From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
Driven by desire to know what lies beneath, crews bore deeper every day
EPA crews last week started to bore into the ground in what is expected to be a more than 500-foot journey to reach the American Tunnel in hopes of better understanding a complex network of mines in the upper Cement Creek basin, a tributary of the Animas.
It’s these mines that are considered the worst polluters of heavy metals seeping into the Animas River…
In 1959, however, when Standard Metals announced it was going to reopen the Sunnyside Mine, the now-defunct company also said it was going to extend the American Tunnel from the vast mine network to Gladstone, an old mining community about 10 miles north of Silverton.
Extending the tunnel solved two costly problems for previous mining companies: It allowed for ore to be easily taken out for further processing, and it created a better system for groundwater to exit the mine.
The move led to a three-decade period of prosperity, said Bev Rich, Silverton native and director of the San Juan County Historical Society.
“They discovered some really good gold, and a good reserve of it,” she said.
In 1991, however, the Sunnyside Mine, which had been taken over by Sunnyside Gold Corp., closed as a result of depressed gold prices. What was left behind, in terms of the American Tunnel, was a never-ending pathway for acidic discharges.
Sunnyside Gold initially pulled water coming out of the American Tunnel into a treatment plant, a costly yet effective method that took metals out of Cement Creek and greatly improved the quality of the Animas River.
But, in a move hoping to end its financial involvement in the Animas River basin, Sunnyside Gold entered an agreement in 1996 with the state of Colorado to shut down the treatment plant and instead install three bulkheads that essentially function as plugs to stem the acidic flow.
By 2001, though, it was thought the water had backed up and reached capacity within the Sunnyside Mine network, which has led some researchers and experts familiar with the basin to believe that water is spilling out into adjacent mines, like the Gold King.
Sunnyside Gold, which was purchased by international mining conglomerate Kinross Gold Corp. in 2003, has adamantly denied that its mine pool is the cause of discharge from other mines, saying there is no factual evidence for the assertion…
One thing is clear: After the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site was officially listed in fall 2016, EPA made it a priority to figure out what was happening with water movement underground. This past winter, a helicopter carrying an electromagnetic mapping device made the rounds around Silverton to try to understand the geological makeup of the San Juan Mountains, and hopefully, its groundwater workings.
This desire to know what lies beneath is what ultimately led to EPA drilling into the American Tunnel…
Guy, with the EPA, said it could take almost a month to reach the American Tunnel, boring through 20 to 30 feet of hard rock per day. The intent is to reach a portion of the tunnel between bulkheads 2 and 3, but it’s going to take more wells and more research to form a better grasp on how water moves underground in this geological puzzle…
Butler said the project plays into the larger question surrounding the Bonita Peak Superfund site: What is the ultimate strategy to fix issues in the upper Cement Creek area? EPA, for its part, has said that question warrants further investigation and time before being answered.
Here’s an in-depth report about the time the left spillway failed at Glen Canyon Dam from John D’Anna writing for The Arizona Republic. It’s quite a tale. Click through and read the whole thing, here’s a excerpt:
…water in Lake Powell would come within inches of topping the dam’s massive spillway gates as engineers frantically tried everything they could think of, rigging 4-by-8 sheets of plywood to extend the top of the gates and releasing more than half a million gallons per second into the Colorado River.
Before it was over, the force of the water releases would gouge house-size holes in the dam’s crippled concrete spillways. The white water would tinge red from the bedrock sandstone, and ominous rumbling sounds would be heard as boulders the size of cars belched from one of the spillways into the river.
The more water the engineers released, the more damage they did. But they had no choice.
“We were sitting on a pretty good catastrophe waiting to happen,” said Art Grosch, an electrician who worked at the dam and ran electrical cable into the mangled spillways.
“That lake (Powell) is 190 miles long and has something like 2,300 miles of shoreline,” he said. “And it was rising a foot a day.”
“Even if Lake Powell and Lake Mead remain low, megaflood risk persists and is likely to be increasing. Precipitation intensity, and the amount of precipitation falling in the most intense events, are increasing globally and across the United States, in large part because sea surface temperatures and atmospheric water vapor content are both rising, increasing the odds of more extreme precipitation events. These trends will continue as long as emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere continue.”
