#Aridification Watch: May edition As the snow season wraps up, how are things looking? — @Land_Desk #snowpack #runoff

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson) and to drop some dough in the tip jar:

It’s that time of the year, again, folks. Yep, you guessed it, it’s … Yukigata Time! Okay, maybe you didn’t guess it. Maybe you have no idea what the word even means. But I’m willing to bet you are familiar with the concept and, if you are a farmer or a gardener, you probably use a yukigata.

A yukigata is a pattern formed by melting snow on a mountain slope or hillside in the spring. They often serve as agricultural calendars, letting farmers know when to plant certain crops, or when the danger of a tomato-killing freeze has passed. The calendars can be simple: over in the Montezuma Valley gardeners wait until Ute Mountain is free of snow to plant. Or more elaborate: In the Grand Valley of Colorado, it would be foolish to plant before the Swan’s Neck has melted. And in the North Fork Valley of Western Colorado, gardeners wait for the Devil’s Neck on Mt. Lamborn to “break.”

But the yukigatas have been doing their thing, or disappearing, sooner than in the past, tricking people into planting too early and making their crops vulnerable to the inevitable spring freeze. In Durango, Colorado, for example, gardeners once planted according to when the snow melted off the north face of Smelter Mountain. Now that can happen as soon as March—if there’s snow on the mountain at all—which is just too early.

This also messes with plants’ internal calendars, tricking fruit trees into blossoming too early. A study published this spring found wildflowers in the sagebrush ecosystem now bloom weeks earlier than they did in the 1970s. And here’s a cool map from the National Phenology Network showing where trees leafed out earlier (or later) than usual this year.

Clearly the premature melting of the yukigata is caused by less snow to begin with combined with warming temperatures. Dust on the snow causes it to melt faster, too. As does, wait for it, atmospheric thirst! That’s right, the increasing temperatures are making the atmosphere thirstier, and it’s guzzling up snow, drying out plants, sucking up reservoirs, and so on. Last month, scientists from the Desert Research Institute published a study tracking changes in evaporative demand and found it is increasing everywhere, especially in the Southwest.

As evaporative demand increases, it pulls more water from the land into the air via evaporation and transpiration from plants (and snow and reservoirs), leaving less in the streams and soil. In the Rio Grande Basin, the authors say, that means crops need 8% to 15% more irrigation now than they did in 1980. They go on to note, “These increases in crop water requirements are coincident with declining runoff ratios on the Rio Grande due to warming temperatures and increased evaporative losses, representing a compounding stress on water supplies.”

The authors conclude:

“These higher evaporative demands mean that, for every drop of precipitation that falls, less water is likely to drain into streams, wetlands, and aquifers across the region. Soils and vegetation spend more time in drier conditions, increasing potential for forest fire, tree mortality, and tree regeneration failure.”

So the thirsty atmosphere is likely a factor in the catastrophic fires currently burning in New Mexico. The Hermits Peak Fire—in the Pecos River watershed, east of the Rio Grande—has grown to a monstrous 166,000 acres and is threatening Las Vegas, Mora, and Montezuma.

This year neither the Rio Grande nor the Pecos watershed has done all that well, snowpack-wise. Not many watersheds have, although Southwest Colorado is in better shape than it was last year. Snow season is pretty much over. That doesn’t mean it won’t snow any more in the high country. It’s just that the snowpack peak has almost certainly passed, runoff is underway, and many lower elevation SNOTEL stations are registering zero, which can throw off basin-wide graphs. So, below we offer the snowpack season finale with May 1 readings at our three go-to high country SNOTEL , plus the current graph for the Rio Grande Basin.

The bright spot is definitely Columbus Basin, high in the La Plata Mountains. It’s below the average level for the period of record, but still doing far better than 2021. The La Platas feed the Animas, La Plata, Mancos, and Dolores Rivers. Last year the Dolores had an awful year. Things are looking up this time around—relatively speaking. The Dolores River through its namesake town shot up to 1,800 cfs at one point, dropped, then shot back up again, pushing up levels at McPhee significantly. Still, don’t goo excited. McPhee’s only at 59% of capacity and water managers are releasing virtually nothing from the dam.

River runners better get out on the water now, while they still can.

Native American tribes assert #water rights on #ColoradoRiver Basin: 1922 compact that divided the water between states left out tribes, which own 25% rights — The #Cortez Journal #COriver #aridification

Lake Nighthorse in the Ridges Basin in La Plata County, Colorado. The view is from the overlook on County Road 210. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81402953

Click the link to read the article on The Cortez Journal website (Jim Mimiaga). Here’s an excerpt:

Ute Mountain Chairman Manuel Heart and Southern Ute Council member Lorelei Cloud presented their perspectives and plans for water management during a session of the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s annual meeting Friday [April 22, 2022] in Durango. The tribes were not invited to the discussions when the states and federal government divided water rights in the West during the early 20th century. Native Americans did not gain U.S. citizenship until two years after the 1922 Colorado River Compact divided Colorado River water between upper and lower basins.

Cloud said the Southern Ute Tribe has 129,000 acre-feet per year of federally reserved water rights on seven rivers that run through its reservation, but they only have the capacity to divert 40,600 acre-feet per year. The tribe stores water in Vallecito, Lemon and Lake Nighthorse Reservoirs.

The tribe recently built a reservoir to store water for its water treatment plant, which serves 500 households, many of which are nontribal homes in the checkerboard area of the reservation that includes private and tribal lands. The new reservoir allows for a 30-day reserve, up from one-day reserve. Water storage at the treatment plant is critical because it is served by the tribe’s junior water rights on the Pine River, which are vulnerable to calls from senior right holders…

In a historic meeting on March 28 in Albuquerque, 20 tribes, including Utes, met with U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss their involvement with Colorado River Basin water negotiations. Haaland is the first Native American appointed to the post. Cloud said tribes are now at the table to provide input on the Drought Response Operation Agreement set by the Bureau of Reclamation. The guidelines determine how water is released from Colorado River storage reservoirs.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

Latest settlement involving 2015 #GoldKingMine spill to send $90 million for cleanup: Federal officials say they’ll drop their cases against mining companies with the settlement — The #Denver Post

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

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

The Sunnyside Gold Corporation and its corporate owner will pay about $45 million under yet another settlement connected to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, which dumped a yellow plume of heavy metals into the Animas River, federal officials announced Friday [April 29, 2022]. The federal government will kick in another $45 million as well. Under the finalized settlement, the company and its Canadian owner, Kinross Gold Corporation, will pay the United States $40.1 million and another $4 million to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for cleanup efforts, Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Rich Mylott said in a release.

Cleanup is needed in the broader Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, in southwest Colorado’s San Juan County. That site includes dozens of abandoned mines, which are polluting the area’s waterways but it’s also the location of the 3-million-gallon spill at the Gold King Mine, which EPA officials triggered…

Already, cleanup efforts have cost more than $70 million, The Denver Post previously reported. Sunnyside also agreed to a $1.6 million settlement in December and agreed last year to pay $10 million to the Navajo Nation and $11 million to New Mexico, downstream of the mines and spill site.

#Water managers see runoff as positive sign (April 29, 2022): Heading into summer, forecasts aren’t great, but they are slightly better than last year — The #Durango Herald

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Aedan Hannon). Here’s an excerpt:

Water forecasts remain below average, but above last year’s troubling lows – a positive sign for water managers adapting to sustained drought in the region. Yet, much will depend on the impact of recent dust events and summer monsoons.

According to SNOTEL data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service, a little more than half of the snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins has melted so far. Snowpack is measured using the metric of snow water equivalent, or the water content of the snow.

The Animas River was flowing at 669 cubic feet per second in Durango on Wednesday afternoon, the Dolores River at 556 cfs in Dolores and the San Juan River at 895 cfs, according to Colorado Basin River Forecast Center data. Southwest Colorado’s rivers have slowed since Friday, but the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center predicts that flows will again increase over the next week and a half. Forecasts show the Animas River will peak at 3,100 cfs in late May or early June, slightly above last year’s peak of 2,910 cfs on June 7. Forecasts project peaks of 1,500 cfs for the Dolores River and 1,600 cfs for the San Juan River also in late May and early June…

Snow is melting earlier than average this year, according to the SNOTEL data, a trend that Wolff and other water managers have noted. Typically, snowpack would peak around April 1 and runoff would last from April through May and even into June, Wolff said…While runoff is happening earlier this year, water supply forecasts suggest more optimism. The Animas, Dolores and San Juan rivers are hovering just above 70% of average, according to Colorado Basin River Forecast Center forecasts…

Ken Curtis, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, told Wolff the district was hoping to get at least 70% of its average water.

#Durango dodges problems with low reservoirs, but is subject to rivers’ whim: City can’t be proactive about #drought without significant water storage — The Durango Herald

Lemon Dam, Florida River. The Florida River is Durango’s main water source, but the city can pull from the Animas River when needed. Because of water shortages and a prolonged drought, city officials are looking at using water stored in Lake Nighthorse

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Christian Burney). Here’s an excerpt:

Durango faces a different scenario than many other municipalities that rely on large water reservoirs for their supplies, he said. When a municipality saves a gallon of water, for example, that water stays right there in its reservoir until it is needed. But Durango “lives on the flow” of the Animas and Florida rivers, Biggs said. On one hand, the city isn’t reliant on reservoirs that may be in short supply of water. But on the other, if the rivers are short on supply because there isn’t enough runoff, the city’s only choice is to clamp down on restrictions and wait out the shortage, he said…

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

The city is looking into installing a pipeline that would connect Lake Nighthorse to the College Mesa water-treatment facility, Mayor Kim Baxter said, which would allow Durango to take a more proactive approach to drought management and mitigation.

The full drought management plan can be viewed at https://www.durangogov.org/DocumentCenter/View/16674/City-of-Durango-Drought-Plan-Feb-2020?bidId=.

Bulkheads caused the Gold King Mine spill. Could they also be part of the solution? Remediation tool can limit acidic drainage, but experts must also understand the complicated hydrology — The #Durango Herald

Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Aedan Hannon). Here’s an excerpt:

Bulkheads remain relatively obscure except to those involved in mine remediation, but their purpose is to plug mines and limit the release of mine waste while reversing the chemical processes that contribute to acid mine drainage. They can be simple fixes for extraordinarily complex mining systems and produce unintended consequences. But they are also a critical tool for the EPA and those working to improve water quality and reduce the lingering effects of more than a century of mining in the Bonita Peak Mining District…

The role of bulkheads in the Gold King Mine Spill

In its October 2015 technical assessment of the incident, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation argued that bulkheads were at least partially responsible for the Gold King Mine spill. The Gold King Mine is a maze of tunnels, faults and fissures located at different elevations inside Bonita Peak and the surrounding mountains in Gladstone. The mine opening that drained when the EPA crews struck a plug holding back water was actually what’s known as the “Upper Gold King Mine,” or Gold King Mine Level 7. A short distance away lies the “Gold King Mine,” which refers to a mine adit called American Tunnel…

With oversight from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, Sunnyside Gold Corp. first installed a bulkhead in American Tunnel in 1995 to stop mine drainage from entering Cement Creek. The company closed the valve on the first bulkhead in October 1996 and would go on to install two other bulkheads in American Tunnel. With the installation of the bulkheads, the flow of toxic mine waste into Cement Creek decreased from 1,700 gallons per minute to about 100 gallons per minute. But as the impounded water rose behind the bulkheads, the water rose elsewhere, including in Gold King Mine Level 7, which sits about 750 feet above American Tunnel, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s assessment…The EPA has yet to determine if it was faults and fractures in the rock or other internal mine workings that carried water from American Tunnel to Gold King Mine Level 7, but the EPA and the Bureau of Reclamation have both said the spill was in part the result of this buildup from the bulkheads in American Tunnel. Bulkheads have been used in mine remediation efforts in Colorado for more than three decades, and there are about 40 installed across the state, said Jeff Graves, director of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety’s Inactive Mine Reclamation Program…Bulkheads back up water and fill mine tunnels. When they do so, they limit the air rocks can come into contact with, preventing the chemical reaction that creates acid mine drainage…

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

Acid mine drainage can also still make its way into river systems. Water naturally moves through rock and can turn into acid mine drainage when exposed to oxygen, though in smaller volumes.

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

#NewMexico finalizes $1 million in restoration projects from #GoldKingMine spill — The Sante Fe New Mexican #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

Click the link to read the article on the Sante Fe New Mexican website (Scott Weyland). Here’s an excerpt:

The $1 million in restoration work is part of the $11 million settlement New Mexico reached last year with Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its two parent companies…

The plan calls for:

  • San Juan County to build the Cedar Hill Boat Ramp on the Animas River.
  • The city of Farmington to build the Festival and Farmers Market Pavilion at Gateway Park.
  • The San Juan County Soil and Water Conservation District to implement a soil restoration project in San Juan Valley.
  • The Tse Daa Kaan Chapter of Navajo Nation to upgrade its irrigation system.
  • The other $10 million in the settlement covers environmental response costs and lost tax revenue, among other things.

    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    Sunnyside Gold oversaw construction of the bulkheads that led to mines filling with acidic water…

    Some money from the EPA settlement will go to northwestern New Mexico communities for agriculture and outdoor recreation, partly to ease the stigma the spill caused in that region, state officials said in a news release. It will cover some of New Mexico’s costs responding to the spill. And it will pay the state to restore and conserve river and land habitats, monitor water quality, and clean up pollution to protect drinking water.

    Say hello to the new newsletter “Nine Basins Bulletin”

    Click the link to read the newsletter at Nine Basins Bulletin. Here’s an excerpt:

    This is your new water newsletter.

    The Nine Basins Bulletin is the new newsletter from the Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Water Information Program, a summary of the latest updates from southwest Colorado. In this email forum, we want to raise awareness, engagement, and coordination among our nine distinct watersheds—and share our successes with the state. It’s for you.

    Send your updates, jobs, and events to lauras@swwcd.org.

