2020 #COleg: HB20-1095 [Local Governments Water Elements In Master Plans]

From The Durango Herald (Shannon Mullane):

Colorado House Bill 1095 says if a local government’s comprehensive plan includes a water-supply element, it must also include conservation policies. While there might be disagreement on how to conserve, some planners are already incorporating water into their land-use decisions…

In the Southwest basin, water demand is projected to increase between 17,000 and 27,000 acre feet by 2050, according to the Basin Implementation Plan. That’s with some conservation by users…

According to scientific models, the Southwest is also more vulnerable to drought as the climate warms, said Gigi Richard, director of the Four Corners Water Center at Fort Lewis College.

“One, we know our population is growing. Two, we know our climate is warming,” Richard said. “Those two things are going to put stresses on the quantity of water available.”

Durango and Bayfield have already included some water conservation measures into their community planning. Ignacio lacks any specific water conservation measures.

The town does not have a comprehensive plan, an advisory document that outlines long-term goals for community development required by state statute…

Vallecito Reservoir during Missionary Ridge Fire via George Weber Environmental.

In Durango, the comprehensive plan references a 2015 sustainable action plan and a 2011 water efficiency management plan. The last time the city implemented water restrictions was in 2002, the year of the Missionary Ridge Fire.

“If that bill passed, I feel confident that we’ve integrated enough … that we would meet those requirements,” Biggs said. “We could always do more and do better.” In Bayfield, the town’s 2005 comprehensive plan does not include some of the town’s updated policies. For example, the 2018 Water Master Plan includes water supply requirements, and those would be incorporated when the comprehensive plan is updated. The town started looking at its emergency water measures during the drought in 2018.

“Every time we have a project in Bayfield, ‘Hey, is there adequate water?’” said Bayfield Mayor Matt Salka. “The answer is yes, but for the town of Bayfield, we always have water in mind.”

Water conservation and efficiency can be a charged topic among users.

Durango water users’ opinions on conservation methods are a “mixed bag,” Biggs said. Some people are actively trying to conserve, while others value a healthy lawn.

In Bayfield, most people seem to support the idea of water conservation, Salka said. “I don’t think it’s a big topic here from a development perspective,” Garcia said of Ignacio. “Some folks are looking at water conservation for reducing their own use and bill.”

For Richard, the more planning, the better.

Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership awarded grant for #solar project — The Pagosa Sun #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

The dome greenhouse gleams in the Sun at the center of the park. To the right is a new restroom and on the far left is the Community Garden. Along the walk way is a small paved amphitheater like space for presentations and entertainment. Photo credit The Pagosa Springs Journal.

From The Pagosa Sun:

The La Plata Electric Asso- ciation (LPEA) Board of Directors voted at its meeting last week to award the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) $13,000 from its Renewable Generation Funds Grant program to support a solar installation to generate electricity for the GGP site in Centennial Park.

Projects were selected based on visibility to the local community, level of innovation, and the potential to blend renewable technologies with educational elements and community engagement.

Grant monies are sourced from LPEA’s Local Renewable Generation Fund — an opt-in fund to which LPEA members can contribute to support the development of renewable energy generation projects in the service territory.

For more information on the program, LPEA members should call 382-3505.

#Snowpack news: #SanJuan River headwaters SWE = 80.5% of normal

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 1, 2020 via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

This week, snow water equivalency (SWE) is 80.5 percent of median, down from last week’s total of 85.5 percent of median, according to a press release from Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Manager Justin Ramsey. SWE is currently at 20.2 inches. Last week, it was 19.5 inches…

Precipitation data has also seen an increase, going from 20.1 inches last week to 20.8 inches this week.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

This week, local basins have seen a 4 percent decrease in snowpack levels, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins are currently 92 percent of median. Last week, they were 96 percent of median.

The Upper San Juan site went from 83 percent of median to 78 percent of median this week.

The Wolf Creek summit saw a 1 percent increase from last week, going from 89 percent of median to 90 percent of median…

The Upper Rio Grande Basin has dropped 3 percent since last week. This week, it is 99 percent of median; last week, it was 102 percent of median.

Another 3 percent decrease was listed for the Arkansas River Basin. Snowpack totals this week are 113 percent of median. Last week, they were 116 percent of median.

At the Yampa and White River basins, a 3 percent decrease was reported. This week, snowpack totals are 118 percent of median. Last week, they were 121 percent of median.

