U.S. mining sites dump 50 million gallons of fouled #wastewater daily — PBS

Settling ponds used to precipitate iron oxide and other suspended materials at the Red and Bonita mine drainage near Gold King mine, shown Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Eric Vance/EPA)

Click the link to read the article on the PBS website (Matthew Brown). Here’s an excerpt:

Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding streams and ponds without being treated, The Associated Press has found. That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other “hardrock” minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.

Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines. The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks. The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement…

Perpetual pollution

Problems at some sites are intractable.

Among them:

  • In eastern Oklahoma’s Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow.
  • At northern California’s Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever.
  • In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.
    This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.
  • Desert hydrology: Science Moab highlights talks with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

    Click the link to read the article on the Moab Sun News website (Science Moab). Here’s an excerpt:

    In the desert, few issues are as crucial as water. As a historic megadrought continues in the West, water usage is at the top of mind for many scientists. Hydrologists can help us understand how and when to enact new water policies. In this week’s column, Science Moab highlights important messages from conversations with hydrologists, speaking with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist.

    Science Moab: Are we bound by water usage policies enacted years ago? If nature can’t sustain those, what then?

    Eric Kuhn: One hundred years ago, we had some flexibility because the river was not very well-used. Today, not a drop of the Colorado River reaches the Gulf of California, so we don’t have that luxury. The way I look at it is: we legally allocated water based on an assumption that this river system had about 20 million acre-feet. Today, we think it’s more like 13, and it might be less in the future with climate change. Predictions and models show that increasing temperatures are going to reduce flows to the Colorado River. The drama is not how much water we’re going to have in the future — we know it’s going to be less. The drama is how we’re going to decide who gets less water, and when…

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Science Moab: At the start of 2021, Lake Powell was at 41% of its capacity. Why should we be so concerned that Lake Powell levels continue to fall to all-time lows?

    Brian Richter: Lake Powell serves three really important benefits. One is that it generates hydropower from the Glen Canyon Dam, which provides electricity throughout the southwestern United States. Two, Lake Powell is important for tourism, which is impacted by falling water levels. But by far the biggest concern is that if Lake Powell drops by another 85 feet — and for reference, the lake level dropped by more than 30 feet in 2020 — then the lake will drop below the hydropower outlets, so all the electricity production out of Glen Canyon Dam will stop. But even worse is that it will become physically impossible to move enough water into the Lower Basin states to provide for their water needs.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Bulkheads caused the Gold King Mine spill. Could they also be part of the solution? Remediation tool can limit acidic drainage, but experts must also understand the complicated hydrology — The #Durango Herald

    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Aedan Hannon). Here’s an excerpt:

    Bulkheads remain relatively obscure except to those involved in mine remediation, but their purpose is to plug mines and limit the release of mine waste while reversing the chemical processes that contribute to acid mine drainage. They can be simple fixes for extraordinarily complex mining systems and produce unintended consequences. But they are also a critical tool for the EPA and those working to improve water quality and reduce the lingering effects of more than a century of mining in the Bonita Peak Mining District…

    The role of bulkheads in the Gold King Mine Spill

    In its October 2015 technical assessment of the incident, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation argued that bulkheads were at least partially responsible for the Gold King Mine spill. The Gold King Mine is a maze of tunnels, faults and fissures located at different elevations inside Bonita Peak and the surrounding mountains in Gladstone. The mine opening that drained when the EPA crews struck a plug holding back water was actually what’s known as the “Upper Gold King Mine,” or Gold King Mine Level 7. A short distance away lies the “Gold King Mine,” which refers to a mine adit called American Tunnel…