    What would you like your newsletter to be called? Submit the best newsletter name and win free admission to the seminar and kudos in the next edition…

    Southwestern Water Conservation District Awards $197,500 to Local Water Projects

    At their February meeting, the Southwestern Water Conservation District Board of Directors approved grants to support the following local water projects:

    $60,000 for the Eaklor Ditch Company’s emergency piping project in the Navajo river basin

    $28,500 to repair Lone Cone Reservoir’s outlet and intake in the San Miguel river basin

    $25,000 toward the Mancos Conservation District’s remote metering program for three historic irrigation ditches

    $16,500 to support the Dolores River Restoration Partnership’s ongoing monitoring and stewardship of their tamarisk removal project

    $30,000 for the Town of Pagosa Springs’ Yamaguchi South river restoration project on the San Juan river

    $16,000 to help Animas Watershed Partnership launch a basin-wide stream management planning process

    $5,000 for the Mancos Conservation District’s urban water quality and conservation plan

    $16,500 for Science on the Fly’s innovative partnership with anglers to collect water quality data in the San Miguel, Animas and La Plata basins

    Pretty good #snowpack comeback for the #AnimasRiver basin from the current storm. Still need more, but it’s a good start. (And is likely to create very hazardous avalanche conditions, with new snow atop faceted, rotted depth hoar — @LandDesk

    Colorado Snowpack basin-filled map February 23, 2022 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 24, 2022 via the NRCS.

    Winter storm hits Southwest #Colorado, dumps a foot of snow in mountains — The #Cortez Journal #snowpack

    Colorado snowpack basin-filled map February 22, 2022 via the NRCS.

    Click the link to read the article on The Cortez Journal:

    Winter storms on Tuesday blanketed Southwest Colorado, dropping 6 inches of snow in Dolores and Mancos, and more than a foot on mountain passes. A winter storm that began Monday afternoon and evening stretched into Tuesday largely followed predictions from the National Weather Service. A second storm Tuesday evening is expected to more than double snow totals and leave travelers facing blizzard conditions in places…Dolores received about 6 inches of snow, and Mancos, 5 to 7 inches, depending on elevation. Durango received 2 to 4 inches of snow, and Pagosa Springs, 1 to 3 inches…[Jim] Andrus reported that snowfall for Cortez was 67% of normal, with 16.7 inches by Feb. 22. Cortez received 10.6 inches in January. Andrus measured Tuesday morning’s snow water equivalent to be 0.27 inch of precipitation, and predicted that it would rise to 0.5 to 0.6 inch of precipitation by the end of the storm. He described the storm as a strong jet stream parked over the Four Corners…Telluride received 11 inches of new snow from the storm, and Purgatory received 14 inches.

    As of Tuesday, combined totals for five SNOTELS that measure snowpack in the Dolores River Basin showed 90% of normal, up from 89% on Monday. The Animas River Basin snowpack is at 87% of normal. The SNOTEL stations for the Dolores Basin are located at El Diente Peak, Lizard Head Pass, Lone Cone, Scotch Creek, and Sharkstooth. Winter season snowpack statewide was 90% of normal as of Feb. 22, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 22, 2022 via the NRCS.

    New [federal] legislation would address abandoned mine pollution in Southwest #Colorado: Conservation groups, nonprofits and local governments could finally join remediation efforts — The #Durango Herald

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    From The Durango Herald (Aedan Hannon):

    The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday would allow “Good Samaritan” groups to assist in the cleanup of abandoned mines by limiting their legal and financial liability for mine pollution. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., co-sponsored the bill, which would drastically expand the capacity for communities to address toxic mine waste from hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines in the U.S…

    The bill establishes a pilot program of 15 sites in which Good Samaritans – anyone from state mine reclamation agencies to local conservation groups – receive permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to carry out cleanups at abandoned mine sites.

    The legislation has a seven-year sunset and is meant to test a more constructive approach to limiting the pollution from the hundreds of thousands of mines that don’t qualify for the EPA’s Superfund status.

    For years, conservation groups and local governments have argued that the Clean Water Act, though critical for protecting water, limits their involvement in mine cleanups.

    The Clean Water Act characterizes the pollution from abandoned mines in two different ways. One is “nonpoint source,” which means there is no single identifiable source actively emitting pollution. Solid waste rock at an abandoned mine would qualify as a nonpoint source because it releases toxic materials only when rain and snow wear down the rock.

    Nonprofits and other Good Samaritans have been able to clean up nonpoint source abandoned mine pollution since at least 2007 after the EPA issued a policy that protected these groups from any liability for the pollution.

    The Clean Water Act also identifies “point source” pollution, which is actively emitted by a single source such as a pipe. Under the Clean Water Act, any entity that wants to clean up the infrastructure of an abandoned mine that discharges pollution, such as a tunnel, must assume liability for that pollution permanently.

    To comply with the Clean Water Act, these entities would have to undertake costly efforts to ensure that any water released by the mines during their work meets stringent standards.

    This issue of liability prevented state agencies, local governments and conservation organizations from cleaning up tens of thousands of abandoned mine sites that spew toxic chemicals.

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

    Wonkfest: Sunnyside #GoldKingMine Settlement, explained: Why has a mining company forked out millions for an accident in a mine it didn’t own? — @Land_Desk #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

    From The Land Desk (Jonathan P. Thompson):

    Last week’s $90 million settlement relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine Blowout that turned the Animas and San Juan Rivers TANG-orange for over 100 miles downstream did not bring an end to the legal saga that has dragged on for more than six years (lawsuits against the federal government are still pending). But when the agreement is finalized, Sunnyside Gold Corp—the owner of the nearby, now-shuttered Sunnyside Mine—will finally be free of the mess. Extricating themselves from any further liabilities has cost them about $67.6 million: $40.5 million to the feds; $6.1 million to the State of Colorado; $11 million to the State of New Mexico; and $10 million to the Navajo Nation, not to mention the tens of millions they’d already spent cleaning up a century’s worth of mining mess.

    In agreeing to the payments, Sunnyside and its parent company, Canada-based global mining giant Kinross, have made it clear that they are not admitting wrongdoing or liability. They don’t own the Gold King Mine and never did. So why did the company fork out so much money?

    The simple answer is that the bulkheads Sunnyside installed in the American Tunnel in the 1990s and early 2000s caused water to back up inside Bonita Peak and make its way into the Gold King Mine, resulting in the 3 million-gallon blowout. The truth is a bit more complicated.

    Get 20% off for one year

    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    The real question is not whether Sunnyside’s bulkheads backed up water into the Gold King Mine. That’s pretty much a given. More important is exactly where the water came from in the first place. And to get at that answer, we need to go back in time a century and some to the days when the Gold King Mine was one of the most profitable operations in Colorado.

    To see the photos in full resolution, please view this at http://LandDesk.org.

    A Timeline of the American Tunnel

    1887 Olaf Arvid Nelson, while working at the nearby Sampson Mine, surreptitiously locates the original Gold King claim on the slopes of Bonita Peak, and goes to work on it immediately. He eventually digs a 50-foot shaft and a 50-foot drift, but never makes money from it.

    1891 Nelson dies, perhaps from pneumonia, silicosis or just overwork. A year later his widow, Louisa, patents the Gold King claim, taking title to it. And in 1894 Louisa sells the Gold King claim to Northeastern capitalists Cyrus W. Davis and Henry Soule, for a mere $15,000. They hire local Willis Z. Kinney to run the mine.

    1897 About 40 employees pull ore from the Gold King mine’s 2,000 feet or so of underground workings and ships it down a 5,600-foot long tramway from the mine opening’s lofty perch on Bonita Peak’s slope to a new mill at Gladstone for processing.

    1898 The Gold King owners form the American Mining and Tunnel Co. and begin construction on a lower-elevation, safer access to the Gold King Mine several hundred feet below the current access adit (Gold King Level #1). They originally name the lower access point the American Tunnel, but after it is completed in 1903 and becomes the mine’s primary portal, it will be renamed the #7 Level of the Gold King Mine. This is level that will blowout in 2015 and is not the same American Tunnel in which Sunnyside placed its bulkheads many years later.

    1900 USGS geologist Frederick Ransome visits the Gold King Mine, noticing that the main adit—or opening to the mine—is not draining any water, which is highly unusual for the area. He hypothesizes that the American Tunnel #1 (aka Gold King Level #7)—which at the time was under construction—is “deep draining” the water from the Gold King’s upper operations.

    1900 The Gold King Mine owners begin construction on another American Tunnel (still known by that name today) at Gladstone. They plan to burrow into Bonita Peak until they are directly below the Gold King workings, then connect the two via a 1,000+ foot shaft. This will enable them to bring ore directly to the Gladstone mill, obviating the need to move it by tram across avalanche-prone terrain. But the project is abandoned after only 700 feet of tunneling (they need to go more than a mile underground before they will be in position to link with the Gold King).

    1906 (or thereabouts) A photo of the Gold King Mine #7 Level appears to show about 200 to 300 gallons of water draining from the mine adit.

    Gold King Mine drainage. Photo via The Land Desk

    1908 The structures at the mouth of the Gold King #7 Level catch fire, destroying the tram terminal, boardinghouse, compressor house, carpenter shop, and stables, killing six. The mine rebuilds, but it will never be the same. In 1909 the new boardinghouse burns, killing a waiter, and in 1911 an avalanche hits the boardinghouse, killing four people. After that operations are on-again, off-again and profits hard to come by.

    1921 The Gold King miners are working again to open the Gladstone tunnel, aka. the American Tunnel, that goes from the Gold King mill at Gladstone into Bonita Peak and under the Gold King Mine, about 860 feet below the Gold King #7 Level. The intent is to provide a long haulage tunnel for Gold King ore, thereby rendering the treacherous trams obsolete, but the connection to the upper mine is never made. A later report indicates that the American Tunnel is 6,233 feet deep when work is finally halted. The tunnel “deep drains” the groundwater of Bonita Peak, leaving the Gold King mine virtually dry.

    This shows the relative elevations of different levels of the Gold King and the American Tunnel. The Gold King was accessed via adits (mine openings) on Level 1 and Level 7. The other levels were mined, but did not have their own adits. Gold King Level 7 was called the American Tunnel when it was first built in the late 1890s, but the name was transferred to the far lower and longer American Tunnel that was originally built to link Gladstone with the Gold King Mine workings. The link was never completed and Standard Metals later took over the American Tunnel to access the Sunnyside Mine. Credit: The Land Desk

    1922 The Gold King Mine’s parent company goes bankrupt, leaving the Sunnyside Mine, on the opposite side of Bonita Peak, as one of the region’s biggest mines. But it struggles because the mine opening is above the workings, meaning water and ore must be pulled up and out of the mine, against gravity, which increases operational expenses.

    Text from a 1918 proposal to extend the Gold King Mine to meet up with the Sunnyside Mine workings. Credit: The Land Desk

    1960 Standard Metals takes over the dormant Sunnyside Mine and plans to revive it by extending the unused, partially complete American Tunnel to access it. The tunnel will provide gravity-assisted ore-haulage and water drainage for the Sunnyside by way of Gladstone. When it’s finished, the tunnel is 11,000 feet long, and brings mining, and prosperity, back to Silverton.

    General view of the Sunnyside Mine and Lake Emma, southwestern Colorado photo via the Denver Public Library

    1978 On a Sunday, when no miners are working, the floor of Lake Emma collapses into the Sunnyside Mine, sending tens of millions of gallons of water shooting out the American Tunnel at Gladstone and shutting the mine down for months. To this day some folks remain suspicious of the collapse, theorizing that it was planned by a beleaguered company looking for an insurance payout: Miners had warned management about increasing amounts of water pouring into the mine and worried that they were getting too close to the lake’s floor. Ultimately, Standard Metals received $9 million, but they had to drag the insurance company to court to get it. The company will go bankrupt in the early 1980s and sell the Sunnyside Mine to Echo Bay, a Canadian company, doing business as Sunnyside Gold Corp.

    1986 Meanwhile, a company called Gerber Minerals takes over the Gold King and sets about to re-open it. They apply for a mining permit for the Gold King, but not a discharge permit, because: “No drainage occurs from any of the portals—the district is deep-drained by the American Tunnel located at Gladstone.” As a result, the American Tunnel flows with about 1,600 gallons per minute of acidic, heavy-metal laden water draining into Cement Creek and, ultimately, the Animas River. Note: The first mile and some of the American Tunnel runs through Gold King Mine patented claims, meaning it belongs to the owners of the Gold King.

    1987 Donald “Donnie” Goode killed when a 100-pound rock falls from the ceiling of Gold King #7 Level, about 2,500 feet underground, striking him in the head.

    1988 Sunnyside overhauls the old American Tunnel water treatment plant. It uses one ton of lime per day to raise pH levels, causing toxic metals to precipitate out of solution and settle into ponds, cleaning the 1,600 gallons per minute of discharge to a level that can support sensitive fathead minnows. The process costs approximately $500,000 per year, and results in 365 tons per year of metal-laden sludge.

    1991 The Sunnyside Mine closes for good. A year later the re-born Gold King suspends operations, as well, but holds onto its permits. In preparation for plugging, or bulkheading, the American Tunnel, Sunnyside Gold and Washington Mining Co. commission an exhaustive hydrological study of the Sunnyside, which concludes that bulkheads in the American Tunnel should not cause flooding of the Gold King, and that it would take 150 years for mine pool water to reach Cement Creek.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    1994 Animas River Stakeholders Group is formed as a citizen-led effort to study and address mining pollution in the watershed and propose realistic water quality standards. It’s seen as a collaborative alternative to Superfund. Bill Simon is chosen as coordinator. Other notable members include Peter Butler, who had just received his Ph.D. in natural resource management, Larry Perino of Sunnyside Gold, and Steve Fearn.

    1996 Sunnyside enters into a consent decree with the state, a sort of pollution trading scheme. Sunnyside will install three bulkheads in the American Tunnel, one on its property to back up water into the Sunnyside’s workings, and two more on Gold King property nearer to the surface. They will also clean up a list of abandoned mines in the watershed in order to offset the increased heavy metal loading that will result when Sunnyside turns off its American Tunnel water treatment plant. At about the same time, the state division of minerals and geology inspects the Gold King and finds that it’s draining just one to two gallons of acidic, metal-laden water per minute, a mere trickle.

    1996 The valve is shut on the first bulkhead over 6,000 feet into the American Tunnel, beyond the Gold King property line. Water backed up behind this will inundate the Sunnyside Mine workings and create what’s known as the Sunnyside mine pool. By robbing the system of oxygen, it should slow acid mine drainage reactions. Sunnyside also dumped 625 tons of lime in from the top of the mine to raise pH levels.

