See where #PFAS pollution has been confirmed in the American West — @HighCountryNews

The U.S. Air Force has been sued after confirmation of PFAS contamination at Lake Holloman, near the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Photo credit: J.M. Eddins Jr./U.S. Air Force

From the High Country News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals exist in furniture, waterproof makeup and clothing, nonstick cookware, popcorn bags, the foam used to extinguish petroleum fires (which is different from the slurry used across the West to fight wildfires), and countless other items. Known collectively as PFAS, this class of chemicals contains more than 5,000 different compounds that are often called “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down in the environment. PFAS chemicals are an omnipresent, if largely invisible, part of daily life.

Yet numerous studies have linked exposure to them to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and other health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2007 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives estimated that PFAS are in the blood of 98% of Americans.

Because the Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate PFAS chemicals, states are left not only to research and track them, but also to develop regulations to clean up already dangerous levels of pollution. And, according to recent data from the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University and the Environmental Working Group, the West isn’t doing a great job.

Bill Walker, with the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, says that, by and large, Western states are lagging far behind, not only in PFAS regulations, but also in monitoring. “The scope of this problem is growing — not because our exposure to PFAS chemicals is growing, but because we’re finally becoming aware of the persistence of these compounds in our lives,” said Walker. “Because there is so little action from the EPA on this, addressing this crisis falls to the states.”

People can be exposed to PFAS chemicals through household cooking items, or simply by eating popcorn out of the bag after microwaving it. But the greatest source of concern involves military bases, fire departments and airports, where the chemicals are used for extinguishing petroleum fires. That leaves high levels of PFAS chemicals in close proximity to public drinking-water sources. According to recent data compiled by EWG and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University, 610 areas in 43 states have confirmed PFAS contamination. The researchers estimate that the drinking water of approximately 19 million people is tainted.

In the West, PFAS contamination has been confirmed in water supplies in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. But only Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington regulate the chemicals, and among those, only California requires that public water systems monitor their levels.

Most Western states are already facing the consequences of contamination: Municipal water managers are scrambling to address high PFAS levels in drinking water, even as communities experience their health impacts, such as higher rates of kidney and testicular cancers. Still, very few have passed laws that track or regulate dangerous PFAS levels. “Northeastern states are ahead of most other states in monitoring and tracking this contamination,” said Phil Brown, the project director of Northeastern University’s PFAS monitoring project. “But in reality, if you look for it, you’ll find it most everywhere.”

Industry representatives say that while they support more oversight, a “one-size-fits-all” regulation for the class of chemicals goes too far. On May 22, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works held a hearing to discuss appropriate legislation for addressing PFAS contamination. PFAS “play a central role in American life and not all are dangerous to public health,” said Kimberly Wise White, a toxicologist for the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group that advocates for manufacturers of PFAS chemicals. “All PFAS are different; they have different hazard profiles. Some are not water-soluble, for example. It is not scientifically appropriate to regulate as one class.”

Advocates for stronger regulations, however, say that the EPA isn’t doing nearly enough to monitor the problem. And many disagree with White’s suggestion that the chemicals should be regulated on an individual basis, which would allow manufacturers to continue to make money from potentially dangerous chemicals. “The EPA’s current guidelines do not include a commitment to set a drinking water standard, even for a subset of PFAS chemicals that even manufacturers agree are dangerous,” said Suzanne Novak, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy organization.

Meanwhile, ever more Western communities are discovering troubling levels of PFAS in their water. Last month, the water district for the town of Security, Colorado, and the local Pikes Peak Community Foundation filed a $17 million lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense for PFAS contamination from Peterson Air Force Base, near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Shortly after that, the Centers for Disease Control identified the area as part of an upcoming study on the impacts of long-term exposure to high levels of PFAS in drinking water, with research due to begin this fall. New Mexico’s attorney general, too, has sued the U.S. Air Force after confirming PFAS contamination at Lake Holloman, on the westernmost edge of White Sands National Monument.

“PFAS chemicals are one of the most complex groups of pollutants out there,” said Chris Higgins, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, who is researching the effects of exposure in El Paso County. “Once they are in the groundwater, it’s really hard to stop the spread, and treating them is even more difficult.”

