#AnimasRiver: @EPA to use “adaptive management” strategy for Bonita Peak Superfund site

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which includes 48 mining-related sites around Silverton, is one of six Superfunds nationwide to be part of the study, referred to as an “adaptive management” strategy.

“We are really excited about this for Bonita Peak,” said Christina Progess, Superfund remedial project manager.

In May 2017, then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt formed a task force to think about ways to speed up Superfund cleanups, which in some cases can take decades to complete.

A month later, the task force recommended an “adaptive management” strategy that would improve and accelerate the process. Government agencies have used adaptive management since at least the 1970s, but the task force’s move made it formal for EPA.

Kate Garufi, an environmental engineer for EPA who is also chairwoman of the adaptive management task work force, said that some Superfund sites are large and complex, and it can take years to formulate a long-term cleanup plan.

“When you look at Superfund, it’s historically been very linear with a site investigation, evaluating alternatives, selecting a decision and implementing it, which can take a very long time,” she said.

Adaptive management, however, allows the EPA to target quicker projects year to year while a comprehensive solution is investigated, Garufi said.

“We’ll be able to take early actions and see those benefits while we continue to evaluate the entire basin,” she said.

The strategy made perfect sense for Bonita Peak, Progess said, which at 48 individual mining sites across the entire headwaters of the Animas River Basin is one of the larger and more complicated Superfund sites in the country.

As part of the adaptive management, Bonita Peak will be part of the 12-month study, which will set various goals and engage the local community.

“Because we are so early in the investigative process at Bonita Peak, adaptive management will help us set those goals and how to achieve them,” Progess said…

In June 2018, the EPA released a “quick action” plan for cleanup work at 26 mining sites over the next five years to be conducted while the agency comes up with a more long-term, comprehensive strategy to address mine pollution around Silverton.

The plan met resistance from local groups and individuals who say the plan fails to first quantify the benefits and goals that would result from the action plan, which would cost millions of dollars to clean up sites considered smaller contributors of pollution.

Thomas said the adaptive management will help refine that plan. She said a final decision, called an interim Record of Decision, could be issued within the next month or so.

On Wednesday, Thomas also addressed the concern that the partial government shutdown, which lasted 35 days, would cause the EPA to lose a summer season’s worth of work at Bonita Peak.

“Of course everyone here at EPA was dismayed about government shutdown, and it’s good to get back to work,” Thomas said. “Clearly there have been some impacts to the work we were all doing, but we’re doing our best to make sure we can take advantage of a full summer season.”

“Amazing prescient 1990 lecture on the threat of human-caused #ClimateChange by the one and only Carl Sagan, delivered in that characteristic magical Sagan style” — @MichaelEMann #ActOnClimate

#Snowpack news: Cautious optimism about current accumulations

Colorado statewide snowpack basin-filled map February 7, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Thomas Phippen):

In the Colorado River basin, snowpack was 112 percent of normal as of Feb. 1, according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service report released Wednesday. Statewide mountain snowpack improved from 94 percent of normal Jan. 1 to 105 percent of normal Feb. 1…

Mid-January marked the halfway point to peak snowpack accumulation, which is usually in April. February snowfall will be an indicator of how positive the year will be for water. But, with precipitation highest in March and April, the critical months of the winter and early spring season are still to come.

“It could go south, but I’m encouraged by where we are right now,” [Brian] Domonkos said. “Hopefully, this above-average weather pattern will continue.”

The state as a whole is slightly above normal snowpack, but there are still areas in southern Colorado with below-average snow. The Rio Grande basin is at 81 percent of median snowpack, but still has more than double the snowpack compared with last year.

More locally, as of Jan. 31, snowpack in the Roaring Fork River watershed was at 116 percent of median, according to the latest Roaring Fork Conservancy snowpack and river report.

While the news is good so far, the Colorado River Basin will need quite a bit more snowpack to have a normal runoff year, according to Don Meyer, senior water resources engineer with the Colorado River District.

“The snowpack is currently above average, but in order to get normal or average runoff, we need additional snowpack,” Meyer said.

Since 2000, the Rocky Mountains have had sub-average snowpack, and the runoff is getting earlier and lasting shorter amounts of time.

VIC modeled soil moisture February 6, 2019 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Much of the Colorado River Basin still has drier than average soil, or low soil moisture content, according to data from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Before the melting snow reaches the streams and rivers, it has to go over soil that will absorb the water if it’s still too dry.

“Soil moisture has to improve in order to provide some impetus for an efficient runoff,” Meyer said. That most likely won’t happen until the snow begins to melt.

It’s difficult to know how much above average the snowpack needs to be to replace the moisture in the soil.

Meyer cautioned that one good season wouldn’t be enough to show that the drought trend is ending, and that becomes difficult as climate change leads to more variability, he said.

The @CWCB_DNR February 2019 “CWCB Confluence Newsletter” is hot off the presses

Platte River photo credit US Bureau of Reclamation.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program is an innovative and successful approach to endangered species recovery and water development in Colorado. For almost 13 years, this program has been running smoothly in the background allowing for economic growth in the North and South Platte Basins, as well as species conservation in the Central Platte. Now, Colorado and other partners are taking steps to extend the program for another 13 years. Program partners are confident that the success of the program will speak for itself during the process of seeking congressional re-authorization. Learn more about what the CWCB and program partners are doing to reauthorize the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program in this article.

Upper Thompson Sanitation District and the Town of Estes Park to turn dirt on sanitary sewer project

Estes Park

From The Estes Park Trail-Gazette (Tyler Pialet):

Through an Intergovernmental Agreement, the Upper Thompson Sanitation District (UTSD) and the Town of Estes Park (TEP) are partnering to complete a utility infrastructure project that will impact the Fish Creek Lift Station and Mall Road.

