Opinion: Let Good Samaritans help with abandoned mine cleanups: Acid mine drainage in the #Colorado mountains damages waterways throughout the state — Colorado Newsline

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

Click the link to read the guest column on the Colorado Newsline website (Martin Saunders):

In the West and around the country, tens of thousands of abandoned mines — an estimated 23,000 in Colorado alone — dot the landscape, many of them fouling waterways and harming aquatic ecosystems.

Seven years ago in the mountains above Durango, workers for the Environmental Protection Agency dislodged rock while inspecting the Gold King Mine. Water that had built up in the mine suddenly gushed forth and 3 million gallons of liquid tainted with heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, flowed into Cement Creek, then the Animas, the San Juan and on to Lake Powell. As bad as it was, that spill represented just a trickle of the millions of gallons of tainted water that flow from abandoned mines — big and small — every year nationwide.

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

The Gold King helped shine a brief spotlight on a major issue.

As imposing as they may seem, Colorado’s mountains are not rock solid. Beneath those peaks are thousands of miles of old mine tunnels, many of them discharging acidic, metal-laden water that kills insects and fish, taints drinking and agricultural water and damages waterways throughout the state. A 2017 study commissioned by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper estimated that more than 1,800 miles of streams in Colorado are polluted by that water — known as acid mine drainage.

But thanks to bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate, help could be on the way.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are two of the 14 bipartisan cosponsors of S. 3571, the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2022Introduced by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and James Risch (R-Idaho), the bill would establish a new pilot program administered by the EPA that would help spur abandoned mine cleanups.

It is estimated that it could cost at least $54 billion to clean up abandoned mines in the West. Currently those costs fall on underfunded government agencies, so there’s never enough money. While the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act established a new abandoned hardrock mine remediation program, that “fund” has yet to be funded. State agencies and non-governmental parties want to help fill this resource gap and add horsepower to federal cleanup efforts, but substantial legal liability obstacles severely limit the work these entities — called Good Samaritans — can do.

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

At present, the only legal mechanism to address these leaking, abandoned mines is a federal Superfund cleanup, a program that is ironically also underfunded. Moreover, Superfund only addresses the worst cases and is not well-suited for the thousands of smaller discharges and waste rock piles impacting Western waterways.

Without a legal mechanism authorizing state agencies and private organizations to add to federal cleanup capacity and take on smaller remediation projects, these sites will bleed and bleed, decade after decade. Thus, incremental water quality improvements are hamstrung by provisions in the Clean Water Act and Superfund law that treat those who want to clean up abandoned mines as if they themselves are polluters.

That is why the Good Samaritan bill co-sponsored by Bennet and Hickenlooper is so important.

State agencies and non-governmental organizations, such as Trout Unlimited, that have no legal or financial responsibility or connection to a project — true Good Samaritans — want to help fill the gap between Superfund and the immense need to remediate abandoned mine sites. Complex projects like the Gold King would be off the table, but there are thousands of smaller, low-risk cleanups where Good Samaritans could substantially improve water quality.

By cleaning up sites that pose a low risk for accidents, cost-effective Good Samaritan cleanups would improve water quality. But, conservation organizations, state agencies, and watershed groups can’t help clean up draining abandoned mines unless Congress makes minor, targeted changes in law to provide Good Samaritans with conditional liability relief.

The Good Samaritan bill enables willing and well-qualified Good Samaritans to provide badly needed help.

It is time to empower volunteers who want to clean up abandoned mines — it’s time to solve a problem that has been more than a century in the making.

The saline lakes of the Great Basin and why they are in trouble: The West’s Great Basin reveals its challenges with dying lakes — The Deseret News

Sunset from the western shore of Antelope Island State Park, Great Salt Lake, Utah, United States.. Sunset viewed from White Rock Bay, on the western shore of Antelope Island. Carrington Island is visible in the distance. By Ccmdav – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2032320

Click the link to read the article on The Deseret News website (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). Here’s an excerpt:

Like its “sister” lakes in the sprawling Great Basin that cover 200,000 square miles, Utah’s Great Salt Lake appears to be on a collision course withnature plagued by diversions, drought and climate change. It has lost close to half its volume, and more than 800 square miles of lakebed are now exposed, vulnerable to wind-whipped storms that spread toxic dust along the Wasatch Front.

