@EPA: Bonita Peak Mining District Human Health Risk Assessment

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

Click here to read the report. Here’s the introduction:

The Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site (Site) is located in southwestern Colorado. The Site consists of 48 historic mines or mining-related sources where ongoing releases of metal- laden water and sediments are occurring within the Mineral Creek, Cement Creek, and Upper Animas River drainages in San Juan County. Drainages within the Site contain over 400 abandoned or inactive mines, where large- to small-scale mining operations occurred. San Juan County is comprised of 10 historic mining districts (Colorado Geological Survey 2017). Historic mining districts within the Mineral Creek, Cement Creek, and Upper Animas River drainages include Animas, Animas Forks, Cement Creek, Eureka, Ice Lake Basin, and Mineral Point. Hereafter, the term “mining districts” or “Site” is used to refer to the mining districts within these three drainages. This document is a baseline human health risk assessment (HHRA) for the mining districts. The purpose of this document is to characterize the potential risks to humans, both now and in the future, from exposures to contaminants that may be present in the mining districts, assuming that no steps are taken to remediate the environment or to reduce human contact with contaminated environmental media. The mining districts are primarily used by humans for recreational, occupational, and tribal purposes. The receptor populations of interest for the risk assessment included campers, hikers, hunters, recreational fishermen, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) guides, ATV recreational riders, and county road workers. An addendum to this risk assessment will be developed to evaluate tribal exposures once the necessary exposure data are available.

The results of this assessment are intended to help inform risk managers and the public about current and potential future health risks to humans that may occur as a result of exposure to mining-related contaminants due to recreational and occupational activities, and to help determine if there is a need for action to protect public health at the Site. Site managers will also consider the results of the ecological risk assessment and any regulatory requirements in determining appropriate remedial actions for the Site. As appropriate, discussions and recommendations on how to manage potential risks will be provided in the Feasibility Study. The identification of remedial action levels, which will guide future remediation efforts, will be provided in the Record of Decision.

The methods used to evaluate risks in this HHRA are consistent with current guidelines for human health risk assessment provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use at Superfund sites (EPA 1989, 1991a, 1991b, 1992, 1997, 2002a, 2002b, 2002c, 2004, 2009a).

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Despite findings, agency says cleanup remains a priority

A new study has found no serious risk to human health stemming from mines included in a Superfund site around Silverton, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“This is a good news story,” said Christina Progess, Superfund remedial project manager. “And it’s a really important milestone for the project that paints a more full picture in terms of what cleanup work needs to be done.”

[…]

As part of the Superfund process, the EPA must evaluate the risks contamination slated for cleanup has on human health. In the case of Bonita Peak, exposure to mine waste through incidental ingestion and inhalation stood as the highest possibilities for people who visit the area.

But, for the most part, the study showed there doesn’t seem to be much risk to human health…

“Overall, there’s a lot of good news in here,” Progess said. “It doesn’t impact the local tourism industry, and folks working out in the district aren’t at risk from a human health standpoint. But (the study) also helps us highlight there are some areas that people come in contact with it.”

While Superfund sites with clear and significant human health risks receive priority within the EPA for funding, Progess said she doesn’t expect the study’s findings to affect Bonita Peak.

“Bonita Peak has always been and continues to be one of the administration’s top priority Superfund sites in the nation,” she said. “I don’t anticipate (funding) being a concern.”

In April, the EPA released a study assessing risks to aquatic habitats, which showed that in areas where water had low pH and elevated metals, fish and other aquatic life populations were highly impaired or nonexistent.

The study helped EPA identify four areas where the agency would like to improve water quality in the Animas River watershed to the point where restoration of aquatic life could be achievable.

Colorado’s booming outdoor recreation economy depends on a healthy river system — ColoradoPolitics.com

Upper Gunnison watershed May 2019. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Here’s a guest column by Nathan Fey and Heather Hansman that’s running at ColoradoPolitics.com:

After nearly two decades of drought in the West, this winter’s heavy snowfall was a welcome surprise for our state. This record snowpack, and its corresponding runoff, is an incredible boon to the outdoor industry. Rafting outfitters are heralding this year as the “best in 20 years” for paddling in Colorado.

Yet we know that this year is the exception, not the rule. The creeping effects of climate change mean a slow, extended drying of the West — with river flows shrinking by up to 50 percent by the end of the century. We can’t rely on fluctuations in weather to help safeguard our long-term water supplies.

This week, as leaders, athletes, buyers, and many others from the recreation industry gathered at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market held in Denver, a key focus was how the outdoor industry can use its collective voice to advocate for the health of our rivers.

The Colorado river system is a vital part of our economy, our communities, and our way of life. Living in Colorado means no shortage of opportunities to play, camp, fish, kayak, swim and explore.

In Colorado, rivers like the iconic Yampa and San Juan are part of an outdoor recreation economy that supports 511,000 jobs, generates $37 billion in consumer spending, supports $21 billion in wages and salaries and provides $9 billion in state and local tax revenues. These figures speak for themselves: we can’t wait each year to see if snowpack and precipitation will be sufficient to sustain our water-dependent economy.

