#AnimasRiver: Lead pollution at Bonita Peak Mining District superfund site

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):

This lead and dozens of other contaminants are spreading beyond waste-rock piles into surrounding “halos” where they are absorbed by plants and then can be ingested by bugs and transferred from the insects to birds to, ultimately, mammals. EPA officials said tissue samples from deer will be tested to assess ecological harm.

“You start to understand the scope of the environmental problem and how long this is going to take,” EPA Superfund project chief Rebecca Thomas said after a town hall meeting this week in Silverton. “It is pretty overwhelming.

“We don’t really have an active mining industry in this state anymore. Yet we still see so many impacts. And we’re just looking at the Bonita Peak Mining District in the San Juan Mountains. Think how much more widespread it is across the Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big problem. It’s going to take many years to solve it — and a lot of money.”

The lead, measured at concentrations up to 5,000 parts per million, surfaced in the latest round of sampling and study that were spurred by a federal declaration last year of a Superfund environmental disaster linked to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill that turned the Animas River mustard-yellow through three states.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said Superfund cleanups will be the EPA’s priority, even as he and other Republicans push to trim the agency’s $8 billion budget, because Americans deserve to have environmental harm fixed as required by law.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

A recent Denver Post article is being called misleading and inaccurate for overstating the risks to wildlife from mine contamination around a Superfund site near Silverton.

“The statement that EPA crews found that lead is threatening birds and animals is not accurate,” Environmental Protection Agency project manager Rebecca Thomas wrote in an email Friday. “The terrestrial risk assessment is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached.”

Around 7 p.m. Thursday, The Denver Post sent a “Breaking News Alert” for a story titled “EPA crews working on Gold King cleanup find elevated lead threatening birds, animals and, potentially, people.”

In the story, the Post draws the conclusion based on a presentation the EPA gave Monday, in which the agency said preliminary sampling of soils around the Superfund site found levels of lead at some locations at 5,000 parts per million.

The Post said these levels are 100 times higher than “danger thresholds for wildlife.”

However, EPA had said this data had not been validated.

“The statement regarding ‘danger thresholds’ for wildlife in The Denver Post story is misleading,” Thomas said. “At this point, we are looking at very conservative screening values in assessing potential risk.”

San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenheir, a former miner and geologist who is quoted in the Post article, also took issue with the story.

“I tried to explain that to (the reporter) and he just didn’t get it,” Fetchenheir said. “He had his mind made up there’s going to be lead problems.”

Durango: Russian Olive mitigation

Russian Olive

From The Durango Herald (Mia Rupani):

Mountain Studies Institute and Southwest Conservation Corps continue to wage war against the Russian olive, an invasive species that chokes out native trees and degrades the quality of the watershed.

Last year, MSI was awarded a $195,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and an additional $52,000 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife for a three-year Russian olive-removal project.

Removal efforts continued Saturday morning at Animas Valley Elementary and Christ the King Lutheran Church with two saw crews from SCC, and help from Durango Daybreak Rotary Club.

MSI’s Amanda Kuenzi said the project specifically targets Russian olive trees on private land…

Originally introduced for ornamental landscaping, the plants are native to East Asia and Russia, and consume nearly 75 gallons of water per day.

They are considered a “List B noxious weed,” which requires local governments to manage their spread under Colorado state law…

“Russian olive reduce wildlife habitat, interfere with nutrient cycling and outcompete native species,” Kuenzi said. “The wetlands have been deteriorating in the West because of irrigation practices and water storage. We have to protect these important ecosystems.”

She said crews will be working on removal efforts through mid-November with about 60 private landowners throughout the Animas River Valley.

On Saturday, the Rotary Club collected wood from the removal effort for its firewood-distribution project.

Lake Nighthorse update: Annexation by the City of Durango, completion of recreation infrastructure in the works

Lake NIghthorse September 19, 2016.

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

…the city of Durango must annex the lake on County Road 210 and finish several construction projects before it’s ready for visitors, said Parks and Recreation Manager Cathy Metz. Durango City Council also needs to address a request to make the lake a no-wake area.

