R.I.P. Steve Fearn

Steve Fearn via the Colorado Water Congress.

Steve Fearn

From Silverton, in the heart of the San Juan Mountains high on the Animas River,
in between Red Mountain Pass and Molas Pass

flowing through Durango up into Lake Nighthorse

Steve Fearn represented Southwestern Colorado on the Board of the Colorado
Foundation for Water Education 2011 to 2016

bridging the Great Divide tirelessly.

Sure, steady, a wise and patient counselor, he held and served all of Colorado
in the highest respect.

You are with us, Steve!

Greg Hobbs (April 23, 2018)

Steve Fearn. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Longtime Silverton resident wanted to bring back mining

Steve Fearn, one of the founders of the Animas River Stakeholders Group who was involved with multiple water boards, and who at one time owned the Gold King Mine, died last week at his home in Silverton. He was 74.

It is believed he died from a dormant strain of malaria that he caught while working at mines in Indonesia in the 1980s, La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith said Monday. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday.

“I think one of the main things about Steve is that even though he often disagreed with people, he was always looking for some common ground,” said Peter Butler, another founder of the stakeholders group.

Fearn was raised in Boulder and received a civil engineering degree from the University of Colorado-Boulder, according to Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Eventually, Fearn began his career building power plants, and was one of the lead engineers for the Craig Station Power Plant in Craig and the Hayden Generating Station near Steamboat Springs, Butler said.

Eventually, Fearn found his way to the Western Slope in the 1970s, working for a time at the mill for the Idarado Mine in Telluride, Butler said.

However, Fearn planted roots in Silverton when he moved there in the 1970s.

“He did do some work on several of the different mines,” Butler said. “He’s been underground in a few of those mines up there.”

In the early 1990s, after Silverton’s last mine closed and issues over water quality in the Animas River watershed became a growing concern, Fearn and others formed the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

At the time, many people believed the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Colorado imposed water-quality standards that didn’t take into account natural loading of heavy, potentially toxic metals into the waterways.

The stakeholders group was then tasked with drafting more realistic water-quality goals, and eventually evolved into a group that conducted numerous cleanup projects throughout the watershed.

Butler said there was some level of conflict in the forming of the stakeholders group, as interests were divided among the mining industry and environmentalists.

Former miners even circulated petitions calling for the stakeholders group to get out of town, Butler said.

“He was always the level-headed voice from the mining industry,” Butler said.

Butler credited Fearn with taking the lead on many remediation projects throughout the years, including placing bulkheads on the Kohler Tunnel and the Mogul Mine.

However, critics of the stakeholders group say the group was an attempt to delay an all-out cleanup under the EPA’s Superfund program. While the stakeholders have helped improve water quality in the basin, major pollution sources outside the scope of the group’s purview has held back any major headway in accomplishing goals like restoring aquatic life in the Animas River from Silverton to Durango.

Fearn, over the years, was one of the staunchest opponents to Superfund, arguing the designation would eliminate any chance of mining’s return to Silverton and place a stigma on the town that would hinder tourism.

“He wanted to revive mining … and he didn’t make any bones about it,” said San Juan County Judge Anthony Edwards. “He wanted to bring an economy where people were paid living wages, and he believed mining was the best option for that.”

Fearn himself tried to bring back Silverton’s dying mining industry over the years. In 2000, he purchased the Gold King Mine. He then attempted to get the Pride of the West mill at Howardsville, north of Silverton, back in operation.

Butler said Fearn believed it was better to make mining viable in the U.S., where there is some level of environmental and labor force regulations, rather than other countries without those rules in place.

“He believed you may be doing a lot more damage to the Earth by sending mining to different countries,” Butler said.

However, due to a complex entanglement of lawsuits, Fearn and his mining ventures were foreclosed on around 2004. The Gold King Mine was then purchased by Todd Hennis in 2005.

The EPA in August 2015 caused a mine blowout at the Gold King Mine while working on a cleanup project at the site. The spill released 3 million gallons of mine waste laced with heavy metals into the Animas River.

In fall 2016, the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which encompasses nearly 50 mining-related sites throughout the Animas watershed, was officially declared a Superfund site.

