Quest for a lead-free Denver – News on TAP

What you need to know about the tools and programs to protect your family from lead service lines.

Source: Quest for a lead-free Denver – News on TAP

#ColoradoRiver: Should Nature Have the Right to Sue in Court? — Patrick J. Kiger #COriver

The Colorado River, not far below the Utah-Colorado state line, and flowing toward the lower basin.

From How Stuff Works (Patrick J. Kiger):

A federal lawsuit filed in September against the state of Colorado seeks to have the Colorado River ecosystem recognized as “possessing rights similar to a ‘person,'” including “certain rights to exist, flourish, regenerate and naturally evolve.”

The litigation, filed by Denver attorney Jason Flores-Williams, actually names the river ecosystem as the plaintiff in the suit. Environmental groups Deep Green Resistance (DGR) and the Southwest Coalition and several individual activists also are participating as the role of “next friends” acting on behalf of the river to bring the lawsuit. DGR activist Will Falk explained in a San Diego Free Press article that the lawsuit is an effort to counter a system that “currently defines nature as property.”

Flores-Williams has significant experience representing homeless people in class-action litigation against the city of Denver and city officials. He says that that previous work inspired the river lawsuit. “The only thing more homeless than homeless people is nature,” he says.

Flores-Williams says that after researching legal efforts to protect the environment, he came to the conclusion that even those “heroic” lawsuits hadn’t prevented environmental conditions from worsening. One reason, he says, is that “many environmental cases are dismissed for a lack of standing, because you can’t show what somebody, or a corporation or a state, is doing is of immediate harm to a human being.”

“It’s a real problem, a procedural defect,” says Flores-Williams.

If the river lawsuit is successful, Flores-Williams says that it would enable groups to act on behalf of the river, and make their case by showing that a defendant is damaging the waterway, without the need to prove that humans are being hurt.

The idea of nature having legal rights isn’t a new idea. Back in 1972, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, in his dissenting opinion in the case of Sierra Club v. Morton, argued that environmental issues might be put in better focus if lawsuits could be filed “in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers, and where injury is the subject of public outrage. Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.”

Douglas cited legal scholar Christopher D. Stone, whose book “Should Trees Have Standing?” made the case that natural objects could have legal rights, which would be exercised with the assistance of appointed guardians.

Since then, an international movement has sprouted to confer legal rights on nature, and recently, several countries have afforded such status to rivers. In March 2017, for example, after long negotiations with indigenous people, the New Zealand Parliament passed legislation that declared the Whangagui (Te Awa Tupua) River to be “a legal person” with all of the rights, powers, duties and liabilities that any other New Zealand resident might have.

Shortly after the New Zealand decision, a court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand ruled that the Ganges River and its main tributary, the Yamuna River, also deserved the same legal status as human beings.

Even so, the Colorado River lawsuit may face a difficult legal road. Reed Benson, chairman of the environmental law program at the University of New Mexico, told the New York Times that he considered it “a long shot in more ways than one.”

But Flores-Williams doesn’t seem deterred by the challenge, or by worries that some might take a dim view of a river being granted rights similar to those of a human being, or of a corporation.

“I wish people would get hung up on the idea that our environment is being diminished,” he says. “The river should have a right to exist.” Additionally, he says, “anyone knows that if the Colorado River is extinguished, it would cause an injury to us all.”

The office of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper declined to comment on the suit itself, but, via email, spokesperson Jacque Montgomery defended the state’s efforts to protect the river.

“Colorado and countless partners have long understood the significance of the Colorado River system and the need to balance our needs for water with conservation and enhancement of the river ecosystem,” she wrote. “This extends from efforts to protect — and improve habitat for — endangered fish in the river over the course of decades to the recent development of Colorado’s Water Plan. That plan’s very essence is about working together to ensure sufficient water supplies for agriculture, cities, recreation and the environment as our state continues to grow. The Colorado River, and its protection, has been a fundamental focus of Colorado as a state, but also of local governments and water utilities who themselves depend upon the river’s health and function as necessary for their own success.”

Flores-Williams says that activists in other states have expressed interest in filing similar suits

From the Colorado River District:

Colorado River Ecosystem/Deep Green Resistance v. the State of Colorado, Case No. 17-cv-02316, U.S. District Court, Colorado.

Information only.

Board members may have read recent news reports about a novel lawsuit that seeks to declare the Colorado River ecosystem as a “person” with standing to bring a lawsuit on its own behalf. The lawsuit was filed by the environmental group, Deep Green Resistance, as a “next friend”1 of the Colorado River Ecosystem. The complaint seeks a declaration from the court that the Colorado River Ecosystem is a “person” with standing to sue in court to protect its right to “exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve.” Additionally, the complaint alleges that the State of Colorado can be held liable for violating the River’s rights.

The premise of this lawsuit is certainly unique in Colorado (as well as the nation) but it is not completely without precedent. As noted in the complaint, Ecuador has amended its constitution to recognize the rights of ecosystems. Likewise, jurisdictions in Columbia and India have found rivers to have certain rights that warrant protection.

If successful, the lawsuit would be precedential not only in Colorado but throughout the country. Thus, we expect the State of Colorado will receive lots of help from others in opposing the lawsuit (we have already offered the River District’s help). A ruling granting the requested relief could totally upend environmental litigation. A key question would be why any specific group of individuals should be entitled to serve as an ecosystem’s “next friend” as opposed to any other group of individuals, organizations, municipalities, or States. The fights over the right to be appointed “next friend” status alone would be chaotic – not even taking into consideration the unique claims that could be asserted. The Attorney General’s Office will be taking the lead on Colorado’s behalf. We will continue to be in contact with the AG’s office as it prepares Colorado’s defense of the lawsuit – hopefully with a swift and successful motion to dismiss.

