@USBR releases draft Environmental Assessment for the #AnimasRiver Water Quality and Resilience Improvement Project, comments due by October 22, 2018

Animas River photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff, Ernie Rheaume):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment for the Animas Water Quality and Resilience Improvement Project. The proposed project would implement riparian and streambank restoration activities at three sites identified in the Lower Animas River Watershed Based Plan, including the Flora Vista River and Riparian Restoration; Ruins Road Riparian Pasture Improvement; and Road 3133 Riparian Revegetation.

The project would improve water quality and resilience of the river. The project includes: river bank restoration, removal of Russian olive, reestablishment of native riparian species, river bank re-sloping to decrease sedimentation and fencing to exclude livestock access.

The draft FONSI and EA is available by contacting Reclamation at jliff@usbr.gov or erheaume@usbr.gov.

Reclamation will consider all comments received by Monday, October 22, 2018. Submit comments by email to erheaume@usbr.gov or to: Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, CO 81303.

Class action lawsuit filed against PFAS chemical producers

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From The Intercept (Sharon Lerner):

A class action lawsuit against 3M, DuPont, and Chemours was filed this week on behalf of everyone in the United States who has been exposed to PFAS chemicals. The suit was brought by Kevin Hardwick, an Ohio firefighter, but “seeks relief on behalf of a nationwide class of everyone in the United States who has a detectable level of PFAS chemicals in their blood.” Hardwick is represented by attorney Robert Bilott, who successfully sued DuPont on behalf of people in West Virginia and Ohio who had been exposed to PFOA from a plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

In addition to 3M, DuPont, and its spinoff, Chemours, the suit names eight other companies that produce the toxic chemicals, which are used to make firefighting foam, nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, and many other products. While much of the litigation around PFAS has focused on PFOA and PFOS, this suit targets the entire class of PFAS chemicals, including “the newer ‘replacement’ chemicals, such as GenX.”

Rather than suing for cash penalties, the suit seeks to force the companies to create an independent panel of scientists “tasked with thoroughly studying and confirming the health effects that can be caused by contamination of human blood with multiple PFAS materials.” Such a panel would parallel the C8 Science Panel, which was created by the earlier class action litigation in West Virginia. That panel, overseen by epidemiologists approved by lawyers from both sides in the suit, found six diseases to be linked with PFOA exposure, including testicular cancer and kidney cancer.

“With multiple PFAS chemicals now contaminating the blood of people all over this country, it should be possible to build upon and expand the C8 Science Panel model to encompass a comprehensive, nationwide investigation of the impact of multiple PFAS chemicals,” Bilott said in a press release.

Critically, the settlement creating the C8 Science Panel stipulated that DuPont was unable to contest the links found by the C8 Science Panel in court, which helped lead to multiple verdicts in which the company was held liable. To date, DuPont has paid more than $1 billion in penalties as a result of the earlier PFOA litigation. The primary goal of the new lawsuit is the creation of a national study that would be similarly binding.

“The hope is it would go a long way to resolving the PFAS crisis by providing scientific answers that everybody involved would commit to,” said Bilott in an interview. “Otherwise there’s the potential for endless litigation and fighting over the meaning of the science.”

The country’s cheapest water is in the West’s driest cities — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Maya L. Kapoor):

If water were priced according to demand, many Westerners would be smelly and thirsty. But water is a necessity, and demand-based pricing would be unethical. Instead, many cities rely on block pricing for residential use, charging different amounts for essential water and for additional water. Done right, block pricing should encourage conservation while still letting everyone meet their needs: The cost of essential water, used for basics such as clothes washing, staying hydrated, bathing or cooking, is low, while additional water — say, for growing a lush lawn in the desert — costs more. But according to new research, that’s not the reality across the West.

Economists and a public policy expert at the University of Minnesota who looked into block pricing for water in the nation’s largest urban areas, including 11 Western cities, discovered a pattern they conclude is neither sustainable nor just: Many of the driest cities have the cheapest water prices. What’s more, for households across the West, the average price of water goes down as use goes up.