Fearn was named in a lawsuit filed by New Mexico over the spill. He was not considered a “potentially responsible party” – a term the agency uses for people or companies it regards as financially responsible for a cleanup, EPA said Monday.

Fearn also served on numerous water-related boards. He represented San Juan County on the Southwestern Water Conservation District for 22 years, serving 10 of those years as vice president.

“He was always willing to listen and find solutions,” Whitehead said. “He didn’t just say no, he looked for alternatives and worked hard to do that.”

Butler said Fearn is credited for getting the water conservation district to fund projects that would improve water quality. He also served on the working group that eventually produced the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act.

Fearn was ousted as a representative, however, by San Juan County commissioners in February 2017 after they said Fearn’s representation no longer reflected the county’s values.

“Historically, San Juan County has been largely dominated by mining interests, and Steve Fearn is very much associated with those interests,” county attorney Paul Sunderland said at the time. “But the board’s interests have shifted more toward recreation.”

Whitehead said Fearn was named a director emeritus despite being replaced on the board.

“He will be missed greatly,” Whitehead said. “He was a good guy and a friend.”

Edwards said more information will be forthcoming on a memorial service to be held sometime in May.

Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.

2018 #COleg: HB18-1199 (Aquifer Storage-and-recovery Plans)

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Don Coram):

Most people do not realize that managing water in the West represents a larger effort than putting a man on the moon.

The wells, reservoirs and ditches needed to direct water for both agriculture and municipal uses have been a major accomplishment of mankind. Many forget that the land we live on was once abandoned by civilizations because of drought. To secure the future of water in the West, there is much more work to be done.

I am happy to be introducing legislation this year that both directs funds to the advancement of water projects in Colorado, and legislation that would allow for aquifer storage and recovery — two major components in the immediate future for Colorado water.

For years we have been drilling wells and pulling water out of the aquifers bellow us. In states like California and Texas, the aquifers have been overused, leading to compaction. This compaction destroys one of our most important natural resources. Colorado needs to work toward saving these natural reservoirs so that we can use them in the future.

Rep. Marc Catlin, of Montrose, and I began a very important bill when he introduced HB 18-1199. This bill is referred to as the aquifer recovery and storage bill here at the capitol. What it creates is a process for the Ground Water Commission to approve aquifer storage and recovery plans. This is very important to offsetting how much water we are pulling from our wells and it will help avoid the compaction and eventual collapse of our aquifers in Colorado.

HB18-1199 was signed by the governor on April 9.

Above the ground, Rep. Jeni Arndt, of Fort Collins, and I have been hard at work trying to fund water resources projects in Colorado. SB18-218 appropriates $36 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board construction fund or the Department of Natural Resources to fund projects such as satellite monitoring systems, water forecast programs and the continuation of watershed restoration programs.

The advancement of these projects allows us to have more control over water resources in the state of Colorado, allowing for us to control our own future. This year’s water forecasts are grim and are concerning to many. It is important — even in years when we are fortunate to have adequate water — that we continue to plan and build for the worst. Appropriating these funds will allow us to continue to do so. It will allow our cities to grow, our farmers to farm, mines to mine and our rivers to flow.

Water is very important for the Western Slope. Multiple states, millions of people and another nation rely on us being responsible with our water. This is why we work so hard to bring legislation to further our water interest, and we thank you for the opportunity to make this happen.

@CAPArizona management of diversion for #LakeMead raises questions

From KUNC (Luke Runyon/Bret Jaspers):

The dispute centers on interpretations of a set of guidelines water managers agreed to in 2007, which called for conservation and a basin-wide approach to water management. Those guidelines are also linked to the fate of the watershed’s two biggest reservoirs: Lake Powell and Lake Mead. If Mead drops too low, Powell sends more water to balance it out.

The Upper Colorado River Commission and Denver Water accused the Central Arizona Project, managed by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District (CAWCD), of manipulating their water orders to keep Lake Mead from dipping to a level where a shortage would be declared, while keeping it low enough to get more water from Lake Powell’s reserves.