Such a flood would be a longshot, what’s called a “black swan” event — something so incredibly rare as to be almost unimaginable. But the thing about a black swan is that you never see one until you see one, and in the late spring of 1983, the engineers at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation were about to get a close-up look…
The 1982-83 El Niño was the strongest ever recorded at the time. The tales of its fury were recounted in newspaper headlines of the day — and later in books and scientific journals — as it unleashed disaster on virtually every continent, from searing droughts in Australia, Africa and south Asia, to violent floods in South America…
In a normal spring, the last major snowfall in the Rockies occurs around the end of March. As temperatures rise in the lower elevations, the snowpack melts slowly and creates a steady stream of runoff as temperatures rise into the higher elevations.
But there was nothing normal about the spring of 1983.
The late-winter snowfall of January and February was actually below normal, but in early March it accelerated and didn’t quit until May. And then, instead of increasing gradually, temperatures skyrocketed.
Instead of a slow, steady flow down from the mountains, the runoff gushed…
In the Rockies, every tributary of the Colorado River was running high and fast, and the Colorado itself was running at 100,000 cubic feet per second — enough water to cover the entire 517 square miles of Phoenix in 6 inches of water in less than a day.
And all that water was barreling into Lake Powell toward a choke point only a quarter of a mile wide. The only thing in its way was Glen Canyon Dam, which had only been completed 20 years before and had only been filled close to capacity once…
Gamble and his team were already releasing the maximum amount of water possible, about 40,000 cfs, through the eight massive turbines in the dam’s power plant. But as more and more water gushed into Lake Powell, Gamble knew he would have to begin releasing water through the dam’s two spillways, two massive tunnels bored into the sandstone on either side of the dam and running parallel to the river.
The spillways are 41 feet in diameter — picture the height of a Boeing 737 from the runway to the tip of the tail — and extend more than half a mile, beginning about 600 feet upstream of the dam and emptying out a few hundred feet on the downstream side.
Each tunnel is lined with concrete 3 feet thick and is controlled by colossal steel gates at the top — 52 feet tall and weighing 350,000 pounds — that control how much water is released. At the bottom of each is a “flip bucket,” a sort of 40-foot ski jump that sends the water into the air before it hits the river, dissipating its energy and controlling erosion.
The first third of each spillway tunnel drops more than 500 feet in elevation from lake level at a 55-degree angle beforeintersecting with horizontal tunnels that were originally drilled to divert water around the dam while it was being built.
The upstream portions of the diversion tunnels, which connected directly with the reservoir, were sealed with giant concrete plugs more than 150 feet long. Using the original diversion tunnels allowed the bureau to save time and millions of dollars by not having to drill thousands of more feet and line the new tunnels with concrete.
When the spillways are wide open, they are capable of releasing 276,000 cubic feet of water per second, more than 2 million gallons a second, from the reservoir. That number was based on detailed studies of peak flows down the Colorado through history, both the 100 years of recorded history by man and the eons of geologic history recorded in the strata of the canyon walls.
According to a design report from 1961, the 276,000 cfs number was 1.7 times the highest flow ever recorded on the river. In other words, the spillways were built to handle 70 percent more water than had ever been seen before on the Colorado.
It was little wonder then that Tom Gamble’s faith in his dam was unshakable…
On June 2, as the water surged toward the dam, it was just inches below the spillway gates.
Engineers opened the left gate and began releasing 10,000 cfs, enough to fill 450 backyard swimming pools every minute, but still only a fraction of capacity. Three days later, they doubled the flow to 20,000 cfs and planned to open the gates even more.
But early the next morning, on June 6, engineers began to hear strange rumbling noises from somewhere deep in the dam works…
As the sun came up, Gamble stood on a platform above the spillway, which for two days had been sending an elegant arc of white water into the river below.
But in the early morning light, Gamble could see large chunks of something — probably rocks or chunks of concrete the size of office chairs — being ejected into the river. And the white water had taken on a reddish tint, a hint that the spillway’s 3-foot concrete lining had somehow been breached and the native red sandstone that gave the Colorado its name was washing into the river.
Update: Post corrected to include the link to my Coyote Gulch post.
Here’s a Coyote Gulch post from a while back with video that tells the story about the spillway failures in 1983. I also include Seldom Seen Smith’s prayer from the, “Monkey Wrench Gang.”
From Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Travis Duncan):
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is seeking applications for wetland and riparian restoration, enhancement, and creation projects to support its Wetlands Program Strategic Plan.
CPW will award up to $1.3 million in funds from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to projects in Colorado that support the Wetlands Program Strategic Plan’s two main goals:
1. Improve the distribution and abundance of ducks, and opportunities for public waterfowl hunting.
2. Improve the status of declining or at-risk species.
The Colorado Wetlands for Wildlife Program is a voluntary, collaborative, and incentive-based program to restore, enhance and create wetlands and riparian areas in Colorado. Funds are allocated annually to the program and projects are recommended for funding by a CPW committee with final approval by the Director.