This week, the Laramie and North Platte River basins are 118 percent of median. Last week, they were 120 percent of median.
Last week, the South Platte River Basin was 131 percent of median. This week, it is 129 percent of median.

The Upper Colorado River Basin is 118 percent of median this week. Last week, it was 121 percent of median.

A 3 percent decrease was record- ed for the Gunnison River Basin as snowpack totals dropped from 98 percent of median to 95 percent of median this week.

Water Education #Colorado annual President’s Reception, May 8, 2020 @WaterEdCO

Click here for all the inside skinny:

Each spring, Water Education Colorado invites friends and colleagues to our President’s Reception — an evening of celebration, networking and awards as we honor water leadership and raise money for our work at one of the best water events of the year.

Diane Hoppe at CFWE President’s Award Reception 2012

Join us for the President’s Reception on May 8, 2020 at Balistreri Vineyards.

Register here.

A long history of fruit production in Colorado — The Montrose Press

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain with historical Montezuma County apple orchard in the foreground.

From The Montrose Press (Linda Corwine McIntosh):

Did you know that Colorado has a long history of fruit production? The people who first started growing fruit in Colorado were a hardy, determined lot who had to learn through trial and error. We owe a great deal of thanks for fruit production in Colorado to these early pioneers.

It was once a very common saying that “you can’t grow fruit in Colorado”. Fortunately, the unwavering groundbreakers didn’t listen to the naysayers. Their persistence and determination during the costly experimental stages of fruit production rewarded them. They overcame the challenge of learning what varieties would grow in Colorado’s climate and how to grow fruit by means of irrigation and methods of treatments. According to the Boulder Apple Tree Project, Colorado was one of the top apple-growing states in the United States. Once, there were thousands of acres of orchards in the Denver area and along the Front Range. A CSU bulletin titled Fruit Interests of the State tells us that by the 1890’s apples were the primary fruit crops, but plums, pears, peaches and cherries were also grown across the state. It’s exciting that a number of these historic orchards that were started in 1868 still stand!

In September of 1895 the first fruit festival was held in the Grand Valley. It’s estimated that 10,000 people came to taste Mesa County peaches. William Jennings Bryan was the guest speaker for the crowd of visitors. This was such a success that in 1909 another celebration, called Peach Days, was held in Grand Junction. This time President Taft was the guest of the city and the fruit growers and spoke on the wonderful fruit grown in Mesa County.

On the Western Slope of Colorado, the Grand Valley apple boom occurred about 1895 when promoters planted thousands of acres, in five, ten, twenty, and forty-acre plots. Western Slope fruit won prizes throughout all parts of the U.S. for the fruit’s beauty, color, and taste. In 1908 fourteen varieties of Grand Valley apples won sweepstakes at Cornell University. When thirteen carloads of fruit from Colorado and other Western states were exhibited at the National Apple Exposition held in Denver in January 1910, Grand Junction won the sweepstakes for the best carload of apples along with a $1,000 award. Fruita came in second place with $500. In 1913, Grand Valley apples took first prize in Cleveland, OH. It’s said that Grand Valley fruit won blue ribbons in all the major cities where it was exhibited.

During the apple boom of 1895, a large number of the newly planted orchards were sold to eastern buyers, mostly professional people. Unfortunately, these people knew very little, if anything, about growing fruit, especially in irrigated orchards. As a result, over irrigating and poor soil drainage led to a buildup of salts and over-watered, stressed trees. This of course led to unhealthy trees and lowered production. Codling moth (worms in apples & pears) soon became an overwhelming problem with neglected orchards of apples and pears everywhere. The trees were so infested with pests that in many areas there was no hope for any solution. Before they knew it, the fruit industry was almost ruined. Fortunately, many of the orchards were eventually converted to more tolerant crops.

In the Montrose area, during the early 1900s, John Ashenfelter owned probably one of the largest orchards in the state. Edward Silva, and later George Phillips, kept the farm “as neat and clean as a new pin”. In 1908 the entire shipment from this 360 acre farm included 26,408 boxes of apples, 2,485 boxes of peaches, and 54,045 pounds of dried prunes. Fruit from the orchard was awarded at least 49 premiums at the Colorado State Fair. Other prominent fruit growers in the Montrose area included the Bell brothers, Heath, Upton, Kyle, Wilson, Getz, Anderson, Keller, Price, Doland and Tobin.

