#AnimasRiver: Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site update

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

This summer will be the first full work season since the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site was declared last September, and the Environmental Protection Agency is wasting no time trying to figure out one of the biggest mysteries in the watershed: The American Tunnel.

EPA hydrologist Ian Bowen said this week the agency plans to drill 500 feet into the San Juan Mountains to install a monitoring well between the second and third bulkheads on the tunnel…

The American Tunnel, which travels about 11,000 feet, served as a transportation route for ore, as well as a deep drainage, from the vast Sunnyside Mine workings to facilities at Gladstone, north of Silverton.

When Sunnyside Mine closed for good in 1991, attention turned to what to do with acidic discharges out of the American Tunnel. Sunnyside initially pulled the water into a treatment plant, but ultimately decided with the state of Colorado to install three bulkheads to stem the flow of acid drainage.

But in recent years, researchers believe the Sunnyside mine pool behind the American Tunnel reached capacity and the water is spilling into other mine networks, such as the Gold King and Red & Bonita…

The Animas River headwaters are broken into three drainages: Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and the Upper Animas.

Rebecca Thomas, project manager for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, has previously said each drainage accounts for about a third of heavy metal loading in the Animas, causing a dead zone of aquatic life on the river from just below Silverton to the Bakers Bridge.

But many people familiar with the basin say the EPA, which could see massive budget cuts under the Trump administration, should focus on the high-metal content waters of Cement Creek, where 13 of the 48 sites are located…

Treatment options for the American Tunnel are a great unknown, Bowen said.

Some have called for a complete draining of the tunnel, which could take decades and cost a lot of money to treat discharges. Others have suggested placing bulkheads on all the mines in the area.

Bowen said the EPA first needs to understand the hydrology of the area. The new monitoring well that is expected to be installed by August will be a key tool in that effort because it will provide insight on how much water is behind the bulkheads, he said.

“There’s strong indications that these systems are related, but there’s not enough evidence to say it’s immediately connected,” Bowen said.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. has long contended there is no connection between the American Tunnel and any other mine networks in the area.

The American Tunnel drains about 100 gallons of acid mine waste water a minute, which flows right by the EPA’s temporary treatment plant into Cement Creek.

The temporary treatment plant only takes discharges from the Gold King Mine, which is now at about 620 gallons a minute. The EPA said it may consider treating other mine discharges upon further evaluation.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

The second annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds with Emphasis on the Gold King Mine and Other Mine Waste Issues today at San Juan College also featured other people who have been monitoring conditions in the rivers.

One challenge for scientists is identifying to what degree metals are naturally occurring in the river and which metals are coming from mines in Colorado.

Kathleen Sullivan, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist, said heavy metals released into the river during the Gold King Mine spill likely are no longer in the sediments in the rivers.

Sullivan said there are naturally high levels of aluminum and iron in the river because of the composition of the bedrock. She said the EPA looked at the ratio of arsenic and lead to aluminum or iron in the river to identify the plume released by the Gold King Mine spill.

The ratio peaked while the plume was passing through the area…

She said only a small fraction of the heavy metals released into the river during the spill reached Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona during the immediate aftermath of the spill in August 2015. The rest of the metal was deposited as sediment, but Sullivan said the EPA believes the metals from the Gold King Mine spill are no longer present in the sediment and now have been deposited in Lake Powell.

Sullivan said the EPA believes the Gold King Mine metals deposited in sediments passed through New Mexico in low levels over three to four weeks during the spring runoff in 2016.

To test that hypothesis, Sullivan said the EPA took samples during the spring runoff this year. She said the EPA expects to see lower ratios of lead to aluminum in this year’s samples.

Sullivan said the metals in the plume of acid mine drainage were mainly picked up after the water left the Gold King Mine. She said the water exiting the mine picked up a large amount of metal from a waste pile outside the mine. Sullivan said the EPA is currently in the process of testing that pile.

During a panel presentation, Bonnie Hopkins, an extension agent for New Mexico State University, said one of the biggest issues still facing the area is the public stigma associated with the spill.