“Wetlands are so important,” said CPW Wetlands Program Coordinator Brian Sullivan. “They comprise less than two percent of Colorado’s landscape but provide benefits to over 75 percent of the species in the state, including waterfowl and several declining species. Since the beginning of major settlement activities, Colorado has lost half of its wetlands.”
Since its inception in 1997, the Colorado Wetlands Program has preserved, restored, enhanced or created almost 220,000 acres of wetlands and adjacent habitat and more than 200 miles of streams. The partnership is responsible for almost $40 million in total funding devoted to wetland and riparian preservation in Colorado.
The application deadline for this year’s funding is Friday, August 9, 2019. The Wetlands Funding Request for Applications (RFA) is available on CPW’s website.
See how Denver Water is addressing neighbors’ concerns about the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. The post Reducing the impacts of a big expansion appeared first on News on TAP.
From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):
Denver Water is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a rare exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the latest move in the utility’s long-running legal dispute with state health officials over how best to keep lead out of its customers’ tap water.
In exchange for the exemption, the water utility, which serves 1.4 million people in metro Denver, is offering to spend more than $300 million replacing up to 90,000 lead service lines.
Though lead isn’t present in Denver’s treated water, it can leach into water as it is delivered to homes via these older, customer-owned water pipes. The contaminant, even in small amounts, is considered unsafe, especially for children.
In addition to replacing the lines, Denver Water has also offered to alter its water treatment protocols, conduct an extensive public education campaign, and provide free lead filters to customers whose water supplies are at risk of contamination.
The EPA will begin public hearings next month to consider the utility’s request and determine whether its proposed approach is as good or better than using an additive called orthophosphate to control corrosion from lead pipes. The state health department, backed by the EPA, ordered the utility to use orthophosphate as a corrosion-control measure last year and gave the utility until March of 2020 to implement the new treatment process.
Within weeks of the state’s order, which came in March of 2018, the City of Aurora, the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District, and the Denver Greenway Foundation sued to stop the order, saying that the addition of orthophosphate to drinking water could cause millions of dollars in damage to the South Platte River watershed and would cause wastewater treatment costs to rise. Denver Water eventually joined the suit. Settlement talks since then have failed to yield an agreement.
Denver Water said it believes the alternate approach it is proposing has merit.
“We would attack the source of the problem and ultimately, at the end of the day, we believe that this could be a more effective approach than adding orthophosphate,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead.
Thousands of Denver-area homes built prior to 1951 are at risk of having lead-contaminated water due to aging service lines. A map compiled by Denver Water shows more than a dozen neighborhoods, including parts of Berkeley, Washington Park and Montclair, as being most at risk. Dozens of other neighborhoods on the map are less likely to face contamination, based on an analysis Denver Water has done which looks at such variables as the years in which neighborhoods were constructed and results of past water sampling.
Denver Water has been monitoring and testing customers’ tap water since 2012, when a routine sampling project showed lead in some taps that exceeded allowable levels.
Since then, the utility has conducted a series of studies to determine the best method for ensuring its water is not corrosive, and had previously offered to adjust the PH balance of its water to mitigate the problem. Up until now, it had also offered to replace a few hundred lead lines a year as maintenance on its system required, leaving any other replacement activity to homeowners and developers.
At that rate, it would have taken up to 50 years before all of Denver’s lead service lines were replaced.
The issue is complex for water providers. Adding orthophosphate is a highly effective way to eliminate lead because it dramatically reduces the corrosion in pipes, making it more difficult for lead to leach into drinking water. But as drinking water is used and then flushed into the wastewater treatment system, the phosphorous must be removed because it causes algal blooms and other environmental issues in waterways. Wastewater treatment operators are required to remove it before they return treated wastewater to streams.
In the seven years since Denver Water became aware of the problem, thousands of Denver residents have continued to be exposed to lead, but the extent of the problem isn’t clear. As part of its monitoring program, the utility has processed 5,600 customer requests for lead testing, with 2,000 of these showing lead levels of at least 1 part per billion, indicating the likely presence of lead service lines, according to Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires education and treatment when levels exceed 15 parts per billion.
What Denver is experiencing is much less severe than in some cities, such as Flint, Mich., where lead levels in tap water were hundreds of times higher before being discovered in 2015. Still, like other older urban areas, such as New York City and Washington, D.C., Denver must find a way to eliminate the lead or face legal action from the state and federal government.