Outdoor Retailer is a chance to come together to talk about the symbiotic relationship between our rivers and the outdoor recreation economy. Front and center were discussions about how we can work together to secure a sustainable water future in the west and the urgent need for action.

Working together we must implement forward-looking solutions, including pursuing flexible water management systems, rewarding efficient water use, investing in improving our water infrastructure statewide, and restoring river health across the state.

Funding and implementing the state’s water plan are crucial components to achieve these solutions. But many of the priorities in the plan are un-funded. The Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates we will need at least $100 million annually for the next 30 years to fund water conservation and river restoration.

We all have a part to play in protecting the health of our rivers in Colorado. With urgent and continued action and collaboration among elected, business, recreation, and community leaders across the state we can all protect our rivers, our water supply, and our way of life. We must work together to better manage our water now.

Nathan Fey is the director of the Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Heather Hansman is a writer and the author of the book “Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West.”

Waves in Basalt whitewater park still gnarly — @AspenJournalism

The first wave in the Basalt whitewater park, just below the low highway bridge and the small boat ramp at Fisherman’s Park, can surprise even experienced boaters. And it can flip rafts. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

As the flow in the Roaring Fork River at the Basalt whitewater park has climbed over 2,500 cubic feet per second this week, the park’s two “play” waves, produced by concrete structures embedded in the river, are still proving capable of flipping rafts and sending people for long, cold swims.

The two structures, built in late 2016 and early 2017 by consultants and contractors working for Pitkin County, were re-engineered last winter after complaints by experienced local boaters that the artificial waves were hazardous.

But the low flows in 2018 did not provide a fair test to see whether the rearranged waves were still a menace for rafters.

With the return of more-typical high spring flows, the two waves — meant to be fun to surf at low water and located in a section of river not otherwise considered difficult to run — are showing they can still be a challenge even for experienced boaters.

The second wave in the Basalt whitewater park, on June 19, 2019. There is a small sneak far river left, but otherwise, it’s just churning foam. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

3 of 9

On Sunday, three rafts in a group of nine boats piloted by noncommercial rafters, or “private boaters,” flipped in the upper of the two waves.

Both of the waves have steep drops that lead directly into a nearly riverwide wall of churning foam, save for narrow and hard-to-spot “sneaks” through relatively calm water on far river let, or the left side of the river looking downstream.

Emergency personnel from the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority responded Sunday to a 911 call about the flipped rafts and numerous people in the river.

“One of the first boats, if not the first, flipped in that first wave, and it’s a keeper, and it didn’t let them out,” said Robert “Sardo” Sardinsky, a volunteer with the rescue authority and who was downstream of the incident and was relaying the information he was given. “So, all of a sudden, there is a bunch of people in the water. And then, two more rafts flipped. And it sounds like the boats were being held in there.”

Sardinsky helped retrieve two of the flipped rafts, several miles downstream of the whitewater park, and he also talked with a number of the boaters in the party.

He said the group included boaters from both the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys, and he described them as calm, knowledgeable, experienced and well-equipped, wearing both wetsuits and personal flotation devices.

“They all appeared to be quite capable,” Sardinsky said.

The river was flowing through the whitewater park on Sunday at 4 p.m. at about 2,800 cfs, which can be calculated by subtracting the flow of the Fryingpan River from the flow of the Fork as measured downstream of the whitewater park in Emma.

“In my 30 years with the fire department and swiftwater rescue, it is the most dynamic rescue we’ve had,” he said. “It was the most number of people in river spread out over the most distance. And it’s incredibly fortunate that everyone got out.”

Sardinsky said about a week before Sunday’s events, a woman he knows had fallen off a paddle board into the first wave, at lower water, and had been trapped in the wave’s circulating hydraulic. The woman escaped by diving down to the bottom of the river, out from under the wave.

All of the boaters thrown into the river on Sunday either self-rescued or were rescued by their fellow boaters. None of them required emergency personnel to fish them out.

According to Kyle Ryan, who also volunteers with the rescue authority and was helping to coordinate Sunday’s response, the rafts that flipped were normal-sized whitewater rafts with oar frames, and were not especially small or lightweight.

“They were normal-looking whitewater rafts,” he said. “And everyone seemed to be pretty well-experienced.”

Ryan said two members of the rafting party asked to be transported to the hospital, but he said they did not appear to be seriously injured.

The first wave in the Basalt whitewater park on June 19, 2019, at about 2,500 cfs. Ut can stop, or flip, a raft, and it’s hard to gain momentum before the second wave. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Play wave?

Also on Sunday, a raft being run as a paddleboat by another group of experienced boaters flipped in the first wave of the whitewater park, throwing six people into the river for a “frigid and scary swim.”

According to a public post on Facebook by Mary Sundblom, she and the five other boaters, including at least one former raft guide, set out Sunday to paddle from Northstar, east of Aspen, to Glenwood Springs.

Along the way, they ran the Slaughterhouse section of the Fork below Aspen and the most technical part of the river, as well as the difficult Toothache section in Woody Creek before heading for Basalt.

She wrote that the group scouted the river before their run, “got intel from longtime river rats,” and had “great lines” and “no swims” through Slaughterhouse and Toothache.

