The 26,000 tons of radioactive waste under #LakePowell — @HighCountryNews #ColoradoRiver #COriver

San Juan Smelter Durango back in the day

Here’s a report from Jonathan Thompson writing in The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Beneath the murky green waters on the north end of Lake Powell, entombed within the tons of silt that have been carried down the Colorado River over the years, lies a 26,000-ton pile of unremediated uranium-mill tailings. It’s just one radium-tainted reminder of the way the uranium industry, enabled by the federal government, ravaged the West and its people for decades.

In 1949, the Vanadium Corporation of America built a small mill at the confluence of White Canyon and the Colorado River to process uranium ore from the nearby Happy Jack Mine, located upstream in the White Canyon drainage (and just within the Obama-drawn Bears Ears National Monument boundaries). For the next four years, the mill went through about 20 tons of ore per day, crushing and grinding it up, then treating it with sulfuric acid, tributyl phosphate and other nastiness. One ton of ore yielded about five or six pounds of uranium, meaning that each day some 39,900 pounds of tailings were piled up outside the mill on the banks of the river.

In 1953 the mill was closed, and the tailings were left where they sat, uncovered, as was the practice of the day. Ten years later, water began backing up behind the newly built Glen Canyon Dam; federal officials decided to let the reservoir’s waters inundate the tailings. There they remain today.

If you’re one of the millions of people downstream from Lake Powell who rely on Colorado River water and this worries you, consider this: Those 26,000 tons of tailings likely make up just a fraction of the radioactive material contained in the silt of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

During the uranium days of the West, more than a dozen mills — all with processing capacities at least ten times larger than the one at White Canyon — sat on the banks of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Mill locations included Shiprock, New Mexico, and Mexican Hat, Utah, on the San Juan River; Rifle and Grand Junction, Colorado, and Moab on the Colorado; and in Uravan, Colorado, along the San Miguel River, just above its confluence with the Dolores. They did not exactly dispose of their tailings in a responsible way.

At the Durango mill the tailings were piled into a hill-sized mound just a stone’s throw from the Animas River. They weren’t covered or otherwise contained, so when it rained tailings simply washed into the river. Worse, the mill’s liquid waste stream poured directly into the river at a rate of some 340 gallons per minute, or half-a-million gallons per day. It was laced not only with highly toxic chemicals used to leach uranium from the ore and iron-aluminum sludge (a milling byproduct), but also radium-tainted ore solids.

Radium is a highly radioactive “bone-seeker.” That means that when it’s ingested it makes its way to the skeleton, where it decays into other radioactive daughter elements, including radon, and bombards the surrounding tissue with alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. According to the Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry, exposure leads to “anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, cancer (especially bone cancer), and death.”

Utah national monuments face dramatic reductions — @HighCountryNews

The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

Here’s a report about the proposed reductions at Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments from Rebecca Worby writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Trump’s executive orders scale back Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly 50 percent and slice away roughly 85 percent of Bears Ears. Grand Staircase-Escalante, a monument designated over two decades ago but still locally contentious, will consist of three separate units totaling just over a million acres. Bears Ears will be reduced to two areas totaling just 228,700 acres. The monument was designated by President Barack Obama late last year and holds great cultural and historical significance to the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.

These controversial monuments became focal points in the Interior Department’s review of 27 national monuments designated since 1996. The president spent less than three hours in Salt Lake before returning to Washington D.C. “I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to (Utah’s) citizens,” he said.

The announcement came amid criticism that Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke did not take into account the concerns of supporters of the monuments, including tribes, conservationists, business owners in gateway communities and other concerned citizens locally and nationwide. “Secretary Zinke and Utah politicians say that they have talked to tribes about the president’s decision, but none of our Council leaders, executives, or our Commissioners were contacted,” Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Tribe Cultural Preservation Office and a member of the Bears Ears Commission of Tribes, said in a statement. An outspoken faction of Utahns, including state lawmakers and county commissioners, strongly opposes the monuments, and those voices ultimately drove the president’s decision.

Thousands of monument supporters protested the reductions in front of the Capitol, both during Trump’s remarks and at a larger planned protest two days earlier. Utahns who support the reductions assembled to celebrate on Saturday in Monticello, county seat of San Juan County, where Bears Ears is located.

Inside the Capitol, Utahns — including many conservative state and local leaders — filled the marbled rotunda, where murals depicting the state’s history reach the high ceiling. The audience, dotted with cowboy hats and red “Make America Great Again” caps, greeted Trump’s announcement with loud cheers. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who recently introduced a bill to overhaul the Antiquities Act, said this was “just the beginning.”

Pagosa Springs: Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership scores dough for two geothermal greenhouses

Graphic via Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership.