    1991 The Sunnyside Mine closes for good. A year later the re-born Gold King suspends operations, as well, but holds onto its permits. In preparation for plugging, or bulkheading, the American Tunnel, Sunnyside Gold and Washington Mining Co. commission an exhaustive hydrological study of the Sunnyside, which concludes that bulkheads in the American Tunnel should not cause flooding of the Gold King, and that it would take 150 years for mine pool water to reach Cement Creek.

    1997 A Gold King Mines environmental protection plan notes that the mine is discharging between 4 gpm and 30 gpm, with a pH as low as 2.25. However, the authors of the report theorize that it’s groundwater, not Sunnyside mine pool water, based on the 1992 hydrology report. A 1998 inspection finds that the Gold King #7 level portal had collapsed, just inside the portal, and is impassible. It does not say how much water is draining from the mine.

    An aerial view of the Gold King Mine days after the 2015 blowout showing the approximate path of the American Tunnel, which runs beneath the Gold King. The Sunnyside Mine is beneath Lake Emma. Jonathan P. Thompson photo enabled by EcoFlight.org.

    1999 A water analysis report of the Gold King Mine finds that the mine is discharging between 11 gpm and 30 gpm with a very low pH and very high concentrations of dissolved metals. The following year Steve Fearn buys the Gold King mine from CCTC, trustee for Pitchfork “M” Corp. The state inspection later that year notes: “Though this year has been abnormally dry, the No. 7 level discharge appears to have increased significantly … from around 30 gpm to around 45 gpm.”

    2001 The Sunnyside Mine Pool is thought to have reached equilibrium, based on the findings of the 1992 hydrological study. The mine pool, some 1,200 feet deep, exerts nearly 500 psi on bulkhead #1. Sunnyside then installs bulkhead #2, which is closer to the surface and, in 2002, bulkhead #3, which is right at the surface, in preparation for its exit from the area. By now Sunnyside Gold has spent upwards of $25 million on cleanup and reclamation. Discharges from both the Gold King and the nearby Mogul Mine—which was also mostly dry prior to the first bulkhead installation—continue to increase.

    2003 A byzantine agreement transfers ownership of the Sunnyside water treatment plant to Gold King owner Fearn, allowing Fearn to treat Gold King water, and allowing Sunnyside to leave—in theory. Also involved in the deal is Todd Hennis, owner of the Mogul Mine in the Cement Creek drainage, who acquires most of the Gladstone townsite. The deal will go bad a year later when Hennis evicts Fearn, and thus the water treatment plant, from his property at Gladstone, shutting down water treatment for good (proving detrimental to downstream fish populations). Meanwhile, Fearn’s mining ventures have gone broke. Hennis will acquire the Gold King and in coming years set about to mine it, first with a new company called Colorado Goldfields, and then on his own.

    When treatment of water draining from the Gold King Mine ceased in 2004, downstream water quality—and fish populations—were negatively affected. Credit: The Land Desk

    2005 Gold King mine discharges have increased to 200 gallons per minute or more. Animas River Stakeholders Group calls in the Environmental Protection Agency to help figure out the cause and potentially fund a solution. In its annual report to the Security Exchange Commission, Colorado Goldfields says it intends to re-open Gold King #7 Level, and that it hopes to enter into an agreement with the EPA allowing it to deal with increasing flows of acid mine drainage, which the company believes are coming from the “2150 vein workings of the Sunnyside Mine.” The report also notes the danger for a “blow out of potentially impounded mine waters.”

    2009 The State Division of Mining Reclamation and Safety calls the Gold King, now dumping nearly 200,000 pounds of metals into the watershed per year, “one of the worst high quantity, poor water quality draining mines in the State of Colorado.” It backfills the mine portal, or opening, because it had collapsed, and installs drainage pipe.

    2014 Sunnyside Gold Corp. offers $10 million towards water treatment and other upper Cement Creek cleanup—as long as Superfund isn’t declared.

    2015 EPA contractors begin excavating dirt piled up at the opening of Gold King Mine #7 Level until the operator notices a “spring” spurting from the dirt. Within minutes, the tiny fountain has grown to a 3-million gallon torrent of electric-orange, acidic, heavy metal-laden water pouring into the North Fork of Cement Creek far below.

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

    So, yeah, I know: That made it about as clear as the Animas River was in the days following the blowout. This puzzle will never be solved definitively. Bonita Peak’s hydrology is all a tangled maze of fractures and faults and veins, a sort of lithic Swiss cheese comprised of hundreds of miles of drifts, shafts, crosscuts, and tunnels, creating innumerable potential paths the water could follow.

    But from what we can glean from the history we can conclude:

    • The Gold King Mine had water flowing through it early on. When the first American Tunnel, aka #7 Level, was dug, it deep drained the upper levels, making them appear to be dry.
    • About 200 to 300 gallons of water per minute flowed out of the #7 Level adit until the new American Tunnel was drilled under the Gold King in the 1920s, deep draining the entirety of Bonita Peak.
    • It wasn’t until after Sunnyside installed bulkheads in the American Tunnel that drainage returned to the Gold King #7 level (as well as to the Mogul Mine). It’s safe to conclude in this case that correlation is causation: The installation of the bulkheads caused drainage to return to the Gold King.

    Not clear, though, is precisely where the water was coming from: Did the Sunnyside mine pool water back up, then find a pathway through to the Gold King Mine? If so, then it would seem that Sunnyside is at least partially responsible for the resulting 2015 blowout, since that nasty orange water originated on its subterranean property. Or did the lower two bulkheads—which are on Gold King property—simply return Bonita Peak’s hydrology to a pre-American Tunnel state of affairs, or a “natural flow regime,” as one Sunnyside employee put it in the early 2000s? In that case it is not Sunnyside Gold’s water, it’s the Gold King’s, which would absolve Sunnyside of responsibility.

    While conclusive answers to those questions aren’t exactly forthcoming, a look at the timeline suggests that the water that spewed from Gold King #7 Level on Aug. 5, 2015, may have come from both sources. Drainage from the Gold King first started increasing—albeit only marginally—in 1997, after bulkhead #1 had been installed but before the next two were sealed. But flows remained pretty low until after the valves on bulkheads #2 and #3 were closed. It was only then that the Gold King became a major source of acid mine drainage and conditions established that would lead to the blowout.

    But at this point maybe it doesn’t matter: Even if Sunnyside could prove that it’s not liable for what happened in 2015, it still would have been the last and only viable mining concern in the vicinity when it happened. Whether it’s culpable or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is probably irrelevant. In either case, the company would have had to take responsibility or else risk damaging its corporate image. That’s the price one pays for playing the mining game.

    #GoldKingMine settlement — @Land_Desk #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

    From The Land Desk (Jonathan Thompson):

    We have just received word that the federal government and the owner of the Sunnyside Mine have agreed to pay a total of $90 million to settle claims relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout. The proposed consent decree will be posted in the Federal Register and opened to public comment for 30 days prior to being finalized.

    That consent decree will “resolve all claims, cross-claims, and counterclaims between the United States and Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold Corporation (the “Mining Defendants”) in this multidistrict litigation,” according to the U.S. District Court of New Mexico filing.

    The Land Desk will have more details—along with a wonkfest explaining why Sunnyside is even involved with an incident that occurred at a mine it doesn’t own—next week.

    The settlement by the numbers:

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

    $40.95 million

    Amount Sunnyside Gold Corp., a subsidiary of Canada-based Kinross Gold, will pay to the federal government under the settlement, all of which will be used to finance cleanup relating to the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    $4.05 million

    Amount Sunnyside Gold will pay to the Colorado Dept. of Health and Environment.

    $45 million

    Amount the U.S. government, on behalf of federal settling agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service—will pay to “appropriate federal accounts” under the settlement.

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

    From The Durango Herald (Aedan Hannon):

    The Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Department, Department of the Interior, Department Agriculture and state of Colorado announced Friday they have reached a settlement with Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent company Kinross Gold Corp. to fund remediation in the Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton.

    In the case of an old-fashioned standoff, the federal government will drop its claims against Sunnyside Gold Corp. and Canadian mining company Kinross Gold Corp. and the two companies will drop their claims against the federal government after the settlement.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. will pay $40.95 million to the federal government and the EPA and another $4.05 million to Colorado, while the United States will contribute $45 million to the cleanup of mining contamination in the area…

    The agreement marks the end of Sunnyside Gold Corp.’s remediation work in the Bonita Peak Mining District. The EPA previously ordered the company to undertake a costly investigation of groundwater in the area in March 2018.

    The state of Colorado has also released Sunnyside from its reclamation permit obligations, which require the company to clean up its past mining operations and meet the conditions of a reclamation plan approved by the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, a branch of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

    In addition, the settlement limits the future liability of both Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent company…

    The settlement was made as a matter of practicality with no admission of wrongdoing or liability, Myers said in an email to The Durango Herald.

    Myers noted the federal government’s matching $45 million was a result of the federal government’s own liability for the Gold King Mine spill and damage to the surrounding area…

    The Colorado and the federal governments have argued that Sunnyside Gold Corp. is partly at fault and responsible for funding remediation in the Bonita Peak Mining District after placing bulkheads in the 1990s to prevent the drainage of contaminated water.

    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    In legal filings, the state has said the bulkheads backed up waste in surrounding mines, including the Gold King Mine, which was released when EPA contractors accidentally caused a blowout…

    The EPA has already spent more than $75 million to remediate the site.

    The Bonita Peak Mining District Community Advisory Group is working to define water-quality targets and other environmental standards that will need to be met for the area to be considered decontaminated. Those targets will help guide the work of the EPA…

    [Ty Churchwell] said a full cleanup of the site will likely take at least another decade. He pointed to similar Superfund sites near Leadville and Idaho Springs that each took about two decades.

    The settlement is a step in that direction.

    Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Associated Press (James Anderson) via The Colorado Sun:

    The agreement must be approved by the U.S. District Court in the District of New Mexico after a 30-day public comment period…

    An EPA-led contractor crew was doing excavation work at the entrance to the Gold King Mine, another site in the district not owned by Sunnyside, in August 2015 when it inadvertently breached a debris pile that was holding back wastewater inside the mine.

    Settling ponds used to precipitate iron oxide and other suspended materials at the Red and Bonita mine drainage near Gold King mine, shown Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Eric Vance/EPA)

    An estimated 3 million gallons of wastewater poured out, carrying nearly 540 U.S. tons of metals, mostly iron and aluminum. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted…

    Monies will be used for water and soil sampling and to build more waste repositories. The EPA said in a statement Friday it has spent more than $75 million on cleanup work “and expects to continue significant work at the site in the coming years.”

    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 proposed consent decree follows Sunnyside settlements with New Mexico and the Navajo Nation earlier this year. Sunnyside admits no fault in the agreement.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    #Durango sewer rates to increase $2.22 per month, on average: City Council approves 3% hike to address inflation — The Durango Herald

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Durango Herald (Nicholas A. Johnson):

    Durango City Council on Tuesday approved a 3% rate increase for all customers who use the city’s sewer infrastructure.

    The ordinance passed with a vote of 4 to 1…

    [Jarrod] Biggs said that although there is a surplus in the sewer fund, it won’t last with rising costs outpacing sewer revenues…

    According to Biggs, inflation in the past year has driven up sewer operations considerably. He said the cost of chemicals used to operate the city’s water treatment facility went up 35% in 2021…

    City Manager José Madrigal said the 3% increase will, on average, translate to a $2.22 increase for sewer ratepayers.

    Sewer increases are tied to the base rate charges for residential and commercial customers. Those who go over the base rate of usage will not be charged anything more than they normally would for going over.

    Base rates are determined by the size of a person’s water meter. Most residential homes have a water meter size of five-eights of an inch; the new base rate for homes with that meter size inside Durango city limits will be $23.71 per month…

    Revenue from sewer rates in Durango is about $7.9 million per year, while the operating budget of the city’s sewage infrastructure is $3.6 million. Another $3.4 million is diverted from sewer rate revenue to pay off debt from large projects, such as construction on the Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility.

    Over the past three years, sewage revenues left over to pay for capital expenses have been around $900,000 annually. However, the annual cost of capital expenses for the sewer system has been around $2 million. Capital expenses include projects such as sewer line rehabilitation and manhole replacements, Biggs said.

    “If we don’t have adjustments to bring in more revenue, we will have to watch and limit capital improvement projects, and defer maintenance,” he said.

    #Water Agreement Reached Between the Jicarilla Apache Nation, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and The Nature Conservancy

    SAN JUAN RIVER The San Juan River at the hwy 64 bridge in Shiprock, NM. June 18, 2021. © Jason Houston

    Here’s the release from The Nature Conservancy (Lindsay Schlageter):

    Will help address water security in the face of climate change

    The Jicarilla Apache Nation, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced today a new agreement to lease water from the Nation to the NMISC. As the western US is facing critical drought and water shortages are occurring throughout the Colorado River Basin, the Nation has worked with the NMISC and TNC to develop and implement this project.

    This innovative agreement between a sovereign Tribal Nation, a Colorado River Basin state government, and a conservation organization will allow the NMISC to lease up to 20,000 acre-feet of water per year. This amount will benefit threatened, endangered, and sensitive fish and will increase water security for New Mexico.

    “This first-of-its-kind project demonstrates how meaningful sovereign-to-sovereign cooperation, with support from environmental organizations, can lead to creative solutions,” said Daryl Vigil, water administrator for the Jicarilla Apache Nation. “This project should serve as a model for effective tribal collaboration and arms-length negotiations among sovereigns throughout the Colorado River Basin.”

    The Jicarilla Apache Nation’s water rights provide access to water for the Nation to conduct cultural practices, provide drinking water to its community, and support economic development. The Nation subcontracts some of its water to users outside the Reservation. Subcontracts can be a source of income to help build the Nation’s economic self-sufficiency while providing water to others that need it.

    For the last several decades, the Nation leased water to coal-fired power plants that are now facing closure. This transition presented a new opportunity for the Nation, the NMISC and TNC to work together.

