New report urges global action on mining pollution — UN Environment

Here’s the release from UN Environment:

Mining Tailings Storage: Safety is no accident, was prompted by tailings dams disasters and rising global concerns about the safety, management and impacts of storing and managing large volumes of mine tailings.

The increasing number and size of tailings dams around the globe magnifies the potential environmental, social and economic cost of catastrophic failure impact and the risks and costs of perpetual management. These risks present a challenge for this generation, and if not addressed now, a debt we will leave to future generations.

From the Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via The Denver Post:

The UN Environment Program report tallied 40 significant mine waste accidents in the past decade. Most involved dams or other storage areas that failed, releasing torrents of polluted water.

Among the accidents highlighted by the agency were a 2015 dam collapse at a Brazilian iron-ore mine that killed 19 people and the Gold King Mine disaster in the U.S. that spilled pollution into rivers in three Western states.

Although the rate of such accidents has been falling, the report warned that the consequences have grown more serious as waste impoundments get larger. The iron-ore mine accident in Samarco, Brazil, for example, released some 40 million cubic meters (52 million cubic yards) of waste that polluted hundreds of miles of rivers and streams.

The UNEP recommended governments and mining companies adopt a “zero-failure” goal for mining impoundments known as tailings dams and impose stronger regulations.

There are an estimated 30,000 industrial mines worldwide and hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that continue spewing pollution for decades after they’ve closed.

Advocacy groups said in response to this week’s UNEP report that 341 people have been killed by mine waste accidents since 2008.

Waste storage sites are “like ticking time bombs,” said Payal Sampat with the U.S.-based group Earthworks, adding that governments and the mining industry have done too little to prevent accidents.

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

Roaring Fork Valley Youth Water Summit recap

The Roaring Fork River coursing down the Cascades, near the Grottos, on Independence Pass east of Aspen. The phoro was taken mid-day on June 15, 2017, the day after the Twin Lakes Independence Pass Tunnel that delivers water to the east slope was closed. Credit Aspen Journalism — Brent Gardner-Smith.

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

Last month, students from across the Roaring Fork Valley gathered to discuss water. At the first-ever Youth Water Summit, teenagers presented their own white papers on everything from water rights to environmental activism…

Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board sponsored the event, and hired Sarah Johnson of Wild Rose Education to organize it.

“We want these kids to have a stronger water ethic, and a stronger sense of water literacy and river literacy, you might say,” Johnson explained.

Students from local middle and high schools studied issues related to water management across the west at the summit. They learned from water experts and posed their own big questions: What are the effects of the Colorado River running dry? How are art, literature and film used for water activism?

“Watershed issues are not science issues by themselves, they’re very interdisciplinary, whole picture, watershed-wide problems – or opportunities,” Johnson said.

The kids spent months researching the context and the consequences of their chosen topics and presented their findings to classmates. This runs the gamut, as students explore the scarcity of fresh water, the ways graffiti have represented public opinion on dams and how much water is used for agriculture in the arid west…

Tasker said part of the goal is to encourage students to acknowledge the roles they play in the complex world of water management. For example, the Colorado Rocky Mountain School owns a water right on the Crystal River.

“They actually irrigate some fields on their property, and so they are part of the diversion system,” Tasker explained.

The event allowed kids to consider current issues in their own backyards and the bigger picture of water policy across the west. Tasker was particularly impressed with a presentation on the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which governs water rights in seven seven states across the west.

Sterling: Northeast Livestock Symposium recap

North Sterling Reservoir

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Increased water conservation along Colorado’s Front Range doesn’t translate into increased water supplies in the farmlands along the South Platte River.

That was part of the message Jim Yahn had for the Northeast Livestock Symposium in Sterling Tuesday. Yahn, who is manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs and who represents the South Platte Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, briefed the three dozen people attending the symposium on the Colorado Water Plan of 2015 and how that plan is being put into effect.

Yahn repeated the assertion that, by 2030, the need for water in Colorado will exceed supplies by 560,000 acre feet, or 182 billion gallons per year, and most of that is here in the South Platte River Basin.

