#AnimasRiver: @EPA is recommending a scaled-back approach for Bonita Peak superfund due to funding uncertainty

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 Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

EPA crews in southwestern Colorado swiftly stopped an acidic, 15 gallons-a-minute flow from the defunct Brooklyn Mine, drainage that for decades has injected heavy arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese and zinc into Animas River headwaters. That’s a tiny portion of the overall 3,750 gallons-a-minute contaminating the Animas, but is typical of the trickling from thousands of mines that slowly kills Western streams — even as clean water increasingly is coveted.

“It took half a day. All we did was redirect the adit flow so that it didn’t cross waste rock,” EPA Superfund project manager Rebecca Thomas said…

…EPA cleanup specialists face the practical reality that the nation’s ailing Superfund program for rectifying environmental disasters may not be able to deliver. Federal cleanups of toxic mining Superfund sites typically take decades due to bureaucracy and scarce funds.

EPA officials have proposed 40 “early-response” fixes spanning 20 of the mine sites in the mountains above Silverton. If locals approve — public meetings are scheduled next week — EPA crews would embark on these small-scale projects to create ponds that slow drainage so that contaminants drop out, to reroute snow and rain run-off away from waste rock, and to remove tailings that slump into streams and ooze poison.

The investigation and planning for a full Superfund cleanup still would continue, once EPA chiefs and Congress allocate funds. But the overall cleanup here at 46 sites across the newly designated, 60-square-mile Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site is complicated and costly. It requires mapping a vast underground maze of drilled tunnels and natural fissures, inserting concrete plugs and installing water-cleaning systems. EPA crews also would have to dispose of thousands of cubic yards of metals-laced sludge each year, spreading it in waste pits or possibly injecting it into super-deep bore holes to serve as a buffer and hold acidic mining wastewater inside dormant mine tunnels…

Less money for EPA could reduce Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment testing of water quality in streams and slow completion of a toxic mines inventory to guide cleanups at thousands of the worst leaking mines, Green said. Next year, Conservation Colorado will push state-level legislation to require mining companies to post sufficient bond money to guarantee proper postmining restoration.

In Washington, D.C., Earthworks advocates lamented that legislation Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner mulled to promote cleanups has fizzled…

Beyond the quick fixes, EPA and southwestern Colorado officials also are working to create a scientific research center in Silverton that they envision as a hub for hydrology research to improve water quality at mining sites…

Next week, EPA officials plan to hold public meetings with residents in Silverton, Durango and Farmington, N.M., for discussion of both the quick fixes and long-term cleanup.

“Funding is a question,” said Thomas, the EPA project manager. “We certainly will be requesting money this year. We will start the work as soon as the funding is available — no earlier than probably the fourth quarter this year.”

Yet tangible progress can be made sooner, she said.

“I’m very optimistic. This is a high-visibility project. The work that we do in this district could be used as a template for hundreds, if not thousands, of abandoned mines across the Rocky Mountain West. There’s a lot of energy here at the EPA, and also at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, to make sure we do the right thing and see some improvement in environmental quality. I’m more optimistic than trepidacious for sure,” Thomas said.

2nd Annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds

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]

Here’s the Click here to register. From the release:

JOIN US IN FARMINGTON. Building on last year’s successful conference, the 2nd Annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds with Emphasis on Gold King Mine and other Mine Waste Issues will continue to facilitate the exchange of data and research results associated with monitoring efforts related to the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill. Since the spill, quite a bit has happened on the site and this conference will provide an update of the increased understanding of the spill, along with lessons that have been learned.

The conference is an opportunity to meet, learn from, and share ideas on a broad effort that includes four states, three Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regions, two Tribes, and numerous local and municipal agencies and public water systems.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) will host the conference on June 20-22, 2017 at San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico. This year’s technical program will include oral and poster presentations in addition to plenary talks from some of the region’s leading experts on environmental catastrophes and their impacts on our communities. This year’s conference will include an all-day educational field trip of the Animas and San Juan watersheds.

Particularly relevant topics to be featured at the conference this year include:

  • Geology, minerology, ore bodies and natural sources of contamination
  • Analysis of Animas and San Juan watersheds as a result of Gold King Mine spill
  • Effects of acid mine drainage after more than a century of mining
  • Effects of historical mill-waste discharges
  • Effects of historical spill events
  • Effects of the Gold King Mine spill
  • Differentiating geologic and historical contaminants from Gold King Mine spill contaminants
  • Transport and fate of mining contaminants in the Animas and San Juan watersheds
  • Contaminant uptake into the food web
  • Mining and milling contaminant impacts on surface water, sediment, groundwater, agriculture, livestock, wildlife, and humans
  • Long-term monitoring
  • Existing corrective measures to control mine seepage and hydraulic consequences
  • Options for additional source control, spill prevention, and remediation
  • E. coli and other organisms in nutrients
  • Streamflow and water quality sensitivity to climate change
  • Groundwater and surface-water geochemistry and their interaction with the hyporheic zone
  • The conference will support the activities outlined in the Gold King Mine Water Spill Long Term Monitoring Plan, prepared by the New Mexico’s Long Term Impact Team (April 4, 2016).