Paige Blankenbuehler is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email her at

Polis administration’s: roadmap to 100% #renewableenergy by 2040 and bold #climate action #ActOnClimate

Click here to read the report. Here’s the vision section:

Governor Polis ran on a bold platform of achieving 100% Renewable Energy by 2040. This goal is motivated by the moral imperative to fight climate change and curb pollution of our air and water, as well as the opportunity to drive innovation and harness the consumer savings and economic bene- fits of leading the transition to a clean energy economy. This is our roadmap to achieve this goal.

This transition is already underway and shows no signs of slowing down. The two fastest-growing professions in the United States are solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians. Fourteen Colorado towns and counties have already taken the initiative and adopted the goal of getting 100% of their electricity from clean renewable energy: Denver, Pueblo, Boulder, Fort Collins, Summit County, Frisco, Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Breckenridge, Longmont, Lafayette, Nederland to Golden. These diverse communities know that protecting Colorado’s way of life means doing our part to combat climate change, and that swiftly adopting renewable energy in our electricity sector and then extending the impact of that clean electricity across the economy will protect the health of our communities, create good paying jobs, strengthen our economy and keep rates low for customers.

The Polis Administration has taken a number of significant steps that make a down payment on our commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2040. By partnering with the Legislature, we’ve empowered the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to facilitate a rapid transition to renewable energy across the state that includes working with our largest utility to invest in renewable energy and meet a goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution 80% by 2030. We’re building a regulatory framework that will enable the PUC to work with our second largest utility to transition from coal-fired power to cheaper, cleaner sources of renewable energy. We are also making it easier for individual Coloradans to participate by expanding access to energy efficiency and community solar gardens. Additionally, the Legislature passed House Bill 1261, which sets economy-wide targets for reducing greenhouse gas pollution, with goals of 26% reduction by 2025 below 2005 levels, 50% reduction by 2030 and 90% reduction by 2050, and delegates authority to the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt rules to make progress towards those goals.

One of the most important parts of our transition to cleaner energy is electrifying transportation in Colorado. In order to meet the Governor’s goal of 940,000 zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030, state agencies have taken a number of steps, including allocating approximately $14 million to transit agencies across the state to deploy cleaner buses. The agencies are also expeditiously estab- lishing public-private partnerships to build 33 fast charging stations along major highways in the state. Working with the Legislature, we’ve also made it easier for utilities, with oversight from the PUC, to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure.

While we’ve already taken important strides towards our renewable energy vision, there’s much work to do. The policies adopted this legislative session provide the foundation for much higher levels of renewable energy integration, but additional strategies will be needed to get to 100% by 2040. It’s going to take the perspective, expertise, and commitment from diverse voices across the state to forge a renewable energy future that works for all of Colorado. Together, we can do our part to fight climate change, improve air quality and the health of our communities, diversify and strengthen our economy across the state, and ensure the good-paying jobs of the quickly growing green energy economy are created here in Colorado.

#Drought news: “This is the first week in the entire history of the #DroughtMonitor…that #Colorado is 100% free of D0-D4 categories. Perhaps I’ll frame it.” — @ClimateBecky

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of U.S. Drought Monitor data.

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

During this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week, a strong high pressure ridge was anchored over the southeastern contiguous U.S. (CONUS) while an upper-level trough dominated the West. This pattern set up a southwesterly flow across the central part of the country, which funneled moist and unstable air from the Gulf of Mexico into the Plains. Pacific weather systems moving in the jet stream flow plunged into the western trough, bringing precipitation and cooler-than-normal temperatures to much of the country from the Rockies westward. The weather systems intensified as they moved into the Plains, triggering another week of severe weather and heavy flooding rains. Two or more inches of precipitation occurred across the Plains to Midwest and in upslope areas of Montana and Wyoming, with locally 5 inches or more. Weekly precipitation was wetter than normal across much of the Southwest, and from much of the Great Plains to Great Lakes. Half an inch to locally 2 inches was observed from the central Appalachians to New England, but these amounts were mostly below normal. The week ended up drier than normal across western Washington, northern Idaho and northern Montana, southern Arizona, most of New Mexico, and central to southern Texas. The subtropical high kept the Southeast drier and warmer than normal, with record high temperatures reported. As a result of this weather pattern, drought contracted in Oregon, Wyoming, and the central Plains, but expanded in the northern Rockies, Texas, the Tennessee Valley, and the Southeast…

