and native trout conservation in general. It was unclear if this reflected the widespread sportfish stocking efforts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or a gap in the knowledge about our indigenous cutthroat trout. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) conducted an investigation to solve this mystery.

Kendall Bakich, Fisheries Biologist at CPW, will discuss and explain these results. CPW has always used the “best available science” to protect the legacy of our native cutthroat and Kendall will outline how the agency continues to work on the frontline to preserve native trout diversity and enhance resiliency so the species persist well into the future.

Kendall is an Aquatic Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Her work focuses on the management and conservation of sportfish populations in the Eagle and Roaring Fork watersheds, as well as the Colorado River and its tributaries between Canyon Creek and State Bridge.

CARBONDALE — Wednesday, March 1st, at 5:30 P.M. at Third Street Center
ASPEN — Thursday, March 2, at 7:00 P.M. at ACES at Hallam Lake

The Naturalist Nights series is presented by the Wilderness Workshop, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Roaring Fork Audubon. Presentations are hosted Wednesdays at the Third Street Center in Carbondale at 5:30 P.M. and Thursdays at ACES at Hallam Lake in Aspen at 7:00 P.M.

White River: Wolf Creek Reservoir project update

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey
Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Jennifer Hill):

The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy is preparing to begin Phase II of the White River storage project with the ultimate goal of obtaining a new reservoir on the White River.

The project began in 2014 with a water storage study. The study was determined necessary after the Conservancy determined that Rio Blanco was facing a water crisis. Approximately half of Kenney Reservoir’s original size has been silted in and it’s estimated that it loses 300 acre feet of water storage per year. The loss of Kenney significantly impacts recreation, endangered fish and potentially the Town of Rangely’s ability to store water. The district initially investigated improvements to Kenney but found that dredging would cost more than half a billion dollars and enlarging Taylor Draw had significant permitting issues. Because of these concerns the Conservancy District decided to move forward with the study of a new multipurpose reservoir. The functions of a new reservoir would include municipal and domestic water supply, environmental improvements, recreation, energy development and potentially irrigation and Colorado River Compact Storage.

Phase I of the project, which was completed in 2015, saw 23 initial reservoir sites identified at various locations along the White River. Estimating water demand in 2065, the District was able to narrow it down to two possible sizes, a 20,000 or 90,000-acre foot reservoir. After comparing construction, implementation and storage costs the location was also narrowed down to the Wolf Creek Drainage, which is located 17 miles East of Rangely, near Yellow Creek. The total project cost of the 20,000-acre foot option is estimated at $71.1 million and the 90,000-acre foot option at $127.7 million. However, when a storage cost per acre foot comparison is made the larger reservoir appears economical, with the 20,000-acre foot costing $3,560 and the 90,000-acre foot costing $1,420 per acre foot.

In addition to size options Wolf Creek comes with two potential locations, a traditional dam built directly on the White River or an off channel diversion project which would require the water to be piped and pumped to a nearby location. The on river dam option offers a smaller dam footprint, hydroelectric options and the possibility of extending the life of Kenney Reservoir by preventing more sedimentation. This option will require greater infrastructure relocations as well as have a larger impact on private and agricultural lands.

While the off channel diversion would certainly have higher construction costs than building on river, there are benefits to be considered. The off channel diversion would receive less sedimentation, leaving it more protected from the problems Kenney has experienced. It would also require little to no need for infrastructure relocations such as power lines or pipelines along with a minimal impact to private lands and personal property. Additionally, there are significant enlargement capabilities. However, the off channel option also provides limited opportunities for hydroelectric power. The conservancy has already filed for water rights on both options.

Phase I also looked at the potential tax revenue provided by a new reservoir, with recreation playing a large role. It is estimated that the Wolf Creek site could create a total annual tax revenue of $1.1- $1.4 million.