    With oversight from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, Sunnyside Gold Corp. first installed a bulkhead in American Tunnel in 1995 to stop mine drainage from entering Cement Creek. The company closed the valve on the first bulkhead in October 1996 and would go on to install two other bulkheads in American Tunnel. With the installation of the bulkheads, the flow of toxic mine waste into Cement Creek decreased from 1,700 gallons per minute to about 100 gallons per minute. But as the impounded water rose behind the bulkheads, the water rose elsewhere, including in Gold King Mine Level 7, which sits about 750 feet above American Tunnel, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s assessment…The EPA has yet to determine if it was faults and fractures in the rock or other internal mine workings that carried water from American Tunnel to Gold King Mine Level 7, but the EPA and the Bureau of Reclamation have both said the spill was in part the result of this buildup from the bulkheads in American Tunnel. Bulkheads have been used in mine remediation efforts in Colorado for more than three decades, and there are about 40 installed across the state, said Jeff Graves, director of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety’s Inactive Mine Reclamation Program…Bulkheads back up water and fill mine tunnels. When they do so, they limit the air rocks can come into contact with, preventing the chemical reaction that creates acid mine drainage…

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Acid mine drainage can also still make its way into river systems. Water naturally moves through rock and can turn into acid mine drainage when exposed to oxygen, though in smaller volumes.

    The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

    Fast-growing Douglas County communities need more #water. Is a controversial San Luis Valley export plan the answer? — @WaterEdCO #Water22 #RioGrande

    Construction workers build a single family home in Castle Rock. The community needs new surface water supplies to reduce its reliance on non-renewable groundwater. Credit: Jerd Smith

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith:

    Castle Rock’s building boom has barely slowed over the past 20 years and its appetite for growth and need for water hasn’t slowed much either.

    The city, which ranks No. 1 in the state for water conservation, will still need to at least double its water supplies in the next 40 years to cope with that growth. It uses roughly 9,800 acre-feet of water now and may need as much as 24,000 acre-feet when it reaches buildout.

    With an eye on that growth and the ongoing need for more water, Douglas County commissioners are debating whether to spend $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to help finance a controversial San Luis Valley farm water export proposal.

    Thirteen Douglas County and South Metro regional water suppliers say they have no need or desire for that farm water, according to Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. [Editor’s note: Lisa Darling is president of the board of Water Education Colorado, which is a sponsor of Fresh Water News]

    “It is not part of our plan and it is not something we are interested in,” said Mark Marlowe, director of Castle Rock Water. “We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our long-term plan and we are pursuing the projects that are in that plan. The San Luis Valley is not in the plan.”

    Renewable Water Resources, a development firm backed by former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Sean Tonner, has spent years acquiring agricultural water rights in the San Luis Valley. It hopes to sell that water to users in the south metro area, delivering it via a new pipeline. In December, RWR asked the Douglas County commissioners for $10 million to help finance the $400 million plus project.

    Tonner did not respond to a request for comment for this article, but he has said previously that the water demands in south metro Denver will be so intense in the coming decades, that the San Luis Valley export proposal makes sense.

    Opposition to the export plan stems in part from concern in the drought-strapped San Luis Valley about losing even a small amount of its water to the Front Range. But RWR has said the impact to local water supplies could be mitigated, and that the proposed pipeline could help fund new economic development initiatives in the valley.

    Stakes for new water in Douglas County and the south metro area are high. In addition to demand fueled by growth, the region’s reliance on shrinking, non-renewable aquifers is putting additional pressure on the drive to develop new water sources.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Marlowe and other water utility directors in the region have been working for 20 years to wean themselves from the deep aquifers that once provided clean water, cheaply, to any developer who could drill a well. But once growth took off, and Douglas County communities super-charged their pumping, the aquifers began declining. Because these underground reservoirs are so deep, and because of the rock formations that lie over them, they don’t recharge from rain and snowfall, as some aquifers do.

    At one point in the early 2000s the aquifers were declining at roughly 30 feet a year. Cities responded by drilling more, deeper wells and using costly electricity to pull water up from the deep rock formations.

    Since then, thanks to a comprehensive effort to build recycled water plants and develop renewable supplies in nearby creeks and rivers, they’ve been able to take pressure off the aquifers, which are now declining at roughly 5 feet per year, according to the South Metro Water Supply Authority.

    The goal among Douglas County communities is to wean themselves from the aquifers, using them only in times of severe drought.

    Ron Redd is director of Parker Water and Sanitation District, which serves Parker and several other communities as well as some unincorporated parts of Douglas County.

    Like Castle Rock, Parker needs to nearly double its water supplies in the coming decades. It now uses about 10,000 acre-feet annually and will likely need 20,000 acre-feet at buildout to keep up with growth.

