As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a reported flow of 30.7 cfs, below the average for July 15 of 308 cfs.
The lowest reported flow total for July 15 came in 2002, when the San Juan River had a reported flow of 10.9 cfs. The highest reported flow total came in 1995, when the San Juan had a flow of 1,550 cfs.
A report on the town’s geothermal heating utility was provided to the Pagosa Springs Town Council at a regular meeting on July 7.
The geothermal heating system has been operated and owned by the town since December of 1982, according to Public Works Director Martin Schmidt.
The town put out a bid and Alan Plummer Associates Inc. was awarded with an assessment of the utility, Schmidt explained.
Currently, the geothermal system has 32 customers that range from a school to small residences, Schmidt explained.
The geothermal system is fully operational and the town has not experienced any failures that would inhibit the utility to heat those that the town committed to heating, Schmidt added.
A report from Alan Plummer As- sociates Inc. Project Engineer Steve Omer done for the town touches on the system’s current conditions, ca- pacity and expansion opportunities…
One idea for an expansion opportunity was to cool homes in the summer with the geothermal piping using river water, Schmidt noted.
“When you actually look at theriver data, the average temperature of the river through the summer months is 63 and a half degrees, and 63 and a half degrees doesn’t give us enough of a difference,” he said…
Another expansion opportunity looked into by Omer was the limits of the geothermal system and how many more customers the town could add to the system.
“We found that we could not add a customer like the high school. Just the high school would overwhelm the system.” Schmidt said.
FromBloomberg Law (Ellen M. Gilmer, Stephen Lee, and Jennifer A. Dlouhy):
States and environmental coalitions are set to wage multiple challenges to President Donald Trump’s overhaul of federal requirements for environmental permitting, setting up long-term regulatory uncertainty and the potential for a checkerboard of rules across the country.
Trump unveiled the plan Wednesday, replacing Nixon-era rules for how federal agencies conduct reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. The changes are aimed at streamlining permitting timelines for major projects down to two years, Trump said in public remarks in Atlanta…
Yet the move poses risks for developers and federal agencies alike. Congress hasn’t rewritten the requirements in the underlying, 50-year-old environmental law, and streamlined reviews that fall short of its mandates could be struck down in court.
“Even though the president has said that he wants to make this process more efficient and effective, it’s going to make it even worse, because it’s going to create more litigation and uncertainty,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of the lands division at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The controversy and the confusion around these projects is going to increase, rather than decrease.”
The administration’s critics are already sharpening their legal tools, vowing courtroom fights over how the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality crafted the new regulation.
Congratulations to friend of Coyote Gulch, Grace Hood.
Here’s the release From the University of Colorado:
The Center for Environmental Journalism is proud to welcome its 24th class of Ted Scripps Fellows, who will spend nine months at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information working on long-term, in-depth journalistic projects and reflecting on critical questions.
The group brings a depth of experience across a range of media, with backgrounds covering local issues as a public radio reporter and a photojournalist, overseeing a non-profit news organization and a science magazine, and reporting abroad as a Moscow correspondent.
“We’re thrilled to welcome these incredibly accomplished journalists to the Center for Environmental Journalism,” said Tom Yulsman, CEJ director. “We gain as much from their presence as they do from spending a year at the university.”
Stacy Feldman, co-founder of InsideClimate News (ICN), a Pulitzer Prize-winning non-profit news organization providing reporting and analysis on climate change, energy and the environment. Serving as executive editor from 2015 to 2020, she’s spent the past 13 years helping to build and lead ICN as it transformed from a two-person startup to an operation with nearly 20 employees and a model for national and award-winning non-profit climate journalism.
As a fellow, she plans to study new approaches to local journalism that could help people connect environmental harm and injustice to their own health and their communities’ well-being.
Grace Hood, who has covered water, science and energy topics across the American southwest as Colorado Public Radio’s environment and climate reporter since 2015. Throughout more than a decade in public radio, she’s profiled octogenarian voters worried about climate change, scientists tracking underground mine fires, a visually impaired marijuana farmer and a homeowner who lives next door to Colorado’s first underground nuclear fracking experiment.