TABOR has become an unlikely foil in the fight to make polluters pay more The state’s complicated tax policy, TABOR, is making it harder to crack down on greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions — The #Colorado Independent

Since 2010, the state has fined Suncor, the oil refinery in Commerce City, $3.7 million for violating the state’s air quality laws more than 100 times, according to the state Air Pollution Control Division. Despite the hefty penalties, on Dec. 11, an equipment malfunction spewed yellow ash that settled over parts of the city. Two days later, the state sent the company a 56-page letter listing potential air quality violations from an earlier inspection, including failing to burn off cancer-causing benzene emissions and repeatedly exceeding emissions caps for the toxic gases hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. 

In the minds of some Democratic lawmakers, the current fines are not doing enough.

“A state like ours should have some of the highest air and water quality violation fines in the country,” said Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a Democrat from north Denver, during a news conference this month. “Anyone who disrespects our air and water should have to pay the price.”  

Gonzales-Gutierrez is sponsoring a bill that would raise the maximum penalties that air polluters like Suncor could pay three-fold from the current $15,000 per violation to the federal maximum of $47,357. It also would increase the water quality violations cap of $10,000 to the same federal maximum. The hope, lawmakers say, is that steeper fines will deter companies from violating environmental laws. 

The bill is not the only effort to make polluters pay more. Another bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, would eliminate the legal limit on fees air quality regulators can charge for oil and gas and other industrial air pollution permits, potentially generating $3 million for air monitoring and health studies next fiscal year. Fenberg’s bill is yet to be introduced. The Polis administration also wants to eliminate a cap that limits fees the state can charge a company for each ton of pollution it emits. This would only affect large polluters, such as Tri-State and Xcel, both of which are electric utilities that own and operate coal-fired power plants. Eliminating the cap would raise about $116,000, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

But as lawmakers seek to hold polluters accountable through larger fees and fines they are running into a roadblock with the state’s complicated fiscal policy. That’s forcing them to work around constitutional limits on the size of the state budget. 

Under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which voters passed in 1992, any revenue that the state collects from fines and fees counts toward the so-called TABOR cap, which places a limit on how much revenue the state can keep before sending some of it back to taxpayers in the form of TABOR refunds. Because revenue will exceed the cap this year, every additional dollar the state collects from fees and fines, an equal amount needs to be scraped off the top of the $30-plus-billion state budget in the form of cuts to programs or reductions in discretionary spending in order to pay for those refunds.

That budget bind creates a problem with Democrats, who don’t want to cut programs like K-12 education or Medicaid, and who have a number of pricey policy priorities this year, including Gov. Jared Polis’s $27 million effort to expand access to preschool.

Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

 

The move to increase maximum fines comes as the Front Range grapples with ground-level ozone pollution, predominantly stemming from emissions from people driving automobiles and drilling for oil and gas. Meanwhile, the north Denver neighborhoods of Elyria-Swansea and Globeville have the most polluted zip code in the nation, 80216, sandwiched between traffic and construction on I-70 to the south and the Suncor oil refinery and the Xcel’s Cherokee Generating Station gas-fired power plant to the north. The city of Fountain is also working to clean up toxic PFAS chemicals in its water. These neighborhoods are among the more affordable and ethnically diverse in the Front Range, drawing concerns about environmental injustices.  

For Gonzales-Gutierrez’s bill, in both a strategic and semantic maneuver, sponsors have proposed dubbing the fines collected as “damages.” Doing so has the effect of avoiding additional TABOR refunds. 

For Fenberg’s bill, backers want to set up an enterprise fund to hold the extra money that comes in through fees on air pollution permits. This is different than calling the fees damages but would have a similar effect of avoiding TABOR refund requirements. Enterprise funds are like bank accounts not subject to TABOR. 

Even so, TABOR places some restrictions on this kind of budgeting, limiting the amount of other state money, such as general fund revenue from sales and income taxes, that can be used to pay for programs that rely on money in an enterprise fund. 

Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center in Denver, a left-leaning think-tank, said TABOR makes it harder for lawmakers to use economic incentives or disincentives to address climate change or environmental pollution.

“Any additional revenue that comes in displaces other programs,” Wasserman said. “This is one more example that we can’t act like other states.”

The dilemma this year comes after voters rejected Proposition CC last November. The ballot measure, which failed by 10 points, would have allowed lawmakers to keep the money that exceeded the TABOR revenue cap. 

As a result, conservatives suspected Democrats, who control the state legislature and the governor’s office, would try to skirt around TABOR by putting revenue into enterprise funds, said Michael Fields, the executive director for Colorado Rising Action, a conservative political advocacy group. Fields, whose nonprofit doesn’t disclose its donors, donated more than $12,000 to fight Proposition CC. 