Tyson Ingels, lead drinking water engineer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said his agency would consider the evidence Denver Water presents to the EPA in August before it makes a decision about whether to support Denver’s exemption request. The EPA has so far supported the state’s orthophosphate order.
“Denver is seeking to demonstrate that this alternative is as good or maybe better at reducing lead at customers’ taps. The CDPHE is going to evaluate the evidence when it is submitted,” Ingels said.
Whether the utility will win the exemption isn’t clear. According to the CDPHE, just two exemptions in this area have been granted by the EPA.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Alan Roberson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. “It would have been tough before Flint, and it’s tougher now.”
Denver public health officials said they are supportive of the utility’s exemption request because it offers a more holistic solution to the problem, one that encompasses public health and the environment.
Elizabeth Scherer, air and water manager at the Denver Department of Public Health, said education and follow-up on the problem are a critical part of what Denver Water is proposing. “Denver Water and the city understand that education is a big component of the process and that outreach to non-English speakers and low-income communities will need to occur to make sure folks are comfortable with this approach.”
The EPA will hold hearings next month to gather the public’s input on the issue and is slated to make a decision by October. If the EPA does not grant the variance, then Denver will proceed with adding orthophosphate to its drinking water.
From the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Deb Schweizer):
In recent decades the number, severity and overall size of wildfires has increased across much of the U.S. In fact, the 2018 wildfire season in California recorded the largest fire in acres burned, most destructive fire in property loss and deadliest fires in the state’s history.
But for many USDA Forest Service employees, fire season is something they remember from the start of their careers, when they quickly learned there were five seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall and fire season. However, wildfire is year-round for much of the United States and the Forest Service is shifting to the concept of a fire year.
Wildfire season has become longer based on conditions that allow fires to start and to burn—winter snows are melting earlier and rain is coming later in the fall. What was once a four-month fire season now lasts six to eight months. For example, fires in recent years have burned well outside of the typical fire season throughout California, Arizona, New Mexico, Tennessee and New Jersey. Fires in the winter months are becoming part of the norm.
Other factors contributing to longer fire seasons include extended drought, tree mortality from pine beetles and invasive species such as cheat grass that allow fire to ignite easily and spread rapidly. Added to all this were policies that encouraged aggressive fire suppression for more than a century. These policies had the effect of allowing fuels to accumulate, leading fires to grow in size and intensity.
All these conditions are making wildfires harder to control and allowing forests to hold fire longer. For years, agencies relied on seasonal firefighters for summer months, but now that wildfires are burning into the winter, they need to reevaluate their hiring plans. Wildland firefighting agencies also need to evaluate the way they conduct training for year-round fire, as well as how to handle the inevitable workforce fatigue.
Forest Service crews plan for wildfire year-round. They know that it isn’t a matter of if there will be a fire, but when. They proactively pursue fuel reduction treatments like mechanical thinning and prescribed fires. When conditions are favorable, options such as these reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Even in a year like this, which has been unusually wet and cool, fire managers see opportunities to prepare for wildfires. The Forest Service is committed to an all-lands response and works with state and local agencies in mutual aid and to reduce risk.
Residents who live in fire-prone areas must also plan and live in fire adapted communities. Defensible space, structure hardening and family plans for a possible evacuation, including pets, should be part of living in the wildland-urban interface. Nearly 90% of wildfires are human-caused, so preventing wildfire is important.
Now that we must plan for a fire year, we all have roles to play. What are you doing to help?
From The Center Post-Dispatch (Teresa L. Benns):
Sean Tonner with Renewable Water Resources (RWR), who is peddling a water export plan he says is finding support among farmers and ranchers in the Valley, presented his plan to the town of Saguache last month during a town board meeting.
A former chief of staff for Gov. Bill Owen, who supported the plan, Tonner also worked with former State Senator Greg Brophy and other government officials on the project. Currently Tonner owns the 11,500-acre Gary Boyce ranch, purchased from Boyce’s wife following his death. He also leases grazing land in the same area. Tonner says he will retire the water rights for 3,000 of those acres.
He also said he could possibly retire the water rights to, for example, North Star Farms, and other area farms and ranches.
Tonner claims less than two percent of the annual confined aquifer recharge — 500,000 acre-feet — is needed by the Front Range. Farmers could sell all or a portion of their water rights to RWR for twice the going amount. A total of $60 million has been set aside to procure water rights.