As a fellow, she plans to study how cities and states monitor air quality near oil and gas sites. She has a particular interest in the rise of citizen science when it comes to measuring air pollution across the West.
Alec Luhn, an independent journalist with a focus on the changing communities and ecosystems of the far north. Previously a Moscow correspondent for The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, he’s been published in The Atlantic, GQ, The Independent, MAXIM, The Nation, The New York Times, POLITICO, Reuters, TIME, Slate and WIRED, among others. During a decade abroad, he’s reported from the coldest permanently inhabited place on earth and covered the conflict in eastern Ukraine, annexed Crimea, war-torn Syria and Chernobyl reactor four, as well as covering oil spills, permafrost thaw, reindeer herding, polar bear patrols, Gulag towns and the world’s only floating nuclear power plant in the Arctic.
As a fellow, he plans to study how climate change and resource extraction are altering the fragile environment of the north, with deep repercussions for reindeer and caribou and the indigenous peoples that depend on them.
Amanda Mascarelli, managing editor of Sapiens, an award-winning digital magazine that covers anthropology and archaeology for the general public. She has led the publication since before its 2016 launch and has overseen the production of hundreds of stories on topics including Holocaust archaeology, schizophrenia, fracking, cultural appropriation, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, she spent more than a decade as a freelance science journalist specializing in health and the environment. She’s been published by outlets including Audubon, Nature, New Scientist, Science, Science News for Students and The New York Times and worked as a health columnist for the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.
As a fellow, she will study the social inequalities of health in vulnerable communities in the Denver metro region and elsewhere in Colorado, with an eye to exploring the health and social impacts of industrial expansion, fossil fuel extraction, and a planned massive urban redesign.
RJ Sangosti, who has been a photojournalist at The Denver Post since 2004, where he’s covered events spanning from Hurricane Katrina to presidential elections. Over more than a decade, he has documented the people and landscape of eastern Colorado, where years of drought and a loss of agricultural earning power continue to hurt farmers. Most recently, he completed a story about a Denver neighborhood in one of the country’s most polluted urban zip codes, whose residents continue to be impacted by a huge interstate construction project. His work was included in the 2012 Time Magazine top 10 photos of the year, and he was honored to be part of the 2016 jury for the centennial year of The Pulitzer Prizes.
As a fellow, he will report on the effects pesticides and fertilizers have on aquifers and groundwater, and he hopes to gain new skills in research and writing.
Ninety-five percent of Colorado is now abnormally dry as the drought here, which is among the worst in the nation currently, continues to expand.
Another 10% of Colorado reached abnormally dry levels over the past week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly report.
Seventy percent of the state is now experiencing moderate drought; 58% of Colorado is seeing severe drought levels; and 37% of the state is experiencing extreme drought, according to the latest data.
The drought has now seeped in to every county in Colorado, with just seven counties that have pockets of land that are drought-free – all of them in northern Colorado. Almost the entirety of southern Colorado is under extreme drought conditions.
Colorado has the largest amount of land under extreme drought conditions currently of anywhere in the United States. Only Utah has more land mass under any sort of drought condition than Colorado.
A year ago, Colorado was 100% drought-free.
Colorado has not experienced this widespread of a drought since February 2018, when 99% of the state was considered abnormally dry and 76% of the state was under moderate drought conditions, according to the Drought Monitor.
[On July 17, 2020], the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Denver Water to proceed with design and construction to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.
Seventeen years ago, Denver Water began the federal environmental permitting process that lead to approvals by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016 and 2017.
“Obtaining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order to move forward with the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project brings a comprehensive 17-year federal and state permitting process — one that involved nearly 35 agencies and organizations — to a close,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “This order directs Denver Water to move ahead with construction to meet mandated milestones and timelines.”