When Farmington’s Growers Market opened for the 2016 season following the Gold King Mine spill, only three vendors showed up to sell their products. She attributed the small number of farmers selling their products to the stigma surrounding crops grown using water from the Animas River.

This year, the Growers Market saw improvement. Hopkins said 11 vendors brought crops to the first market of the season earlier this month.

During a panel discussion, Sullivan said the acid mine drainage from the Gold King Mine is effectively being treated, although drainage from other mines needs to be addressed. She said samples from Cement Creek — which feeds the Animas River — show the water quality is improving.

Steve Austin, a hydrologist with the Navajo Nation EPA, said community outreach is still needed to communicate that the river water is safe.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

EPA Superfund officials trying to stop toxic mine contamination of the Animas River headwaters are preparing to close an underground dam, aiming to block a 300 gallon-per-minute discharge equal to a Gold King Mine disaster every week.

Shutting this Red and Bonita Mine bulkhead has emerged as a huge test on mountains here, where miners who penetrated fissures and groundwater pathways left behind the geologic equivalent of Swiss cheese…

But turning a valve and closing that bulkhead could trigger toxic leaks elsewhere, potentially spreading harm along already-contaminated headwaters. The EPA’s latest water data show widespread aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron and zinc contamination from mining and natural sources at levels too high for fish to survive.

EPA officials this week told The Denver Post — and assured local leaders — that the agency will use caution at the bulkhead, installed in 2004, and close it gradually next year while monitoring mountainsides for any new leaks. They’ve launched a data-gathering blitz, harnessing the local Mountain Studies Institute, to measure flows from dozens of mine tunnels and more than 97 mountainside seeps and springs.

“As soon as we feel we have a good handle on what the baseline is, then we’ll close the Red and Bonita bulkhead,” EPA project chief Rebecca Thomas said. “We would do it as a test initially and build up water behind the bulkhead.

“If we see a change we’re not comfortable with, if it is going to cause any further degradation of water quality, we’ll open up the bulkhead and drain it and treat it,” Thomas said in an interview.

“We need to understand how water flows before we close it. There are a lot of underground connections. Some are man-made. Some are natural,” she said. “We want to test whether or not closure of the bulkhead would help us improve water quality by stopping continued flow from the Red and Bonita.”

EPA hydrologist Ian Bowen said environmental gains could be big but emphasized unknowns. For example, the acid-metals muck draining from the Gold King, which is filtered before it mixes into the Animas, increased last year, reaching to 710 gallons per minute. The EPA can treat 1,200 gallons per minute at a plant below that mine.

Bulkheads also were installed inside Kinross Corp.’s Sunnyside Mine and American Tunnel. EPA crews plan to drill behind those bulkheads to test the pressure of pent-up mine wastewater — to make sure they will hold. American Tunnel bulkheads still leak 100 gallons a minute, and the Mogul Mine, where a bulkhead was installed in 2003, leaks 150 gallons a minute more unfiltered muck into headwaters.

Stopping the untreated Red and Bonita discharge would mark a first big fix in a Superfund cleanup following the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King disaster, where an EPA crew accidentally triggered a 3 million gallon spill that turned the Animas mustard-yellow as it moved down the river and eventually reached the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.

Installing more bulkheads to trap toxic mine muck inside mountains could mean taxpayers pay less for water cleaning at treatment plants built along headwaters.

Colorado “agrees with EPA’s plan,” state health department spokesman Warren Smith said.

Yet challenges loom. Mapping tunnels, fissures, seeps and springs increasingly occupies a legion of researchers and Deere & Ault engineering consultants tapped by the EPA. They anticipated in an April report that closing the Red and Bonita bulkhead would cause toxic overflows elsewhere. And EPA bureaucracy combined with uncertain funding from Congress has delayed a dozen or so other toxic mine Superfund cleanups around Colorado — let alone the tens of thousands of inactive mines contaminating water around the West.