Central Arizona Project (CAP) officials say they’re ordering water wisely under the guidelines and that they’ve done nothing wrong…

The feud pulls back the curtain enough to give us all a glimpse at some truths about how we manage arguably the Western U.S.’s most important water source:

1. No one person is in charge of the Colorado River.

Given the Colorado River’s importance to life in the West — like the fact it provides water to 40 million people in the country’s driest reaches — one would think there’s some group of people who oversee how the river is divvied up.

But there isn’t.

Management of the river is brought to life by an amalgamation of compacts, treaties and more than a century of case law often referred to as the “Law of the River.” The actors in the Basin — like cities, farmers, irrigation districts, the federal government and conservation groups — all know those rules, built on a foundation called the Colorado River Compact. The compact is a 1922 agreement among all states that receive the river’s water. To this day, it receives healthy doses of both praise and derision in Westerners’ conversations about it.

2. Public shaming is how water managers police themselves.

Because there’s no police force regularly checking in on big water users within the Colorado River Basin, most of the enforcement of rules and norms comes down to the water users themselves.

The letters sent to CAP are a great example of how simple norm-breaking can quickly turn into a multi-state water feud. CAP officials were not coy about their strategy, taking to Twitter to blast out an infographic of their attempt to keep Lake Mead at a “sweet spot,” ensuring additional water from Lake Powell. It was a way to push back against a proposal from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey that would give the state more control over some water conservation. They communicated the strategy to a room of 20 reporters in late February.

But in the eyes of the Upper Basin, CAP crossed a line.

“Although we have heard these things, we certainly have not seen it become what appears such a blatant, actual publicly-stated policy of CAWCD,” says Don Ostler, the Upper Colorado River Commission’s executive director.

No one accused CAP of breaking the rules. Instead the complaints were that CAP was being sneaky and manipulative.

And how do you bring someone back into the fold who’s perceived as going rogue? You shame them, says Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Some of Kenney’s work has received funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also provides funding for KUNC’s Colorado River coverage.

“The [enforcement] mechanism is usually a social mechanism,” Kenney says. “And the mechanism is all of the other parties get in your face and say, ‘Hey, come on. This isn’t really the spirit of what we’re doing here, let’s get back to working cooperatively.’”

3. The weather plays a role.

The winter of 2018 was pretty dry. The flow into Lake Powell is currently projected to be 46 percent of average during the highest runoff months of April, May, June and July.

The drought that has plagued the southwestern U.S. is now in its 18th year, leaving some to wonder whether this drought is a glimpse at the future in the Colorado River Basin. Warmer temperatures are already sapping the river’s flow.

If this had been a wet year with high snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, there’s a good chance the accusatory letters would’ve never been sent, Kenney says. But scarcity can sometimes lead to conflict

4. This dust up could necessitate federal intervention.

If there’s one thing that most water managers along the river agree on, it’s that they’d rather not live their lives under fiat from the federal government. Even though the decentralized method of river management is sometimes messy, there’s an aversion to federal intervention written into the DNA of the West.

That’s why it’s surprising to see Colorado River District general manager Andy Mueller telling Colorado Public Radio’s Grace Hood that it might be time to bring in the Bureau of Reclamation to force everyone to play nice. That could be a negotiating tactic to get CAP to the table (again, the aversion to federal intervention runs deep).

Still, anytime you see a water manager calling on the Bureau of Reclamation for help in negotiating, it’s notable.

5. This dispute could reignite stalled talks.

No one likes being locked in an intractable argument with a colleague, even if one side is pretty sure they’re right. In the history of Colorado River management, Doug Kenney says this barely registers as a serious fight. Go back at least one generation if you want to see brawls over the river.

“This sort of thing happened all the time,” he says. “There was a lot of distrust and a lot of tension and a lot of name-calling.”

For years now the latest generation of river managers patted themselves on the back for how well they work together. Still, talks to hammer out a Drought Contingency Plan among Lower Basin water managers have stalled, and the 2007 guidelines at the heart of this current dispute are set to expire and will have to be renegotiated in the next couple years.

All this bluster could lend itself well toward getting players to the bargaining table sooner than later, Kenney says.

U.S. Secretary of @USDA Sonny Perdue to address Water in the West Symposium

McNichols Civic Center Building, Denver. Photo credit: Tsunami Publicity

From Colorado State University (Tiana Nelson):

Current United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Former US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack are among the experts joining Colorado State University’s inaugural Water in the West Symposium on April 26-27, 2018 at McNichols Civic Center Building, 144 W. Colfax Ave., Denver.