“Expanding Gross Reservoir is a critical project to ensure a secure water supply for nearly a quarter of the state’s population. The project provides the system balance, additional storage and resiliency needed for our existing customers as well as a growing population. We are seeing extreme climate variability and that means we need more options to safeguard a reliable water supply for 1.5 million people in Denver Water’s service area,” Lochhead said.
The design phase of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is expected to wrap up by mid-2021 and will be followed by four years of construction. The project involves the raising of the existing 340-foot-tall Gross Dam by an additional 131 feet, which will increase the capacity of the reservoir by 77,000 acre-feet, and includes 5,000 acre-feet of storage dedicated to South Boulder Creek flows that will be managed by the cities of Boulder and Lafayette.
“We are committed to working closely with the Boulder County community to ensure safety, be considerate neighbors and retain open, two-way communication channels during this construction project,” said Jeff Martin, program manager for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. “We will continue to seek community input on topics such as traffic control plans, hauling traffic schedules, tree removal plans, and other construction-related activities.”
The FERC order, along with the permitting conditions put in place by CDPHE and the Corps, further commits Denver Water to implement environmental improvements by putting in place measures evaluated in the environmental assessment issued in February 2018.
The project relies on the expansion of an existing footprint — without the placement of a new dam, reservoir or diversion structure; it also benefits from an original design that anticipated eventual expansion. Increasing the capacity of Gross Reservoir was a specific and formal recommendation from the environmental community as an alternative to construction of the proposed Two Forks Reservoir in the 1980s.
Denver Water has committed more than $20 million to more than 60 different environmental mitigation and enhancement projects that create new habitat and flow protections to rivers and streams on both sides of the Continental Divide as a result of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. According to Colorado officials, those commitments will have a net environmental benefit for the state’s water quality.
This project has earned the support of major environmental groups including Colorado Trout Unlimited, The Greenway Foundation and Western Resource Advocates; local, state and federal elected officials (including Colorado’s last five Governors); and major business and economic development groups, among others.
An expanded Gross Reservoir is critical to Denver Water’s multi-pronged approach — including efficient water use, reuse and responsibly sourcing new storage — to improve system balance and resiliency while contributing to water security for the more than 1.5 million people in the Denver metro area.
The FERC regulates the production of hydropower in the United States. As a Federal Power Act project dating back to 1954, expanding Gross Reservoir required the FERC’s approval of Denver Water’s application to amend its hydropower license. This approval and order carry the force of law and are the final federal authority over the reservoir project.
According to a new United Nations report, global rates of hunger and malnutrition are on the rise. The report estimates that in 2019, 690 million people – 8.9% of the world’s population – were undernourished. It predicts that this number will exceed 840 million by 2030.
If you also include the number of people who the U.N. describes as food insecure, meaning that they have trouble getting access to food, over 2 billion people worldwide are in trouble. This includes people in wealthy, middle-income and low-income countries.
The report further confirms that women are more likely to face moderate to severe food insecurity than men, and that little progress has been achieved on this front in the past several years. Overall, its findings warn that eradicating hunger by 2030 – one of the U.N.‘s main Sustainable Development Goals – looks increasingly unlikely.
COVID-19 has only made matters worse: The report estimates that the unfolding pandemic and its accompanying economic recession will push an additional 83 million to 182 million people into undernourishment. But based on our work serving as independent experts to the U.N. on hunger, access to food and malnutrition, under the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, it’s clear to us that the virus is only accelerating existing trends. It is not driving the rising numbers of hungry and food-insecure people.
How much should healthy food cost?
Experts have debated for years how best to measure hunger and malnutrition. In the past, the U.N. focused almost exclusively on calories – an approach that researchers and advocacy groups criticized as too narrow.
This year’s report takes a more thoughtful approach that focuses on access to healthy diets. One thing it found is that when governments primarily focused on making sure people had enough calories, they did so by supporting large transnational corporations and by making fatty, sweet and highly-processed foods cheap and accessible.
This perspective raises some important issues about the global political economy of food. As the new report points out, people who live at the current global poverty level of US$1.90 per day cannot feasibly secure access to a healthy diet, even under the most optimistic scenarios.