From The Las Vegas Sun (April Corbin):

Frustrated by what they perceive as a failure of existing environmental law, advocates are exploring a new strategy to protect natural resources: asking federal district court to recognize the Colorado River as a person.

Yes, a person — with inalienable rights to “exist, flourish, regenerate, and restoration.”

The Colorado River is seeking the judicial recognition of “legal personhood” in a lawsuit filed Sept. 25 against the governor of Colorado in federal court (the first hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14). A favorable ruling would not only affect Nevada and the six other states with direct ties to the 1,450-mile-long river; it would spark a significant shift in environmental preservation nationwide.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit public-interest law firm and a leader in the push for “rights of nature,” is adviser on the lawsuit. Executive Director Thomas Linzey says existing environmental laws focus on damage to people and their property.

“Climate change is presenting itself in full force,” Linzey says. “People are beginning to understand that environmental law is falling short. Something new is needed. … This emerging system is about recognizing that ecosystems need to be protected in the plenary sense — not just to benefit humans.”

Individuals from the nonprofit organization Deep Green Resistance have been designated as “next friends” who act as surrogates on behalf of the river. The concept is similar to guardianship in cases involving minors or people considered too mentally incompetent to vocalize their own interests.

Peru Basin acid mine drainage cleanup update

Jumbo Mine Cabin in-front of Adit September 25, 2017. Photo credit Environmental Protection Agency.

From the Environmental Protection Agency via Summit County (Brian Lorch):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking immediate action to perform mine cleanup activities at the Jumbo Mine in Summit County’s Peru Creek Basin, approximately seven miles east of Keystone Resort.

The Jumbo Mine, which produced gold, copper, lead and silver, operated from 1915 to 1918. Historic mine operations also generated significant volumes of waste rock and tailings piles. Inactive and abandoned for a century, the mine site was identified in the early 1990s by EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE), as well as in the Snake River Watershed Plan, as a significant point-source contributor of metal-contaminated flows into Peru Creek and the downstream Snake River.

Historic hard-rock mining in the Peru Creek Basin left a legacy of contaminated and abandoned mine sites, whose acid mine drainage significantly degrades water quality. Much has been done to study the problems in the Snake River watershed, beginning in the early 1970s. Most studies have focused on the Peru Creek drainage, which is home to the Pennsylvania Mine, the largest, longest-operating mine in the watershed. In coordination with Summit County and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS), EPA completed cleanup actions at the Pennsylvania Mine in 2016.

The Jumbo Mine is another high-priority abandoned mine site in the Peru Creek Basin identified by the Snake River Watershed Coalition as a remediation project site capable of significantly improving water quality in the Snake River watershed.

Summit County purchased the land surrounding the abandoned Jumbo Mine in early 2016 for public open space. A restrictive covenant placed on the adjacent property containing the abandoned mine site allows for EPA’s cleanup actions to occur, but also limits the County’s liability for the existing environmental issues and associated cleanup actions.

“We had been looking to acquire this piece of property for a long time, recognizing that it has many open space values,” said Brian Lorch, Summit County Open Space and Trails director. “But before we could take steps to purchase the property, we needed to ensure that it could be cleaned up in an economical manner.”

EPA is implementing the cleanup work as a time-critical removal action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Last week, the agency began the work, which it plans to complete in about three weeks.

Cleanup activities involve diverting water draining from a mine adit around or over adjacent tailings piles in a limestone and membrane-lined ditch. According to EPA studies, water quality of the adit drainage degrades as it crosses the mine tailings, contributing high levels of suspended and dissolved lead, zinc and other metals into the stream. Diverting drainage around the tailings into a lined ditch should greatly improve water quality.

“The overall approach will help reduce the discharge of metals into Peru Creek,” Lorch said. “A passive treatment approach at the Jumbo Mine site is quite similar to numerous mine cleanups performed elsewhere by the County.”

Since 2001, Summit County has worked with EPA to identify and prioritize mine sites in need of cleanup in the Peru Creek Basin. The County’s proactive coordination with EPA facilitated recent cleanup efforts at the Pennsylvania Mine and numerous other sites in the area.

“We are really happy and grateful to see EPA continue its mine cleanup efforts in the Peru Creek Basin,” Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “The Summit County community is very supportive of our efforts to clean up abandoned mine sites on County property, voting in 2015 for a mill levy that provides funding for cleaning up mine-impacted sites.”

Jumbo Mine looking up at channel liner installation from lower middle section of waste rock pile. Photo credit Environmental Protection Agency.

Winter 2017-2018 look ahead

From The Mountain Mail (April Obholz):

“Colorado will favor above-average temps” in the coming winter, Mike Halpert, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center deputy director, said Thursday in a media teleconference.

“The northern part of Colorado will go toward wet. A fair amount of the state falls into the ‘equal chances’ category,” Halpert said.

The middle of the country is the dividing line, so Colorado and middle America are considered equal chance – meaning there is not a strong enough climate signal to shift the odds one direction or the other.

Colorado and other similar states can expect equal chances of above, near or below normal temperatures and precipitation.

Part of the forecast relies on computer simulation. At this point, the computer forecast is leaning toward La Niña, Halpert said, abnormally cool water around the equator in the Pacific Ocean that can influence weather patterns worldwide.

According to a forecasters’ press release Thursday, La Niña has a 55 to 65 percent chance of developing before winter starts.

Regarding snowfall, “NOAA is not issuing snow forecasts at this time. La Niña winters typically see less snow,” said Halpert.