The Colorado Water Plan is the road map to closing that gap…

Yahn said the plan is important because developers along the Front Range, where the building and population booms continue unabated, have no plan to provide water for the growth other than to heavily promote water conservation. The Colorado Water Plan calls for conservation measures to save 400,000 acre feet of water per year by 2030. While conservation is important, Yahn said, it’s not nearly enough to close the gap between supplies and demand.

“When cities start conserving (water) less water comes downstream, and we rely on those return flows to irrigate,” he said. “So the 400,000 acre feet of conservation does not apply directly to the gap. It’s not a one-to-one return, one for one, so if municipality has xeriscaping, we don’t see that runoff down here for agricultural use.”

That’s why increasing storage is vital to closing the water gap by 2030, Yahn said. He told the symposium that $21 million in water supply reserve funds already has been approved to find new storage and more than $65.6 million in loans has approved since the governor’s receipt of the Colorado water plan two years ago.

Yahn also pointed to what are called “alternative methods of transfer” to temporarily move water from agricultural uses to non-ag uses when the water isn’t needed for irrigation. He said there are seven known ATMs in Colorado; two in the Arkansas River Basin, four in the South Platte basin and one in the Colorado River basin.

Two of the four in the South Platte basin are with the North Sterling Irrigation Co., which Yahn manages; one is for 3,000 acre feet with Xcel Energy for its Pawnee Generation Plant at brush, and one for 6,000 acre feet with BNN Energy for hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in Weld County.

Yahn pointed out that ATMs aren’t a panacea to closing the water gap, but are better than permanent sale of irrigated crop land to obtain water rights.

#ColoradoSprings in a scramble to get finance systems in place to collect #stormwater fees

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

…the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, composed of City Council, must approve placing the monthly $5-per-household fee on residential utility bills, for which the city would pay the agency a one-time fee of $1.8 million and $200,000 a year, the Gazette reported.

Approval of Utilities handling collections is expected, and Strand says it appears that customers who don’t pay the stormwater fee would risk losing all utility services.

“We’re discussing this with Utilities [staff],” Strand says. “If someone doesn’t pay their bill, what’s likely to happen is their utilities will be turned off.”

Fees of $30 per acre for non-residential developed parcels will be billed by the city, which must set up the mechanics to do that. Undeveloped properties will be assessed by the stormwater manager based on impervious surface. (Suthers has said the city will pay an annual bill of about $100,000 for its property, including park land.) Those, too, will be billed by the city.

Strand says the consequence for nonpayment of non-residential billings is “likely” a lien placed on the property, which would require cooperation from El Paso County, the keeper of deed records. “The county commissioners I’ve talked to say they will cooperate,” he says.

In 2011, when the city wanted to collect $765,000 still owed for stormwater fees implemented in 2007 but halted in 2009, county officials refused to add the fees to property tax bills or deeds. Those fees, however, were not approved by voters.

Another complication is which properties, if any, will be deemed exempt from the stormwater fee. The measure approved on Nov. 7 entitles the city to bill nonprofits and churches, but what about federal agencies, such as post offices?

Federal agencies didn’t pay the city’s stormwater fees imposed in 2007, citing sovereign immunity and claiming the fees were a tax and, thus, unconstitutional. But, thanks to a bill signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, which amended the Clean Water Act, the federal government will pay its fair share of local stormwater management services, according to the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

Whether that bill applies to military installations is unclear. However, the association wrote in a newsletter that the law was envisioned as a way to resolve billing disputes with various federal agencies, including in Aurora where the city had billed Buckley Air Force Base $143,445 in outstanding stormwater fees as of May 2010.

Although Strand initially said he thought Peterson Air Force Base, which overlaps into the city limits, could be exempted, when told of the 2011 amendment to the Clean Water Act, he was eager to learn more about it.

“They use our resources, and we respond to help them with fire protection, although they have their own fire service,” he says. “I think they ought to be accountable under this current situation [ballot measure] we passed on Tuesday [Nov. 7].”