In many Western cities, using under 6,000 gallons of water a month has a higher price tag for households than the next nonessential 6,000 to 12,000 gallons they might use. Source: Ian H. Luby, Stephan Polasky, Deborah L. Swackhamer. Infographic by Luna Anna Archey

The researchers used the Natural Resources Defense Council’s 2010 Water Sustainability Index rankings — which combine factors such as climate change projections, drought vulnerability and future demand — to predict water scarcity for the biggest cities in the nation’s 35 most populous metropolitan areas. They used approximately 6,000 gallons as a “generous” estimate of how much water a family of four in one home needs each month for basics. (Across the nation, Americans in this category actually use, on average, almost 9,000 gallons each month.)

Phoenix, a region facing extreme risk for water scarcity, charges $27 for the first 6,000 gallons per month, the lowest price for essential residential water. Meanwhile, the most expensive water prices are in some of the West’s wettest cities, including Seattle, which charges about $150 for the same amount.

As alarming as it may be for water to cost so little in a desert city with an average rainfall of just eight inches a year, Phoenix’s water management policy is arguably more just, because necessary water is cheap, while additional water is more expensive. Phoenix charges 55 percent more for additional water use, more than any other Western city, and per capita water use has fallen in recent decades even as the city has grown. Still, the West overall has catching up to do: The greatest charge for additional water use nationally is in Miami, where nonessential water costs 73 percent more than essential water.

Indeed, in almost all of the Western cities studied, water costs less on average when used more. For example, in Sacramento, a northern California city with an extreme water scarcity risk, nonessential water costs 75 percent less to use than essential water.

Regulations can create a hurdle for Western cities hoping to use block pricing to make water access both sustainable and fair. In California, for example, state law Proposition 218 outlaws water prices that are higher than the cost of providing water. That rule effectively stops block pricing from being a sustainability tool, because high prices on nonessential water can’t be used to encourage conservation or to keep the price of essential water low. Meanwhile, as Western cities struggle to solve their water pricing dilemma, it’s only getting worse: Climate change is making water shortages ever more likely in the West’s most populous places, but with current policies, future water shortages will be difficult to meet in a way that’s fair.

Maya L. Kapoor is an associate editor at High Country News. Email her at mayak@hcn.org.

The Water Information Program has posted the presentations from their 12th Annual Water 101 – 201 Seminar

Click here to go to the The Water Information Program website to view the presentations:

Thanks to an engaged audience and expert speakers, the 2018 Water 101 – 201 Seminar was a success! Thanks to all who attended. This years seminar took place in Nucla, CO on September 18 – 19, 2018. Our presenters have generously provided their presentations for review on the WIP website.

Friend of Coyote Gulch, Greg Hobbs, made the trek to Nucla and kindly provided the photo record below.

Water 101-102 Southwestern Colorado September 17-19, 2018
Dolores and San Miguel Rivers, Paradox Valley at Bedrock, Hanging Flume, Dallas Divide, Ute Indian Museum Montrose, Blue Mesa Reservoir

Greg and Bobbie Hobbs

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@USFSRockyMtns: #416Fire contained 3:00PM Friday, October 5, 2018

The 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, ignited on June 1, 2018. By June 21, the wildfire covered more than 34,000 acres and was 37 percent contained. Photo credit USFS via The High Country News

From the USFS via the The Cortez Journal:

The U.S. Forest Service declared the 416 Fire “controlled” at 3 p.m. Friday.

Remnants of Hurricane Rosa helped douse lingering flames burning within the 416 Fire containment lines, according to a news release issued Friday afternoon by the U.S. Forest Service.

The 54,000-acre fire started June 1 about 10 miles north of Durango and was declared fully contained 61 days later on July 31, meaning fire crews had the blaze contained within a certain boundary. Controlled means there is no active fire within containment lines and no hot spots near the containment lines.

But the Forest Service said the fire continues to smolder in spots, and smoke could occasionally rise from the burn area, according to the release.

It may be months before the fire is completely extinguished.

Snow, freezing temperatures or consecutive days of heavy rain may be needed to completely extinguish the fire.

Much of the 416 Fire burn area is closed and will remain closed for months to come, according to the news release.

The Forest Service, which is responsible for investigating the cause of the 416 Fire, has not determined what started the blaze. The agency intends to issue a ruling in late fall or early winter.