East of Silverton, above Creede, the EPA’s Superfund cleanup of the Nelson Tunnel and various old mines — declared a national-priority disaster in 2008 — has yet to move beyond studies of tunnels and groundwater.

EPA officials on Wednesday said the agency “is evaluating the focused feasibility study for the (Creede) site and considering a range of alternatives for the proposed remedy” but that, because the EPA has not picked “a preferred alternative,” funds for cleanup aren’t available…

EPA crews seem to be working at sampling water and investigating hydrology before closure of the Red and Bonita bulkhead, said Fetchenhier, who is a geologist. “We said: ‘Before you close it, we want the data gathered on every spring, every seep, every tunnel so that you have a baseline. Anytime you put in a bulkhead, there is a chance something could come out someplace else.’ ”

EPA officials this week convened a forum in Silverton, an in-depth hydrology session with a brain trust of local scientists, mining engineers and others whose collective knowhow, federal officials said, exceeds the agency’s expertise.

Downriver in Durango, La Plata County leaders acknowledged a strong interest in stopping contamination after decades of enduring the toxic legacy of mining — because clean water is crucial for residents of Colorado and other western states.

#Utah continues monitoring of the San Juan River #GoldKingMine #AnimasRiver

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Erica Gaddis, the newly appointed director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, briefed a committee of lawmakers on the situation during a Tuesday hearing, detailing that 540 tons of heavy metals now rest at the bottom of Lake Powell.

Testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the heavy metal concentrations had all been flushed to Lake Powell by last July, carried along by the currents in the San Juan River.

Gaddis, who assumes her new role next Monday, said metals such as copper, zinc and aluminum tested above federal standards in 2015 in aquatic life in more than 150 samples. By 2016, only aluminum remained — with counts that exceeded the standard in 126 samples…

Gaddis told members of the Legislature’s Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee that Utah, the three other states impacted and Native American tribes are working together to monitor long-term impacts.

That task is complicated given the extent of legacy mining operations in the Bonita Peak Mining District in Colorado, where there are 48 historic mines near Silverton.

Gaddis pointed out that over the last decade, it’s estimated there have been 877 million gallons of water released, with 8.6 million tons of tailings generated from the life of those mines.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has been reimbursed by the EPA for nearly $464,000 in costs in the initial response and another $212,000 in costs have received preliminary approval by the federal government.

Gaddis said about $20 million has been appropriated by a congressional act to help Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Native American tribes with long-term monitoring.

Utah is also keeping its options open for any potential litigation against the EPA regarding the spill, she added.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

#AnimasRiver: New @EPA rules for working around mines like #GoldKingMine should be final Friday, June 16, 2017

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

Like previous investigations, the inspector general’s report said the EPA knew the Gold King — one of scores of inactive mines in the mountains around Silverton, Colorado — posed a risk of a blowout. Even before the Aug. 5, 2015, spill, the mine was spewing out 200 gallons of wastewater per minute, or about 3 million gallons every 10 days, the report said.

Despite the risk, the EPA had “no specific standards for the level of care to be taken or how to assess a collapsed mine portal,” the report said. It said the EPA gives its employees in charge of such operations, known as on-scene coordinators, wide latitude in deciding how to work on old mines, and that both coordinators assigned to the Gold King were experienced and highly trained.

The inspector general’s report disputed one key element in a previous review of the Gold King spill, by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which was assigned to conduct an independent, outside assessment of what went wrong.

The Bureau of Reclamation said the EPA-led crew was attempting to insert a drain pipe through a debris pile blocking the entrance of the mine, and that the on-scene coordinator had pushed that work ahead despite the reservations of the other on-scene coordinator, who was not present that day.

But the EPA inspector general said the crew was excavating loose rock around the mine entrance to see if the underlying rock was solid, not trying to insert a drain pipe. The inspector general said the crew did only work that had been planned for that day and was not rushing the schedule.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Office of Inspector General investigators, working independently within the EPA, found that EPA officials and their contractor were qualified and “had identified concerns about the water level and the potential for blowout of the blockage.”