More broadly, the U.N. report addresses one of the longest-running debates in agriculture: What is a fair price for healthy food?
One thing everyone agrees on is that a plant-heavy diet is best for human health and the planet. But if prices for fruits and vegetables are too low, then farmers can’t make a living, and will grow something more lucrative or quit farming altogether. And costs eventually go up for consumers as the supply dwindles. Conversely, if the price is too high, then most people can’t afford healthy food and will resort to eating whatever they can afford – often, cheap processed foods.
The role of governments
Food prices don’t just reflect supply and demand. As the report notes, government policies always directly or indirectly influence them.
Some countries raise taxes at the border, making imported food more expensive in order to protect local producers and ensure a stable supply of food. Rich countries like the U.S., Canada, and in the EU heavily subsidize their farming sectors.
Governments can also spend public money on programs like farmer education or school meals, or invest in better roads and storage facilities. Another option is to grant people living in poverty food vouchers or cash to buy food, or to ensure everyone has a basic income that allows them to cover their fundamental spending. There’s a host of ways in which governments can make sure food prices allow producers to make a living and consumers to afford healthy meals.
The human cost of cheap food
The U.N. report focuses on trying to make sure that food is as cheap as possible. This is limited in a number of ways.
New research highlights that mostly focusing on cheap prices can promote environmental damage and brutal economic systems. That’s because only large corporations can afford to compete in a market committed to cheap food. As our research has shown, today and in the past, people’s access to food is usually determined by how much power is concentrated in the hands of the few.
One current example is meatpacking plants, which have been coronavirus transmission centers in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Europe. To keep prices low, people work shoulder-to-shoulder processing meat at an incredible speed. During the pandemic, these conditions have enabled the virus to spread among workers, and outbreaks in factories have then spread the virus to nearby communities.
New international standards allow factories to continue to operate, but in a way that protects workers. In our view, governments are not adequately enforcing these safety standards to stop the spread of the virus. Globally, four corporations – Brazil’s JBS, Tyson and Cargill in the United States, and Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods – dominate the meat-producing sector. Studies have shown that they are able to lobby and influence government policy in ways that prioritize profit over worker and community safety.
Our work has convinced us that the best way for governments to make sure that everyone has access to good food is to view a healthy diet as a human right. This means first understanding who has the most power over food supplies. Ultimately, it means making sure that the health, safety and dignity of people who produce the world’s food is a central part of the conversation about the cost of healthy diets.
From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):
Western Water Notebook: Dust suppression, habitat are key elements in long-term plan to aid sea, whose ills have been a sore point in Colorado River management
Out of sight and out of mind to most people, the Salton Sea in California’s far southeast corner has challenged policymakers and local agencies alike to save the desert lake from becoming a fetid, hyper-saline water body inhospitable to wildlife and surrounded by clouds of choking dust.
The sea’s problems stretch beyond its boundaries in Imperial and Riverside counties and threaten to undermine multistate management of the Colorado River. A 2019 Drought Contingency Plan for the Lower Colorado River Basin was briefly stalled when the Imperial Irrigation District, holding the river’s largest water allocation, balked at participating in the plan because, the district said, it ignored the problems of the Salton Sea.
“The Salton Sea has to be acknowledged for what it is — a serious public health and environmental crisis that can and will have long-term, devastating consequences across the region,” said Norma Galindo, president of the irrigation district’s board of directors. “It is an indispensable part of the Colorado River system, not an invisible one. Its decline simply must be addressed.”
The state of California, long derided for its failure to act in the past, says it is now moving full-bore to address the sea’s problems, with ambitious plans for wildlife habitat expansion and dust suppression.
“We are moving as fast as we can and are fully committed to doing the really good things that we need to be doing at the Salton Sea to address the real issues down there,” said Arturo Delgado, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency.
