Black Hills Energy donates water rights and infrastructure to Pueblo Water for the Arkansas River Walk

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (John Pompia):

At the El Pomar Fountain in the shadow of the Union Avenue bridge, Christopher Burke, vice president of Colorado Utility Operations for Black Hills Energy, officially transferred ownership of water rights and water diversion infrastructure to officials representing Pueblo Water, the city of Pueblo and Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.

The water rights, appraised at $280,000, were donated to Pueblo Water. To the city were given water diversion infrastructure — head gates, tunnels, diversion dams, ponds, etc. — and the pipeline that carries water from the Arkansas River to the HARP channel.

Formerly, this system was used to transmit cooling water to the now-decommissioned power plant but now has become an essential part of the operation of HARP’s water course.

While the water infrastructure is nearly a century old and is fully depreciated, the hypothetical cost of replacing these assets critical to properly operate the water flows would be substantial

#AnimasRiver: @EPA — Cement Creek, #GoldKingMine, summer project plan

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

At the Animas River Stakeholders Group meeting in Silverton on Thursday, Superfund site project manager Rebecca Thomas told the 20 or so attendees the EPA has laid out a work plan for the summer.

Thomas said much of the work will be a continuation of last year’s activities, including collecting data and water samples, as well as looking at flow control structures at the Gold King Mine, the site of the EPA-triggered mine spill in August 2015.

The EPA also will install a pressure gauge system to monitor the bulkhead at the Mogul Mine, adjacent to the Gold King, which are both significant contributors of heavy metals into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

The EPA wants to install a ground monitoring well between the inner and outermost bulkheads at the American Tunnel, the drain for the Sunnyside Mine workings. It’s suspected the American Tunnel’s water level has reached capacity and could be responsible for increased discharges out of adjacent mines, such as the Gold King.

Thomas said crews will compile more data for the possible closure of the bulkhead at the Red & Bonita Mine, another contributor into Cement Creek. Specifically, EPA wants to better understand the water hydrology of the mine workings.

As for the EPA’s interim water-treatment plant at Gladstone that treats discharges out of the Gold King Mine, Thomas said the agency is looking at about six sites to store the mine waste.

“This is increasingly more important for us as we start to run out of room for sludge management (at Gladstone),” Thomas said.

She said there may be more than one location for the mine waste, and that the agency hopes to have that finalized by May.

Thomas added that the EPA is planning a few quick-action remediation projects at sites within the Superfund listing where there is an immediate benefit to the environment, water quality and managing adit discharges.

She said 27 of the 48 sites qualify for early-action remediation, which could include fixing mine waste ponds, remediating waste rock dumps or redirecting clean surface water away from known polluted areas.

“There’s no way we’re going to get all the work done, but the hope is to get some of the work done,” Thomas said.

The Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Forest Service – all working on the Superfund site – also listed a few projects they have planned for this year.

Most notably, the BLM has permission to undergo a pilot project with Texas-based Green Age Technologies to test a new treatment on mine wastewater that many in the stakeholders group have said holds promise for low-cost water treatment.

The BLM and Green Age will spend 21 days treating discharges out of the American Tunnel and Gold King Mine with a technology known as cavitation, which separates metal ions from water.

The EPA had promised the town of Silverton before the community supported Superfund designation that the agency would embrace new technologies for mine-waste treatment.

#Animas River: Feds seek dismissal of #NM and Navajo Nation #GoldKingMine lawsuits

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)
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)

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Durango Herald:

The Justice Department filed its motion Monday, following up on arguments first made by the Obama administration that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is protected by sovereign immunity.

The federal government contends the agency doesn’t fit the definition of a liable party.

New Mexico was first to sue over the mine spill, alleging that the agency had not taken full responsibility for triggering the spill of 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater from the mine near Silverton. The plume coursed through the Animas and San Juan rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

New Mexico officials say the government’s motion was expected.

Fluoride dosing is on the April ballot in Durango

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

The Durango City Council unanimously voted to place the question on the ballot following more than a year of heated meetings and debate. The council’s other option was to adopt an ordinance prohibiting fluoride, and none of the councilors seemed to support it.