    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 March 2017 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

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

    Get Your Feet Wet for River Health!

    The Animas Watershed Partnership held two Willow Planting Days during the Spring of 2016 on the Florida River (click above to watch the video). About 15 volunteers from Trout Unlimited, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, La Plata Conservation District, and individuals came out to help restore native shrubs to the riverbanks. Volunteers cut willows onsite then used rebar, mallets, and a hydraulic “waterjet” stinger to plant the cuttings. The “waterjet” stinger was loaned by the La Plata Conservation District and uses water pressure to poke holes into the ground with little to no manual force.

    AWPs upcoming Willow Planting opportunities are April 8th, 22nd, 29th, and May 6th from 10:00am to 2:00pm. Each volunteer will have the opportunity to cut willows, use rebar and mallets, and use the stinger to plant willows on a stretch of the lower Florida River. Lunch will be provided thanks to City Market Durango! No experience is needed and onsite training will be provided on site. The event will be outside next to the river, so be prepared for all weather, terrain, and getting your feet wet! Come join us for a fun filled day of work for river health! Contact Rachel Hoffman at healthyanimas.awp@gmail.com by March 24th if you’re interested!

    @USBR: Lake Nighthorse Recreation Management Lease Agreement Signed

    Lake Nighthorse from the Ridges Basin Dam September 19, 2016.

    Here’s the release from the USBR:

    Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office and City of Durango finalized and signed a lease agreement for recreation management at Lake Nighthorse on January 27, 2017. The 25 year agreement transfers recreation management and related responsibilities to the city; including developing, construction and maintaining facilities and other improvements within the recreation area. Under the agreement, the city will ensure that recreation area administration and associated land use comply with all applicable Federal and State laws and regulations.

    The agreement is contingent on the city annexing approximately 500 acres of land at Lake Nighthorse including 1,500 water surface acres in order to provide management, law enforcement and emergency services at Lake Nighthorse. WCAO and the city will begin the annexation process soon. The WCAO is currently in the process of negotiating a new Programmatic Agreement with the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office that will cover Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act compliance for the ongoing operations and maintenance of the Animas La-Plata Project, as well as for the recreation plan. When enacted this Programmatic Agreement will replace the Programmatic Agreement that was originally developed for the construction of the project. The WCAO is conducting tribal consultations with 25 tribes on the cultural resources management plan and Programmatic Agreement for the area.

    In December 2016, WCAO released the Finding of No Significant Impact and final Environmental Assessment for the Lake Nighthorse Recreation Plan. The selected alternative is the 2014 Recreation Plan proposed by the City of Durango. The 2014 Recreation Plan recommends implementing a small-scale, staged approach to the development of recreational opportunities and facilities, while protecting water quality, cultural resources, and the primary purposes of Lake Nighthorse.

    Recreation development will include: public restrooms, and overflow parking area for the boat ramp, access road improvements, and development of a courtesy dock system at the boat ramp. Recreation activities will be day use only and include: canoeing, kayaking, rowing, sculling, and stand-up-paddle boarding; swimming and scuba diving; and fishing. Motorized boating would be allowed, however, the lake will be closed to all motorized boating from late fall to late spring.

    Durango: Fluoride dosing will continue after Tuesday’s vote

    Durango

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Election totals showed about 1,735 people voted for an ordinance that would require the city to stop adding fluoride to its water system, far behind the some 3,094 voters who supported keeping the system in place.

    The issue was heatedly contested leading up to Tuesday’s election, with supporters and opponents of water fluoridation disagreeing with the health benefits of the program…

    This winter, a petition that called for the city of Durango to stop adding fluoride to its drinking water circulated around town, causing a vitriolic debate over the health benefits of the program.

    While advocates of community water fluoridation say it has immeasurable oral health benefits, particularly for low-income residents, opponents say the program is a form of forced medication, and called into question the impacts of consuming too much fluoride, as well as the source of the substance.

    Jim Forleo, a local chiropractor who was one of the most vocal anti-fluoride organizers, said the effort, which raised about $4,500 for the campaign, was over-run by big money interests. The pro-fluoride side raised nearly $22,500, mostly from Healthier Colorado, a Denver-based non-profit.

    #AnimasRiver: Losses from #GoldKingMine spill revised downward

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

    From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Aurora Sentinel:

    The total now appears to be about $420 million. A single law firm that originally filed claims totaling $900 million for a handful of New Mexico property owners told the AP it had lowered their claims to $120 million

    Farmers, business owners, residents and others initially said they suffered a staggering $1.2 billion in lost income, property damage and personal injuries from the 2015 spill at the Gold King Mine, which tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

    But the total now appears to be about $420 million. A single law firm that originally filed claims totaling $900 million for a handful of New Mexico property owners told the AP it had lowered their claims to $120 million.