The EPA-led team was at the mine not to open it but to evaluate conditions, investigators wrote. “Based on interpretation of mine-site conditions, the lead OSC (on-scene coordinator) did not believe direct testing of water behind the blockage was necessary.”

Colorado Department of Natural Resources officials had been working with EPA officials at the site, above Silverton in southwestern Colorado. And the group’s work plan included a warning that “conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals.”

As the EPA crew and state partners worked at the Gold King, “there was an assumption that because the mine was draining, it was not under pressure. The EPA’s approach…. was to proceed with caution.”

Investigators said they “found it reasonable that the EPA had not conducted direct testing of the water level or pressure during the removal site evaluation at Gold King by the time of the release on Aug. 5, 2015. This was reasonable because of the interpretation of site conditions by the team, and because of safety risks, engineering challenges, unknown benefits and high costs associated with drilling at the site.”

The OIG conducts audits aimed at improving the EPA.

There have been other reviews. EPA leaders and the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation also conducted reviews after the disaster. They recommended improvements to reduce risk of future blowouts at other toxic mines.

Federal prosecutors also looked into what happened. The U.S. Attorney in Denver declined to press charges after looking at evidence that an EPA employee might have made false statements and violated the Clean Water Act…

“The OIG identified no additional actions EPA needs to take to address the concerns raised beyond those already identified by the EPA and the Bureau of Reclamation. Thus, no recommendations were made in the report,” OIG spokesman Jeff Lagda said in an emailed response to queries.

#Runoff news: Coordinated releases for #ColoradoRiver endangered fish #COriver

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via The Los Alamos Daily Post:

Coordinated releases from a series of Upper Colorado River Basin reservoirs began Saturday, June 3, and are anticipated to continue through this week as part of the Coordinated Reservoirs Operations Program.

The US Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River District, Denver Water and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District as owners and operators of upper Colorado River reservoirs have mutually agreed to modify their operations to benefit the endangered fish of the Upper Colorado River Basin.

The Coordinated Reservoir Operations (CROS) program was established in 1995 as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The purpose of the Coordinated Operations is to enhance spring peak flows in a section of the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction, Colo. Determined to be critical to the survival of four endangered fish species: the Humpback Chub, Razorback Sucker, Bonytail and the Colorado Pikeminnow. The higher peak flows remove more fine sediment from cobble bars that serve as spawning habitat for the endangered fish. In years with sufficient snowpack, surplus inflows to the reservoirs can be passed downstream to benefit these fish without impacting reservoir yields or future beneficial water uses.

Coordinated Reservoir Operations were most recently conducted in 2016, 2015 and 2010. In 2011 and 2014, wet conditions caused streamflows in certain areas of the basin to approach or exceed levels associated with minor flooding, so CROS was not performed. In 2012 and 2013, reservoirs did not have surplus inflow to contribute due to extremely dry conditions.

Managers of the reservoirs completed a conference call June 2, agreeing to voluntarily run the program this year. Planned reservoir operations as of June 2 are described below. Release and flow amounts are approximate. Most reservoirs will step up releases over the next several days, hold at a constant rate for 3-7 days, and then wind down releases.

Green Mountain Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, will increase releases from 418 cubic feet per second (cfs) to powerplant capacity of around 1400 cfs. Releases from Green Mountain include inflows bypassed by Dillon Reservoir, operated by Denver Water, that will be increased by approximately 100 cfs during CROS.

Denver Water also operates Williams Fork Reservoir, which is releasing 200 cfs. Releases will likely increase to approximately 600 cfs over the coming week to bypass increasing inflows.

Willow Creek Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is releasing 90 cfs. Releases will increase this week to roughly 600 cfs by curtailing pumping operations to Granby Reservoir and bypassing those inflows instead.

Wolford Mountain Reservoir, operated by the Colorado River District, is passing inflows of 350 cfs. Outflows will be increased to around 600 cfs for approximately five days.

Ruedi Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, is releasing 182 cfs and will increase releases to approximately 600 cfs over the next few days.