Agencies with a stake in the Salton Sea are racing to cope with twin problems: suppressing dust from the sea’s receding shoreline to protect the small communities that ring the lake while enhancing areas that are essential to fish and birds. In a state where more than 90 percent of historic wetlands have been lost, the Salton Sea is a vital stop for birds along the migratory route of the Pacific Flyway. All told, more than 400 bird species make regular use of the Salton Sea.
A Question of Urgency
As California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea is unique. More than 230 feet below sea level, it has no natural outlet and is twice as salty as ocean water. For about 20 years, the sea’s water level has steadily declined, further concentrating the salinity.
Protecting and restoring the sea’s ecological values has been a longtime aspiration, but progress has been achingly slow. State plans, some of them ambitious in scope, have come and gone while the sea deteriorates.
“There is no sense of urgency,” said Frank Ruiz, Salton Sea program director with Audubon California. “The Salton Sea has never been a priority for the state or any other entity outside the area.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has pledged to make progress. Getting there includes the laborious tasks of siting, designing and building dust suppression and habitat projects and convincing skeptical locals that inroads will be made where other efforts have fallen short. The state has set the lofty goal of creating 30,000 acres of habitat and dust suppression by 2028.
Delgado said he and his colleagues are up to the challenge.
“When I came in eight months ago, we took stock of our current situation and started developing a realistic timeline based on when we could possibly complete this work,” he said. “It’s a very aggressive timeline but it’s doable.”
The action plan includes working with local partners such as the Imperial Irrigation District, which has long chafed at the pace of progress at the sea. Earlier this year, the state and Imperial Irrigation District completed the Bruchard Road Dust Suppression Project on about 125 acres of exposed playa at the sea’s southern edge.
Imperial Irrigation District opposed participating in a Colorado River Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan last year because it did not adequately address the sea’s plight. The federal government’s lack of financial commitment to the sea “has been the single biggest impediment to a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan that could do what Imperial and all other Colorado River contractors need it to do, which is reduce the risk of reaching critical elevations at Lake Mead,” said Galindo, the district’s board president. Earlier this month, in its legal challenge to the Drought Contingency Plan, the district reaffirmed its view that the drought plan should be suspended until the sea’s environmental needs are assessed.
Making Something Bad Better
Imperial Irrigation District signed on to a landmark 2003 water transfer between the district and San Diego, known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), to help California reduce its overuse of Colorado River water. One effect of that was a significant curtailment of the Salton Sea’s inflow from farm irrigation. As part of the agreement, the state committed to pursuing a restoration plan for the sea while the district contributed mitigation water through 2017. However, a long-term, comprehensive Salton Sea management program has never fully emerged, due in part to the expense.
The transition from the Gov. Jerry Brown administration to the Newsom administration in 2019 brought renewed focus to the sea. However, tangible results remain elusive, said Tina Shields, Imperial’s water manager.
“When you are 15 years behind, you are not just going to wave a magic wand and suddenly have all of these projects completed,” she said.
Identifying and remedying problem areas can be a checkered process, Shields said. Potential projects often face extensive hurdles. “You’d think it would be easy to permit a mitigation project, something that’s going to make something bad better,” Shields said. “But it’s just as complicated as building a Walmart in Temecula because you have to bring in all of those wetlands permits.”
The state’s plan hinges on near-term and long-term actions that improve all elements of the sea, including evaluation of a possible “whole sea” solution that would import ocean water from the Sea of Cortez to stabilize the Salton Sea. Adding water from a source as reliable as the Pacific Ocean would seem to be an obvious solution, but it’s not that easy.
“It’s all about the salt,” said Phil Rosentrater, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority, the joint powers authority of local leaders that works with the state to revitalize the sea. “Water is certainly a critical part of the equation for a more sustainable sea, but salt management is the difference between life and death for the ecosystem.”
Teed up for work this year are plans by the state to launch 3,800 acres of habitat for the fish-eating birds that are most affected by a crashing sea. Rosentrater said his agency is poised to leverage state investments with federal dollars to work on habitat and dust suppression projects.