“Then the Basalt ‘play’ wave got us, flipped the raft, dumping 6 of us in for a frigid and scary swim,” Sundblom wrote. “After floating through some big waves and getting tumbled over some shallow rocks … I was stoked to find myself next to my captain when the boat floated down to us after a few surfs of its own … where he was able to flip it back over and pull my ass in! Such a beautiful feeling of RELIEF!

“We all made it out just fine, slightly rattled, with a few bumps and bruises, but continued on. That’s how the river goes.”

Tyler Manchester, who grew up in the valley and has rowed the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon without difficulty, was in the boat with Sundblom on Sunday.

He said via text on Thursday that “we were told to sneak left, but it came up fast and we weren’t ready. We hit it a little sideways. Definitely got washing-machine tumbled in both (waves), but everyone was flushed immediately.

“Had to swim upstream to get the boat,” Manchester noted.

The Basalt whitewater park is located below the low Basalt “bypass bridge,” which crosses the Fork at the junction of upper Two Rivers Road, just upstream of downtown Basalt. Floating beneath the bridge is often dark and spooky, but the current does not usually send boats directly at the bridge’s pylons.

The whitewater park also can be described as being just below Fisherman’s Park, which has a small boat ramp, across from the entrance to Elk Run and upstream of the 7-Eleven in Basalt.

An overview of the Basalt whitewater park. There is third wave now in the park, although it’s not as burly as the first two. At least not at 2,500 cfs. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Watching it

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely, who has overseen the development of the whitewater park for the county, said Wednesday that he was aware of the recent raft flips, and he’s in touch with the consultants at River Restoration in Carbondale who designed the structures, oversaw their re-engineering and have been keeping a close eye on this year’s emerging waves.

Ely said he didn’t yet have enough information to determine whether the county needs to ask the consultants to do more work on the structures in the river.

The county chose the location for the park in large measure because it is just above the Fork’s confluence with the Fryingpan River, making it a good place to establish water rights tied to the wave-producing structures. Such water rights are called recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, rights.

County officials have said their highest priority in developing the park was to establish the recreational water rights, which carry a 2010 priority date, and that the resulting recreational experience was a secondary concern.

The water rights are tied to the design of the structures, which are supposed to create fun, recreational play waves at flows between 240 and 1,350 cfs. The river on Sunday in that section of river was flowing at about 2,500 cfs, which is not unusual for June.

At higher flows, the wave structures are not necessarily meant to produce fun play waves, but they also are not supposed to produce big keeper waves, either.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

“There isn’t one serious water manager in the #ColoradoRiver basin who doesn’t take climate change seriously” — Jack Schmidt #DCP #COriver #aridification #ShowYourStripes

From The Las Vegas Sun (John Sadler):

What does the new agreement mean?

Probably not much for Nevada. The state has near-perfected a range of water conservation and recycling measures that will likely cover any reductions in its allocations from the Colorado.

Nevada, like the other lower basin states, has signed on to further “contributions”—essentially further water allocation cuts—to Lake Mead in the event of a low water level. The Silver State has agreed to an additional 8,000-acre-foot contribution if the water level at Lake Mead falls below 1,090 feet, and a 10,000-acre-foot contribution if Lake Mead recedes below 1,045 feet.

These contributions come on top of the previously promised allocations agreed to in 2007.

Nevada is one of the smallest contributors under the plan when measured by a straight amount of acre-feet.

For example, Arizona would contribute 192,000-240,000 under the same river levels, and California would contribute 200,000-350,000, on a sliding scale determined by the river’s water levels between 1,030-1,045 feet.

As of June 1, the Lake Mead water level was just above 1,086 feet. Nevada should be fine because it gets credit for recycled water returned to the river.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” said Eric Witkoski, executive director of the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.

The state, which gets 300,000 acre-feet a year from the Colorado, has attacked water waste vigorously. Witkoski said the Southern Nevada Water Authority targeted activities such as lawn watering and car washing to discourage any use that left water in the ground, where it cannot be recycled.

The agreement will expire in 2026, so the states will continue to hash out a more long-term solution—though Schmidt doesn’t like the word “permanent.”

“The reality is we see into the future poorly,” he said, stressing that continued changes in the climate would require continued action to protect the Colorado.

How did we get here?

The world is getting hotter.

Warming temperatures mean less snowfall on average. Less snowfall means less snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, which means that each spring there’s not enough water flowing down the mountains to feed the Colorado and the streams that empty into it.

[Jack] Schmidt said the drought’s connection to climate change is “unambiguous.”

“There isn’t one serious water manager in the Colorado River basin who doesn’t take climate change seriously,” he said.

Hotter temperatures can cause more rain and less snow, higher evaporation rates and staggered snowmelt. Under the Trump administration, the United States has retreated from serious action on climate change, stepping back from the Paris Climate Agreement almost immediately after President Donald Trump was sworn into office.

Schmidt has little patience for partisan bickering around climate change. The issue, he said, [is] settled.

“There’s no time for silly political rhetoric,” Schmidt said. “We’ve got big decisions to make.”

Warming Stripes for All of USA from 1895-2018