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) will incorporate these planned reservoir operations into their streamflow forecasts. Based on weather forecasts and planned reservoir operations, flows in the Colorado River near Cameo (upriver of Palisade, Colo.) are anticipated to be approximately 14,000 – 17,500 cfs, June 7 through June 12, with the highest flows Thursday or Friday June 8 or 9. Flows in the forecasted range are still below defined “bankfull” and flood stages for the area.

More detailed information about forecasted streamflows in the Colorado River basin are available from the CBRFC website at http://www.cbrfc.noaa.gov. A map-based interface allows viewing of hydrographs detailing recent, current and anticipated flows.

For more information, contact Don Anderson, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, at 303.236.9883, donald_anderson@usfws.gov, Michelle Garrison, Colorado Water Conservation Board, at 303.866.3441, ext. 3213, michelle.garrison@state.co.us or James Bishop, Bureau of Reclamation, at 970.962.4326, jbishop@usbr.gov.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is a cooperative partnership of local, state and federal agencies, water developers, power customers and environmental groups established in 1988 to recover the endangered fishes while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts.

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Through both natural and man-made activities, the area’s waterbodies will ramp back up to seasonal heights this week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates the Colorado River and its primary Summit County tributaries will reach their highest 2017 levels this Wednesday, June 7.

The volume-based flow rates, measured as cubic feet per second, on North Tenmile Creek, for example, will rise from about 600 to 900 cfs and the Blue River north of Dillon should grow in the next two days by another couple hundred cfs from its present 600. To offset forthcoming supply, Denver Water, which owns and oversees Dillon Reservoir, stated that it plans to up flows from Dillon Dam into the Lower Blue River from its Monday total of 380 cfs to 600 no later than Tuesday morning, and between 1,400 and 1,800 cfs by the end of the week.

“The snowpack up on the mountain, it’s now warmed up and is starting to come off,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, a public policy agency that closely monitors the region’s major waterway. “It’s fast water, but shouldn’t flood anybody out. All streams will be quicker-paced than people are used to, but the flooding is not the danger.”

[…]

North of Silverthorne, additional releases at Green Mountain Reservoir also allow the Bureau of Reclamation to increase power plant capacity and generate more electricity. Those levels could reach approaching 1,400 cfs from the current 418.

Estimating that 40 percent of the winter’s snowpack still remains above Dillon, Denver Water is comfortable increasing the flows from Dillon Reservoir into the Lower Blue River that ultimately head to northern Arizona’s Lake Powell. That result is threefold, preventing wasteful overflow of the reservoir, maintaining ideal recreational heights on the lake, as well as fulfilling the demands of Lower Basin states based on senior water rights.

“Our experts are monitoring conditions carefully with the goal of ending runoff season with a full reservoir,” Matt Wittern, Denver Water Summit County liaison, wrote by email. “That way, we’re able to meet our customers’ needs while providing locals and tourists alike with valued summer recreation activities that have a positive impact on the local economy.”

A standup surfer in the Arkansas River at Salida during Fibark, the river celebration held in late June. Photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Where spring runoff has been something like average—and where it hasn’t

Spring runoff of the Yampa River likely peaked on May 14 this year as it flowed through northwestern Colorado. That makes it an anomaly in the precipitation-dripping mountains of the West.

In most other locations, the peak runoff—the time when the largest volume of water in rivers occurs as winter’s snow melts—more normally occurs in early June after temperatures finally warmed. This year looks to be more or less normal, despite a trend to earlier runoff in many locations during the last several decades.

“The Yampa did have an early runoff, and that was the result of the warm temperatures and below-average snowpack,” said Ashley Nielson, senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, when interviewed last week by Mountain Town News. The Yampa, she noted, will probably rise again in the next week or so, if not to the same high mark.

But elsewhere, the show is now, not a month ago. Peak runoff of the Green River was expected this week or next. It originates in the Wind River Range of west-central Wyoming. Unlike the Yampa, that basin still has a significant snowpack. That was also reported to be the case in Jackson Hole, at the headwaters of the Snake River. The snowpack there was 181 percent of average in late May, not a record but “up there,” in the words of one water official cited by the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Peak runoff in the upper Colorado River at its headwaters along the Continental Divide in Colorado was also expected to occur in early June.