Air quality is a significant issue. At times the rotten egg smell caused by the sea’s hydrogen sulfide emissions has spurred complaints from people in Simi Valley, 200 miles away.
Dust suppression is paramount. The sea’s inflow from farm runoff has fallen substantially since 2003, accelerating the sea’s retreat, increasing salinity and exposing more shoreline, especially in the shallower areas. What’s left is a chalky playa that stirs into blinding clouds when the wind blows. The dust is laden with toxic elements, posing further harm to local communities, many of them disadvantaged and already struggling with high asthma rates.
The situation does not sit well with Imperial County, which last year declared a local state of emergency at the sea to address the dust suppression issue. Last month, on June 23, the county’s Air Pollution Control District slapped notices of violation on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Imperial Irrigation District for failing to address ongoing dust problems at the sea’s southeastern edge.
Projects to address the problems take time and resources and must navigate the regulatory permitting process. Furthermore, because the state is not a major landowner or water rights holder in the region, it must secure easements and needed water, said Delgado, the Resources Agency official.
The Imperiled Sea
Situated in an ancient lakebed that naturally filled with Colorado River water on occasion through the centuries, the Salton Sea of today came to life in the early 1900s when river water blew through an irrigation ditch. By the time the flow stopped, it filled a basin 45 miles long, 17 miles wide, and 83 feet deep.
In the 1950s and 1960s, it was touted as a Riviera-like destination for sun lovers and water enthusiasts, but that destiny was short-lived. Since then, the Salton Sea has assumed an other-worldly aura with occasional spikes of foul odor and dead fish.
The Salton Sea’s role as one of the few remaining refuges for migratory waterfowl raises its profile substantially.
“Everybody in the Western Hemisphere needs to care at one level because it’s an integral and critical part of the Pacific Flyway,” Celeste Cantú, former executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board, said in an interview. “If we lose the Salton Sea, we lose one of the last wetlands for migrating birds.”
A native of Calexico in the Imperial Valley, Cantú moderated a panel on the state’s response at the October 2019 Salton Sea Summit.
The state has outlined short-term and long-term actions for the sea, targeting habitat creation and more than 8,000 acres of dust suppression projects by the end of 2022.
Shields, with Imperial Irrigation District, sees both sides of the equation – the state’s efforts and the frustration of local residents tired of inaction.
“I think the state’s making progress,” she said. “The problem is for all the effort they are putting into it now; the general public isn’t going to see that progress for two or three years. Until you get the contractors out there, the trucks moving dirt, they [the general public] don’t get the process behind designing and going out to bid and staffing up.”
The Big Picture
Since the signing of the QSA, the clock has been ticking at the Salton Sea, which will keep demanding the attention of everyone concerned about and responsible for public health and ecological preservation.
Then there is how the sea will be accounted for in the grander vision of Colorado River management. Imperial Irrigation District hopes the sea “will have a much higher profile and receive the attention it needs in relation to the region’s collective management of the Colorado River,” said Galindo, the district’s board president.
Forging a sustainable path for the Salton Sea is “a must-have” for Imperial, Galindo said. She added that the district’s twin goals of being a good citizen on the Colorado River and seeing a sustainable Salton Sea are compatible and “linked together, hydrologically and morally.”
Rosentrater acknowledged the inertia of the past and the difficulties with finding the right solutions. There was a time when people believed the sea’s problems were insurmountable and not worth the investment of time or resources. That’s changed.
“When you get down to it, doing nothing turns out to be the most costly and reckless of all options,” he said. “That was the conversation of a decade ago, let the thing die and stop trying to prop it up. We have come a long way from there to realizing if we let it go, it’s catastrophic.”
Reach Gary Pitzer: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @GaryPitzer.
FromColorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, announced Wednesday the approval of a new policy to reduce the use of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — also known as PFAs, a chemical found in firefighting foam.
Among the most serious problems caused by PFAs in Colorado: contaminated well water supplies in El Paso County, most notably in the Widefield aquifer that serves the communities of Fountain, Widefield and Security.