Phase II, which will begin when all funding mechanism are firmly in place, will include more stakeholder and public outreach, preferred alternative refinement, preliminary sedimentation studies and hydraulic modeling. In addition, this phase will include development of minimum stream flows for the endangered fisheries program and research into the possibility of another hydroelectric plant. Phase II is estimated to cost $350,000. The funding comes from a variety of stakeholders including $85,000 from the Yampa/White Green Roundtable, $75,000 form the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, $50,000 from the Town of Rangely, $10,000 from the Town of Meeker and $25,000 from Rio Blanco County. There is also a $82,888 grant request in to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

In their most recent meeting the Rio Blanco Board of County Commissioners agreed to additional funding to help fill the $22,000 gap with the understanding that the Conservation District would request the Towns of Meeker and Rangely to share the burden.
The $75,000 contribution from the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District is a sizeable amount of money for the district, as it equates to 45 percent of their tax revenue.

The goal is to have Phase II completed by 2018 so that the lengthy permitting process can begin.

The entire project boasts an aggressive schedule with the goal of final completion in 2024. This timeline is considered rapid because the last completed dam project in Colorado took 18 years. It is also not unusual for the permitting process to last decades.

More coverage of Wolf Creek Reservoir.

@DenverWater, et al. to ink $33 million deal for watershed health

Strontia Springs Dam spilling June 2014 via Denver Water
Strontia Springs Dam spilling June 2014 via Denver Water

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The agreement renews partnership work Denver Water initiated in 2010 aimed at reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

New restoration and “wildfire fuels reduction” projects will be done on more than 40,000 acres of watershed deemed critical, according to a U.S. Forest Service announcement.

Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead, U.S. Forest Service regional director Brian Ferebee, Colorado State Forest Service director Mike Lester and Natural Resources Conservation Service director Clint Evan were to sign the latest deal Monday in Denver at the History Colorado Center.

The forest health work has involved clearing trees from beetle-ravaged forests where fire and erosion increasingly threaten water supplies. Lochhead has said investing in forest health helps avoid having to deal with the problem later at a much greater cost.

Water providers have ventured into forest management work because, with bug-infested trees dead and dying on millions of acres of Western forests, weakened soils can erode, especially after fire and heavy rain, releasing sediment into streams, rivers and reservoirs.

After the Buffalo Creek Fire, Denver Water had to spend $30 million dredging and unclogging the city’s Strontia Springs reservoir. An estimated 625,000 cubic yards of sediment from surrounding mountainsides, enough to cover a football field 200 feet high, slumped into the reservoir.

Federal officials have warned repeatedly in recent years that the nation’s forests are threatened like never before. The previous forest health work plan called for thinning 6,000 acres of dense forest near Denver Water’s Dillon reservoir. Denver Water and the Forest Service each contributed about $16.5 million for the work. The forest health deals create work for logging contractors.

#Snowpack workshop: Understanding Snowpack and its Role in Western Water — Roaring Fork Conservancy

Westwide basin-filled snowpack map February 26, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide basin-filled snowpack map February 26, 2017 via the NRCS.

From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Scott Condon):

A dozen Roaring Fork Valley residents got an up-close look Sunday at how the weird weather has affected the snowpack this winter.

The group trudged into the aspen woods at the summit of McClure Pass during the cold morning to conduct an old-fashioned snow survey — ramming a hollow metal pole into the ground by hand power to take a core sample. Derrick Wyle, a soil conservationist with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, then walked the citizen scientists through calculations using markings on the pole and by weighing it to determine the snowpack density.

The exercise confirmed that Colorado’s typical Champagne powder has been closer to Sierra Cement this winter. Warm temperatures have often produced a rain-snow mix this winter as well as a series of 50-degree days in February.

The average of the nine samples indicated a snow depth of 38 inches and a snow-water equivalent — the amount of water contained within the snowpack — of 14 inches. That produced an average water density of 37 percent…

HANDS-ON FIELD EXPLORATION

The Natural Resources Conservation Service and Roaring Fork Conservancy have teamed up for the past five or so years to present the workshop, called, “Understanding Snowpack and its Role in Western Water.”

While Wyle took the students through a mock snow course survey, Mitchell worked with the group to dig a snow pit and analyze it for clues to the snowpack composition.