Winter had wild swings: barren until late fall, then torrents of snow in December and January. Temperatures were unseasonably warm in February and almost hot in March. It looked like an early runoff everywhere. Then May turned cold and snowy.

What explains the Yampa’s aberrant behavior? Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, said the peak snowpack in northwestern Colorado arrived about a month earlier than usual. That snowpack around Steamboat Springs occurred on March 12, compared a more typical April 10.

Instead of mid-May for the Yampa, he says that rafters floating through Dinosaur National Monument more often experience the highest water flows of the year in early June.

The Dolores River in southwestern Colorado on Memorial Day in 2009. Photo/Allen Best

Flows in the Animas River through Silverton and Durango have had some “pretty wild swings,” Wetlaufer says. The Arkansas River has been slow to get started with runoff.

The Snake River of Wyoming and Idaho has a very different story than the Yampa, with around 200 percent of snowpack this year. The Snake originates in Jackson Hole and picks up water from the Big Wood River, which originates in the Sawtooth Mountains above Ketchum and Sun Valley, before joining the Columbia at the Idaho-Washington border.

“My takeaway is that this year is pretty normal” in terms of timing, says Bruce Anderson, the senior hydrologist at the Northwest River Forecast Center, in Portland, Ore. It was cooler and wetter in spring, but the big story was the amount of precipitation that fell during winter. “We are hugely above normal for precipitation.”

In the Tahoe-Truckee area of California’s Sierra Nevada, the snowpack was among the deeper ones on record after three bad drought years and then a so-so winter in 2015-16. Snowfall this winter was not a record, but it was a record for total precipitation. Being somewhat lower and closer to the coast than Colorado, the Sierra Nevada gets more rain during winter. This year it got a lot of rain.

Colorado, too, had rain on snow, which is not unprecedented. But it happened frequently this winter. The result was telling for travelers on I-70 who crossing Vail Pass.

“In general, there was less snow than you would expect,” says Klaus Wolter, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder.

Were those rain on snow storms of this past winter a result of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions? Wolter told Mountain Town News that thinks this is “probably partially climate change.”

Wolter, whose focus is empirical climate research, using statistical methods to solve climate problems, is reluctant to pin climate change on much of what we have seen this year. True, he says, one storm during May left 42 inches of fresh snow in the foothills above Boulder, a storm unprecedented since the 1920s. As extreme as that storm was, proving causality is difficult, he says.

A scientist in Oregon also shared the difficulty of proving causality. John Stevenson of Oregon State University told the Idaho Mountain Express in Ketchum that it’s “really difficult to judge any one year” to be a result of rising global temperatures.

“That’s one of the challenges we run into in the science world where people say, ‘Oh, it’s climate change.’ We’re not at the point where we can take any one random event and say it’s climate change.”

That said, his 2015 study concluded that the point each spring when half of the water year’s streamflow had run off was occurring an average 1.9 days earlier per decade.

But more extreme events are happening with greater frequency, said Mark Davidson, director of conservation initiatives with The Nature Conservancy. He pointed out that the Big Wood River has had two 100-year floods in the last 15 years.

Warm temperatures in the Ketchum and Sun Valley area were 6 to 13 degrees warmer than normal for early May, producing a flood in the Big Wood River that peaked on May 8. It was regarded as the largest in 101 years of recorded history, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

But more warm weather was producing another surge in early June that threatened to surpass that peak of a month before, the newspaper reported last week.

#AnimasRiver: Heavy metal concentrations meet standards #GoldKingMine

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. 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]

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

Two studies conducted in response to the Gold King Mine spill show levels for heavy metals in the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation meet water quality standards set by tribal and federal environmental agencies.

Karletta Chief, a hydrology professor at the University of Arizona, has been leading a research team to study heavy metals in the San Juan River since fall 2015.