And on Friday, he filed a ballot measure with the Secretary of State that would require lawmakers to get voter approval for the creation of fee-based enterprises. TABOR already requires that voters approve a tax increase, and since 1992, only three out of 15 proposed tax increases have been approved. 

“A lot of people are going to have complaints about those fees,” said Fields, referencing the air pollution permit fees as well as an effort to raise the gas tax by calling it a fee.  

The ballot measure wouldn’t affect the bills under consideration this year. And it would change the law, not the Colorado constitution, which means lawmakers could repeal it if they wanted to. But, if the measure passed, it would make it harder politically for lawmakers to rely on enterprises in the future. “I think more than anything we would hope the legislature would listen to the will of the people,” Fields said. 

Despite the legislative push to increase maximum fines, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which enforces the state and federal air quality laws, rarely imposes the existing maximum fines, according to state records. The official view is that high fines can invite costly legal fights, said John Putnam, the agency’s environmental programs manager. 

Even so, Putnam said, the department sees the proposed legislation as a signal that the agency should fine companies a bit more. According to a fiscal note from nonpartisan Legislative Council, the state is expected to collect an additional $2.8 million in the fiscal year 2022-23 by raising the fine limits. 

The pollution fines bill, sponsored by Gonzales-Gutierrez, would set up a seven-member board to decide how to spend that money. Four of the members would be appointed by the minority and majority parties in the legislature and three members would be appointed by CDPHE’s executive director, one of whom must be a resident from a neighborhood affected by pollution. The goal of this board is to give local communities affected by pollution a voice in how it’s spent. 

“Because of my lived experience, I know how it feels to feel as though you’re not being heard and to not feel as though you’re empowered,” said Rep. Dominique Jackson of Aurora, a lead bill sponsor on the bill. 

Sen. Faith Winter of Westminster, also backing the pollution fines bill, said the money could be spent on cleaning up pollution, staffing a health clinic or creating more open space for recreation. 

“A lot of these communities that have more pollution also tend to have less parks, openspace and bike paths,” Winter said. “And that’s another form of environmental injustice.” 

This article first appeared on The Colorado Independent and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Cleanups and health care costs tied to the “forever chemicals” known as #PFAS could reach into the billions. Has DuPont found a way not to pay? — NBC News

From NBC News (Gretchen Morgenson):

…there’s a risk that [Robin Andrews] and other people with illnesses linked to the chemicals could end up with no compensation for their health problems. That’s because a major manufacturer, DuPont, recently unloaded its PFAS obligations to smaller companies that do not have the money to pay for them.

For decades, DuPont manufactured PFAS-type chemicals in a plant close to Andrews’ home in this tiny South Jersey town on marshy land near the Delaware River. Her grandfather and father both worked at the sprawling plant, known as the Chambers Works, which covers 1,400 acres of riverbank in the shadow of the bridge to Delaware.

In 2017, after she developed unexplained high liver enzymes, her well water tested positive for PFAS; she now runs it through a large filtration system in her basement and has it monitored every three months.

DuPont “could have been a great company and a very good thing for this area had they chosen to take care of people and to be responsible with the way they disposed of these toxins,” Andrews told NBC News. “But they weren’t. I believe it was an economic decision to put people at risk.”

Jeff Tittel, senior chapter director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, has watched DuPont’s moves with concern. “They are setting up other companies to take the fall on liabilities that won’t have enough money, so even if people win lawsuits, they will get nothing or very little,” he said.

PFAS are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act and their side effects are still being understood by scientists and the public. In February, the EPA put out a proposal to regulate two of the most common PFAS chemicals found in drinking water and is asking for comment on how to monitor them.

On Wednesday, the EPA disclosed it “has multiple criminal investigations underway concerning PFAS-related pollution.” The agency did not identify the entities being investigated and it could not be determined if DuPont is one of them.

Daniel Turner, reputation and media relations manager for DuPont, said the company had not received an information request from the EPA related to a criminal investigation…

In 2015, as problems associated with PFAS were becoming clearer, DuPont began a series of complex transactions that transformed the company’s structure. As a result of the transactions, responsibility for environmental obligations associated with the chemicals shifted onto other entities.

The first shift by DuPont occurred in 2015, when it assigned the great majority of liabilities associated with PFAS to The Chemours Company, a new entity containing DuPont’s chemicals business that was spun off to its shareholders…

In a statement provided to NBC News, DuPont spokesman Turner denied that the Chemours spin-off was an attempt to evade environmental and legal liabilities associated with PFAS. “The reason for the spin-off,” Turner said, was that DuPont “was seeking to transform itself into a higher growth, higher value company” and “saw more growth opportunities in its other businesses.”