The question will ask voters whether they wish to prohibit the addition of fluoride or any chemical containing fluoride to city water…

The city has released a series of documents on its website on the fluoride it adds to the water, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

The city does not add pharmaceutical-grade fluoride to the water, he said…

Residents can also review the results of tests done on the water before it’s treated and afterward, he said. The documents can be found at http://bit.ly/2loX6oj or by searching the “fluoride” on the city’s website.

Southwestern Water Conservation District board shuffled

San Juan wildflowers.

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

Board President John Porter and Vice President Steve Fearn, representatives of Montezuma and San Juan counties, respectively, were voted off the board by commissioners in their respective counties.

Fearn, a prominent longtime coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, has represented San Juan County on the water conservation board since 1990 and served as vice president since 2007.

But San Juan County commissioners said Fearn’s representation no longer reflects county values, which have changed significantly since Silverton’s mining days to include more recreational interests with respect to water, county attorney Paul Sunderland said…

Commissioners voted to appoint Charlie Smith, part-time Silverton resident and eight-year general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, as Fearn’s replacement.

“Commissioners thought Charlie Smith would better represent San Juan County,” Sunderland said. “He has a lot of water expertise, and he’s probably more in tune with the wants of the current board. Historically, San Juan County has been largely dominated by mining interests, and Steve Fearn is very much associated with those interests, but the board’s interests have shifted more toward recreation.”

The fact that the state of New Mexico named Fearn in a lawsuit as a “potentially responsible party” for mine pollution in the Gladstone area was noted in the county’s decision, Sunderland said.

“It’s definitely something we’re aware of, given his ownership interests around Gladstone,” he said…

The board consists of nine members representing Archuleta, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, San Juan and San Miguel counties. Board directors can serve an unlimited number of three-year terms.

“I want to make sure the county’s views are represented,” Smith told The Durango Herald. “I have an understanding of their water rights, and a lot of work needs to be done to secure those rights and make sure the uses align with what the county envisions.”

Montezuma County commissioners selected Don Schwindt to replace Porter, who was general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District for 22 years and a Southwestern board director for 26.

Schwindt is a director on the Dolores Water Conservancy District board and a critic of the Dolores National Conservation Area, a controversial proposal in Montezuma County to congressionally protect land and water along the lower Dolores…

Porter thinks the proposal, criticized by Montezuma County commissioners, influenced his removal. Under Porter’s leadership, Southwestern Water Conservation District contributed funds to hire a water attorney to rewrite draft National Conservation Area legislation, which Porter thinks was perceived as support for the bill.

“I perceived the funding as an effort so everyone involved knew all the problems, the facts on both sides and could intelligently make a decision,” Porter said. “I think Southwestern’s involvement was perceived by others that we were very much in favor of the NCA legislation. That had something to do with it, and the fact that I’m 80-plus, and my 26 years on the board.”

Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Suckla said the commission chose Schwindt because of his water knowledge, and the conservation area proposal did not play a part in the decision.

“Don has shown ways that he would save water and retain water for farmers and ranchers,” Suckla said. “John Porter is an icon for Montezuma County. He was involved in the management of the lake (McPhee Reservoir), and all the benefits the county has received from that is because of the work he did, but it felt like it was time for new eyes.”

When Porter joined the board in 1990, he said water storage and dam construction were the district’s primary focus, including such projects as Lake Nighthorse. But gradually, the focus broadened to consider recreational water use and water quality.

Porter refers to his tenure as a career highlight, and said the importance of inter-basin relations and dialogue will only increase as time goes on, water supply dwindles and population grows.

“You’re asking someone who’s biased, but I’ve always felt that the Southwestern board tried its very best to represent all interests,” Porter said. “True, the majority of the members, including myself, were and still are agriculture-oriented. Yet to me, as Colorado’s population grows, it’s inevitable that our water supply will be drying up agriculture. And that’s not in our best interest, but I don’t see a way of satisfying municipal needs that we’re going to have without drying up some ag use. Irrigation takes a lot of water, and just that amount converted to municipal use will take care of a lot of families in an urban situation.”

@WaterCenterCMU webinar: “River Health and Riparian Resilience” January 25, 2017

Click here to register. From the website:

The rivers that roll past our cities, towns, homes, and highways are reflections of all things that happen upstream and uphill. In this lecture, we will learn to see rivers as a sum of their parts, learning the roles, forms and functions of water, sediment, and vegetation. Blue, the role of water, mobilizing and shaping; Brown, the role of sediment, filling, re-routing and building; and Green, growing, holding and slowing all things mobile. From this context, we will launch into discussions of river health, riparian resilience in the face of climate change, and what we can do to protect habitats critical to fish and wildlife and our riverside communities. We’ll see river cameos of the hard-working Dolores, the now-famous Animas, and the unfettered wildness of the Yampa.