The study — a collaboration between the university, Tó Bei Nihi Dziil, Northern Arizona University, Diné College, Fort Lewis College and the Navajo Nation Community Health Representatives program — is also examining sediment and human health…

For the study, the group focused on lead and arsenic because exposure to both over a long period can be harmful to humans, she said.

Chief explained that 288 water samples were collected from the river, irrigation canals and wells located in Upper Fruitland, Shiprock and Aneth in November 2015, March 2016 and June 2016.

The study used drinking water standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and water standards for animals and plants were screened using standards set by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Chief said levels for arsenic and lead were within the standards for drinking water and for plants and animals.

The group is waiting for results for sediment tests. Information from health assessments conducted on 123 participants could be released in the fall, she said.

San Juan River Dineh Water Users Inc. CEO Martin Duncan said after listening to the report that people want to know if the river water is safe to use for irrigation.

“We need to find out if the water is safe now,” Duncan said.

In response, Chief said results show the levels do meet water quality standards for agricultural purposes.

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency also has been monitoring heavy metal levels in the river since the spill.

Results from the study were presented by Steve Austin, a senior hydrologist with the Water Quality Program under the tribe’s EPA.

Austin said the program has collected water and sediment samples from 10 locations along the river and from the Fruitland and Hogback canals, which supply river water to farms on the reservation. Samples were collected from August to October 2015 and in March 2016 to April 2017.

Those samples were measured using the tribe’s surface water-quality standards from 2007, which also received approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

“For water quality, none of our irrigation standards have been exceeded since 2013. We don’t see an issue with irrigating from the San Juan River,” Austin said.

Austin said the only time the concentration of heavy metals has exceeded standards for irrigation use was when the Fruitland canal reopened. But levels subsided after the canal was flushed.

He added that program officials will continue monitoring the river, and they are waiting for results for fish tissue testing.

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee Meeting on Monday, May 22, 2017

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

Here’s the release from the New Mexico Environment Department (Allison Scott Majure):

New Mexico’s Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), based out of San Juan County, New Mexico, meets Monday, May 22, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. in the San Juan College Student Center‐ SUNS Room (accessible through the Henderson Fine Arts Center) in Farmington.

The Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) is a group of 9 citizen volunteers from Northern New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation, who provide a forum for public concerns while tracking the scientific long‐term monitoring of the Gold King Mine spill’s effects in the state. At Monday’s meeting the group will hear and discuss updates from the Navajo Nation and from the U.S. EPA Region 8 as follows:

  • Presentation by Dr. Karletta Chief, University of Arizona, discussing the impact of the Gold King Mine Spill on the Animas River on the Navajo Nation, and
  • Presentation by Rebecca Thomas, EPA Superfund Project Manager-Region 8, providing an update on the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Project.
  • The meeting agenda can be found at: https://www.env.nm.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/May-2017-Agenda.pdf. The CAC works with New Mexico’s Long‐Term Impact Review Team, established by Governor Susana Martinez, to both monitor and discuss with the public the continuing effects of the August 2015 mine blowout, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted to causing which released over three million gallons of mining wastewater laden with more than a million pounds of metals into the Animas and San Juan River systems.

    For more information please visit the New Mexico Environment Department’s Gold King Mine website ( http://www.NMEDRiverWaterSafety.org ) or at http://NMENV‐Outreach@state.nm.us

    S.W. #Colorado flooding of 1911

    Durango flood of 1911 river scene. Photo credit Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College.

    Here’s Part 1 of a look back at the 1911 flooding along the Dolores River from June Head and Joyce Lawrence writing for The Cortez Journal. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    About Oct. 8, it was reported that the course of the river east of Dolores changed to the other side of town, turning toward the bottom of Dunlap Hill. The Montezuma Journal on Oct. 12 stated that nearly every bridge in this whole region was gone. The railroad track from Dolores to Rico was washed out, taking out the bridge at Ophir loop again, and there were no present indications of getting freight over the railroad for at least two weeks.

    Cortez has been without mail for a week, but it was hoped that a pack train may be put in action from Ouray to Durango until the railroads could be repaired.