    “The Colorado River Basin’s tribal nations are among the most important leaders and partners in efforts to find lasting solutions to the pressing water scarcity and ecological challenges that face the millions of people who rely on this incredible river,” said Celene Hawkins, Colorado and Colorado River tribal engagement program director for The Nature Conservancy.

    As many across the Colorado River Basin work to develop projects and solutions to address climate change and drought, the Nation, the NMISC, and TNC hope this innovative water sharing project can serve as a model for water sustainability within the basin. This project demonstrates that the Colorado River Basin’s tribal nations are important leaders and partners in crafting transformative water solutions across the West.

    “This agreement is unique for New Mexico as it creates a framework for sovereign-to-sovereign contractual agreements that support and benefit both sovereigns,” said Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. “It may serve as an example for other Colorado River Basin states and tribal nations that have settled water rights to find collaborative solutions that benefit multiple interests and users of the San Juan and Colorado Rivers.”

    THE ANIMAS RIVER IN FLORA VISTA, NM. The Animas River in Flora Vista, NM as seen from the New Mexico County Road 350 bridge. June 18, 2021. © Jason Houston

    Upper #SanJuanRiver #snowpack and streamflow report — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    Snow report

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 9.6 inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

    That amount is 75 percent of that date’s median snow water equivalent.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 72 percent of the Dec. 22 median in terms of snow pack.

    Note: It looks like the gage may be icing up.

    River report

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 40.6 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Pagosa Springs as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22.

    Based on 86 years of water records at this site, the lowest recorded flow rate for this date is 23 cfs, recorded in 1990.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1987 at 132 cfs. The average flow rate for this date is 62 cfs.

    An instantaneous reading was not available as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 22, for the Piedra River near Arboles.

    Owner of mine to pay $1.6 million in settlement for #GoldKingMine blowout: Money will go toward restoration projects in areas damaged by spill — The #Durango Herald #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

    From The Durango Herald (Nicholas A. Johnson):

    A $1.6 million settlement agreement with Sunnyside Gold Corp. was approved by the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees to resolve the company’s liability for damaged natural resources at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site where the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout occurred.

    Colorado Natural Resources Trustees include state Attorney General Phil Weiser, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Jill Hunsaker Ryan and the Executive Director of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Dan Gibbs.

    The settlement will allow trustees to fund restoration projects in natural areas damaged by the spill and other releases of hazardous substances within the Superfund site.

    Trustees will now begin to consult with regional stakeholders, including local governments and nonprofit groups, solicit proposals and allocate the money for environmental restoration and property acquisition projects.

    “The settlement announced today is a step in the right direction to address the damage suffered in Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners region in the wake of the Gold King Mine disaster and other degradation of our natural resources,” Weiser said in a news release. “The trustees look forward to partnering with the local community on how to invest the funds.”

    The work reflects the mandate of the trustees to take necessary actions to address when Colorado’s natural resources are injured or destroyed.

    In an email to The Durango Herald, Gina Meyers, director of reclamation operations for Sunnyside Gold Corp., said the settlement agreement was reached as a matter of practicality, with no admission of liability or wrongdoing.

    The settlement agreement resolves the trustees’ claims that Sunnyside caused or contributed to releases of acidic, metals-laden mine wastewater into the Upper Animas River watershed. Sunnyside operated the Sunnyside Mine from 1986 until 1991…

    The settlement agreement will be filed with the U.S. District Court in Denver. Once filed with the court, the agreement will go through a 30-day public comment process.

    After the close of the comment period, Sunnyside Gold Corp. and the trustees will present all comments received to the court. The court will ultimately decide whether to approve the settlement.

    “The trustees look forward to infusing funds into the local economy through community endorsed reclamation projects that improve watersheds and address legacy mining impacts,” Gibbs said in a news release.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    #Durango: Acid Mine Nation Day — A #GoldKingMine Spill Retrospective, September 26, 2021

    Something in the water: Trying to get a handle on E. coli issues in the #SanJuanRiver, #AnimasRiver — The #Durango Telegraph

    The Animas River in Durango, in Apri, 2018. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Durango Telegraph (Jonathan Romeo):

    “We know who pooped in the river, now we’re trying to figure out where it’s coming from,” Alyssa Richmond said as she took a sample of water recently from the muddy San Juan River, in the blazing high desert outside Farmington.

    Richmond is coordinator for the San Juan Watershed Group, a collection of local agencies and volunteers working to improve water quality on the San Juan River as it runs through northern New Mexico. The group’s ultimate goal, Richmond said, is to have the stretch of river meet national water quality standards. But as it stands, it’s not going well.

    Among a plethora of water-quality issues that include mine pollution, urban runoff and rising water temperatures amid an increasing drought, is the issue of E. coli contamination. A naturally occurring bacteria that lives in all humans and animal stools, E. coli can contaminate ground and surface water, and lead to health implications.

    For at least the past 10 years, researchers have launched a full-scale investigation to better understand E. coli issues up and down the San Juan River watershed, from high up in the San Juan Mountains to its major tributary, the Animas River, to stretches that run into the Navajo Nation.

    Early results are not encouraging: the EPA’s standard for acceptable E. coli levels is 126 colony-forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters. In stretches of the San Juan River through Farmington, water samples taken this summer exceeded nearly 1,500 CFUs. “We didn’t expect it to be as high as it was,” Richmond said on a sampling day in late August. “It was shocking.”

    But it’s not all doom and poop. The San Juan Watershed Group’s efforts will ultimately help inform where cleanup projects should be focused to achieve the highest improvement in water health. And, all up and down the watershed, even to the highest reaches of the Animas River around Silverton, there is a concerted push to face E. coli issues head on.

    “The good news is everyone agrees there should be no human poop in the water,” said San Juan Citizens Alliance’s Animas Riverkeeper Marcel Gaztambide, who probably never thought he’d have to make so obvious a statement to the local paper. “And it’s an issue of concern, so it’s good we’re talking about it now.”

    Defecation detectives

    E. coli is a difficult contaminant to fully contextualize because not only is it naturally occurring, it is also one of the most common bacteria. It can come from livestock as well as wildlife like elk, deer, birds, beaver – pretty much any animal that poops. And to complicate matters further, only some strains of the bacteria are harmful to human health.

    In the early 2010s, however, researchers knew high E. coli levels were an issue in the San Juan River in northern New Mexico, but the question was, who was the main culprit? After conducting two years of microbial source testing, which not only shows the level of E. coli but also pinpoints the exact source, the results were not what researches were expecting. It came back that the largest contributors were … drumroll, please … humans.

    In fact, test results showed human feces in 70 to 100 percent of samples taken from the Animas River at the Colorado-New Mexico state line down to the border of the Navajo Nation.

    With the guilty party exposed, funding was again secured to take the investigation a step further this summer by understanding where exactly the human waste was coming from, Richmond said. It’s a process that’s rather simple, by testing upstream and downstream of suspected source points, and then seeing where the spikes in E. coli levels occur. And already, there are some potential smoking guns: failing septic tanks from homes and development, outdated wastewater treatment plants and illegal RV dumping.

    What the sampling has also shown, Richmond said, is the high E. coli levels aren’t necessarily coming from upstream communities in Durango and elsewhere. Instead, early results indicate the highest spikes happen in and around Farmington…

    It’s a watershed moment

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean upstream communities are swimming in sparkling clean waters.

    The Animas River, for instance, has issues all its own. Remember that EPA standard of 126 cfu/100 mL? Well, one study conducted by Fort Lewis College in October 2018 found E. coli levels in the Animas at Santa Rita Park, near the Whitewater Park (close your eyes kayakers and surfers) at 226 CFUs. Bare in mind, this was before the completion of the City’s new water reclamation facility in December 2019…

    Over in the Florida River, which runs into the Animas about 18 miles south of Durango, progress is also being made, said Warren Rider, coordinator for the Animas Watershed Partnership, which focuses on water quality issues on the Colorado side of the border.

    The Florida River for years has exceeded safety standards for E. coli and accounts for nearly a quarter of the bacteria and nutrients dumped into the Animas River before the state line. In a bit of a shock, the Florida was delisted last year, but that was mostly due to a lack of data, researchers say.

    While natural sources do account for a portion of contamination in the Florida, agriculture and livestock operations also contribute a good amount of harmful bacteria. As a result, Rider said the Animas Watershed Partnership has tried to work with landowners to fence off waterways to livestock and reestablish vegetation along stream banks…

    Up in the high country

    And no one has forgotten about the highest reaches of the watershed atop the San Juan Mountains, where an unprecedented increase in recreation, and therefore human waste, has been well noted and nosed in the past year or so.

    This summer, the U.S. Forest Service and Mountain Studies Institute partnered to test heavily trafficked recreation areas for E. coli. Colleen Magee-Uhlik, a forest ambassador with MSI, said areas with high use of recreation showed much higher concentrations than locations with little human impact.

    In the obvious case study, South Mineral Creek – that of Ice Lakes fame – water samples taken above the highest areas of recreation tested at about 22 CFUs. Farther downstream, in a location that would catch all the cumulative impacts of recreation and camping, samples were more than four times as high, at nearly 90 CFUs. (And, it should be noted, South Mineral was closed this year because of fire damage, which likely means levels would be even higher if people were in the area)…

    Christie Chatterley, Fort Lewis College assistant professor of physics and engineering, said in the popular backpacking spot Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness, a student-led research program also found high levels of E. coli in streams. FLC has plans to conduct microbial source testing to see exactly where the bacteria is coming from, but Chatterley said it’s probably safe to assume hikers and campers…

    So what can be done?

    For starters, using best practices in the high country, such as burying waste 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water, and packing out toilet paper can go a long way. This message is even more important as record numbers of people visit the backcountry, many without a working knowledge of how to protect the very landscape they come to enjoy.

    Farther downstream, upgrading septic tanks is seen as another obvious target. Brian Devine, with San Juan Basin Public Health, said new septic regulations require people selling their homes to have septic systems inspected. In 2020 alone, more than 500 systems were inspected, which led to many leeching septic tanks being fixed. “It’s resulting in systems getting repaired,” he said. Richmond, with the San Juan Watershed Group, said agencies are working with New Mexico health officials to tackle failing and outdated septic systems as well.

    And, the city of Durango’s Biggs said the Clean Water Act continues to push water quality standards. “The Clean Water Act has really improved water quality, and the Animas would be a testament to that,” he said. “And everyone benefits, including our downstream users.”

    So yes, there’s no quick and easy fix to E. coli issues in the Animas and San Juan rivers, but all these efforts are folded into the long history of communities along the watershed, and the responsibilities they have to one another, Biggs said. It’s an issue that dates back to the 1800s when Silverton would send down water contaminated by mining operations to Durango, and a few decades later, when Durango’s uranium pile sat along the banks of the Animas River, only to be swept downstream.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    #NewMexico #drought picture has improved considerably over summer, thanks to #monsoon2021

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Mike Easterling):

    While monsoon season does not conclude officially until the end of September, it is clear the summer weather pattern that typically brings a good deal of moisture to the Southwest has helped ease the drought’s grip on much of New Mexico.

    Chuck Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said the agency will not have figures on monsoon rain totals until early October, after the season has drawn to a close.

    New Mexico Drought Monitor Map September 7, 2021.

    But a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor map for New Mexico — and the rest of the Southwest — shows substantial improvement over the past two and a half months. Many parts of the state that were bone dry at the beginning of summer have emerged mostly, or even entirely, from the drought.

    Nowhere has that change been more dramatic than in the southeast corner of the state. According to the Southwest and California Drought Status Update issued June 24 by the federal government’s National Integrated Drought Information System, parts of seven counties in that corner of New Mexico were characterized as being in exceptional drought — the worst category — and every county in that region was suffering from severe, extreme or exceptional drought, the three worst categories.

    Now, two and a half months later, the picture there is much different, as portions of six of those counties are now characterized as normal. Much of the remaining territory in the southeast corner of the state is classified as being only abnormally dry or experiencing moderate drought.

    While other parts of the state also saw marked improvement — portions of 13 counties in New Mexico now are drought free, compared to parts of just two counties on June 24 — others have not been so fortunate. Many parts of central, southwest and northwest New Mexico that were locked in drought at the beginning of the summer remain that way, even though their status has improved, as well.

    The drought continues to take a heavy toll on San Juan, McKinley, Rio Arriba, Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Las Alamos, Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties, with each of those counties still showing substantial territory characterized as being in extreme drought, the second-worst category.

    That’s not to say those locations are as bad off as they were even a month ago, when large portions of all those counties were experiencing exceptional drought. In fact, the percentage of the state that is classified as being in exceptional drought has declined from more than 50% at the start of 2021 to approximately 33% three months ago, 4.5% on Aug. 10 and 0% on Sept. 9. And while 21.2% of New Mexico was in extreme drought on Aug. 10, that percentage declined to 19.1% by Sept. 7.

    According to drought.gov, this was the 32nd wettest August in New Mexico over the last 127 years. Las Cruces has enjoyed an especially good monsoon so far, having racked up 5.06 inches of precipitation over that period, the third-wettest monsoon on record, according to drought.gov.

    San Juan County has not seen that kind of bounty, but it has experienced a relatively good monsoon season, at least by the paltry standards of recent years. Jones said Farmington has received 1.6 inches of moisture at Four Corners Regional Airport over the three-month period, a figure that nearly matches the 30-year average of 1.62 inches.

    For the year, Farmington has drawn 4.31 inches of precipitation, which comes close to matching the figure of 4.68 inches the city has received on average through the end of August for the last 30 years. Over the last three decades, Farmington has averaged a total of 7.76 inches annually.

    As of Sept. 7, the vast majority of San Juan County was still characterized as being in extreme drought, with only slivers of the southwest and southeast corners in severe drought. But on Aug. 10, approximately half the county was in exceptional drought, and now none of it is.

