#AnimasRiver: Justice Dept. to look at #GoldKingMine spill lawsuit — Albuquerque Journal

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

From the Associated Press (Dan Boyd) via The Albuquerque Journal:

New Mexico’s lawsuit against neighboring Colorado over the fallout of a massive mine spill could be affected by the pending presidential transition, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked the federal Department of Justice to weigh in on the case…

Top-ranking state officials indicated Monday that they are taking a wait-and-see approach to the request for the federal government’s legal opinion – even if that means a drawn-out court saga.

“We will be interested to read the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General’s opinion of our lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court against the state of Colorado,” state Environment Secretary-designate Butch Tongate said in a statement.

New Mexico’s lawsuit, filed in June, contends Colorado was too lax in its oversight of water contaminated by decades of mining and should be held responsible for the fallout of the 2015 Gold King mine spill. It was filed by Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office and outside attorneys hired by the Environment Department…

In addition to the lawsuit against Colorado, New Mexico has also filed a lawsuit in federal court against the EPA and the owners of a mine adjacent to the Gold King Mine. That lawsuit seeks more than $136 million in damages, which would be used to pay for economic losses the state attributes to the mine spill, specifically in the tourism, recreation and agriculture sectors.

The U.S. Supreme Court…handles cases that involve one state suing another. And it’s common for the nation’s highest court to ask the solicitor general, a top attorney within the Justice Department, to weigh in on such cases by filing official court briefs. The briefs lay out the federal government’s views on the case, including its merits.

Durango will get its water this winter solely from the #AnimasRiver — The Durango Herald

Lemon Dam, Florida River
Lemon Dam, Florida River

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Work at Lemon Dam will cut city’s access to Florida River

For the first time in well over a century, the city of Durango will rely exclusively on the Animas River for its water supply throughout the winter.

“There’s always a first time for everything,” said Steve Salka, the city’s utilities director.

Normally, the city supplies its reservoir in the winter solely from the Florida River, a waterway further east of town, which Salka said is the preferred option.

Water from the Florida River is diverted through a gravity driven nine-mile pipeline into the city’s reservoir near Fort Lewis College, whereas water taken from the Animas River must be pumped uphill from the intake at Santa Rita Park, a more costly endeavor.

However, while the Bureau of Reclamation performs overdue maintenance on Lemon Dam, which bottlenecks the Florida River about 14 miles northeast of town, the river will be reduced to a trickle of about 3 cubic feet per second.

That’s not enough to pump into the city’s reservoir, Salka said.

Instead, the city will use the Animas River to maintain the reservoir’s capacity of 90 million gallons to meet the population’s demand of about 3 million gallons of water a day.

That’s all made possible, he said, by the timely and recently finished $1 million project that altered the flow of the Animas River near the Whitewater Park, diverting a significant portion of the river directly into the city’s intake.

“That’s why we did all that work on the Animas River before they started their project: so we can pump during the winter if we need to,” he said.

Salka said the city is able to draw 3.3 million gallons a day from the Animas River through three pumps, “more than enough to keep the reservoir full in winter time.”

Water history
The city of Durango started using the Florida River as its primary source of water in 1902, after miners further upstream in Silverton refused to stop dumping mine waste into the Animas River, which flows directly through town.

“They dumped mine tailings, smelter waste, garbage – they dumped everything,” said local historian Duane Smith, adding that ranchers in the Animas Valley also threw dead animals into the river. “It must have tasted terrible.”

But the city was forced to draw from the Animas River as the town’s population sharply increased after World War II. According to the U.S. Census, Durango’s population went from about 4,000 in 1920 to more than 10,500 in 1960.

“That’s when the real pressure mounted on water,” Smith said.

In recent years, with Durango’s population nearing 19,000 residents, the city uses more than 8 million gallons a day at the height of summer, Salka said.

Despite the Animas River’s higher concentrations of heavy metals, it’s not more expensive to treat the water, and consuming it does not pose any health risks, he said.

“In winter, that water is pretty clear and pristine,” he said. “And we’re monitoring for turbidity, pH. We know everything about that river 24 hours a day. If anything changes, we stop pumping.”

Liane Jollon, executive director for the San Juan Basin Health Department, said, “Water that is supplied by the city is safe for consumption at all times based on standards enforced by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.”

Worst-case scenario, Salka said, the city would contact the Bureau of Reclamation and ask to release more water out of Lemon Reservoir.

Lemon Dam repairs
Tyler Artichoker, facilities manager with the Bureau of Reclamation, said work at Lemon Dam should be completed by March, at which time, flows will return to 10 to 11 cfs, the usual release rate during the winter.