Already enough Saguache County farmers and ranchers have agreed to sell their water rights to satisfy the proposed 22,000 acre-feet project, Tonner reported. The plan is said to be able to retire more than 30,000 acre-feet, reducing the overall usage from the Basin. This would presumably lessen the pressure on existing rivers and streams now providing water to the Front Range.
A pipeline along Highway 285, restricted to a 22,000-acre-foot capacity, would carry the water up over Poncha Pass into Chaffee County and from there it would eventually make its way into the Platte River. There would be no adverse impact on wildlife, Tonner claims.
The project would create a $50 million community fund for the county that could be used for a variety of purposes including education, law enforcement, tourism, economic development, conservation and other worthy cause. The county would manage the fund. Just the interest would generate $3-4 million annually, twice the amount of the county’s sales tax grants.
The board just happened to have a resolution on its agenda that evening to oppose the export plan, and following Tonner’s presentation, informed him of the upcoming vote. But before the vote was taken, a guest in the crowd asked to speak. He had flown in all the way from California just to attend the meeting.
Opposition to the plan
Case Vandereyk. addressing Tonner, announced that he was the owner of North Star Farms and told those attending the meeting he had “no interest” in selling his water rights and was basically opposed to the plan. “I never talked to anyone about selling my water rights,” he concluded. His statement was met with resounding applause from the audience.
In his first appearance in the Valley following the 2018 election, Attorney General Phil Weiser cautioned Valley residents to view RWR’s proposals to pump water from the Valley “very skeptically” citing legal, economic, and ecological concerns. Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, whose family has farmed in the Valley for generations, also strongly opposes the plan.
Cleave Simpson, with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, formally opposes the plan and has stated that no matter what farmers and ranchers are offered for their water, he believes they will not sell.
Later on in the meeting, following Tonner’s presentation, the Saguache Town Board passed a resolution opposing the water transport project.
From the National Center for Environmental Information:
The global land and ocean surface temperature departure from average for June 2019 was the highest for the month of June in the 140-year NOAA global temperature dataset record, which dates back to 1880. The year-to-date temperature for 2019 was the second warmest January–June on record.
This monthly summary, developed by scientists at NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.
June 2019 Temperature
The June temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.71°F above the 20th century average of 59.9°F and was the highest for June in the 1880–2019 record. June 2019 bested the previous record set in 2016 by 0.04°F.
Nine of the 10 warmest Junes have occurred since 2010. June 1998 is the only value from the previous century among the 10 warmest Junes on record, and it is currently ranked as the eighth warmest June on record. June 2019 also marks the 43rd consecutive June and the 414th consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th century average. Record warm temperatures during June 2019 were present across parts of central and eastern Europe, northern Russia, Asia, Africa, South America, the north Indian Ocean, and across parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. No land or ocean areas had record cold June temperatures.
The June globally averaged land surface temperature was 2.41°F above the 20th century average of 55.9°F. This value was also the highest June land temperature in the 140-year record, surpassing the previous record of +2.34°F set in 2015.
The most notable warm temperature departures from average were present across central and eastern Europe, north-central Russia, northeastern Canada and southern parts of South America, where temperatures were 3.6°F above the 1981–2010 average or higher. The most notable cooler-than-average temperatures were limited to parts of western Asia and Antarctica, where temperatures were at least 1.8°F below the 1981–2010 average or cooler. Regionally, South America, Europe, Africa, the Hawaiian region and the Gulf of Mexico had their warmest June in the 110-year record. Asia and the Caribbean region had their eighth and ninth highest June temperature since continental records began in 1910, respectively. Meanwhile, North America and Oceania had their coolest June since 2009 and 2012, respectively.
The June globally averaged sea surface temperature was 1.46°F above the 20th century monthly average of 61.5°F — tying with 2016 as the highest global ocean temperature for June on record. June 2019 also tied with August 2015, April 2016 and June 2016 as the 10th highest monthly global ocean temperature departure from average among all months (1,674 months) on record. The 10 highest global ocean monthly temperature departures from average have all occurred since September 2015.
Sea Ice and Snow Cover
June 2019 marked the 20th consecutive June with Arctic sea ice extent below average. This was the second smallest Arctic sea ice extent for June in the 41-year record at 475,000 square miles (10.5%) below the 1981–2010 average and 46,300 square miles above the record low set in June 2016, according to an analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center using data from NOAA and NASA.
June 2019 marks the fourth consecutive June that the Antarctic sea ice extent was below average at 425,000 square miles (8.5%) below the 1981–2010 average. This was the smallest June extent in the 41-year record, surpassing the previous record set in 2002 by 62,000 square miles.