    Dolores was wholly under water for a time, and the damage there is great. The Mancos Times Tribune on Oct. 13 reported, “The floods that had been raging were widespread and one of the most disastrous that had been visited upon this section since its occupation by the white man.” The newspaper also reported the town of Dolores was flooded by from 1 to 5 feet of water, the town was strewn with wreckage, and train service from Durango to Silverton and between Dolores and Rico would not be restored for “many weeks at best.”

    No mail reached Mancos for almost a week from any point except Durango. The area of the flood district covered the San Juan County in Colorado and New Mexico, the San Luis Valley and parts of the Western Slope. “The rivers on the rampage dealing destruction to public and private property are the San Miguel, Dolores, Mancos, La Plata, Animas, Pine, Piedra, San Juan, Navajo and Chama and the Rio Grande tributaries in San Luis valley and a number of streams in the southeastern part of the state,” the newspaper reported.

    Here’s Part 2 of the series:

    The Cortez area
    A bad storm hit Cortez on July 10, 1911, when a storm came in and washed out the flumes, laterals and much of the irrigation system. A wall of water took off down McElmo Creek and cut a canyon within a canyon. Whole orchards and wheat fields were washed out into Utah, according to the History of Cortez website.

    In 1911, it was reported that at least two homes were lost. The home of Elsworth Porter went down McElmo Creek. This house was located near the present Battlerock School. After J. D. Lamb lost a house on McElmo Creek that flooded out he hired Peter Baxstrom to build a nice new structure which is located at 12764 County Road G. Both the house on McElmo Creek and the house on Road G may have been stage stops.

    The Mancos Valley
    More rain and high water came as a result of the storms in the Mancos area on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 1911. The Mancos River rose that night and continued to rise all day Thursday until beginning to subside that night, according to The Mancos Times-Tribune on Oct. 6, 1911. The raging torrent brought down quantities of drift wood, trees, logs and anything that was loose. This caused the river to change its channel in many places. In town, it cut in above the post office building threatening, its safety and taking away part of the warehouse belonging to the Mancos Mercantile Co., which had been cut loose from the other building in order to save balance of the structure. In the lower side, the water got the better of the fight made by Nate Bowen to save his premises when a large portion of the water broke through direct onto his house, the Times-Tribune reported. It was saved from complete destruction by trees that grew just above the building which collected a drift and saved his building…

    Pagosa Springs
    The Pagosa Springs Sun on Oct. 6, 1911 stated that Archuleta County was the victim of the devastating flood the day before. “All county bridges were out,” the newspaper said. “Following the flood, a cable was suspended across the river to provide a way for people to cross the river and a way for food to be passed to the other side. The Sun also reported that 10 to 15 residences were destroyed, and 40 to 50 others were damaged.

    The electric plant and train tracks were washed out. Two lives were lost in the flooding when the men were attempting to clear drift wood that had lodged above their shop on Mill Creek. Farmers, ranchers and sheep men all suffered great loss as a result of the flood. Areas surrounding the town were also affected.

    The Animas Valley
    The Salida Record newspaper reported that on Oct. 20, 1911, the it would cost $50,000 to $100,000 to repair the damage to the Rio Grande Southern railway in Ouray.

    The Aspen Democrat-Times reported on Oct. 9, 1911, that “Floods Sweep Country in Vicinity of Durango.” In Hesperus, miners saved the town by dynamiting a new channel for the river, thus diverting the current. The town of Arboles was obliterated, and not all of the 50 inhabitants had been accounted for.

    The Geological Survey reported that 13.6 inches of rain fell Oct. 4-6, 1911, caused the highest flood on record on the Animas River. The Durango Evening Herald on Oct. 6, 1911, stated that conditions in the Animas River Valley were serious: Parts of the valley were flooded to a depth of 3 to 6 feet. Many families had to move to higher ground for safety. Animas Valley from Trimble Springs to Durango “resembled one big lake.” There was general destruction of crops, roads, ditches. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad tracks were seriously damaged.