From the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership via the The Pagosa Daily Post (Sally High):

The Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) will begin construction of two more growing dome greenhouses — the Community Garden Dome and the Innovation Dome — in spring 2018. These two domes will be installed next to the existing Education Dome in Pagosa Springs’ Centennial Park on a parcel leased from the Town of Pagosa Springs.

The Colorado Water Plan (CWP) Engagement and Innovation Fund granted Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership $174,500 for the construction of the nonprofit organization’s second and third growing domes. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the CWP grant earlier in November. These funds, coupled with a $34,000 matching grant from Colorado Garden Foundation awarded last February, allow the GGP to fulfill its agreement to build three geothermal greenhouses.

Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership is a volunteer-driven 501c3 educational organization, building a Pagosa-scale botanic park within Centennial Park on the San Juan River Walk. Its mission is “to educate the community in sustainable agricultural practices by producing food year-round using local renewable energy.” Demonstrating the value of Pagosa’s geothermal resource remains an organizational priority.

The October 2017 Smart Growth America Report listed the GGP as an important amenity for the community. Both the Archuleta County Community Economic Development Action Plan and Downtown Colorado Inc. identified the GGP as a priority for downtown economic revitalization. With the Education Dome completed in 2016, the GGP began fulfilling its mission in 2017.

In GGP’s first year of operations, the Education Dome and Amphitheater became busy gathering places. GGP hosted its 5th Colorado Environmental Film Festival Caravan in downtown Pagosa. Five Lifelong Learning Workshops explored various environmental issues and celebrated the biodiversity of the San Juan River Walk. Two well-attended special events included the first San Juan Sounds live concert and the 2nd Colorfest Breakfast with Balloons. Pagosa’s youth began horticultural activities and GGP’s volunteers nurtured an abundant garden for the community.

2018 promises more classes, educational workshops and special events in Centennial Park. Children from 4-H, public and charter school classrooms, and home schools are already learning each week in the Education Dome. The 6th Environmental Film Festival is planned for mid-April. Lifelong Learning Workshops will include in-depth education about the wise use of Colorado’s water. Live music and performance are planned for the GGP Amphitheater, as well as the 3rd Colorfest Breakfast with Balloons.

The Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership operates through a professional Board of Directors, numerous volunteers, five strategic committees and an enthusiastic membership base. GGP committees include (1) Soil, Seeds and Water; (2) Site; (3) Fundraising and Special Events; (4) Landscaping; and (5) Programming. An informational question and answer session for the community is planned for January 2018.

Learn more at the GGP website at pagosagreen.org.

Sally High is the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership Board President.

Update on new hydro generating facility at Pueblo Dam

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From HydroWorld.com (Elizabeth Ingram):

Construction of the 7.5-MW Pueblo small hydro project is well under way, with operations expected to begin in the spring of 2018, according to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

The plant is the first hydroelectric feature added to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project since the completion of the 233-MW Mount Elbert pump-back hydroelectric plant at Twin Lakes in 1981.

This new facility, on the Arkansas River, will be able to generate electricity at flows ranging from 35 cubic feet per second to 810 cfs. The powerhouse will contain three turbine-generator units and will use the authorized release from the dam to the Arkansas River to generate an average of 28 million kWh of electricity annually, which will equate to about $1.5 million in average revenue per year. Electricity generated will be purchase by the city of Fountain and by Colorado Springs Utilities. After 10 years, Fountain will purchase all of the power generated for the following 20 years.

The total capital cost of the project is estimated to be $19.5 million, which includes a $17.2 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The planning and permitting process for this hydro facility began in 2011. Because this facility is located at Pueblo Dam, owned by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and will connect to a pipeline also owned by Reclamation, the project required a Lease of Power Privilege. The preliminary LOPP was granted in February 2012, and the final LOPP was granted in April 2017.

The final design of the facility was completed in June 2016, and the construction contract was awarded to Mountain States Hydro in August 2017.

The district says construction complete and commissioning will occur in August 2018.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Superfund site cleanup update

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

From The Canoñ City Daily Record (Sara Knuth):

The Denver-based Colorado Legacy Land, which has been in negotiations with Cotter since July, received a conditional approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Nov. 8 to take over the defunct uranium mill’s radioactive materials license.

But the company still has a few more obstacles to cross before the deal is final.

During a Community Advisory Group meeting Thursday, Paul Newman of Colorado Legacy Land said the company is waiting for approvals from the state.

Colorado Legacy Land, which is part of environmental cleanup companies Legacy Land Stewardship and Alexco, also is seeking to take over Cotter’s

Schwartzwalder Mine via Division of Reclamation and MIning
Mine near Golden. The project, included in the same transaction as the Cañon City site, still needs a mine permit transfer from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“The DRMS is taking a bit more time in their evaluation and approval of that transfer,” Newman said. “Hopefully, we can get that resolved and that one transferred here shortly.”