    Parker is developing a large-scale pipeline project that will bring renewable South Platte River water from the northeastern corner of the state and pipe it down to the south metro area. Castle Rock is also a partner in that project along with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District in Sterling.

    Redd said the San Luis Valley export plan isn’t needed because of water projects, such as the South Platte Water Partnership, that are already in the works.

    “For me to walk away from a project in which we already have water, and hope a third party can deliver the water, just doesn’t make sense,” Redd said.

    The costs of building two major pipelines would also likely be prohibitive for Douglas County residents, Redd said.

    “We would have to choose one. We could not do both.”

    Steve Koster is Douglas County’s assistant planning director and oversees new developments, which must demonstrate an adequate supply of water to enter the county’s planning approval process.

    Koster said small communities in unincorporated parts of the county reach out to his department routinely, looking for help in establishing sustainable water supplies.

    He said the county provides grants for engineering and cost studies to small developments hoping to partner with an established water provider.

    “All of them are working to diversify and strengthen their water systems so they are sustainable. Having a system that encourages those partnerships is what we’re looking at,” Koster said.

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    Whether an RWR pipeline will play a role in the water future of Douglas County and the south metro area isn’t clear yet.

    Douglas County spokeswoman Wendy Holmes said commissioners are evaluating more than a dozen proposals from water districts, including RWR, and that the commission has not set a deadline for when it will decide who to fund.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Governor Polis, Legislative Leadership & Community Leaders Take Bold #Climate Action, Unveil Transformative Legislation to Fight for Clean Air & a Healthier, Cleaner #Colorado #ActOnClimte #KeepItInTheGround

    West Grand School District electric school bus. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

    Click the link to read the release on Governor Polis’ website:

    Today, Governor Polis joined legislative leadership, bill sponsors, and community leaders to unveil comprehensive legislation to preserve and protect Colorado’s air quality, and ensure Coloradans are healthy, safe, and can thrive. The Polis Administration has made record investments to improve air quality since day one, and the newly unveiled legislation is a critical step forward towards achieving a healthier, cleaner Colorado.

    “We are fighting for a cleaner, healthier Colorado. I am proud that in partnership with the legislature, we are moving forward on a comprehensive plan for clean air that will benefit Colorado for years to come while helping save people and businesses money. The time is now for bold action,” said Gov. Polis.

    The historic package of bills includes record investments in clean transportation, energy efficient buildings, and air quality monitoring, regulation, and incentives. The electrification of school bus fleets will protect Colorado kids from harmful pollutant exposure and save Colorado schools money on both expensive fuel and maintenance costs.

    Denver smog. Photo credit: NOAA

    “Cleaning up our air and building a healthier Colorado requires all hands on deck,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. “That’s why we’re taking a comprehensive approach to ensure every Coloradan, particularly communities who have historically borne the brunt of air pollution, can breathe clean air. With transformative investments to reduce industrial emissions, initiatives to clean up our transportation system, and plans to improve air monitoring, we’re putting Colorado on the path to a cleaner future for all.”

    The newly introduced legislation supports good-paying jobs for drivers, mechanics, and construction workers with bold investments in expanded public transit service and energy efficient buildings.

    “This legislation will improve our air quality, save people money and create jobs in Colorado,” said Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver. “By investing in new technologies, we will reduce harmful industrial emissions, and our air will be cleaner. Our kids deserve a smog free ride to school, and electric school buses will reduce emissions and protect students’ health. I’m excited that we are taking significant action to reduce pollution and create good jobs in critical industries.”

    “Every Coloradan deserves safe and healthy air to breathe, but too often we are exposed to dangerous emissions and high ozone levels that threaten our health and hit disadvantaged communities the hardest,” said Senator Julie Gonzales, D-Denver. “This legislation represents an important step toward reducing those harmful emissions and achieving true environmental justice for all.”

    “Last summer Colorado had the worst air quality in the world, and we must take immediate action to address it,” said Senator Faith Winter, D-Westminster. “That’s why I am proud to bring this legislation to reduce local air pollution by offering free transit rides during peak ozone season. This commonsense bill will encourage transit ridership, reduce harmful emissions, and help us further our climate goals while giving Colorado families cleaner, healthier air to breathe.”