The $1.3 million project will replace four high-pressure gates inside the dam that are the original pieces installed when Lemon Dam was built in 1963. The work has nothing to do with dam safety, Artichoker said, but it will allow crews to inspect other parts of the system that are inaccessible when in operation.

Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said although “no doubt there will be fish mortality,” this is the best time of year for the water level to be brought down.

“Even with the flow down, there will still be pools in which some fish can survive,” Lewandowski said. “A lot depends on how long the water level stays at 3 cfs – the shorter the better for aquatic species.”

Lemon Dam is part of the Colorado Water Storage Project, capable of supplying water for 19,450 acres of irrigated land. The earth-fill structure has a height of 284 feet and a crest length of 1,360 feet. And the reservoir itself has a capacity is 40,146 acre-feet.

Tom Fiddler, a commissioner with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said the senior waters rights on the Florida belong to the city of Durango and then the various irrigators along the waterway.

He said before the Lemon Dam was built, the river dried every year because of increasing demands. When the dam regulates on a normal operating schedule, at least there’s some water left in the river for a fish habitat, he said.

“There’ll be some die off, yeah, but they’re going to come back,” he said. “This has been happening on the Florida way before the dam was built.”

#AnimasRiver monitoring results available at meeting — Farmington Daily Times #GoldKingMine

The Animas River at the Colorado- New Mexico state line, August 7, 2015. Photo courtesy Melissa May.

From The Farmington Daily Times:

New Mexico Environment Department Chief Scientist Dennis McQuillan will present an update Monday on the department’s monitoring efforts on the Animas River following last year’s Gold King Mine spill, according to an NMED press release.

In August 2015, crews working for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency triggered a blowout at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo. The blowout caused millions of gallons of water laden with toxic mine waste to flow down Cement Creek into the Animas River and eventually the San Juan River.

Following the spill, NMED formed a Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee. The committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the San Juan College Student Center, 4601 College Blvd. Meetings are open to the public.

For more information, go to http://nmedRiverWaterSafety.org.

#AnimasRiver: @EPA wants to keep [#GoldKingMine] treatment plant running — Farmington Daily Times

The Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary water-treatment facility at Gold King Mine, October 2015,  via Steve Lewis/The Durango Herald.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary water-treatment facility at Gold King Mine, October 2015, via Steve Lewis/The Durango Herald.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Farmington Daily Times:

A final decision will be made next month, the EPA said. The agency announced its intentions last week.

The plant began operating in October 2015, and the agency said at the time it would run at least through the end of this month and possibly longer…

The EPA is looking at long-term solutions for the Gold King and 47 other nearby mining sites, which send millions of gallons of acidic wastewater to creeks and rivers every year. The area was designated a Superfund site in September, clearing the way for a multimillion-dollar federal cleanup expected to take years.

The temporary treatment plant cost $2.9 million. The original plant cost $1.8 million, and the EPA later expanded it for $1.1 million more.

It is being run for slightly less than expected. The EPA initially said it would cost $20,000 a week to run, but the agency said Tuesday the cost is about $16,000 a week.

Cleanup so far has cost about $29 million, the EPA said. That money has gone toward work and reimbursements and aid to state and local governments affected by the Gold King spill.

The temporary treatment plant could be in operation for at least two years while the EPA investigates the area and evaluates long-term options, the agency said.

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

#AnimasRiver: @EPA updates Silverton on cleanup — @DurangoHerald

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
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 Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

This time last year, the Environmental Protection Agency, having breached the portal of the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015, was still the target of public lashing for the release of 3 million gallons of mine wastewater into the Animas River.

Yet nearly a year ago to the day, officials from Durango, La Plata County, Silverton and San Juan County were on a tour of Superfund sites around Colorado – an event many note as the turning point in the conversations surrounding listing the mines around Silverton as a Superfund site.

And on Monday, at an EPA-hosted public hearing to update the community of Silverton on the workings of the Superfund site, local officials noted the complete 180-degree turn on the tone of conversations.

“After working with this group, it’s been beneficial,” said San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman, who historically opposed to a Superfund listing. “We’ve learned a lot from it. They are working with us, and we appreciate having a seat at the table.”

San Juan County Administrator Willy Tookey, too, heaped praise on the EPA for reimbursing the more than $349,000 the county spent in response to the spill, as well as contributing to the local economy.

Tookey said the EPA has populated local hotels and restaurants, as well as hired local firms whenever possible. He estimated EPA crews, as well as other federal agencies, spent a total of 775 nights in Silverton hotels.

“So far, it’s been a pleasant experience,” Tookey said. “Its been a real pleasure to work with the folks from the EPA.”