Year-to-date (January–June 2019)
The year-to-date temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.71°F above the 20th century average of 56.3°F — tying with 2017 as the second highest for January–June in the 140-year record. Only January–June 2016 (+2.00°F) was warmer.
The most notable warm temperature departures from average were present across parts of the Northern Hemisphere, specifically Alaska, western Canada and central Russia, where temperature departures from average were +5.4°F or higher. Meanwhile, the most notable cool temperature departures from average were present across much of the contiguous U.S. and southern Canada, where temperatures were at least 1.8°F below average or cooler. Record-warm January–June temperatures were present across central South America, the southern half of Africa, New Zealand and its surrounding ocean, as well as parts of Alaska, western Canada, Mexico, the Bering Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, Madagascar and surrounding Indian Ocean, and across parts of eastern Asia. No land or ocean areas had record-cold temperatures during January–June 2019. Regionally, five of six continents had a January–June temperature that ranked among the four highest such periods on record, with South America having its warmest year-to-date on record and Oceania having a near-record January-June temperature.
The year-to-date globally averaged land surface temperature was 2.68°F above the 20th century average of 45.0°F. This value was the third highest for January–June on record, behind 2016 (+3.35°F) and 2017 (+2.79°F).
The year-to-date globally averaged sea surface temperature was the second highest for January–June in the 1880–2019 record at 1.33°F above the 20th century average of 60.9°F. June 2016 (+1.51°F) was warmer.
From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):
For two decades, hydrogeologist Lee Pivonka has monitored toxic waste at and around the Superfund site for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
He’s one of the most prominent voices in the state calling for more scrutiny of the site.
Pivonka told Sentinel Colorado that pollution testing wells — not private wells for drinking — north of the Superfund site boundary were found to have unacceptably high levels of contamination as far back as 1995, when city councillors gave Murphy Creek the green light. Chemicals in many wells have never returned to acceptable levels, he said.
In 2002, EPA became concerned with a chemical called 1,4 dioxane. The stuff is widely found in trace amounts in household products such as detergents and shampoos. It is probably a carcinogen if ingested in high-enough concentrations through drinking contaminated water, the EPA says, but most people will not be exposed to it that way in their lifetimes. The New York state legislature recently passed a ban on products with more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane. The bill is pending Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
For Murphy Creek golfers teeing off and residents, the danger is low, the WSDs said.
Further to their point, it’s unheard of for golfers to drink the creek water. The course itself, like the Murphy Creek neighborhood, is irrigated with clean City of Aurora water.
But scientists have also monitored 1,4 dioxane because it moves quickly in water. They believe that tracking the chemical could indicate other toxic waste following it.
As the state government’s lead researcher for the site, Pivonka has watched for the last 20 years and conducted more evidence about the leaking waste. In 2015, he co-authored a lengthy analysis to try and spur new fixes.
That paper mapped underground chemicals spreading down the Murphy Creek wash past East Jewell Avenue, below the edge of the Murphy Creek Golf Course and the community itself.
The paper estimated that 425.6 million gallons of contaminated water has leaked from the site in the plume, according to data from about a decade earlier. It’s a worrisome prospect for homes near the plume and on well water, such as the Raders’.
In the paper, Pivonka recommended that the EPA and the polluters try something new. The EPA recently heeded his suggestion that EPA stop injecting huge amounts of treated water north of the site.
Water was treated for various chemicals except for 1,4 dioxane, and pumped north of the site until the early 2000s. The WSDs then began treating water for 1,4 dioxane and injecting that north of the site until October 2018.
But while Pivonka and others conduct their own studies, the EPA and polluters have relied on separate studies and often come to separate conclusions. The debate over how and when the pollution has spread is rooted in a parallel universe of research at the EPA.
That agency’s conclusions, however, are often based on research commissioned by the WSDs.
The WSDs told Sentinel Colorado that, based on their information and EPA conclusions, the plan for containing the waste is currently protecting the public.
Karen Crummy of public relations firm BluePrint Strategies responded to Sentinel Colorado as the WSD spokeswoman. Crummy is routinely a spokesperson for oil and gas industry political causes.
The group believes the plume exists but is shrinking, pointing to data from a commissioned 2018 study indicating decreases in 1,4 dioxane levels at various locations north of the site.
Dave Wilmoth, a City and County of Denver official and environmental engineer, recently toured the site. He is a site expert representing Denver in the WSD group…
Wilmoth said the plan in place is working effectively. The contamination north of the site is little more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane, he said, blaming the outdated practice of dumping water contaminated with the stuff beyond the site’s northern barrier wall.