The policy “will provide the department with clear guardrails for setting wastewater discharge permit limits on the chemicals released into local waterways. It also provides time for city and county wastewater treatment plants to work to reduce the chemicals from industries that use them and that discharge their wastewater with these chemicals into local sewer systems,” according to a CDPHE statement…
…delays by the EPA in developing a standard for surface or groundwater limits on PFAs has now prompted the state’s water quality commission to take action of its own. The new policy has been in the works since February.
It’s not without its detractors, including a nine-member group known as AF CURE (the Arkansas Fountain Coalition for Urban and River Evaluation). That group includes Colorado Springs Utilities; the sanitation districts for Fountain, Security and Widefield; and the Tri-Lakes water district. The group claimed the policy is more stringent than existing state policy on groundwater standards and would control decision-making for groundwater discharge for central El Paso County, in the vicinity of Fountain Creek.
AF CURE claimed the policy addresses “parent” PFAs compounds with no known toxicity. The policy would also present challenges to public utilities projects, including costs, according to a group presentation Tuesday.
Colorado Springs Utilities said it has spent $120,000 for PFAs testing in the past eight months, including installing 21 monitoring wells. The water quality division failed to fully look at the economic impact of the policy, the group said. “Do not adopt Policy 20-1 as drafted. There are many unaddressed issues wih significant complications.” And doing the policy through a rulemaking hearing, instead of the administrative hearing held Tuesday, would allow for a “more robust cost/benefit analyses.”
The Water Quality Control Division said what’s known about PFAs in Colorado is not enough:
50% of community systems have unknown levels of PFAS in drinking water
96% of community water systems haven’t had their sources tested
95% of surface water segments have not been tested, which leads to questions about how PFAs impacts fish, livestock and crops
20% of Colorado’s population relies on private wells, yet nearly none have been tested, and shallow wells are a higher risk.
John Putnam, environmental programs director for the CDPHE, said in a statement Wednesday that “we can’t wait for the EPA to come up with guidance; it would take too long. We need to take action now using the most current and best information available so we can start getting a better sense of the level of exposure we have in our state and to take the necessary steps to protect Coloradans from being more at risk.”
The Water Quality Control Division recently collected 71 samples from rivers and streams around Colorado, and every one of them showed at least some detectable levels of PFAs. A sample collected at the mouth of Sand Creek in Commerce City showed a level of 77 parts per trillion, which exceeded the EPA’s drinking water limit of 70 parts per trillion.
While the commission statement said they were unaware that anyone was drinking that water, it’s still a concern since PFAs doesn’t break down and can impact downstream drinking water supplies.
The sampling data indicates that industrial companies that have discharge permits for wastewater may be playing a role in the buildup of PFAs in water supplies. There are several companies that treat and discharge wastewater into Sand Creek, according to the commission statement.
To set an enforceable limit, the EPA must pass through a complex set of steps established in law to regulate contaminants in drinking water. And powerful lobbies that face cleanup liability, including the chemical industry, oppose regulation of PFAS as a group…
LONG TIME COMING
The question of whether and how much to regulate these persistent chemicals in drinking water has spanned the administrations of US presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald J. Trump. “This is a multi-administration failure to take action on PFOA and PFOS and on the broader class of PFAS chemicals that may pose health effects,” says Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney for the Environmental Working Group, which has called for limiting the two chemicals in drinking water since the early 2000s. “It has taken EPA an extraordinarily long time to do anything.”
Action toward possibly regulating these chemicals in drinking water began about a decade ago, when the EPA gathered data collected by water utilities on occurrence and levels of PFOA and PFOS. Neither PFOA nor PFOS is manufactured domestically anymore, but communities across the nation face legacy pollution. Also, either chemical may still be imported as a component, such as a coating, in products.
Drinking water in at least 25 states is tainted with PFOA or PFOS. In some areas, including the Pease Tradeport, other PFAS also turn up, according to data gathered by the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University. Overall, PFAS may contaminate public drinking-water systems that serve an estimated 19 million people living in the US.