High Plains

The central to northern Plains received 2 or more inches of precipitation across a large area from Kansas to Wyoming and southern Montana, with 5 or more inches measured in Kansas and Nebraska. An inch to 2 inches occurred to the north and in parts of Wyoming, with less than a half inch measured in southwest Wyoming and northwest North Dakota to north central Montana. The precipitation deleted D0 in southwest Nebraska and D1 in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and shrank the surrounding D0. But D0 expanded across the northwest corner of North Dakota into northeast Montana where 90-day precipitation deficits were notable. Windy conditions and sparse rain have dried soils in Daniels and Sheridan Counties in Montana, with fire risk increasing. Soils were drying in northern North Dakota and some sloughs and ponds had low water levels. An inch or more of rain this week prevented the expansion of D0 and addition of D1 in northern North Dakota this week, but it may be considered for next week…


D0-D1 remained in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, and D0 remained in southern California, both reflecting long-term dryness which has built up over the last 5 to 6 years (and low reservoirs in southern California), and in Washington to northwest Oregon. Precipitation was above normal in southeast Oregon at most time scales, so the D0 there was deleted. But in western Washington to northwest Oregon, this week was dry and most of the last 1 to 2 years have been drier than normal, mountain snowpack was diminished from normal values for this time of year, and streamflow was much below normal to record low. D0-D1 here reflected these conditions for now, but D2 may be needed if conditions worsen. D0-D1 expanded in the Rockies of northeast Oregon, far northern Idaho, and northwest Montana where streamflow and precipitation and SPI values for the last 4 months were low…


Precipitation amounts in the South ranged from zero in parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, to over 5 inches in northern Oklahoma. D0 expanded in central Tennessee where 90-day precipitation deficits were noteworthy, pockets of D0 expanded or were introduced in southern Texas along the Rio Grande or along the coast, and D1 was added to Zavala County in Texas where dryness was evident for the last 7 days to 6 months. According to USDA reports, 21% of the topsoil moisture in Tennessee was short or very short, up from 3% last week. The last couple weeks have been very dry, hot, and windy in southern Texas as the subtropical ridge continued to build and dry out the atmosphere. There have been reports of significant evaporation of Cameron County retention ponds with fields and lawns showing some browning. Some producers in Dimmit County, Texas were hauling water and supplemental feeding in some areas…

Looking Ahead

Next week (May 30-June 4), an upper-level weather system will move across the eastern CONUS while another takes up residence over the Southwest. The high pressure ridge over the Southeast gradually shifts to the Plains. During this process, fronts and low pressure systems will trigger heavy rains again across the Plains to Midwest, with 1 to locally over 3 inches progged from northern Texas to Illinois, and from Illinois to Pennsylvania. An inch or more of precipitation is expected over much of the Northeast. Little to no precipitation is forecasted for much of the Southeast, most of California, the western half of the 4 Corners States, western Oregon, much of Washington, the High Plains of Wyoming and Montana, most of North Dakota, and northern Minnesota. Above-normal temperatures will continue in the Southeast for much of this period, and spread from the Pacific Northwest into the northern and central Plains, while cooler-than-normal temperatures will linger in the Southwest and from the eastern Great Lakes to New England. For June 5-12, odds favor above-normal precipitation from the 4 Corners States to the southern Appalachians, eventually spreading across the Southeast; along most of the Mississippi River; and over the northern half of Alaska, including the panhandle. Statistical odds favor drier-than-normal weather over the Great Lakes to Northeast, from northern California to the northern High Plains, and over southwestern Alaska. Cooler-than-normal weather is expected across New Mexico to western Texas, over Washington State, from the Great Lakes to New England, and over central Alaska. There is a high probability for warmer-than-normal weather over the northern to central Plains stretching into California, over the Southeast stretching to the Gulf of Mexico coast and Mid-Atlantic coast, and over southern and northern Alaska.