The company also met with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and Environmental Protection Agency attorneys to get assigned an administrative order on consent. That process also is still pending.

But if all goes according to plan, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land hopes to close the deal by the middle of December. From there, the company would “come in where Cotter left off,” Newman said. “So, we have the whole clean-up process in front of us.”

The first major step toward cleanup, he said, would be working through a remedial investigation, a deep look into how far the contamination goes.

Cotter, which opened the Cañon City site in 1958 to process uranium for weapons and fuel, was found in the 1980s to have contaminated nearby wells. It was placed on the U.S. list of Superfund sites, putting Cotter in charge of cleanup efforts. In 2011, Cotter decided to put a halt to uranium production altogether.

Newman, the executive vice president of Legacy Land Stewardship, said Cotter approached Alexco — a company that has been working on the Schwartzwalder Mine for four years — to step in. Colorado Legacy Land was formed by Alexco and Legacy Land Stewardship specifically to take over the cleanup process.

If the state approves the final requirements, the company will own the land. Additionally, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land is planning to open offices in Cañon City.

As part of requirements outlined in the CDPHE’s conditional license approval, Colorado Legacy Land will need to inform the department of the closing date in writing.

@AmericanRivers: Don’t let energy companies weaken clean water protections at hydropower dams

The generator building of Glen Canyon hydro power plant in Arizona via Wikimedia.

From American Rivers:

The hydropower industry is pushing a flurry of legislation that would create massive environmental exemptions for hydropower dam operations, taking us back to a time when dam owners could destroy rivers without concern.

If passed, the voices of local communities and people like you would be silenced when it comes to dam operations. We could see more dead fish, more dried up rivers, and degraded water quality on rivers and streams nationwide.

Under the guise of “modernizing” hydropower, these bills actually take hydropower dam operations back decades. They create giant loopholes for hydropower dam operators, so they can avoid requirements to protect fish, wildlife, or water quality. This is about whether states, tribes and citizens will continue to have a say in how dams are operated. It’s about the future of rivers nationwide.

This legislation could result in many more dried up rivers, dead fish and wildlife, and destroyed recreational opportunities. Tell Congress to oppose this power grab by the energy companies.

Click here to take action.

Broomfield: Question 301 aims to prioritize health and safety for oil and gas operations

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

From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

Voters on Tuesday passed a controversial ballot issue that gives Broomfield more local oversight of oil and gas operations in the city, a move that probably will invite a legal challenge from Colorado’s large energy sector.

According to a late-night vote tally in the mail-in election that accounts for most of the ballots cast in the city, the yes vote for Question 301 was comfortably ahead of the no vote by a margin of 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent…

Jennifer Dulles, a Broomfield resident who supports 301, attended a watch party at Brothers BBQ in Broomfield…

As to the question of whether the industry would sue, Dulles said, “The concept that an industry would need to sue the people over a ballot initiative that is about health and safety is incredulous.”

[…]

Question 301 has been a highly contentious topic in Broomfield and is perhaps one of the most fought-over issues on a Colorado ballot in 2017. The measure attracted nearly $400,000 from groups either pushing it or trying to quash it.

Of that amount, the energy extraction industry put in the lion’s share — nearly $345,000 — in both monetary and in-kind contributions to defeat 301.

“It is in violation of state law as upheld by the state Supreme Court,” said Don Beezley, a “No on 301” committee member. “The result will be Broomfield spending tens of thousands of dollars or more defending lawsuits, most likely from both the state of Colorado and the operators, with apparently 100 percent likelihood of losing said suits.”

[…]

Past efforts by cities — including Fort Collins, Broomfield and Lafayette — to temporarily ban oil and gas drilling have met defeat in court. In May 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that municipally imposed fracking bans are illegal because state power to regulate the industry trumps local efforts to do so.

While 301 doesn’t propose an oil and gas ban, its potential to restrict energy extraction activities doesn’t sit well with the industry. Last month, two industry groups sued Thornton weeks after the city passed oil and gas regulations that the industry claims conflict with state law, characterizing the city’s new setback distances for wells and requirements on abandoned flowlines an overreach…

But the pro-301 side points to a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling from March, known as the Martinez decision, that stipulates the protection of public health and the environment is “a condition that must be fulfilled” by the state before oil and gas drilling can be done.

That’s essentially what the measure asked of Broomfield voters, said Judy Kelly, co-chair of the 301 Committee. The measure is an amendment to Broomfield’s home rule charter requiring protection of health, safety and the environment as preconditions for drilling inside city limits.

“It might be worth taking a step back to ask ourselves, ‘Why in the world would people be sued for simply stating that their city places health and safety as a first priority?’” Kelly asked. “If the industry is safe and can operate safely, this is a non-issue for them.”