The work, which is expected to start on Jan. 28, will start with replacing a single, 45-year-old sanitary sewer force main with new, dual-force mains. These will extend from the Fish Creek Lift Station, located on Fish Creek Road next to Lake Estes, across U.S. 36 to UTSD’s gravity sewer main near Joel Estes Drive.

“UTSD recognized the lift station force main was a critical piece of infrastructure, had been in operation for 40 years, and due to its design features, had received minimal maintenance,” said UTSD District Manager Chris Bieker.

Bieker explained that force mains are pressurized sewer pipes that convey wastewater where gravity is not possible.

“Moving the flow uphill requires a pump,” he said. “Pumping facilities called lift stations may be required to transport the wastewater through the collection system.”

According to Bieker, “The Fish Creek Lift Station and approximately 1,000 linear feet of 14-inch diameter cast iron force main was constructed in the mid-1970s. The interior of the force main is cement mortar lined. Approximately 600 linear feet of force main is located south of Highway 36. The remaining 400 feet crosses north underneath HWY 36 and discharges to a manhole located in Mall Road. Wastewater then flows along Mall Road through approximately 1200 linear feet of gravity sewer main to the treatment facility…

In late 2016, the District televised the interior of the force main. The video indicated cracking and delamination of the cement mortar pipe lining within sections of the force main. The televising operation prematurely ceased when the camera could not proceed any further due to the internal conditions of the pipe.”

New piping and valves will be added to the Fish Creek Lift Station. Old, aging pipes and valves will be replaced to facilitate new parallel force mains. As the Fish Creek Lift Station manages over a third of all of the district’s water flows, these improvements are critical to UTSD operations and public health.

#Runoff in #ColoradoRiver basin likely below-average, @usbr official warns — @AspenJournalism #snowpack #COriver #aridification #cwcac2019

A big beach on the banks of the Green River in September 2018, one of the lowest months on record for inflow into Lake Powell. Runoff is 2019 is expected to be better than 2018, but still below average due to dry soil conditions in the area drained by the Green and Colorado river systems. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The regional director of the Upper Colorado River Basin for the Bureau of Reclamation told water managers and users last week to expect below-average runoff this year, despite encouraging snowfall this winter.

Brent Rhees — who oversees the federal reservoirs in the upper basin for the Bureau of Reclamation, including Lake Powell, Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa — said that although this winter’s snowfall, or “snow water equivalent,” in the upper basin above Lake Powell was now above average (109 percent on Feb. 7) the parched ground left in the wake of a hot, dry 2018 likely would soak up a lot of the resultant moisture in the spring.

As such, this year’s runoff is not expected to reach the average level, although storms in February and March could push it up to the 80 percent range.

“What we’re suffering from is last year’s dry year,” Rhees told the members of the Colorado Water Congress on Feb. 1. “And so, the runoff that is forecast is not that great. Last year, you all remember, it was the third-lowest on record inflow into Lake Powell. So, it’s not looking really good.”

Since Rhees’ remarks, it has been snowing a lot in Colorado, and the snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin was at 115 percent of average on Feb. 6. But, again, Rhees was looking at future runoff over a thirsty landscape.

The inflow into Lake Powell during water year 2018 (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30) totaled about 4.5 million acre-feet, or MAF, while about 9 MAF was released from Glen Canyon Dam to run down the Colorado River and into Lake Mead, Rhees said.

“So, the math is pretty simple, isn’t it?” Rhees said. “More went out than came in. And so, we saw a significant drop in reservoir elevation.”

As of Jan. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation forecast that 6.98 MAF, or 64 percent of average, would most likely flow into Lake Powell, but releases from Lake Powell are expected to be about 8.6 MAF.

“We’re going to release a little bit more than comes in, likely this year,” Rhees said.

That means Lake Powell is expected to continue to shrink in 2019.

On Feb. 3, the elevation of the reservoir, as measured against the upstream face of Glen Canyon Dam, was 3,575 feet above sea level, or 39 percent full, and held 9.6 MAF.

A diagram showing the intake structures on the upstream face of the Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell.

Three efforts

The first ongoing effort to bolster water levels in Lake Powell is weather modification in the form of cloud seeding.

Rhees said the federal government’s position on funding cloud seeding has moved from funding only research to funding active operations, too.

“That’s good news from my perspective,” he said.

The second effort is “drought-response operations,” which will begin if Lake Powell drops to the triggering elevation of 3,525 feet, or 35 feet above minimum power pool (which it is not yet forecasted to do in either 2019 or 2020).

But should the reservoir hit 3,525 feet, the drought-response operations will entail releasing up to 2 MAF of water from federal reservoirs in the upper basin, primarily from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River, which can hold 3.7 MAF; Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River, which can hold 829,500 acre-feet; and Navajo Reservoir on the San Juan River, which can hold 1.69 MAF.

Rhees said Flaming Gorge is “the one that can have the biggest impact, (but) all (federal) reservoirs can participate in propping up that minimum power pool of 3,490 (feet).”

He also said the releases from the reservoirs would be “indiscernible” to river users and the water would not come down the river in a big wave of water, as some might imagine.

“You won’t know, if you are on the river, that it’s even happening,” he said.

The third effort to add more water to the river system is “demand management,” or a purposeful reduction in the amount of water diverted from rivers and put to a consumptive use, such as growing a crop or a lawn.

Voluntary demand-management programs are now being investigated in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and the water saved by irrigators fallowing fields — for money — is to be stored in a new regulatory pool of up to 500,000 acre-feet in Lake Powell.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2018.