#Runoff news: “The rivers haven’t even really started running yet” — Jim Ingram

From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

River levels have barely budged this month as snow and rain — the city of Aspen Water Department has recorded 16 days of measurable precipitation so far in May — continue to lock in the substantial snowpack that will swell, at some point, the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Colorado rivers. Data from the U.S. Geological Survey show that the Roaring Fork below Maroon Creek this week has approached flows of 360 cubic feet per second before dropping down, as of Thursday, to about 280 cfs.

“It’s been an interesting start to the year,” said Vince Nichols, owner of Blazing Adventures, of the rafting season. “Hopefully, it’s putting that water in a savings account for us, and we can use it later. We’ll see how quickly that runoff comes at us.”

While this is far from the first snowy spring in the upper valley, “this one is certainly unique [and is] especially evident coming off a season like last year,” Nichols said of the severe drought that gripped much of Colorado until this winter.

He said his veteran staffers Thursday were leading swim drills for rookie guides in the Snowmass Hole near the Old Snowmass gas station.

But since the beginning of May, Blazing Adventures, Aspen Whitewater Rafting and other companies have been running trips on most stretches of the Fork — including Slaughterhouse, a 4.5-mile section that is perhaps the river’s most intense for rafters and kayakers.

Because most of the snowpack hasn’t melted, rafting firms plunging through Slaughterhouse and its waterfall are using 10-foot Mini Max crafts suitable for four guests and a guide, whereas when the water comes up, they’ll employ the more standard 13-foot rafts that can seat a couple more…

And once the runoff surge subsides, the above-average snowpack will still entail a long and successful rafting season, according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

“Some years Colorado has a great snow year, but then it warms up quick in April and May, and the snowmelt and runoff happens really early in the season,” said the association’s executive director, David Costlow, in a press release. “Years like this, when we have great snowfall and some of these late spring snows, it really helps both to keep early season flows steady and extend the season later into the summer months.”

CROA is predicting a slightly later start to this year’s rafting season, one that could run through mid-September…

[Jim Ingram] predicted that Slaughterhouse Falls will exceed 2,000 cfs at some point this summer, meaning his company will not run trips down it at that level for safety reasons. Regardless, he said he’s hopeful for a long rafting season on the Roaring Fork.

“The rivers haven’t even really started running yet,” he said. “There’s a ton of snow up there, and we’re going to have a wonderful season.”

Browns Canyon via

From The Denver Post (John Meyer):

“All across the state, I think this should be a very good year for rafting,” said David Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. “Will it be best year ever? I don’t know; 1993 was a whopping year, 1995 proved to be a very good year. It’s probably going to be the best in the last 20 years.”

Costlow said he expects snowmelt runoff to begin next week…

Outfitters across the state should benefit from above-average snowpack throughout the high country, including areas that suffered last summer because of drought. The Durango area was particularly hard hit then, but the outlook there is exciting. The snowpack in that area is way above normal.

From (Cory Reppenhagen):

“If there is any doubt on any of our reservoirs, it would probably be Blue Mesa which is our biggest reservoir, and was also the hardest hit by the drought last year,” said Becky Bolinger, the assistant state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University.

The rest of the good news stems from what that record snowpack has done for our drought. Colorado entered the winter will the highest level of drought, and it was widespread across the state but significantly worse in the southwest.

Now this week, Colorado is 100% drought-free for the first time since the National Drought Monitor was developed 19 years ago. There are even no areas categorized as Abnormally Dry, sometimes referred to as D0 drought…

“We’ve replenished the deficits in our soil moisture, we’ve replenished the deficits that were in the rivers, and we’re on track for replenishing the deficits in our reservoirs,” said Bolinger.

It’s good news for Colorado’s wildfire threat. Governor Polis announced the state’s forecast for a less active wildfire season earlier this month.

It’s good news for outdoor recreation. Even though the rafting season is off to a slow start, the forecast is for an extended season lasting into the late summer. And we might be able to bring the campfires back to summer camping, a common complaint in 2018 as burn restrictions covered the entire state of Colorado.

And now for the bad news…

The first strong ridge of high pressure we’ve seen in a while is starting to build. That means lots of sunlight on that frozen reservoir during the next 6 or 7 days.