While there is no exact opening date, the city is targeting April 1, but this will depend on the construction season during the winter, Metz said.

City staff members have forecast an opening year for the lake in the past, but this time, the city is setting aside funding for operation in its 2018 budget. Lake operation, including staffing and materials, is expected to cost about $478,000, according to the city budget. City staff members will manage the lake and an entrance station where they will inspect boats for invasive species, such as zebra mussels.

Operational costs not covered by user fees will be split with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Metz said. The cost split with the bureau will include the cost of providing police presence at the lake.

The city is also planning to finish construction projects, including an overflow parking lot and a breakwater before the lake opens.

The city has proposed spending $300,000 next year on a breakwater and a courtesy dock. A federal grant will pay for the overflow parking lot, which is in the design stage.

Efforts to annex the property into the city are also underway. The lake and shoreline need to be within city limits so Durango Police Department can patrol the area…

The Animas La Plata Operation Maintenance Replacement Association is also discussing how to direct visitors away from areas around the lake where there are archaeological sites and cultural resources…

While a lot of work remains to be done to open the lake, some construction is finished, including an access road, boat ramp, parking lot and restrooms.

The entrance station where boats will be inspected is also close to completion, she said.

The city anticipates charging $5 for a day pass and $50 for an annual pass, she said.

#NM Environment Dept. & #GoldKingMine Citizens’ Group Meets September 25, 2017

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

From email from the New Mexico Environment Department:

The New Mexico Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee, based out of San Juan County, New Mexico, meets Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the San Juan Community College Student Center – SUNS Room (accessible through the Henderson Fine Arts Building).

Shannon Manfredi, Coordinator, Animas River Community Forum (ARCF) in Durango will discuss the role of the ARCF and related organizations, membership composition, and issues.

The Citizens’ Advisory Committee is a group of 11 citizen volunteers from Northern New Mexica, including the Navajo Nation, who provide a forum for public concerns while tracking the scientific long-term monitoring of the Gold King Mine spill’s effects in the state. The CAC works with New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team established by Governor Susana Martinez to both monitor and discuss with the public the continuing effects of the 2015 mine blowout, caused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that released three million gallons of mining wastewater laden with 880,000 pounds of metals into the Animas and San Juan River system.

For more information please visit the New Mexico Environment Department’s Gold King Mine website at https://www.env.nm.gov/river-water-safety/ or send an email to: NMENV-Outreach@state.nm.us

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine update

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 Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

The 12-inch (30-centimeter) valve will regulate wastewater pouring from the Gold King Mine in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, where the EPA inadvertently triggered a wastewater spill while excavating at the mine entrance in August 2015…

The valve will be mounted in a steel-and concrete barrier about 70 feet (20 meters) inside the mine. The barrier will have water-tight access doors so workers and equipment can get deeper into the mine for cleanup and investigation.

The EPA is also drilling a 170-foot (50-meter) horizontal well into another part of the Gold King to drain any water building up there. That water would be routed through a temporary treatment plant below the mine where wastewater draining from the main entrance is cleaned up.

The EPA said it can control the flow of wastewater from the new drain to avoid another blowout.

The documents did not say say how much the work will cost and the EPA did not immediately respond to emails and a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

The work is expected to be completed next month.

Peter Butler, a leader of the volunteer Animas River Stakeholders Group, which works to improve water quality in the area, said he agreed with the EPA’s decision to install the barrier and drainage well.

“It’s probably a good idea,” he said. “They are showing an abundance of caution.”

Wastewater has flowed from the Gold King for years, and since the 2015 blowout, it has poured out at a rate of about 500 gallons (1,900 liters) a minute.

Mine waste flows are unpredictable In the San Juan Mountains, where underground water flows through an interconnected warren of mine tunnels and natural faults.

Precautions such as the barrier, valve and horizontal drain will make it safer for investigators to enter the mines and try to figure out the water flows, Butler said.

The Gold King and dozens of other mining-related sites in the region were designated a Superfund district in 2016.

@USBR Begins Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe

Lake Nighthorse August 2017 via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller):

The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.

@USBR Begins Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller, Justyn Liff):

The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.