“No regulations,” he said of 1,4 dioxane. “No one knew.”
But that was almost two decades ago.
EPA spokesperson Rich Mylott said the containment plan is “working effectively to prevent off-site exposure to contaminants.”
However, the EPA is not sure that shallow and deep groundwater is safe from contamination, and directed the WSDs to commission their own studies of possible contamination. Two years ago, the agency declined to say in a multi-year study and report whether the site was adequately protecting the public.
The possible contamination of aquifers is a huge concern for Pivonka and Rader.
Two aquifers, the Denver and Dawson, overlap just north of the site where the plume is contaminating surface waters. The Dawson formation lies above the Denver, a 3,000-square mile table of water, separated by a leaky barrier of earth.
Both are important sources of drinking water for the dry Front Range. Serious contamination would threaten a key resource that scientists believe will become more scarce in the decades to come.
The EPA also acknowledges the existence of the surface water plume in the review but said the WSDs need to conduct more studies before it creates a plan.
In the years since, the polluters’ group has been doing just that. They say they are working to get the additional data EPA needs to again find the site remedy “effective and protective.”
The WSDs said it could also consider new solutions, such as drilling new monitoring wells — in addition to the 500 that already exist — changing how they monitor the groundwater, and studying the impact of injecting water north of the site.
The prospect of polluters running their own studies for the EPA worries Bonnie Rader, who is now chairing the site Community Advisory Group.
The group has long received funds from the EPA to hire out its own, independent contractors to study the pollution.
She doesn’t trust the polluters nor the EPA to reach their own conclusions.
The CAG consultant, McGinnis and Associates, reviewed a polluter-funded study of the site in 2013. Rader sent the review to a lead scientist at the EPA, who analyzed the study line-by-line, finding inaccuracies and omissions. The errors include misrepresenting levels of 1,4 dioxane in test wells.
McGinnis also believes the plume is growing, not shrinking.
It’s emblematic of an information gap that strains relationships between the various consultants and agencies.
Different studies come to different conclusions, frustrating all parties involved. Technical disagreements can turn sharky in tone.
Generally, the EPA and polluters believe they should stay the course, while CDPHE and the citizen-hired McGinnis and Associates think more should be done to contain and clean up the waste.
The EPA and polluters can press ahead with their own plans, but area residents and their consultants are extremely concerned about the leaking waste and continue to pressure them.
In the 2017 review, EPA staffers conducted interviews with locals. “All private citizens interviewed are concerned about groundwater contamination and the use of private residential wells,” the report says.
The gulf between the parties has also widened because of little trust and bad communication.
Four years after his paper’s findings, Pivonka said the EPA and polluters “have not been receptive to the recommendations, and continue the same approach to the site.”
Rader is disillusioned with the WSDs and their studies. She said she’s been hearing the same old reassurances for the last 30 years while the waste spreads north, closer to her home.
The polluters’ trust disagrees with the notion that they have not listened to residents, Crummy said. She said WSD representatives regularly attend meetings with locals.
The mass of evidence, varying conclusions and convictions on all sides leaves residents with vague concerns at best but nightmares at worse about the situation actually harming people…
…the mere possibility of pollution has encouraged new, suburban residents to forge an alliance with Rader and other environmental crusaders. While a subdivision lies close to the spreading plume, they are vehemently opposed to a new plan to house thousands of new residents on its doorstep, for reasons of their own…
The Superfund site and its leaking waste was not news to [Nicole] Johnston, who represents the eastern frontier region of the city. She actually became involved in the CAG herself before running for city council, and was interviewed in the EPA’s 2017 review study that downgraded the protectiveness of the site.
She said that 1,4 dioxane may not even be her biggest concern, compared to other chemicals dumped in the Superfund site.
“They put some really, really bad things in there,” she said. “Those other, really bad chemicals could be right behind it.”
Johnston met with Rep. Jason Crow that April afternoon when he visited the plume.
She said that, although the plume concerns her very much, the possibility of two injection wells about five miles from the site could dramatically change the area’s geology.
The wells, proposed by Wyoming- and Denver-based Expedition Water Solutions, would flush mostly saltwater and other by-products from oil and gas extraction more than 10,000 feet below the surface.
Injection wells are known to cause earthquakes in some circumstances, according to the United States Geological Survey.
But the science that the Superfund site geology could be disrupted is far from certain.
Zach Neal, a spokesperson for EWS, said the proposed location was the only possible place for the injection wells because of county zoning restrictions.