    “The future is coming, and we want Colorado homes to be ready so consumers don’t have to spend thousands retrofitting their properties for the technologies we know are going to be commonplace in just a few years,” said Rep. Tracey Bernett, D-Louisville. “Our building codes need to be forward looking, and with this bill, new homes are going to be ready for clean heat, solar power and electric vehicles. With these codes in place, Coloradans will benefit from cleaner indoor air and save money on their utility bills.”

    “For too long, we’ve suffered from unhealthy, unsafe air in Colorado, and it’s only getting worse. That’s why I am proud to champion this legislation that will help upgrade our homes and buildings to reduce emissions throughout Colorado,” said Senator Chris Hansen, D-Denver. “This $22 million investment will help families, businesses, and communities improve buildings to reduce energy use and pollution, improve our indoor air quality, and help give more Coloradans a cleaner, healthier future.”

    The latest “The Catch” newsletter is hot off the presses from @CoCoRaHS

    Click the link to read the newsletter on the CoCoRaHS website. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Wild Rollercoaster We Call “Spring”

    March has been living up to expectations. When I started writing this more than two weeks ago the midday temperature here in Northern Colorado was hovering near +10 F (~ -2C) and snow was tumbling down. Now that we’re eight weeks past Groundhog Day we’re in the 70s. Day to day weather changes this time of year in the middle of North America can be huge. After our mild and nearly snow-free fall and early winter, we have had plenty of cold and snow. In fact, we’ve now received over 45 inches of snowfall since December 31 and nearly double our average precipitation for that time period as well (as of mid-March). As you can see from this graph, we are now back up to average after five+ months of the 2022 water year as we move into our wetter seasons of the year…

    Yesterday there were furious wildfires in portions of TX, OK and NM as well as major dust storms. Severe thunderstorms are rumbling into the Mississippi Valley. And in the Upper Great Lakes area it probably still felt a lot more like January than spring. What comes next? Well, that depends on where you are. For our southern states, the last bites of winter are about done. And for those of you who happen to be in the Bahamas, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the Florida Keys – we know your song – ‘Winter? What’s that?” But for areas farther north or higher in elevation there can still be several more weeks that look and feel a lot like winter – except, of course, for the ever-longer daylength. The old saying that goes “As the days grow longer, the storms grow stronger” just may be true. For the next several weeks as the transition from winter to summer progresses, be ready for just about anything – especially in the battle grounds between north and south where airmasses duke it out.

    #Wyoming prepares to ‘electrify’ roadways: WYDOT will host a series of public meetings to pinpoint where to install dozens of new electric-vehicle charging stations across the state — WyoFile #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    A Tesla Model X 100D hitched to a camper in Sinks Canyon outside of Lander. (Patrick Lawson)

    Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Dustin Bleizeffer):

    Patrick Lawson of Riverton was in the driver’s seat of a Tesla Model S 100D Ludicrous between Rawlins and Laramie on Interstate 80 last week, but it was the car that was doing the driving.

    “It’s passing a semi truck right now because [the semi is] going too slow,” Lawson told WyoFile.

    Cross-winds of up to 60 mph were chewing into mileage, Lawson said. But after departing from home in Riverton with a full battery he’d topped it off at a “high-speed” EV charging station during a stop in Rawlins. A full charge will propel the Tesla over 300 miles of road, he said.

    However, relying on an electric vehicle in Wyoming can be challenging. There are many “dead zones” — especially in the central portion of the state, Lawson said. Also, most all the existing charging stations available to the public are exclusively designed to charge Tesla vehicles.

    That will soon change, thanks to a new federal EV infrastructure initiative. Wyoming has access to nearly $24 million in federal dollars to begin “electrifying” its roadways, beginning with the three interstates in the state.

    “We need more fast-charging stations that are open to all brands,” Lawson said.

    Going EV in Wyo

    There are other considerations besides battery-draining wind when piloting an EV in Wyoming. Driving up mountains, hills and long inclines will reduce mileage — the same for petrol-propelled vehicles, Lawson said. The benefit of an EV, however, is as long as you have enough juice to crest an incline, the vehicle gains mileage on the decline by recharging the battery.