Presented by Dr. Chris Rasmussen of EcoMainstream Contracting, and hosted by Abby Burk of Audubon Rockies.

#AnimasRiver: @EPA — Implementation of the #GoldKingMine After-Action Review

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

In November 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chief of Staff, Matt Fritz, established an agency team to conduct an After-Action Review of EPA’s response to the Gold King Mine (GKM) release that occurred on August 5, 2015. The team, comprised of employees from across the agency, interviewed over a hundred people and reviewed a large volume of documents to identify lessons learned and develop recommendations for the Administrator’s consideration. Among the documents reviewed were after-action reports from previous emergency responses, which showed that some of the issues identified at Gold King Mine were not new. On December 21, 2015, the After-Action Review Team submitted its report detailing ten specific recommendations to improve how the agency responds to emergency incidents and to ensure a highly effective EPA Emergency Response Program that can adapt quickly to dynamic, unpredictable situations. These recommendations, shown in Appendix A, were:

  • Recommendation 1: Establish a National Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) at EPA.
  • Recommendation 2: Institute Senior Official training plan.
  • Recommendation 3: Institute ICS key leadership training plan.
  • Recommendation 4: Establish an agency data and information management team.
  • Recommendation 5: Improve data and information posting and communications.
  • Recommendation 6: Establish Communications Strike Teams and broaden data training for PIOs and public affairs staff.
  • Recommendation 7: Invest in data resources and clarify roles/responsibilities.
  • Recommendation 8: Build capacity for rapid data collection, interpretation, and dissemination.
  • Recommendation 9: Align public affairs resources and update communications procedures.
  • Recommendation 10: Improve notification procedures, plans, and equipment.
  • From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    The EPA outlined its efforts in a report posted on its website late Friday afternoon called “In the Rearview Mirror: Implementation of the Gold King Mine After-Action Review.”

    The EPA’s chief of staff announced the changes in February 2016, after the agency took responsibility for the release of metal-laden water from the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015.

    The changes were based on a December 2015 after-action report that made 10 recommendations focused on improving its emergency response and communications that the EPA has worked on, the review stated. The original after-action report did not seem to have been posted on the EPA’s website when it was finished. EPA officials did not immediately respond to request for comment on the review Saturday.

    The review recommended the agency continue funding emergency management training and positions created as a result of the changes. But it did not list specific budget expenses.

    A national emergency response team was trained by December 2016 and it will be deployed to mine spills or releases that the EPA has caused or is directly involved in, or when an event involves multiple EPA regions.

    “Quick and effective response to incidents reduces the risk to public safety, environmental damage and potential legal liability,” the report said.

    To improve communications, the EPA plans to develop three teams of six that will assist with breaking down complex and technical information. When a team is deployed, they will not communicate with the public but will work behind the scenes.

    Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina could not comment on the report, but she acknowledged that there were challenges with EPA communications after the Gold King Mine spill.

    “We tried to work through those as situations arose,” she said.

    During emergencies, the EPA also plans work with federal, state, local, tribal, trust territory and other partners on development and release of all materials.

    Effectively communicating data with the public was another focus of the EPA, and it calls for eliminating the time lag between the EPA receiving data and communicating it to the public.

    Residents and local officials were frustrated with the slow pace of metals sampling and interpretation of the data.

    This data was needed to determine whether the river could be reopened and used for drinking, agriculture and recreation.

    Distrust of the EPA’s data led some residents of the Navajo Nation to keep their irrigation ditches closed, causing lost crops, because they didn’t want to risk using the contaminated water.

    The Office of Emergency Management has hired a coordinator to help the EPA with data, and the review solicits funding for training and workshops.

    Agency workers also updated their contact lists for tribal governments and plan to update those lists annually.

    The agency also updated training for senior leadership on what their role is during an emergency. Satellite communications systems were also upgraded for those working in the field.

    After the spill, the EPA team was trapped without cellphone service or a satellite phone and this delayed communications with the state by almost two hours.