A second spin-off was Corteva Inc., in 2019, an agriculture science company that holds other legacy DuPont operations and some PFAS liabilities.

The third transaction occurred last June when so-called new DuPont was created. Formerly known as DowDupont, its businesses include electronics, transportation and construction. Because of the two other spin-offs, new DuPont is two steps removed from PFAS obligations…

Chemours, with primary responsibility for the estimated tens of billions of dollars in PFAS obligations, does not have anywhere near the money or assets to cover them. Chemours’ net worth — its assets minus liabilities — stood at just $695 million as of Dec. 31, 2019.

If Chemours becomes insolvent, Corteva Inc. will be responsible, corporate filings show. Corteva does not have the funds to cover tens of billions in estimated PFAS costs either. Turner declined to say whether PFAS responsibilities would ultimately revert to DuPont if Chemours and Corteva are unable to pay them. A lawyer for Chemours declined to comment.

Corporate spin-offs like DuPont’s that transfer liabilities associated with problematic businesses are becoming more common, analysts say, especially in the energy and chemical fields.

“You’re seeing it again and again,” said Clark Williams-Derry, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Spinning off your legacy liabilities into a separate corporation and to some other responsible party appears to be part of the standard playbook in these industries.”

[…]

DuPont is not the only PFAS manufacturer under scrutiny. Another is 3M, headquartered in Minneapolis. Both companies stopped making PFAS over a decade ago. 3M is fighting the suits and says it is cooperating with government investigators.

DuPont and 3M both face lawsuits over problems allegedly linked to PFAS. But DuPont’s shift of its PFAS liabilities to Chemours has drawn its own raft of litigation. In a complaint filed last year against DuPont by Chemours, it contended that the 2015 deal was fraudulent. DuPont knew and intentionally hid the scope of the liabilities when it dumped them into Chemours, the company alleged.

In response, DuPont says Chemours executives were well aware of the PFAS problems at the time of the spin-off and could not have been duped. Next up is the judge’s ruling on oral arguments in the case…

Legal filings allege DuPont knew for decades that PFAS posed a threat to humans…

In early PFAS cases, lawyers for plaintiffs found internal, undisclosed DuPont documents showing toxicity in PFAS. While the company has acknowledged the findings in court filings, it argued that they were either inconclusive or applicable only to employees working with the chemicals, not to people drinking tap water near DuPont facilities.

The New Jersey lawsuit alleges that DuPont began to recognize toxicity in the most common PFAS chemical in the 1960s but did not tell the state or local communities about the problem.

DuPont has not answered the New Jersey complaint but in previous lawsuits, DuPont has denied that it hid PFAS risks. DuPont spokesman Turner declined to say how long DuPont knew about the toxicity of PFAS, but said the company has provided extensive information over the years to the EPA about potential harm related to the chemicals.

The New Jersey suit also says DuPont hid the results of a 1981 blood sampling study of pregnant employees who worked with the chemicals that found one-quarter had children with birth defects…

The potential that shareholders will take on undervalued liabilities is greater in spin-offs, merger experts say. That’s because the kind of in-depth due diligence that a third-party buyer would do to to determine possible liabilities is not typically done by new owners in a spin-off. Those owners are essentially trusting the parent company to be forthcoming about the obligations.

Had DuPont instead sold its legacy chemicals businesses to another company, the buyer would have dug into the obligations associated with its PFAS production prior to the purchase. Any resulting deal would take those potential liabilities into account, resulting in either a lower sale price, an insurance policy or a right by the buyer to recover costs from DuPont later.

Because DuPont’s existing shareholders took on the liabilities in the Chemours and Corteva spin-offs, that detailed assessment was not done. The Chemours lawsuit alleges that DuPont pursued the spin-off so it “could control the transaction structure and economics” after concluding that “no rational buyer” would accept the liabilities associated with PFAS.

DuPont spokesman Turner disputed this, saying that multiple firms submitted proposals to acquire Chemours before the spin-off. He declined to provide specifics about those companies, however, or their bids.

Back in 2015, when DuPont was preparing to spin off Chemours, the parent company made insufficient disclosures about the environmental liabilities to be shouldered by the new shareholders, the Securities and Exchange Commission found. The company had to provide more details, regulatory filings show.

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]