    #GoldKingMine owner sues federal government over 2015 spill — The #ColoradoSun #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

    From The Associated Press via The Colorado Sun:

    Todd Hennis claims the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has occupied part of his property near the Gold King Mine but hasn’t compensated him for doing so

    The owner of an inactive southwestern Colorado mine that was the source of a disastrous 2015 spill…has filed a lawsuit seeking nearly $3.8 million in compensation for the federal government’s use of his land in its ongoing cleanup response…

    Gold King mine spill Animas River August 2015 photo — Nancy Fisher via The Colorado Independent

    Todd Hennis claims the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has occupied part of his property near the Gold King Mine but hasn’t compensated him for doing so since the August 2015 spill, The Durango Herald reports. He also claims the EPA contaminated his land by causing the spill, which fouled rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

    Hennis is seeking nearly $3.8 million in compensation in the suit filed [August 3, 2021] in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. He contends EPA actions have violated his Fifth Amendment rights to just compensation for public use of private property.

    New mission to protect, expand #Colorado’s Gold Medal fishing waters — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Seth Boster):

    A new coalition aims to re-shape the way people think about Colorado’s Gold Medal fisheries while also rally support for preserving and expanding signature waters around the state.

    The coalition is “still very much a work in progress,” said Scott Willoughby, the Colorado field organizer with Trout Unlimited. But the campaign called Colorado Gold has added muscle with dozens of major business partners that include Patagonia and Fishpond, along with angling groups and towns centered around the state’s streams and lakes with the sport’s greatest distinction.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages some 322 river miles and three lakes with Gold Medal designations, based on those locations producing “the highest quality cold-water habitats.” The designation is reserved for fisheries producing a variety of trout 14-plus inches.

    “When we talk about these Gold Medal waters, people seem to associate them with trophy trout fishing,” Willoughby said. “I think it’s time we shift that thinking from trophy trout to trophy trout habitat.”

    With the sport’s growing popularity, Trout Unlimited has identified over-fishing as one threat to those habitats. Colorado Gold has a bold mission to conserve enough habitat to merit a 30% increase in Gold Medal fishing waters by 2030.

    Doing this “will help safeguard more Colorado fisheries while redistributing pressure on a currently limited resource,” reads a coalition statement. Colorado Gold’s website adds: “We can’t afford to simply sit back and watch (Parks and Wildlife) do all the heavy lifting.”

    […]

    Bigger and hotter fires of recent years have been another threat to prized streams. In 2019, officials reported the 416 fire near Durango effectively killed 80% of the fish population along the Gold Medal Animas River…

    “Obviously, (climate change) will take federal action, as well as local action,” Willoughby said. “That’s why it’s so important that we continue to broaden this coalition.”

    Invitation to propose ideas for natural resource restoration projects related to 2015 #GoldKingMine release — #NewMexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

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

    Here’s the release from the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (Elysia Bunten):

    The New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (ONRT) is in the preliminary stages of soliciting ideas for projects that will restore natural resources in New Mexico injured by the 2015 Gold King Mine release.

    We welcome stakeholder engagement in our process and invite you, as a stakeholder who was affected by the contamination, to participate in this process. Please see the attached letter containing details about ONRT’s funding, process, upcoming information session, and timetable.

    Project Solictation Letter to GKM Release Stakeholders 7.15.21

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

    Wildlife officials ask anglers not to fish the #DoloresRiver for the first time ever as rain fails to dent Western Slope #drought — The #Colorado Sun

    West Drought Monitor map June 22, 2021.

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Fish and wildlife leaders say they have their eye on potential closures of the Animas and San Juan rivers as well.

    Devastating drought and disappearing runoff in far southwestern Colorado have prompted state officials to seek voluntary fishing restrictions on the Dolores River for the first time, and fish and wildlife leaders say they have their eye on potential closures of the Animas and San Juan rivers as well.

    Intense rain over the weekend — generating eye-opening but perhaps deceptive coverage of flash floods and mudslides — are not nearly enough to bring Colorado’s Western Slope out of a 20-year drought that has drained rivers and desiccated pastures.

    Conservation groups, meanwhile, say they are also worried about low river levels in more visible, main-stem branches of waterways usually popular with anglers and recreators in July, including the Colorado River…

    Voluntary fishing closures on prime stretches of the Colorado are “imminent,” too, as soon as state weather warms up as expected in a few days, said Kendall Bakich, aquatic biologist for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division in the Glenwood Springs area. Portions of the Colorado are seeing water temperatures above 70 degrees and related fish stress a month earlier than in a usual year, Bakich said.

    Moreover, sediment from the heavy rains and mudslides that make some Front Range residents hear “drought relief” are actually making things harder on trout and other species, Bakich said. The murky water makes it harder for them to find food.

    Even if you release a caught trout and it survives, Bakich said, this year’s far earlier than normal heat stresses are threatening the sperm and egg health in the species…

    Bakich said she has worked the waters from Glenwood Springs upstream to State Bridge since 2007, and has not seen Colorado River temperatures rise this fast, this early…

    Ranchers are seeking alternate pasture and culling herds. Fruit orchards south and east of Grand Mesa predict smaller crops. Reservoir managers told the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and other growers they will see only 10% of their usual water allotment.

    Flow in the Dolores River is controlled almost completely by McPhee’s dam. Normally at this time of year, the stream is running at 60 to 80 cubic feet per second. Last week, it ran at 9 cfs, White said. Managers believe it will be down to 5 cfs later in the summer, barely a trickle in the wide stream bed.

    So Parks and Wildlife is asking Dolores anglers to stop fishing by noon each day. Water comes out the bottom of McPhee at a chilly, trout-friendly 45 degrees, White said. In typical weather, anglers have a few miles of river to work below the dam before the water heats up to 75 degrees, a temperature band that starts weakening fish survival rates. Those 75-degree stretches have moved much closer to the dam this summer, he said.

    The same is happening on the Animas and San Juan rivers in the southwest corner of the state, and voluntary closures are close on the horizon there, White said.

    “We anticipate probably asking anglers to refrain from fishing at some point later in the summer if water temperatures start to get high, which we do anticipate this year,” he said.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    The Colorado River sections could see some relief, from engineering if not from the weather.

    Wildlife and conservation leaders said they are in talks with Front Range water diverters, who have rights to send Western Slope river water under the Continental Divide for urban and suburban household water, to release more flow west from their healthy reservoirs on the Colorado and its tributaries.

    The river of lost flows: Is the #AnimasRiver drying up? A look back at the dwindling last century says yes — The #DurangoTelegraph #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    View of Denver and Rio Grande (Silverton Branch) Railroad tracks and the Animas River in San Juan County, Colorado; shows the Needle Mountains. Summer, 1911. Denver Public Library Special Collections

    From The Durango Telegraph (John van Becay):

    The American West is stricken by drought. That is not news. For the past 20 years, moisture levels have been abnormally low in the region. Shriveling crops, raging wild fires and diseased forests are just some of the fallout. Now scientists fear we may be on the verge of a megadrought – a long-lasting period of greatly reduced moisture. The last megadrought was in the 1500s and lasted some 50 years. Past megadroughts were naturally occurring. Their causes are complex and not completely understood. What scientists do understand is that the present drought has been worsened by anthropogenic (human caused) warming. That’s right, our old friend global warming has worsened our present drought by 30-50 percent. How bad could it get? The past 20 years contends with any 20-year period in the last 1,200 years for the severity of drought. That is some bad news.

    The San Juan Basin drainage has been especially hard hit. The Animas River shows decreased flow not for the past 20 years, but for the past 30 years, since the early 1990s. In fact, discounting the abnormally wet 1980s, the Animas River has been steadily losing flow since the beginning of record keeping in the 1890s. The history of a single river graphed on a chart is notoriously hard to plumb for trends. Too many years buck the norm presenting a confusing welter of peaks and troughs. But dive deep enough and the evidence is there. The Animas River is not doing well.

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

    On Oct. 5, 1911, after days of heavy rain, the Animas River came roaring out of its banks. It peaked at 25,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) which was 11 feet deep measured at the station near the power plant. The water reached the top of the arches on the Main Avenue Bridge. The monster runoff of 1911 set the record –since records have been kept – for peak run off of the Animas. Jump ahead to 1927 – a freakish combination of late snow melt and an early monsoon rain June 27, 1927, lashed the river to its second-highest historical level: 20,000 cfs and 9.65 feet…

    Peak flow is flashy. It makes stunning photographs. It puts people on the river and pictures in the paper. But it’s a flighty thing, much like spring itself. Peak flow does not water crops or nurture cities. That measurement is annual discharge – which is measured in thousand acre feet, or k/a/f…from 1913-25, the average annual discharge was 750 k/a/f, that’s three-quarters of a million acre feet per year.

    Our second period of increased annual discharge is 1941-1950 when the average annual discharge was 665 k/a/f. In our third period, 1979-88, average annual discharge ticked upward to 700 k/a/f, a period that has not been matched for the last 80 years.

    For comparison, from 2010-19 the average annual flow of the Animas dropped to 496 k/a/f, a staggering 34 percent decline from the average flow a century ago. If scientists are correct – and we are entering another megadrought, aided and abetted by global warming – the future of the Animas appears grim.

    In the past Durango survived the loss of its smelter. A present controversy over the coal-fired train continues to tear at the town. What is Durango’s future with an Animas River reduced to the size and ferocity of an irrigation ditch? How does that impact Durango’s self-image? Where then will lie the soul of el Rio de las Animas Perdidas? Along a dry river bed?

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    The May 2021 Newsletter is hot off the presses from the #Water Information Program

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

    Southwestern Water Conservation District Hires New General Manager

    Steven W. Wolff. Photo credit: The Water Information Program

    Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) is pleased to announce the hiring of its newest General Manager, Steven W. Wolff.

    Board President Jenny Russell expressed the board’s enthusiasm in naming Wolff as General Manager for the Southwestern District. “Steve immediately stood out in an impressive pool of candidates for the GM position,” said Russell.

    Wolff is currently Administrator of the Interstate Streams Division within Wyoming’s State Engineer’s Office in Cheyenne. The Interstate Streams Division oversees Wyoming’s rights and responsibilities outlined in the seven interstate water compacts and three interstate water decrees the state is signatory to. Wolff is also responsible for the development of technical and policy recommendations on inter- and intra-state water issues. The Southwestern board was also pleased and impressed with Wolff’s work with river basin planning efforts of the Wyoming Water Development Commission for each of Wyoming’s seven major river basins. He will be winding down his representation of Wyoming over the next month.

    Wolff’s interstate experience will be invaluable to the Southwestern District in its involvement in complex interstate negotiations on the Colorado River, state and federal water policy advocacy, local water planning efforts, water education, and other critical, water-related matters.

    “I am honored to be offered this opportunity to contribute to the District’s leadership on West Slope water issues and look forward to becoming an active part of the Southwestern community. I thank the board for their confidence in me,” Wolff said. “We are undoubtedly entering a critical period in providing a reliable water supply for all uses, and no place is more significant than the Colorado River basin. Water management is challenging at a local, regional, and national scale. I look forward to working with the Southwestern District board and the many stakeholders to define and implement a vision for sustainable water resources in southwest Colorado,” added Wolff.

    Wolff currently serves as gubernatorial appointee representing Wyoming to the Western States Water Council, the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum, and the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. He also currently serves as chair of the Upper Colorado River Commission’s Engineering Committee and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s Management Committee.

    “We look forward to Steve’s long and productive leadership with the Southwestern District,” concluded Russell.

    The Southwestern Water Conservation District was created by the Colorado legislature 80 years ago to protect, conserve, and develop the water resources of the San Juan and Dolores River basins and to safeguard for all of Colorado the waters of the Colorado River basin to which the state is entitled.

    Navajo-Gallup water delay spurs problem solving in arid Southwest — #NewMexico in Depth #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Survey work begins in 2018 for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The High Country News

    From New Mexico in Depth (Elizabeth Miller):

    Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use…

    The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024. The project is also connecting nearby Navajo communities, where many residents lack running water, an issue the Navajo Nation says is long past due and in need of a fix. But now a potential four-year delay could force a growing number of people to rely on these strained groundwater sources. A plan to keep taps from running dry will come with a price tag.

    The situation highlights how precarious water has become for this city of almost 22,000 in western New Mexico and offers a peek inside the complicated mix of relationships, creativity and familiarity with multiple government agencies that’s required to manage water in the 21st century.

    Gallup sits in the high desert along the red sandstone mesas of the Colorado Plateau. For much of its history, it has functioned as an industrial town and a bustling commercial center. Named in 1881 after railroad paymaster David L. Gallup, freight trains and Amtrak still rumble through, in addition to a steady flow of semi-truck traffic around the exits for Interstate-40. Surrounded by the Navajo Nation, on the first weekend of the month the town swells by 100,000 as people stream in for supplies. Those with no running water at home fill water containers. People do laundry, wash cars, go out to eat.

    For decades, the Navajo Nation bordertown has relied on groundwater stored in sandstone layers deep underground. With no nearby rivers, wells tapping that water have been the city’s only option. But because annual rain and snowfall don’t replenish the water, levels have dropped over recent decades. In the 1990s, the city projected shortages by as early as 2010.

    “Not only was Gallup running out of water, everybody was running out,” said Marc DePauli, owner of DePauli Engineering and Surveying, which the city has hired to work on the water systems. About 20 smaller surrounding water systems had “straws in the same bucket,” all leaning on dwindling reserves.

    Help is coming in the form of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, the result of a historic agreement that settled Navajo Nation claims to water in this arid region of the Southwest after decades of discussions.

    Consisting of two major pipelines that run through Navajo communities in western New Mexico, the project will bring water from the San Juan River to within reach of some of the one in three homes without it on the Navajo Nation. One of the pipelines, the Cutter Lateral that branches to northwest New Mexico, is complete. The other, the San Juan Lateral, will move 37,700 acre feet of water each year for 200 miles along the western edge of the state, up to 7,500 acre-feet of which will come as far south as Gallup. In the future, the city will rely largely on water from the San Juan…

    The water was supposed to flow by 2024, but a new design proposed by the Bureau of Reclamation will now likely push that date back by three to four years, putting Gallup in a tight spot, monetarily and water-wise. The construction delay coupled with the city shouldering more demand will require new wells to supply everyone until water from the San Juan arrives.

    #AnimasRiver projected to stay low over coming months — The #Durango Herald #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Durango Herald ( Shannon Mullane):

    Snowpack has already peaked, and remains below average

    Snowmelt season is in full swing, but one may not know that by looking at the Animas River, which this week more closely resembles a slow trickle through Durango than a roaring, muddy torrent more common for this time of year.