Ski resorts are an important part of Utah’s economy bringing in $10 billion in revenue to the state in 2019. Photo credit: Joe Guetzloff.

These saline lakes in the Great Basin are terminal, meaning they are fed by rivers and are a hydrologic endpoint. When the rivers start to dry up or are diverted, the lakes’ levels of salinity increase. The saline lakes of the Great Basin are remnants of the ice age and are echoes of Lake Bonneville and Lake Lahontan, another large endorheic Pleistocene lake that covered modern northwestern Nevada and extended into northeastern California and southern Oregon. That concern [the long-term viability of the lakes], O’Leary added, is what is leading to a multitude of studies to better understand the hydrological challenges faced by these systems. There is modeling that is focused on groundwater and surface water.

“There are limited resources and money that go into these decisions, but those decisions will involve these lakes that affect people’s livelihoods and communities,” he said. “The hope is that, with the science, we can make informed, intelligent decisions moving forward.”

Blowing Alkali Dust at Owens Lake, California. Photo credit: Eeekster (Richard Ellis) via Wikimedia

“We know a lot already. We’ve seen what happened with Owens Lake. We know that dust is a huge problem. We know that there’s a high level of arsenic that could be put into our air along the Wasatch Front, and we don’t want that,” [Blake] Moore said. “It’s a matter of really pinpointing the severity of it. We want to use the study to help do that and then take best practices and come up with new innovative ideas on how to address the issue.”

Will Ticket Splitters Save Colorado Republicans? — The Buzz (@FloydCiruli)

Click the link to read the post on The Buzz website (Floyd Ciruli):

After some early optimism about Republican Joe O’Dea’s election chances, new bipartisan polls show the race about 9 to 10 points in favor the incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet ( Keating, Magellan poll 46-36 Bennet – 10/2/22). Although it’s still a month out and the economy is deteriorating, the race does not appear close. The governor’s race is even worse with Heidi Ganahl polling an average of 13 points behind Jared Polis.

Hence, the question, will ticket splitters help Republicans in two other statewide races for Secretary of State and Treasurer? Although ticket splitting has declined both nationally and in Colorado in recent years, the state does have many unaffiliated voters and Republicans have nominated strong candidate for the positions. If they fail it will solidify Colorado’s reputation as a blue state and suggest that the Republican Party’s relationship with controversial views on abortion and Trump’s big lie has damaged their reputation even in down ballot races.

@DenverWater on schedule for lead pipe replacement, awaiting additional federal approval — The #Denver Post

Denver Water crews dug up old lead service lines from customers’ homes for years of study that led to the utility’s Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

The Environmental Protection Agency said the utility has succeeded in its three-year trial program and should be allowed to finish its 15-year program

Denver Water’s plan to replace tens of thousands of lead pipes connecting homes to the city’s water supply is working well enough to move past the trial phase, federal officials said. Environmental Protection Agency officials gave the utility three years in late 2019 to try its unique approach of replacing lead service lines, home by home, while changing the chemistry of its water supply to keep lead levels low. In that time, Denver Water has replaced thousands of lead service lines and kept levels of the toxic, heavy metal in its water supply at a fraction of the allowable federal limits, Sarah Bahrman, chief of the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Branch, said. Bahrman said EPA officials are recommending that Denver Water be allowed to finish the remaining 12 years of its replacement plan, a decision that EPA Region 8 Administrator KC Becker is expected to make in the coming weeks.