For most of the two hour-plus meeting, EPA officials listed numerous actions taken over the summer in the Animas watershed, as it addresses 48 mining sites contributing to degraded water quality.

EPA officials, in partnership with multiple agencies, said they completed an extensive evaluation of the Animas River Basin, information they will take into the winter months to draft a more complete plan for cleanup.

Other tasks taken over the summer included minor work at the Brooklyn Mine and installation of two meteorological stations, a precipitation gauge and a full weather station around the Superfund site.

The EPA and Bureau of Land Management also installed four groundwater wells at the Kittimack tailings between Howardsville and Eureka to establish the depth of the water table and define groundwater flows.

And the EPA’s Rebecca Thomas said the agency will consider future expansion of the temporary water-treatment plant to treat mine waste from adjacent mines of the Gold King, namely the Red & Bonita, Mogul and American Tunnel.

“(It being so close) we owe it to ourselves to evaluate treating that water,” Thomas said.

In addition, lesser-known actions were discussed: testing to see if dust kicked up from ATVs could potentially be harmful to human health, or if plants in the basin, used by Native American tribes for medicinal purposes, could have adverse health impacts.

Thomas said an estimated 4 million gallons of mine waste discharge into the Animas watershed every day, and the agency will prioritize the major contributors, as well as look for lower hanging fruit for cleanup actions.

“It is going to be a long-term project,” Thomas said. “We are going to be here for years and years.”

#AnimasRiver: @EPA wants to continue operations at [Cement Creek] water-treatment plant — The Durango Herald

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

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday it would prefer to continue operations at the temporary water-treatment plant that handles discharges out of the Gold King Mine while the agency continues to evaluate long-term options.

Before the EPA makes that decision final, a public comment period that began Monday will run to Dec. 14.

“As EPA understands more about the hydrology of the area, and how various sources of contamination are affecting water quality, the Agency will consider any number of options, including potential expansion of the IWTP, to address the contamination,” Chris Wardell, of U.S. EPA Region 8, said in a news release.

The second option considered in the report released Monday was to mothball the $1.5 million water-treatment plant, which was built two months after an EPA contracted crew on Aug. 5, 2015, breached the portal of the Gold King Mine, releasing 3 million gallons of mine waste down the Animas River.

The treatment plant’s high cost of operation, as well as the need to deal with the lime-heavy metal sludge by-product, led officials tasked with improving water quality in the Animas River watershed to find other options.

As of last week, the average flow rate into the treatment plant was 712 gallons per minute, and it costs about $16,000 per week to operate.

If EPA, after reviewing public comments, formally decides to continue operations, the agency will move the plant from “emergency removal action” funding to “Non-Time Critical Removal Action,” which falls under the proper Superfund process.

This fall, the EPA officially declared 48-mining sites around Silverton as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

Cement Creek aerial photo -- Jonathan Thompson via Twitter
Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

#AnimasRiver: Navajo Nation to court, Sunnyside a key contributor #GoldKingMine

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

From The Farmington Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

In a lawsuit filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court of New Mexico, the tribe named Sunnyside Gold Corp. as a responsible party for the spill on Aug. 5, 2015.

The lawsuit also names the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Restoration LLC, Harrison Western Corp., Gold King Mines Corp., Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold USA Inc. and John Does 1-10.

Sunnyside filed a motion on Oct. 17 to dismiss its involvement in the lawsuit, and the tribe filed its response on Monday.

In the tribe’s response to Sunnyside’s motion, it called the company a “key contributor” to the toxic water buildup at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo.

The buildup led to a blowout, triggering the release of more than 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

“It knew that its actions in bulk heading its mine would shift the flow of contaminated water to other mines in the Upper Animas Watershed and pose a substantial threat of a future blowout into downstream communities,” the response states…

Sunnyside argued the state of Colorado should be named in the lawsuit since the mine and associated activities at the mine site are within the state.

In the tribe’s response, it stated the federal court can provide “complete relief” for damages incurred as a result of the spill among the defendants already named in the lawsuit. It adds that Colorado’s role as a mine regulator is of “no consequence” because the tribe is not challenging how the state regulates mining nor is it asking for an injunction only the state could provide.

Sunnyside also argued for a dismissal using a section of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, which is commonly known as the Superfund Act.

The section Sunnyside cited states that no federal court has jurisdiction to review any challenges when remedial action is taking place at a Superfund site.

In response, the tribe argues Sunnyside cannot use that section of the Superfund Act because the Bonita Peak Mining District, which includes the Gold King Mine, was designated a Superfund site only after the mine spill.

The EPA declared the area a Superfund site in September.

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