The digging initially was easy with 3 inches of light powder covering the surface. That was the snow that fell in recent days.

The fluff soon gave way to a thick, crusty layer that Mitchell said was baked and solidified during the long dry, warm spell in late January and February.

Closer to the ground, more than 3 feet below the snow surface, the consistency was looser again.

Mitchell planted thermometers at different layers of the snowpack and took equal-sized samples from the top and lower down in the dense layer. She mixed the snow samples with equal amounts of water and boiled them over Jet Boil burners she brought into the field. Once the snow was melted, it showed that the higher density layer, indeed, produced more water.

TRYING TO INSPIRE PEOPLE

Mitchell said getting people into the field is essential to Roaring Fork Conservancy’s mission to inspire people to explore, value and protect the Roaring Fork Watershed — an area that stretches from Independence Pass to Glenwood Springs and includes the Crystal and Fryingpan rivers and all their drainages.

The watershed is about 1,400 square miles.

“It’s about the size of Rhode Island,” Mitchell said.

And about 30 percent of it is federally protected wilderness, where motorized and mechanized uses are prohibited, according to Mitchell.

The conservancy holds a number of workshops and field trips over the course of the year, highlighted by its popular summer float trip on the Roaring Fork River.

Sunday’s program was designed to drive home the point that the snowpack “is a natural storage system for water,” she said…

SNOWPACK SOARED IN JANUARY

From now through spring, everyone from river guides to farmers will watch the snowpack to help gauge runoff.

So far, snowpack levels are impressive, thanks to the non-stop snow over the first three weeks of January. The pace of snowpack accumulation slowed significantly in February, but it still remains well above median at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen as well as at three sites each in the Crystal and Fryingpan drainages.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service relies primarily on automated Snow Telemetry sites now for data, including one on McClure Pass. Wyle gave a brief tour of the facilities there Sunday. The site transmits data each hour on snow depth, cumulative precipitation and snow water equivalent.

However, Wyle and his counterparts around the state still ski or snowshoe to select sites each month for a manual check of the automated data. He and his colleagues in the Glenwood Springs office do field tests at Nast Lake up the Fryingpan Valley.

Sunday’s field operation provided a glimpse of how the snow survey workers gather their data…

STELLAR SNOWPACK

All the automated Snow Telemetry sites in the Roaring Fork Watershed are measure well above the median. Here are the measures as of 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The first number is the snow water equivalent in the snowpack, the second is the percentage of median.

Independence Pass, 14.8 inches, 119%
McClure Pass, 16.8 inches, 130%
North Lost Trail, 19.8 inches, 157%
Schofield Pass, 41.8 inches, 172%
Nast Lake, 11.6 inches, 184%
Kiln, 12.5 inches, 138%
Ivanhoe, 16.4 inches, 164%

Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service

Las Animas councillors approve loans for sewer infrastructure

sewerusa

From The Bent County Democrat:

…the mayor conducted regular business with the passing of a number of resolutions [including]…

Resolution No. 3-17, a Resolution of the City of Las Animas Sewer Enterprise approving a loan between the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and the City of Las Animas sewer enterprise in the principal amount of not to exceed $176,000 for the purpose of financing the design and engineering costs relating to improvements to Las Animas wastewater facilities; authorizing the form and execution of a loan agreement and a governmental agency bond evidencing the loan; and prescribing other details in connection therewith; Resolution No. 4-17, a Resolution of the City of Las Animas sewer enterprise approving a loan between the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and the City of Las Animas sewer enterprise in the principal amount of not to exceed $593,500 for the purpose of financing improvements to Las Animas wastewater facilities; authorizing the form and execution of a loan agreement and a governmental agency bond evidencing the loan; and prescribing other details in connection therewith; Resolution No. 5-17, a Resolution of the city of Las Animas approving a contract with the City of Las Animas Sewer enterprise relating to improvements to the Las Animas Wastewater System and providing for payment for such services and Resolution No. 6-17, a Resolution of the City of Las Animas sewer enterprise approving a contract with the City of Las Animas wastewater system and providing for payment for such services.