Denver Water officials originally estimated that between 64,000 and 84,000 homes received water through lead service lines and that replacing them would cost about $500 million and take 15 years. Considering inflation, supply chain shortages and more, Alexis Woodrow, the utility’s lead reduction program manager, said the new cost estimate for the life of the program is more likely to be $681 million…

Denver Water needed approval from the EPA because CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead pushed back on a mandate from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which originally ordered the utility to inject a nutrient – orthophosphate – into its water system. Lochhead argued that orthophosphate could pose a health risk for metro residents and downstream communities. Instead he proposed to send water filters to homes that might have lead service lines, replace the service lines themselves and to slightly boost the water’s alkalinity to stop the heavy metal from breaking off into the water supply.

Opinion: Federal Funding to Ease Western #Water Shortage Offers Historic #Conservation Opportunity — The Walton Family Foundation #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River is a source of irrigation, hydropower and drinking water for 40 million people in seven Western states. Source: The Water Desk via the Water Education Foundation

Click the link to read the article on the Walton Family Foundation website (Caryl M. Stern, Kate Gallego):

Spending should focus on long-term solutions for water security, write foundation executive director Caryl M. Stern and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego

The Western United States is experiencing the worst megadrought in more than 1,200 years, impacting everything from water supplies in major cities to the survival of farms vital to the nation’s food supply.

Navigating this crisis requires that we treat it as a long-term challenge we adapt to and manage, not a short-term issue we attempt to fix.

The recently signed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) directing billions of dollars to ongoing drought and water shortages in the Colorado River basin creates an historic opportunity to improve water security in the region for generations.

Success requires that we set an objective and transparent funding process that prioritizes permanent, shared conservation solutions over temporary political expediency.

The same day that the IRA was signed into law, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced major, mandatory cuts to the amount of water Arizona, Nevada and Mexico can draw from the Colorado River.

These cuts follow another recent directive for basin states to develop a plan to reduce water use from the river by an additional 2 to 4 million acre-feet per year. For context, Arizona’s entire annual share from the Colorado River is 2.8 million acre-feet.

Change of this magnitude requires fundamentally rethinking how we manage water and resources in the basin. Put more plainly: the systems that have brought us to this point – often the result of water agreements brokered behind closed doors – will not be enough.

Every water user, regardless of their state or historic legal entitlement, will need to be part of the solution.

The good news is that we have resources.

The IRA allocates $4 billion for Western drought and $20 billion for climate-smart agriculture throughout the nation. Coupled with the $8.3 billion for Western water issues in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, this funding can make the difference between the river’s long-term sustainability or eventual collapse – if we invest it wisely and transparently.

The IRA itself does not offer specific or detailed guidance for how federal dollars should be spent. To have the impact needed, the Bureau of Reclamation must set clear and publicly vetted criteria for evaluating projects.

At a time when states are in tense negotiations to determine how to make difficult cuts to their water use, transparency is essential. It will also ensure that funding isn’t allocated for political gain and instead supports projects with the greatest long-term, shared benefit.

Objective criteria for evaluating projects should prioritize multiyear water conservation efforts. Investing in nature-based solutions can protect, restore and sustainably manage existing water systems.

These strategies include:

– water recycling;

– reconnecting floodplains and rivers to naturally regulate floodwaters;

– managing forests to reduce wildfires; and

– helping farms switch to more drought-tolerant, higher value crops.

Funded at scale, projects like these can create more a sustainable water supply in basin states for decades to come.

The criteria established by the Bureau of Reclamation should also include a deliberate focus on communities that have been disproportionately impacted by drought, climate change, and water shortages.

Households in tribal nations are 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing. Despite having the oldest water rights in the basin, they have historically been left out of key water decision-making bodies and need to have a seat at the table.

As the economic and population centers of the West, cities like Phoenix should have a prominent and direct role in decisions affecting the drinking water for millions of residents and the industries that support our national economy and national security, such as semiconductor and medical device manufacturing.

Cities, along with irrigation districts and other water suppliers, must be able to apply for funding directly and be evaluated by the same transparent criteria so resources quickly get where they are needed most.

The Colorado River basin is facing unprecedented risk, but we also have unprecedented resources. Managed effectively, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide a safe and secure water supply for decades to come.

This article originally appeared in the Arizona Republic on October 3, 2022.