    The river’s flow Monday was about 328 cubic feet per second, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By comparison, the average flow for April 26, based on 109 years of data, is 1,180 cfs. For reference, 1 cfs equals about 7.5 gallons flowing by a particular point in one second.

    The Animas River’s peak runoff is still to come, but on average, the river’s flow is expected to be lower than usual through July, according to the National Weather Service. In fact, the river is expected to see about 45% of the volume it normally sees between April and July, said Aldis Strautins, National Weather Service hydrologist…

    There are multiple reasons why the river is lower than average and projected to stay that way, Strautins said.

    First, the region is in drought. Almost all of La Plata County was categorized as “extreme” or “exceptional” drought as of April 22, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Those are the most severe of five drought rankings.

    Below-average precipitation and a poor monsoon season contributed to a dry summer and fall for Southwest Colorado, Strautins said.

    Dry conditions led to low soil moistures. What precipitation the region did receive was immediately absorbed into the soil instead of running off.

    As of Tuesday, the snowpack was at 57% of the basin’s average. It also peaked earlier than usual, March 28 instead of April 6, according to provisional Snotel data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    The snowpack started melting after a warm spell in early April, then the melt slowed because of winter storms and some cloudy, cool days.

    Water released from Lake Nighthorse will help San Juan Water Commission gather data — The #Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    A small crowd gathered to watch as Jim Dunlap pressed a control button. Moments later, the people inside the small building could hear the sound of water from Lake Nighthorse rushing through a pipe and out of the dam.

    It was a simple move, but one that had been decades in the making for Dunlap. It was the first time water from the reservoir had been released into the Animas River at the request of the San Juan Water Commission.

    While the Animas-La Plata Operations, Maintenance and Replacement Association has released water from the dam as part of maintenance operations and to ensure everything is properly functioning, this was the first time it had been released based on an official request.

    Lake Nighthorse stores water for municipal use for the San Juan Water Commission as well as other water users, including Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Tribe. Filling of the reservoir began in 2009, and there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2018…

    Drought management plans for the San Juan County Commission include using water stored in Lake Nighthorse, but little is known about what would happen to the water once it is released.

    The commission hopes one day there will be a pipeline to transport the water from Colorado to New Mexico, but, until then, the water must be released into the Animas River. The March 15 release will help gather data that can be used in the future to predict how much water could be lost from the time it is released from Lake Nighthorse to the time it reaches pump stations for water users downstream.

    A decision about #LakeNighthorse #water release could come later this week — The Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver

    Lake Nighthorse in the Ridges Basin in La Plata County, Colorado. The view is from the overlook on County Road 210. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81402953

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The San Juan Water Commission continues to monitor conditions around the Animas River, including flow and snowpack, to decide if it will request a release from Lake Nighthorse this month.

    San Juan Water Commission Director Aaron Chavez said the decision will likely be made later this week…

    The City of Farmington initially requested a possible release from the reservoir as a way to test the water delivery from Lake Nighthorse to entities in San Juan County. The City of Aztec has expressed interest in also taking some of the water released if it does occur…

    The release depends on the water levels in the river remaining low because the test release will be a way to gather data for a drought scenario…

    A test release could help provide data about water loss as the water would flow down the Animas River channel. Because the irrigation ditches are closed for the winter, it would also provide data about water flow and downstream recovery in the river without any of that water being diverted for agriculture.

    On the morning of March 8, the Animas River was flowing at 138 cubic feet per second in the Cedar Hill area near the state line, according to the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge. A stream gauge in Farmington was registering 175 cubic feet per second. These readings are about half of what would typically be seen on the Animas River in a normal year.

    Shakeup at the Southwestern Water Conservation District brings in new face to deal with old problems — The Durango Herald #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Amy Novak Huff. Photo via Colorado Water & Land Law, LLC and LinkedIn

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A fresh face was appointed to the Southwestern Water Conservation District to bring new ideas to decades-old problems surrounding water in the arid Southwest – at least that’s the hope of La Plata County officials.

    In January, La Plata County commissioners Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff, in their last meeting before leaving office, along with commissioner Clyde Church, appointed local water attorney Amy Novak Huff to the district.

    The move ousted longtime board member Bob Wolff, who has represented La Plata County on the commission for more than 10 years.

    Lachelt, speaking to The Durango Herald, said commissioners will sometimes replace people who have served long bouts of time to bring in new perspectives about various issues facing the county…

    Huff was raised in Southern California, but went to school at the University of Colorado-Boulder and never looked back. After teaching high school in Durango and Mancos, she went to law school at the University of Denver while working at Denver Water, where she became drawn to water law.

    After she passed the bar exam, Huff was selected for a judicial clerkship in Division No. 1 Water Court and then worked for a water law firm in Denver. All those years on the Front Range, where water is scarce, allowed her to experience firsthand the contentious water issues…

    Huff said she has now been practicing water law for 18 years, the majority of which has been in Southwest Colorado where water issues abound, exacerbated by drought, increasing demand and tricky multi-state compacts…

    Huff, for her part, will take a seat at her first board meeting Tuesday. She said she understands the gravity of the moment and how important local decisions will affect water availability and people’s way of life.

    “We’re going to be faced with water restrictions, changing landscapes and people are going to be forced to learn (about water issues),” she said. “It’s a lot more complicated than people think.”

    San Juan Water Commission may request #LakeNighthorse water release if ‘stars align’ — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The San Juan Water Commission authorized Director Aaron Chavez to request a release from Lake Nighthorse in an attempt to capture that water for San Juan County residents — if the conditions are right.

    The San Juan Water Commission hopes to someday have a pipeline that can reduce the losses from the river if a release from Lake Nighthorse is requested. However that pipeline does not yet exist.

    That means the only way to deliver water from Lake Nighthorse to the City of Farmington is through the Animas River, and that has never been tried before.

    Lake Nighthorse in the Ridges Basin in La Plata County, Colorado. The view is from the overlook on County Road 210. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81402953

    The City of Farmington requested the action as it hopes to gather data while the river levels are low and the irrigators are not pulling water out of the river, the city’s Community Works Director David Sypher explained during the Feb. 3 meeting…

    The proposed release would either be 40 cubic feet per second or 53 cubic feet per second. The release would last for five days and the City of Farmington would draw the water out of the Animas River using its pump at the Penny Lane diversion…

    Chavez said during low flows he anticipates it could take 103 hours for the water to reach Penny Lane and there will likely be loss along the way. The water commission is projecting that 30 cubic feet of water per second would reach Penny Lane if 40 cubic feet per second was released. One reason Farmington hopes to do the release is to get better data about the amount of water lost.

    If this release occurs, it will likely happen in March and it would cost $4,500 to $6,000 to replace the water in Lake Nighthorse. Sypher and Chavez would work together to ensure none of the water released from Lake Nighthorse passes the diversion at Penny Lane, where the pump station would take the water to Lake Farmington…

    Multiple organizations would need to be notified, requiring two weeks of notification. These include the Colorado and New Mexico offices of the state engineer as well as the Animas-La Plata Association…

    There has never been a release from Lake Nighthorse upon request of the San Juan Water Commission…

    Sypher said the current drought forecasts are awful for the region. If the Animas River was to go dry, the water commission would likely need water released from Lake Nighthorse.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    Meetings: San Juan #Water Commission to discuss release from #LakeNighthorse — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The San Juan Water Commission is considering asking for a release of Animas-La Plata Project Water. This water is stored in Lake Nighthorse in Durango, Colorado.

    If the commission chooses to move forward with the release, it would be the first time that water is released from Lake Nighthorse upon the request of the San Juan Water Commission.

    During the drought of 2018, the San Juan Water Commission took steps to request a release on behalf of the City of Farmington. However that release was cancelled as storms brought rain to the Four Corners region.

    The water commission has been discussing a release from Lake Nighthorse as a test run that would allow it to address potential issues that could emerge. For example, making sure the water released from the reservoir reaches its intended destination.

    The San Juan Water Commission meets at 9 a.m. Feb. 3 via Google Meets. A link is available on the agenda posted at sjwc.org.

    Other agenda topics include legislation and long-term water development opportunities.

    #Drought causing issues for #Durango’s fish hatchery — The #Cortez Journal

    Durango Fish Hatchery. Photo credit: Trip Advisor

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

    Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for CPW, said the Durango Fish Hatchery, along the banks of the Animas River near Main Avenue and 16th Street, receives its water from three natural springs near the Durango High School.

    Typically, at this time of year, about 1,000 gallons of water per minute flows into the hatchery. Currently, however, because of a long-term drought that has gripped the region, only 700 gallons of water per minute is flowing…

    Winter is the time when the hatchery holds the most fish in anticipation of stocking in spring and summer. Currently, there are about one million fish on site, mostly fingerlings two to three inches in size…

    But because there is less water coming into the hatchery, CPW was forced last week to stock an estimated 28,000 mature rainbow trout throughout Southwest Colorado to make room at the hatchery.

    For example, CPW went through the ice to stock nearly 5,000 9-inch rainbow trout into Summit Reservoir and another 1,400 or so into Joe Moore Reservoir, both north of Mancos.

    In 2021, CPW expects to stock an estimated 100,000 catchable rainbow trout throughout Southwest Colorado…

    As a result of the risks posed to the hatchery because of drought conditions, CPW intends to drill a test well to determine if another water source in the area is available.

    “The test-drilling will be done this year,” Lewandowski said.

    #NavajoNation, #NewMexico reach settlements over #GoldKingMine spill — The #Colorado Sun

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

    From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Colorado Sun:

    Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million

    The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice announced Wednesday it has settled with mining companies to resolve claims stemming from a 2015 spill that resulted in rivers in three western states being fouled with a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

    Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million…

    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 tribe said the toxic water coursed through 200 miles (322 kilometers) of river on Navajo lands…

    The tribe’s claims against the EPA and its contractors remain pending. About 300 individual tribal members also have claims pending as part of a separate lawsuit…

    The state of New Mexico also confirmed Wednesday that it has reached a settlement with the mining companies. Under that agreement, $10 million will be paid to New Mexico for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue and $1 million will go to Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources…

    The settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, but Sunnyside agreed to it “as a matter of practicality to eliminate the costs and resources needed to continue to defend against ongoing litigation,” Myers said in an email…

    In August, the U.S. government settled a lawsuit brought by the state of Utah for a fraction of what that state was initially seeking in damages.

    In that case, the EPA agreed to fund $3 million in Utah clean water projects and spend $220 million of its own money to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.

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

    After the spill, the EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund cleanup district. The agency still reviewing options for a broader cleanup.

    From the Land Desk newsletter (Jonathan Thompson):

    Whether the company [Kinross] is at all culpable for the spill is a question the courts have yet to answer. But there is definitely a connection, both hydrological and historical.

    Here’s the short(ish) bulleted explanation:

  • The Gold King Mine workings are on one side of Bonita Peak (in the Cement Creek drainage) and the Sunnyside Mine workings are on the other side of Bonita Peak (in the Eureka Creek drainage). If you look at the two mines in a cross-section of the peak, they sit side-by-side, separated by a lot of rock.
  • In the early 1900s the owners of the Gold King started drilling the American Tunnel straight into Bonita Peak below the Gold King. The plan was then to link up with the Gold King in order to provide easier access. More than one mile of tunnel was dug, but the link was never completed, prior to the Gold King’s shutdown in the 1920s.
  • Photographic and other evidence suggests that prior to the construction of the American Tunnel, water drained from the Gold King Mine. However, after the tunnel’s construction the mine was said to be dry, suggesting that the tunnel hijacked the hydrology of the Gold King.
  • In 1959 Standard Metals continued drilling the American Tunnel through the mountain in order to provide a better access (from the Cement Creek side) to the then-defunct Sunnyside Mine.
  • After the Sunnyside shut down, the parent company at the time (Echo Bay), reached an agreement with the state to plug the American Tunnel with huge bulkheads to stop or slow acid mine drainage. They placed three bulkheads, one at the edge of the workings of the Sunnyside Mine (1996), one just inside the opening of the American Tunnel (2003), and another in between (2001).
  • Shortly after the bulkheads were placed, the Gold King ceased being a “dry” mine, and drainage resumed, eventually flowing at more than 250 gallons per minute. After the ceiling of the adit collapsed, water began backing up behind it until it was finally released in one catastrophic swoop in August 2015.
  • It seems pretty clear that one or more of the bulkheads caused water to back up inside the mountain and enter the Gold King Mine workings, eventually leading to the blowout. At this point, however, no one knows which bulkhead is the culprit, so no one knows whether the water is coming from the Sunnyside mine pool, or whether it is actually coming from the part of the American Tunnel that is still on Gold King property. Until that is determined, the root cause of the Gold King blowout will remain a mystery.

    For the longer explanation of the Gold King saga, read my book, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. And for more maps showing the relationship between the Sunnyside and the Gold King, check out my River of Lost Souls reading guide.

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

    @EPA orders access to water treatment plant north of Silverton — The #Durango Herald

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

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    The water treatment plant, however, is located on a site known as Gladstone, about 8 miles north of Silverton up County Road 110, owned by the same person who owns the Gold King Mine, Todd Hennis.

    Hennis, an entrepreneur based in Golden, has long had an interest in the mines that dot the San Juan Mountains around Silverton, and over the years, has been buying up old mine sites with the hopes of revamping the industry…

    After the spill, Hennis agreed to let the EPA use the Gladstone property for a temporary water treatment plant, albeit somewhat begrudgingly.

    “When the Gold King event happened, I gave the keys to (the EPA) for Gladstone, and said ‘Go ahead, use anything, just return it after you’re done,’” Hennis said in October 2015. “That rapidly changed into having the hell torn out of my land.”

    The water treatment plant continues to operate to this day, and is seen by some invested in the cleanup of mines around Silverton as a possible long-term solution to improving water quality in the Animas River.

    Since 2015, the EPA has operated on the Gladstone property through a “general access order,” though the agency has not paid Hennis for use of the land, said EPA spokeswoman Katherine Jenkins.

    The EPA has, however, worked for years to come to a long-term lease agreement with Hennis that would include payments for use of the land based on fair market value, but those efforts have not been successful.

    “Mr. Hennis has declined EPA’s multiple requests for long-term access and has rejected a long-term lease agreement for EPA’s use of the Gladstone property,” Jenkins said.