    He learned that lesson the hard way during a drive through Utah when his vehicle ran out of power near the top of a climb just outside a town with EV charging stations. He had to call for a tow.

    “It was kind of embarrassing,” he said.

    Yet for all of the elevation, wind gusts, extreme weather and long distances between charging stations, Wyoming is a good place to be an EV owner, said Lawson, who boasts being part of an “all-EV” family. His wife drives a 2017 Tesla Model X 100D and his son drives a 2012 Nissan Leaf. His mother and sister also drive EVs in Wyoming. The bottomline for Lawson is EVs save money.

    It costs around $10 to add 200 miles of range, according to Lawson. That’s less than a third the cost of a gasoline-powered vehicle, at $3 per gallon. His home charging station cost less than $2,000 to install, and he estimates the extra power load nudged up his home electric bill by about $50 per month.

    “It’s worth it for me because I drive a lot of miles,” said Lawson, who serves as executive manager for Wind River Internet.

    However, Wyoming needs a major buildout to shorten the distance between EV charging stations. Another urgent need is for charging stations to accommodate all brands and models of EVs. There’s an all-brand EV charging station in Jackson. The Harley-Davidson dealership in Cheyenne has a charging station for Harleys. But almost all other existing EV stations in Wyoming are designed exclusively for Tesla vehicles because Tesla paid for them.

    Tesla installed a series of electric charging stations in Wyoming, including this one in Sheridan. But the stations only work for Tesla vehicles. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

    That’s one of the mandates of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program that’s driving billions in federal dollars to states. Wyoming already has a federal NEVI allocation of $3.9 million, and will receive another $5 million each year for the next four years. The Wyoming Department of Transportation just released its draft Zero Emission Vehicle Strategy under the NEVI program, and will launch a series of public meetings across the state to fine-tune the strategy, beginning [April 4, 2022] in Cheyenne.

    “We want to know, how do we make this plan better?” Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner said.

    Electrifying roadways

    There’s only 460 EVs currently registered in Wyoming, and about 360 of those are Teslas, according to WYDOT. But tens of thousands of EVs — of all varieties — travel Wyoming roadways, and the numbers are quickly increasing for both commercial and tourism traffic.

    “Tourism is our second-largest industry in terms of the state’s economy,” Reiner said. “So it’s really important for us to set the conditions to allow tourists with electric vehicles to visit our great state and to see the sights.”

    The federal NEVI program mandates states to first “electrify” main corridors. “In order, that’s [Interstate] 80, I-25 and I-90, that’s how we’re going to tackle that,” Reiner said. Along those routes charging stations must be within 50 miles of each other, must accommodate a minimum of four simultaneously charging vehicles, and must be located within a mile of an interstate exit.

    Other federal priorities for Wyoming include main tourism routes to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, which mostly rely on public input to determine. Secondary routes for general connectivity across the state rank third in the list of federal EV infrastructure priorities. WYDOT is going to “stretch” the federal NEVI dollars as far as possible, Reiner said, but there are other funds available to continue the EV infrastructure buildout.

    “Discretionary” grants are available via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Plus, Wyoming has access to more than $8 million from the Volkswagen Clean Air Act Civil Settlement. Those programs include various matching requirements, but communities can already apply for the funds, which is an important option, Reiner said. The NEVI program mostly focuses on the installation of charging stations along corridors and routes, not necessarily within cities and towns.

    WYDOT will begin accepting proposals from contractors within the year, Reiner said. The EV infrastructure effort is another example of a federal program that provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to specialize in a growing industry, and Reiner said he hopes some of those businesses will be located in Wyoming.

    Another vital piece of the NEVI program is broadband, Reiner said. Charging stations must be connected to the internet — that’s how customers pay for the electricity.

    Given the recent gasoline price shock spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Lawson said he expects EVs will quickly become more socially acceptable in Wyoming. Especially as carmakers produce more trucks and SUVs with towing power, like the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Rivian R1T.

    Lawson said his company, Wind River Internet, has been shifting its fleet from petrol to electric vehicles.

    “It’s great because we were spending a fortune on gas,” he said. “We drive 100 miles a day and we were spending like $500. Now we’re spending like $50 or $60 on electricity.”