The Symposium will bring more than 370 participants and 30 leading water authorities from across the nation to speak to the future of water in the Western region.

“When you think about water and the variety of uses that we put water to. It’s an amazing natural resource and something obviously that life depends on,” said Vilsack, who joined CSU as a special advisor on the National Western Center project in April 2017, has been key to visioning the Symposium.

“It’s not just life that depends on [water], economic opportunity depends on it, the opportunity to enjoy and entertain and to recreate depends on it, the opportunity to have safety and security in your home depends on it, your public health depends on it, it’s an amazing resource and it’s one, frankly, that most of us take for granted,” he said.

The Symposium will seek to understand water issues from a multidisciplinary perspective and set the stage for the research, policy work, and outreach focus for the future Water Resources Center, the first building to be constructed on the new National Western Center campus, and will address topics such as:

  • Research and innovation in water across sectors
  • Financing water projects
  • Federal perspectives on Western water issues
  • Connections between food, energy, and water in the West

“I think the time has come to really understand the role that water plays in our lives, to treat it as the precious natural resource that it is and to figure out ways that we can ensure that future generations will have sufficient water to do all of the variety of activity that water currently does today,” said Vilsack.

Vilsack said the event is key to communicating the urgency of addressing water issues and bringing leadership across business, agriculture, recreation, conservation, and a variety of other sectors to the table to begin the necessary work to identify solutions.

“I think the time has come to really understand the role that water plays in our lives. To treat it as the precious natural resource that it is, and to figure out ways that we can ensure that future generations will have sufficient water to do the variety of activities that water does today,” Vilsack said.

#Drought news: A look back at the development of drought across the southwestern U.S.

Gif via NOAA

From Weather Nation (Rebecca Lindsey):

At the start of the year, only a few small areas of extreme drought existed in the contiguous United States, the largest of them in Oklahoma and South Dakota. As the season advanced, extreme drought conditions expanded from Oklahoma into Texas and Kansas, with detached pockets also appearing in Arizona and New Mexico by mid-February.

By mid-March, drought in the panhandle of Oklahoma had reached “exceptional” status, and severe drought had pushed northward from Arizona and New Mexico into Utah and Colorado. As of mid-April, parts of seven Southwest states had progressed into exceptional drought.

Drought impacts are piling up. Endangered fish in the Rio Grande had to be rescued and relocated to wetter stretches as parts of the river in New Mexico dried up. In Arizona and New Mexico, birds and elk have been observed coming to stock ponds and yards for water and food as natural sources of surface water and vegetation become scarce.

In Colorado, livestock operators are hauling water for cows and sheep as stock ponds and streams dry up, and farmers along the Middle Rio Grande in New Mexico have been told to expect half their normal irrigation allotment. Fire danger is extremely high for so early in the season, and burn bans are in place across many counties and forest service districts in multiple states.

Air Force working toward innovative groundwater cleanup solution

The team responsible for the development of the enhanced contact electrical discharge plasma reactor, a novel method for degrading poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Professors Selma Mededovic Thagard and Thomas Holsen with Nicholas Multari and Chase Nau-Hix (shaved head), pose in the CAMP lab, October 6, 2017.

From Schriever Air Force Base (Shannon Carabajal):

The Air Force is working closely with leading academic researchers to solve a global challenge: cleaning groundwater contaminated with Perfluorooctane Sulfonate and Perfluorooctanoic Acid, known as PFOS and PFOA.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Broad Agency Announcement program began the charge toward finding better, faster and more sustainable solutions for cleaning groundwater contaminated with PFOS and PFOA in 2011. Since then, AFCEC has awarded more than $7 million in contracts for innovative technologies to better understand and remediate the two chemicals, said Monique Nixon, AFCEC BAA coordinator.

PFOS and PFOA are two manmade chemicals found in many products around the world, including firefighting foam formerly used by the military and commercial airports to combat petroleum-based fires. The chemicals were also used widely in many water and stain-resistant products including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric and carpet, and food packaging.