He added that the wells would be safely built and regulated. EWS would inject the waste far deeper below the surface than the Denver and Dawson aquifers.
Arapahoe County officials told Sentinel Colorado that staff are still reviewing the applications, and the state government agency charged with reviewing proposals has not taken action since EWS filed its paperwork in February.
Arapahoe County Commissioner Jeff Baker represents the Superfund site area and the residents that live in the unincorporated county. He said he’s also worried about the injection well permits and will be scrutinizing them, he said.
But Baker said he is also open to considering whether the solution to keeping residents safe from the Lowry Landfill should still be trying to contain the waste. He’s open to discussing a plan to clean up the waste, once and for all.
It’s an idea that Bonnie Rader has clamored for during the last 50 years.
Here’s the release from DNR (Chris Arend):
Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Executive Director Dan Gibbs announced today the addition of a new member to his leadership team, Doug Vilsack, as the new Assistant Director for Parks, Wildlife and Lands.
“Doug is an important addition to the leadership team we are building at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Doug has played an integral role within the Department over the years serving as Legislative Liaison, helping to usher in key legislation such as the SB 181, Colorado’s new oil and gas law, spearheading passage of the Hunting, Fishing, and Parks for Future Generations Act and working to increase funding for the Colorado Water Plan.”
“Doug has demonstrated great leadership in program and policy development and has a true passion for wildlife and protecting Colorado’s public lands,” continued Gibbs. “I am thrilled to have Doug on board as we tackle important priorities for our Department including increasing access to our state lands for more Coloradans and developing new funding opportunities to support Colorado’s wildlife and outdoor recreation opportunities.”
In addition to serving as the Legislative Liaison for the Department for the last three years, Doug has diverse experience as an attorney handling water, energy, mining, and public lands issues. He also worked with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Namibia developing successful community-based conservation programs to conserve elephants in Africa.
Doug is also a founder and leader of several non-profit organizations, including Elephant Energy, which works to establish distribution networks for small-scale solar products in rural Africa, and formerly as Executive Director of the Posner Center for International Development, a network of Colorado-based organizations and businesses dedicated to growing lasting solutions to global poverty.
Doug has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Systems: Natural Resource Management from Colorado College and a J.D. from the University of Colorado School of Law.
The Assistant Director position at the Department acts as a policy advisor to the Executive Director, Deputy Executive Director, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife director regarding issues, legislation, and state and national policy developments in natural resources, parks, wildlife, trails, and outdoor recreation that impact Colorado.
From KRDO.com (Andrew McMillan):
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) on Thursday reopened a section of the Arkansas River below the dam at Lake Pueblo State Park to people on inner-tubes and non-whitewater boats.
Swimming, however, remains prohibited as always, even in life jackets.
The decision comes more than a month after CPW closed a 1-mile stretch of the river from Lake Pueblo State Park east to Pueblo Boulevard. CPW deemed the section unsafe for boaters and tubers due to irregular, high flows from melting mountain snowpack.
Also Thursday, the Pueblo Police Department and the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office announced they were reopening to tubers and boaters the Arkansas east of Pueblo Boulevard all the way to the Otero County line.
At the time of the closure on June 11, river levels had swollen to near flood stage in places and pushed the rate of flow above 4,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). The average rate of flow in the Arkansas this time of year is 2,200 cfs.
“We are happy to lift the restriction and resume normal operations,” said Lake Pueblo State Park Manager Monique Mullis. “During run-off, river flows in this section can change daily depending on how much water the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation releases from the lake on a given day. But the runoff has peaked and flows should be gradually dropping the rest of the summer.”
In 2015, the river below the dam was closed for about three weeks.
From The Denver Post (John Meyer):
CROA said rafting on the Upper Colorado north of Winter Park and the Lower Colorado through Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction will last into October, as will be the case with Yampa near Steamboat Springs. In the Durango area, which saw meager flows a year ago due to drought, the Animas should support rafting through September. Sections of the Arkansas likely will be raftable through September and, closer to Denver, Clear Creek should have rafting well into August.
From Westword (Michael Roberts):
According to Hattie Johnson, Southern Rockies stewardship director for American Whitewater, an organization that represents outdoor sports aficionados, river conservationists and more than a hundred local paddling club affiliates across the country, the higher-than-normal flows in these areas don’t necessarily mean they should be considered off-limits. But extra caution should be exercised…
Especially if it’s running high. Click to access updated water-level information about Colorado rivers and streams from American Whitewater.