    Because, in part, of the resources and staff time required to send Hennis monthly general access orders, the EPA on Jan. 6 sent him an “administrative order” that requires him to give the EPA full access to the Gladstone property.

    An administrative order, according to the EPA website, is an enforcement tool under the Superfund program.

    “We want to have consistent access to the water treatment plant so we can maintain and provide water treatment, that’s the reasoning,” Jenkins said.

    When contacted, Hennis said, “I cannot comment on this development, other than to say the EPA currently has access to the site.”

    Indeed, Jenkins said that while Hennis has refused to come to a long-term lease agreement, he has not blocked access to the site.

    The long-term future of the water treatment plant is an issue high atop the list of priorities in the Superfund around Silverton, known as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    Some local officials and members of the public have called to expand the operating capacity of the plant to take in discharges from other mines around Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

    But questions have loomed about this prospect, namely who would be financially on the hook to operate the plant in perpetuity.

    But for Hennis, all this is a moot point. He’s still adamant that there are plenty of metals, like gold and tellurium, to be mined in the mountains around Silverton.

    “Some of you have government pensions to rely on when you retire,” Hennis said at a public meeting in October 2015. “My retirement is Gladstone. Sitting here, listening to people say Gladstone would make a perfect site for a remediation laboratory, having my land cavalierly dealt with, is not a happy feeling.

    “I know you wouldn’t want your backyard or your retirement stolen from you,” he continued. “This is not going to happen. I’ve tried to be very reasonable.”

    The EPA’s Jenkins said the administrative order would terminate if a lease agreement is signed or if access to the property is no longer needed by the EPA to conduct response activities at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    #Drought news (January 6, 2020): #AnimasRiver shatters all-time record low flow based on 109 years of data — The #Durango Herald #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    1913 record is broken amid prolonged drought

    Records show the Animas River recently broke the all-time low flow set on the water gauge behind the Powerhouse Science Center, which has collected data for 109 years.

    The previous record low flow at the U.S. Geological Survey’s water gauge was set March 2, 1913, when the Animas River was running at 94 cubic feet per second…

    On Dec. 21, flows on the Animas dipped below 94 cfs and continued to fall. At its lowest point, the river was running at 79.6 cfs on Christmas Day, as well as the day after.

    As of Tuesday, the Animas was running around 120 cfs, nearly half the historic average on the more than century-old water gauge.

    “It’s one of the oldest gauges in Southwest Colorado,” said Steve Harris, with Harris Water Engineering…

    A few years ago, the USGS, looking to cut costs, floated the idea of decommissioning the gauge by the Powerhouse Science Center. In response, local stakeholders banded together to form a partnership to help with funding…

    The fact the Animas recorded an all-time record low in 109 years of records is a testament to the prolonged drought hitting the region.

    As of Tuesday, the U.S. Drought Monitor had Southwest Colorado listed in an “exceptional” drought – the highest category of drought…

    West Drought Monitor December 29, 2020.

    And snowpack, so far, in Southwest Colorado is behind – federal records show snowpack is just 74% of historic averages as of Tuesday.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 4, 2021 via the NRCS.

    Strong #LaNiña decreases chances for storms in #FourCorners — The #Durango Herald #ENSO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Nathan Fey, seen here paddling the Lower Dolores River. The lower Dolores River depends on a deep snowpack for boating releases from McPhee Reservoir. (Photo courtesy Nathan Fey)

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:

    Sorry skiers, ranchers and kayakers: Weather observers see no relief in sight for a persistent drought that has gripped the Four Corners.

    A strong La Niña weather pattern has helped shift the jet stream farther north, which keeps storms from reaching the Four Corners, officials said.

    “It’s the strongest La Niña in 10 years,” said Jim Andrus, a weather observer for the National Weather Service. “Even when we do get storms that dip down our way, they are weak at most.”

    […]

    The long-term forecast for the Four Corners is below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures, said Norv Larson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

    High pressure and a dry air mass are generally blocking storms from reaching and forming in the area, he said…

    Colorado snowpack basin-filled map December 9, 2020 via the NRCS.

    Snowpack is well below average in Southwest Colorado.

    Snotel stations in the mountains that measure snowfall, show the Dolores and San Miguel river basins are 48% of normal as of Dec. 7.

    The Animas River Basin is at 38% of normal, and the Gunnison River Basin is at 53% of normal.

    The Telluride Ski Resort reports a 21-inch base, and Purgatory Resort has a 16-inch base.

    As of Dec. 3, Southwest Colorado and most of the Western Slope were in “exceptional” drought, the worst level out of five, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most of Utah and Arizona also were in exceptional drought.

    Colorado Drought Monitor December 1, 2020.

    The November 2020 newsletter is hot off the presses from the Water Information Program

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt (Elaine Chick):

    The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District (ALPWCD) Celebrates Final Water Purchase from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority

    The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District (ALPWCD) celebrates the Districts final purchase of the water from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.

    On Saturday, October 17th the ALPWCD held a celebration at the Tribute Gardens at Lake Nighthorse commemorating the final payment option of their incremental purchase from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWR & PDA) for their share of 700 AF of depletion purchased as part of the Animas La Plata Project.

    First authorized by the U.S. Congress on September 30, 1968 (Public Law 90-537), the Animas-La Plata Water Project experienced a few decades of delays due in part to political concerns, farming claims, environmental challenges, cost overruns and government funding issues. A breakthrough to the delays came with the Colorado Ute Settlement Act Amendments in December 2000 (Public Law 106-554).

    Christine Arbogast, Kogovsek & Associates, lobbyist at that time with ALPWCD for the project, stated, “Advocacy is all about relationship. This project would not have happened if all of the partners for the project had not stuck together in that family relationship that is ALP.”

    The Bureau of Reclamation began construction in 2003, with the reservoir filling to capacity on June 29, 2011 at a total cost of $500 million. Lake Nighthorse is named in honor of former United States Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo. The reservoir is part of the Animas-La Plata Water Project, providing water storage for tribal and non-tribal water right claim-holders on the Animas River in both Colorado and New Mexico.

    The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District was one of the seven original sponsors of the ALP Project: The other sponsors included the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, State of Colorado, La Plata Conservancy District in New Mexico, and San Juan Water Commission in New Mexico.

    The general purpose of the District includes, but is not limited to: “acquire and appropriate waters of the Animas and La Plata rivers and their tributaries and other sources of water supply by means of ‘works’ as defined in the ‘Water Conservancy Act’ and to divert, store, transport, conserve and stabilize all of said supplies of water for domestic, irrigation, power, manufacturing and other beneficial uses within and for the territory to be included in the District.”

    The ALPWCD Statutory Project Allocation was purchased in advance on behalf of local entities by the Colorado Water and Power Resource Development Authority. ALPWCD being one of those entities, worked for many years to make that incremental purchase from the Authority, and now that water is in local hands and is being put to use. ALPWCD has made subsequent sales of their portion of the original allocation of that water that provides multiple benefits to the community. One of ALPWCD’s principle missions is to develop water for the benefit of the local community, and that has happened!

    The City of Durango has purchased the remaining amount of the original ALPWCD Project Allocation from the Authority to firm up their future water supplies, and the La Plata West Water Authority and Lake Durango Water Authority have made subsequent purchases of water from the Animas-La Plata District which is being put to use for rural domestic water in the western part of La Plata County.

    The Animas-La Plata Project is managed by the ALP Operations, Maintenance and Replacement, Association, and includes representatives from the project participants. (ALPOM&R Association). Recreation at Lake Nighthorse is managed by the City of Durango in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Water projects can take decades to come to fruition, but after many years of hard work by countless individuals and organizations uses are occurring from this reservoir and associated project facilities. This is one more step in making the water in Lake Nighthorse of beneficial use to local communities!

    Southwest #Colorado ranchers battle #drought, development — The #Durango Herald #ActOnClimate #aridification #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From The Durango Herald (Emily Hayes):

    Persistent dry conditions, rising land prices force change

    After living out his dream of running 400 head of cattle on a ranch straddling Montrose and Gunnison counties, Barnes now works with ranchers in Montezuma County and beyond to help manage their rangeland and cattle with the new challenges and pressures ranchers face.

    Cattle is Colorado’s top agricultural product, bringing in $4 billion per year. But with exceptional drought conditions and development driving up land prices, it is harder to be a rancher in this corner of the state.

    In September, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expedite disaster aid payments to farmers and ranchers.

    “We need to regard drought as the new normal,” Barnes said, but the “ranching community as a whole doesn’t accept climate change.”

    […]

    In the bigger picture, subdivision development is increasing in Western Colorado.

    Demographics are shifting, and agriculture has fallen behind the tourism and service industries as the leading employer.

    The red indicates areas that have been converted from farmland and rangeland to residential land uses in Colorado. The bold green and yellow indicate good farm and rangeland for production, while the lighter green and yellow indicate land that is not productive. According to the American Farmland Trust, development “often claims the most productive, versatile and resilient land.” Courtesy of the American Farmland Trust via The Durango Herald

    And in Southwest Colorado, rent is high – it is difficult to rent a place for less than $1,000 per month. So sprawling ranches have been subdivided into smaller parcels that can be developed to increase the housing stock and lower prices of rentals and single-family homes…

    New generations not taking over

    The changing landscape of the West is “one of the elephants in the room” for most ranchers, Barnes said.

    Children are less likely to take over a ranch now.

    By the time their parents retire and hand the ranch over, the children have developed a career and are making more money than they would in ranching, he said…

    There are four times as many producers older than 65 in Colorado as there are younger than 35, according to a report from the American Farmland Trust.

    In the ranching industry, the work doesn’t pay by the hour, and there isn’t much room for vacations. A century ago, this lifestyle worked because there “wasn’t much to compete with,” Barnes said.

    Now, young Coloradans can get a construction job that pays more and is “less complicated,” he said…

    Between 2001 and 2016, 112,400 acres of Colorado’s best land for farming and ranching was converted for development uses, according to a report from the American Farmland Trust. And the number of farms and ranches in Colorado in 2019 totaled 38,700, down 200 from 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (The data are not available for more localized regions such as Southwest Colorado.)

    Photo credit: Bob Berwyn

    But McAfee is working to replenish the land on his family’s ranch through regenerative grazing. With a combination of native and introduced grasses, there is little wind erosion and water runoff, he said.

    Cattle graze the same paddock for a year and then move on to the next one, he said. The number of cattle ranges from 200 to 400 head on 100 acres at a time.

    McAfee said ranchers in the area are hesitant to change their grazing system because there is a risk that it might not work. But old systems like summer fallow cause erosion and are hard on the soil, he said.

    The transition for McAfee was “weird and scary,” but with the drought there wasn’t an alternative.

    Adapting instead of succumbing

    Most ranchers in Southwest Colorado do it because they enjoy it, which is partly why more outsiders are becoming involved, Barnes said.

    “They are well-educated 20-somethings with a laptop in one hand and a shovel in the other,” he said.

    Cachuma Ranch in Dolores raises Criollo cattle, which Barnes describes as the closest thing to wild cattle you can get in Southwest Colorado.

    Criollo are descended from Spanish stock imported to the Americas. They weigh less, and calves are smaller than commercial Angus breeds, but they’re suited to the area.

    They survive part of the year in Disappointment Valley, browsing for greasewood instead of depending on grass year-round, said Kathryn Wilder, mother of the family operation.

    Drought also affects small desert shrubs, but Wilder said the Criollo cattle can forage a larger range of shrubs and grasses than commercial cattle, and they eat less of it…

    Possible solutions

    Kay and David James with the James Ranch north of Durango saw their children migrate back to the ranch to rear their families here and improve the land, according to their website.

    Their direct-to-customer model and a demand for local food creates support for the ranch and positions it as a tourist attraction…

    James Ranch has 400 irrigated acres along the Animas River, with early water rights. The James’ cattle are scattered in different parts of the Four Corners, but they run cattle on irrigated pastures in the summer when there is enough water. They finish about 175 head of cattle for slaughter per year.

    But the drought still affects the ranch through higher hay prices, said Joe Wheeling, son-in-law of David James.

    Less water means lower hay production, and the price for hay goes up. In the past five or six years, Wheeling said hay prices have escalated primarily because of the drought.

    Land prices have gone up as well, especially near Durango, Wheeling said. The direct-to-customer model has been important to the family’s ranching legacy because it means more customers, he said…

    Keeping it small and local

    Andrew and Kendra Schafer shifted the focus of Cedar Mesa Ranch in Montezuma County from cattle to sheep in 2009. They also run goats because they eat things like weeds, shrubs, knapweeds and invasive Russian olive plants.

    “Imports lost their ability to harvest from this land,” Andrew Schafer said. But his Navajo-Churro sheep, originally obtained by Native American nations during the Spanish conquest, are known for their hardiness and adaptability to extreme climates.

    Kendra Schafer shears the sheep to make yarn for weaving and knitting, supporting a local textile industry as well…

    The Colorado Department of Agriculture is mapping an increase in smaller farm plots in La Plata and Montezuma counties, with 30- or 35-acre plots dedicated to a variety of fruits, vegetables and animals. A push for local food systems can lead to smaller plots.

    For the Schafers, a localized market is in the same frame of mind as their holistic grazing management. They are constantly moving their sheep and goats between quarter-acre sections of pasture. About 150 animals graze 1% of the land per day while the rest grows back…

    “Think about it this way: If you’re out there with a lawnmower every day, it’s never going to grow back,” Schafer said.

    There has to be animals on the land, he said, but the grazing system has to be viable for both the land and the animals in a time of drought.

    #Colorado cutthroat restored to 23 miles of Hermosa Creek — The #Durango Herald

    Connor Bevel, an Aquatic technician with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, holds one the 450 adult Colorado River Cutthroat trout released into the Hermosa Creek drainage October 9, 2020. Photo credit: Joe Lewandowski/Colorado Parks & Wildlife via The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A decades-long effort to restore the Colorado River cutthroat trout to the upper reaches of Hermosa Creek has been completed, resulting in the largest continuous stretch of waterway for the native fish species in the state…

    Jim White, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango, releases Colorado River cutthroat trout fingerlings into the East Fork of Hermosa Creek on Oct. 9. CPW released 4,000 fingerlings.
    Courtesy of Joe Lewandowski/Colorado Parks and Wildlife via The Durango Herald

    The upper reaches of Hermosa Creek were instantly recognized as an ideal place for a restoration project, both for its outstanding water quality as well as easy access through a Forest Service road that runs behind Purgatory Resort.