    It’s still uncertain whether the White House and Congress — both now controlled by the GOP — are willing to pay for any of the economic losses, even though Republicans were among the most vocal in demanding the EPA make good on the harm.

    Under former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, the EPA said it was prohibited by law from doing so.

    Now that they’re in charge, Republicans have vowed to slash spending on the environment, leaving the prospects for compensation in doubt…

    The EPA said it received 73 claims for economic damage or personal injuries. The AP obtained copies of the claims through an open records request, although many details were redacted.

    The Albuquerque, New Mexico, law firm Will Ferguson & Associates filed claims totaling $900 million for about a dozen residents of Aztec, a town of about 6,100 on the Animas River in northwestern New Mexico. The residents say the contaminated water damaged their wells, soil and plumbing and caused health problems including chronic intestinal pain, rashes and memory loss.

    Will Ferguson, the firm’s managing partner, said the $900 million represented an opening position, and the attorneys never expected to recover that much.

    Kedar Bhasker, another lawyer with the firm, said the claims were refiled in December. Bhasker called the lower amount “more reasonable.”

    In January, the EPA was still using the $1.2 billion total for all the claims, which didn’t reflect the law firm’s revisions. EPA officials didn’t immediately provide an explanation in response to emails seeking comment.

    The other claims ranged from river guides asking for a few hundred dollars in lost wages to the Navajo Nation seeking $162 million for environmental and health monitoring, among other things. The state of New Mexico asked for $130 million in lost taxes and other revenue. The state and tribe also are suing the EPA separately in federal court.

    Ten tourist-dependent businesses filed claims, saying they lost money when travelers stayed away. Farmers and ranchers said crops died because the river couldn’t be used to irrigate and that they had extra expenses from hauling untainted water to livestock.

    Some property owners said the value of their land plummeted because of the stigma attached to the spill…

    The agency noted it had already spent more than $31.3 million on the spill, including remediation work, water testing and payments to state, local and tribal agencies for their emergency response to the disaster.

    But lawmakers were infuriated — especially Republicans, some of whom portrayed the spill as a glaring example of EPA mismanagement. They have pressed the new EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, to reconsider the decision not to pay damages.

    At his confirmation hearings, Pruitt promised to review it. The EPA didn’t immediately respond to emails and a phone call seeking comment on whether he had done so.

    Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said he believes Pruitt “will make good on his promise to work with me and my colleagues in resolving the outstanding issues that remain from the Obama administration’s EPA.”

    Colorado Democrats introduced a measure in Congress in 2015, shortly after the spill, intended to allow federal compensation for economic damages, but the bill died.

    Now, Congress appears to be waiting on President Donald Trump’s administration to make its intentions known.

    “We don’t know what to expect from this administration in regard to that,” said Liz Payne, a spokeswoman for Republican Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado, whose district was hurt by the spill.

    “It’s still a waiting game for us at this point,” she said.

    Durango fluoride dosing vote update

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    Durango voters are being asked April 4 to decide whether to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking water. Most-recent campaign filings show the pro-fluoride campaign has outraised and outspent its rival committee.

    The campaign to preserve fluoride in the water, Healthy Kids Healthy Durango, collected $22,465 in cash and in-kind donations through March 16. The campaign spent $8,769.

    Clean Water Durango, the group fighting against water fluoridation, collected $1,045 in cash through March 16 from three people. The group disclosed spending $2,641 through March 16. Much of the spending – $2,462 – was part of an addendum that was not formally added to the donation total.

    Bob Lieb, who filed the report and donated to the campaign, said the anti-fluoride campaign plans to raise and spend a total of $5,000, mostly for signage, advertising and informational brochures. He said most of those donations are coming through the campaign’s website.

    Lieb said the campaign relies on volunteers, as opposed to the pro-fluoride side, which has hired people to advocate.

    “It’s a David and Goliath campaign, no doubt about it,” Lieb said. “And we’re the David. They’ve brought a lot of out-of-town money.”

    Most of the donations to the pro-flouride campaign came from Healthier Colorado, a Denver-based nonprofit that contributed $17,340 of in-kind support such as mailings, web marketing and other contributions. The campaign also collected $5,125 in cash donations from 30 individuals – including 11 dentists.

    Healthier Colorado is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to improve public health through public policy.

    Kate Stigberg, director of activism for Healthier Colorado, said an email from concerned residents in Durango, including oral health professionals, asked the group for help.

    The group has been supporting water fluoridation since January 2016 in partnership with Colorado Children’s Campaign, Delta Dental and the Colorado Dental Association.