“Most people have been exposed to (PFOS and PFOA),” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and researchers are beginning to study long-term health effects. The EPA issued a provisional short-term health advisory for the chemicals in 2009, followed by a drinking water health advisory in 2016.

Though EPA health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory, AFCEC is aggressively identifying, responding to and preventing future drinking water contamination at Air Force bases around the country. As regulations and standards evolve, the team’s goals may eventually expand to include groundwater cleanup, a much bigger endeavor requiring a different approach.

Currently, the Air Force primarily uses granular activated carbon filters to clean drinking water contaminated with the chemicals. Though the filters are very effective, there are drawbacks, said Cornell Long, team lead for AFCEC’s PFOS and PFOA response team.

“Carbon filtration systems transfer (the compounds) from one medium – the water — to another — the carbon filter — so there is still the challenge of managing and disposing of the filter media. One of the Air Force’s goals is to find a technology that destroys PFOS and PFOA to the basic elements or at least to safe, simple compounds,” Long said.

The BAA program seeks to identify that technology. Ongoing work includes a project by the Colorado School of Mines focused on using a high-pressure membrane filtration system in combination with a photochemical process designed to destroy the chemicals.

Another project showing promise is new technology developed by researchers at Clarkson University which cleans contaminated water using an electrical discharge plasma. The process requires no chemical additions, produces no waste, and destroys and breaks PFOS and PFOA down into less toxic products that either remain in the water, or are released into the atmosphere as harmless gases, according to Selma Mededovic Thagard, an associate professor with Clarkson University’s Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering.

“Our system is ready to be scaled up; it’s nearly finished and it’s one of the most effective and efficient technologies available today for the treatment of PFOS and PFOA,” she said, adding that there’s still some work to be done before the technology can be introduced to the public.

As projects continue advancing, the Air Force moves closer to identifying a permanent solution and the resulting technology could benefit many communities and organizations.

When projects yield promising results, results are shared through presentations, trainings, manuscripts and websites. Additionally, through technology transfer efforts, program managers learn about the tools available and how they can be implemented.

The BAA program funds research into sustainable environmental solutions. The competition is full and open, with no restrictions on the type or size of firms eligible for award. For more information, visit http://www.afcec.af.mil/Home/Environment/Technical-Support-Division/Environmental-Restoration-Technical-Support-Branch/BAA/.

UNM: “New Mexico Water: What Our Next Leaders Need to Know,” May 17, 2018

An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

From the University of New Mexico Center for Water and the Environment:

Following the 2018 gubernatorial election, New Mexico will have new leaders of its resource management agencies. Other important water developments in the state include: 1) New administration at the City of Albuquerque; 2) Major shifts in federal policies & implementation; 3) Evolution of legal issues, especially interstate lawsuits; and 4) Financial challenges for our agencies and programs. This conference will feature presentations on water & environmental challenges facing the state by former senior state and federal managers. Each speaker has a long history of high level experience working on NM water issues. Speakers include:

Speakers include:

Presentations by federal water managers:

· Ron Curry – Former Administrator, EPA Region VI (former NMED Secretary)
· Estevan Lopez – Former Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner (former ISC Director)
· John D’Antonio – Currently with US Army Corps of Engineers (former NM State Engineer)
· Hilary Tompkins – Former Solicitor for the Dept. of Interior (former Chief Counsel to Gov. Richardson)

Presentations by state water managers:

· Scott Verhines – Former NM State Engineer
· Ryan Flynn – Former Secretary of NM Environment Department
· Amy Haas – Former Acting Director & former General Counsel, NM Interstate Stream Commission
· Tanya Trujillo –Former General Counsel, NM Interstate Stream Commission & Past Director of Colorado River Board of California
Concluding remarks: Mike Connor, Former Deputy Secretary, Department of Interior

Registration (includes lunch and parking):

Early registration – extended to Sunday, April 29: General – $30, Full time students – $10

Late registration (after April 29): General – $50, Full time students – $20

To Register with Credit Card:

Register online by clicking HERE. (scroll to the bottom of the page)

To Register with Check or Purchase Order:

Complete this form and send, along with payment, to cwe@unm.edu.

Tentative Program