    Over the years, barriers have been installed to isolate certain stretches of water and an organic poison known as rotenone has been used to clear out invasive species, like brown, brookie and rainbow trout.

    All this to clear the path for cutthroat reintroduction.

    Last weekend, CPW stocked an estimated 4,000 cutthroat fingerlings and an additional 475 mature cutthroats in the final stretch of the Hermosa Creek project, giving the waterway back to the native fish for the first time in 100 years.

    And now, the project to restore 23 miles of cutthroat habitat is finally complete…

    Hermosa Park

    For the stretches of upper Hermosa Creek that have been restocked with cutthroats, populations are showing encouraging signs. White said there’s about 400 to 600 fish per mile, which he called a “nice, healthy population.”

    Because the area is a popular draw for anglers, there is a strict catch-and-release policy. Local fish-guiding companies have said in the past that anglers come from all over the country to fish native cutthroats.

    The Hermosa Creek project was a collaboration between CPW, the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

    Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

    Up In Smoke: #Colorado on Fire — Fort Lewis College Independent

    From The Fort Lewis College Independent (Jackson Zinsmeyer):

    On July 31, 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado, lightning struck starting what would become Colorado’s largest wildfire at 139,000 acres burnt.

    According to the Incident Information System, Inciweb, the fire is 95% contained as of Sept. 11.

    Despite being nearly four hours away from Durango, this fire, as well as the many other fires in Colorado such as the Cameron Peak and Glenwood Springs fires, will impact Durango’s community and environment as the fires continue to burn.

    Much like the 416 fire Durango experienced just over two years ago, the Glenwood Springs fire is burning into the watersheds suffocating fish and river-life, Dr. Gigi Richard, director of the Four Corners Water Center and instructor of geosciences at Fort Lewis College said.

    “Sixty percent of fish in the Animas river were killed from sediment caused by short, high intensity fires,” Richard said.

    Forest fires have the ability to decimate crucial parts of an ecosystem by destroying animal habitats, driving animals into nearby cities and towns and destroying natural sources of food for these animals making it harder for them to return to nature, Dr. Jared Beeton, assistant professor of environmental studies at Fort Lewis College, said.

    The fires taking place in Colorado are likely to displace animals throughout the state, Beeton said.

    These displaced animals will come into cities looking for shelter, food and water, and as long as these animals are left alone, no issues should be caused by them, he said.

    Richard notes that in 2002, during the Hayman Fire, former Gov. Bill Owens said, “It looks as if all of Colorado is burning today.” Many tourists were afraid to travel into Colorado because of this statement, Richard said.

    Richard said the Durango train and the San Juan National Forest were closed because of fire hazards during the 416 fire.

    The closure of the forest and train were seen by tourists as a reason not to travel into Durango and Colorado as a whole, making it difficult for many small businesses that rely on tourism, Richard said.

    The fires that are burning around the state of Colorado will continue to impact the communities, wildlife, and business’ for years to come as the state and cities recover from the price of fighting fires, Richard said.

    Prolonged #drought results in record-low flows on #AnimasRiver — The Durango Herald #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    All week, the Animas River has recorded record lows at a gauge station in Durango, which has been tracking flows on the river for 107 years.

    On Thursday, for instance, the Animas River was reportedly running at 117 cubic feet per second – under the previous record low of 138 cfs in 1957 and far below the average of 447 cfs for this time of year.

    The low flows on the Animas River come as no surprise as the region has been gripped by a prolonged drought.

    Since January, a weather station at Durango-La Plata County Airport has recorded just 5 inches or so of precipitation, a 7-inch departure from historic averages at the site.

    On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor released a report that showed all of La Plata County engulfed in the “extreme” and “exceptional” drought categories, the center’s highest listings for dryness in a region.

    West Drought Monitor October 6, 2020.

    And, several weather stations in the headwaters of the Animas River recorded the lowest precipitation levels in August and September based on about 40 years of record keeping.

    “The combination of an extremely dry spring, lack of a monsoon and above-average summer and fall temperatures has resulted in very low flows on the Animas River,” said Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center…

    Becky Bollinger, a research associate with the Colorado Climate Center, said 2020’s water year was the third-driest on record, behind only the infamous drought years of 2002 and 2018…

    The high country of the San Juan Mountains received about normal snowpack this winter, but it melted fast and early. On top of that, soils were so dry they absorbed more water than usual.

    San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph May 14, 2020 via the NRCS.

    One issue that concerns Bollinger is that the atmosphere is so dry, it is causing rapid evaporation of what little moisture there is – called evaporative demand…

    Bollinger wonders whether a lack of monsoons in Colorado is the new normal.

    “This is the fourth year in a row we have not gotten the benefits of monsoon moisture,” she said. “It’s concerning to think that might be a trend. Or is it just really bad luck? I don’t know the answer to that right now.”

    […]

    As of this week, Vallecito and Lemon reservoirs were at about 24% and 27% capacity. Ken Beck, superintendent of the Pine River Irrigation District, said in an email to constituents that outflows were reduced to 5 cfs on Thursday…

    The main concern for water managers is whether the upcoming winter will bring enough snowpack to replenish reservoirs. In previous drought years, such as 2018, the next winter brought heavy snowfall.

    But meteorologists say the region may be stuck in a La Niña cycle, which typically means less snow for Southwest Colorado. That could result in less water for livestock and municipalities, and spell disaster for next year’s wildfire season.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    #Farmington residents urged to conserve water during ongoing drought conditions — The Farmington Daily Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    Farmington residents are being asked to voluntarily cut back on their water usage by 10% amid ongoing drought conditions.

    The Farmington City Council approved a resolution enacting a stage one water shortage advisory on a 3-0 vote. The meeting was broadcast on Zoom and a recording will be available online at http://fmtn.org/AgendaCenter.

    Community Works Director David Sypher said the city has struggled to keep Lake Farmington full.

    “We are taking keeping our lake 100% full a little more seriously than we have in the past,” he said, explaining that the city not only provides water to its residents but also delivers water to other water systems.

    Lake Farmington was approximately 98% full on Sept. 3, but has been dropping at a rate of 0.15 to 0.3% daily and, as of the meeting on Sept. 8, Sypher said the lake was 97.15% full.

    A storm brought precipitation to the region as the City Council discussed the water shortage advisory, but Sypher said current forecasts are calling for 30 to 50% of normal precipitation in the upcoming months and the most liberal projections are anticipating moderate drought.

    West Drought Monitor September 1, 2020.

    The #GoldKingMine spill 5 years on

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    For a few days in August 2015, invisible mining pollutants could be seen by the world

    Five years ago today, a breach at the Gold King Mine north of Silverton sent a deluge of water loaded with heavy metals into the Animas River, turning the waterway an electric-orange hue that caught the nation’s attention.

    But five years later, and four years into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup program, there has yet to be meaningful improvements to water quality and aquatic life.

    Dan Wall, with the EPA’s Superfund program, said most of the focus since the Bonita Peaking Mining District Superfund site was declared in fall 2016 has been on studying the watershed and the multitude of mines impacting water quality.

    The EPA is still in that effort, Wall said, and there’s no time frame for when the agency will present its final work plan for a comprehensive cleanup in the Animas River basin.

    The EPA has spent more than $75 million on the site to date.

    “It may be slower than what people want,” Wall said. “But we want to make sure our remedy selection is based on science … so the money won’t be wasted and we can be confident to see improvements based on the work we take.”

    […]

    The stretch of the Animas River between Silverton and Bakers Bridge, about 15 miles north of Durango, is virtually devoid of aquatic life. Fish populations in the river through Durango are unable to reproduce, in part because of heavy metal contamination. And, years ago, the city of Durango switched its main source of water to the Florida River because of quality issues in the Animas.

    The Animas River Stakeholders Group formed in 1994 and brought together a coalition of local, state and federal agencies, as well as mining companies and interested people, who sought to improve the health of the river amid heavy metal loading from legacy mines.

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

    Despite the many Stakeholders Group successes, water quality in the Animas River in recent years has diminished, mainly from the mines leaching into one of the river’s tributaries, Cement Creek.

    In 2014, the EPA decided pollution had gotten so bad that it stepped in with a $1.5 million cleanup project of its own…

    Despite millions of dollars in claims, no one was reimbursed for their losses after the EPA claimed governmental immunity. A lawsuit still lingers in the federal courts from those seeking to recoup costs.

    But ultimately, the Animas River did not appear to be too adversely impacted – the spill did not cause a die-off of fish, and long-term studies have shown little to no effect on aquatic life or the waterway…

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

    What the spill did accomplish was to highlight the legacy of mines chronically contaminating the Animas River: The amount of metals released from the Gold King Mine spill is equal to that released every 300 days from all the mines around Silverton.

    After years of the possibility of the EPA’s Superfund program stepping in, it became official in fall 2016, with the agency singling out 48 mining-related sites set for some degree of cleanup…

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

    Immediately after the Gold King Mine spill, the EPA built a $1.5 million temporary water treatment plant that takes in discharges from the mine and removes metals, which costs about $2.4 million to $3.3 million a year to operate.

    But other than some minor projects around the basin, the EPA has focused on studies to better understand the complex mining district, and evaluate what long-term options would be best for cleanup.

    The EPA is set, remedial project manager Robert Parker said, to make stronger headway on a quick action plan to address about 23 mining sites over the next few years while longer-term solutions are being examined.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    @EPA proposes permanent mine waste dump site north of #Silverton — The #Durango Herald #AnimasRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    The town of Silverton, Colorado, USA as seen from U.S. Route 550. By Daniel Schwen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10935432

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Project needs approval from Sunnyside Gold, a company potentially on hook for costs

    It appears the Environmental Protection Agency has found a place for long-term storage of mine waste near Silverton.

    Mayflower Mill

    The EPA announced this week it is proposing a waste repository for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site on top of the existing tailings impoundment near the Mayflower Mill, about 2 miles northeast of Silverton off County Road 2.

    The site, EPA officials say, would serve as a long-term option to store waste that is generated from Superfund cleanup actions, as well as sludge from the water treatment plant that takes in discharges from the Gold King Mine.

    “It’s going to be there for the long haul to accommodate any waste we’ll need to remove,” said Christina Progess, the EPA’s lead for the Superfund site.

    The proposal comes with one caveat, however: The property is owned by Sunnyside Gold Corp. The EPA has asked for approval from Silverton’s last operating mining company and has yet to hear back.

    Gina Myers, a spokeswoman for Sunnyside Gold, said in an email to The Durango Herald that “SGC … had previously offered EPA the use of Mayflower ground for storage of sludge from the underutilized treatment plant.”

    Myers did not clarify whether Sunnyside Gold will allow EPA access or not.

    The need for a centrally located, permanent dump site for mine waste has been an ongoing issue for EPA ever since the Superfund was declared in fall 2016, about a year after the agency triggered a blowout at the Gold King Mine.

    The water treatment plant constructed after the blowout generates up to 6,000 cubic yards of sludge a year – or about a football field buried in 3 feet of muck – and there’s little room on-site for storage. And in the future, the EPA will need a place to take waste removed from other projects…

    In August 2019, Sunnyside Gold offered the EPA access to its property at the Mayflower tailings repository, a large series of four impoundments of historic mine waste rock that operated until the early 2000s.

    “(The site) is an ideal and proven site for a repository for the water-treatment plant, and, in the interest of good faith and improving water quality, SGC has granted EPA access for this evaluative work,” the company said at the time.

    Progess said the EPA sent Sunnyside Gold a consent for access request and hopes to hear of a final decision by mid-August…

    If access were granted, the EPA would start a phased approach at the Mayflower tailings, Progess said. A liner would be placed on top of the existing piles for the new waste, which would then be capped.

    All told, the EPA’s plan would have the capacity to store up to 609,000 cubic yards of mine waste and sludge. Use of the site, however, would vary year to year, depending on current projects and need…

    The Mayflower tailings are suspected of leaching heavy metals into the Animas River, which has prompted Sunnyside Gold to conduct its own multi-year investigation into the matter.

    Progess said the investigation remains ongoing, and the EPA would use a different, more stable location at Impoundment 1 on the site to store its waste to begin with. She said leaching is suspected at Impoundment 4.

    “We feel comfortable starting the work at Impoundment 1,” she said. “That will allow us years of use while the investigation on Impoundment 4 can continue.”

    The public can comment on the proposed plan until Aug. 27. A virtual public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Aug 11.

    Progess said the EPA hopes to have the site constructed and ready for use by fall 2021, about the time storage at the water-treatment plant for the Gold King Mine is expected to reach capacity.

    The EPA’s wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015 — photo via Grace Hood Colorado Public Radio

    June/July 2020 Newsletter is hot off the presses from The Water Information Program

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

    Basin Implementation Plan Update
    Ed Tolen, SW Basin 1st Vice Chair, explained that in January a sub-committee was set up to select a local expert to work with the SW Basin Roundtable on updating the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). From the proposals received the committee chose Harris Water Engineers to be local expert. Steve Harris (Harris Water Engineering) will no longer participate on the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) or the SW Basin Roundtable, and Carrie Padgett, P.E. of Harris Water will also step down from the SW Basin Roundtable. Roundtable elections will take place in October, Officer elections will take place in July.

    There will be a team approach to working on the BIP update that will include the SW Basin Roundtable, the Local Experts (Harris Water Engineers), who work with the General Contractor (Brown and Caldwell) and the CWCB.

    Matt Lindberg with Brown/Caldwell, the General Contractor, gave a presentation on next steps regarding the BIP review process. The purpose of the review and update is to improve project data, unpack technical update, revisit goals and objectives and invest in process efficiency.

    The timeline for the BIP update is as follows:

  • March – August 2020 – Local Expert Workshops, Work Plans and Project lists.
  • September – December 2020 – Basin Analysis/Study
  • January – December 2021 – Update the Basin Implementation Plan
  • December to March 2022 – Incorporate Updated BIP’s into the Water Plan Update
  • To view the full Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan go here.