@USBR advances water delivery project for Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

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

The Bureau of Reclamation invites members of the press and public to a meeting to continue negotiations with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. The purpose of these negotiations is to agree to terms for an operations, maintenance and replacement contract for the federally-owned Cutter Lateral features of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, located near Bloomfield, New Mexico.

This operations, maintenance and replacement contract for Cutter Lateral will facilitate water delivery to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations. The negotiations and subsequent contract provide the legal mechanism for delivery of the Navajo Nation’s Settlement Water in the state of New Mexico. WHAT: Public meeting to negotiate the Cutter Lateral operations, maintenance and replacement contract.

WHEN: Friday, September 13, 2019, at 9:00 a.m. at 1:00 p.m.

WHERE: Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Walter F. Wolf Conference Room 2nd Floor GM Suite, Indian Navajo Route 12, Fort Defiance, AZ 86504

WHY: The contract to be negotiated will provide terms and conditions for the operation, maintenance and replacement of specific project features. 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. They can also be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, 970-385-6541, mbmiller@usbr.gov.

The Water Information Program August/September 2019 Newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

Southwestern Water Conservation District Hires New Executive Director

Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) is pleased to announce the confirmation of their new Executive Director, Frank Kugel.

Frank Kugel. Photo credit: Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District

Kugel was the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for almost 13 years, and is a registered Professional Engineer with a Civil Engineering degree from the University of Colorado – Denver. Frank was involved in construction engineering in the Denver area before joining the Colorado Division of Water Resources as a Dam Safety Engineer. He served in the Denver and Durango offices of DWR before moving to Montrose where he ultimately became Division 4 Engineer for the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores Basins. Frank joined the UGRWCD upon leaving DWR in 2006. He was a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable since its inception and chair of its Basin Implementation Planning Subcommittee.

WIP had a brief chat with Frank to give you a bit more information. Here are a few questions and answers from our conversation.

WIP: What experience and knowledge do you bring to the District?

Frank: I have been the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for the past 13 years. During that time I worked on local and statewide water issues and reported to an 11-member board. Prior to that, I was Division Engineer for Water Division 4, encompassing the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores River basins. As Division Engineer, I frequently attended SWCD board meetings and the SW seminar. Before that, I lived in Durango for 11 years while inspecting dams for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

WIP: As the new Executive Director of SWCD, what is your vision for the district?

Frank: My vision as Executive Director is to build upon the many successes accomplished by the Southwestern Water Conservation District. I intend to work closely with the board of directors in developing policies that will help guide the district. Instream flows and drought contingency planning are two of the areas that could benefit from policy guidance.

WIP: What are some of your top priorities with/or within the district?

Frank: A top priority for me is to reach out to the local communities. I plan to attend a county commissioner meeting in each of the nine counties within my first year at the district. Working on Colorado River issues will also be a high priority.

WIP: What do you foresee being challenges?

Frank: Facing a future with reduced water supplies due to climate change, coupled with increasing population, is a challenge for all of Colorado. The Southwest District can play a lead role in educating our constituents about this pending gap between water supply and demand and how the District can mitigate its impact.

We welcome Frank Kugel to SWCD and wish him all the best in his new position!

Southwestern Water Conservation District Area Map. Credit: SWCD

After a wildfire, a Colorado town’s residents reluctantly sue a historic railway — The Los Angeles Times

The 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, ignited on June 1, 2018. By June 21, the wildfire covered more than 34,000 acres and was 37 percent contained. Photo credit USFS via The High Country News

Here’s a report about the lawsuit against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from David Kelly that’s running in The Los Angeles Times. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

…the federal government and others are pointing the finger at a local icon — the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which carries hundreds of thousands of passengers a year through the San Juan Mountains.

Claiming cinders from the coal-fired, steam locomotive ignited brush along the tracks during a time of heightened fire restrictions, the U.S. attorney’s office filed a suit against the train’s owners last month seeking $25 million to cover the cost of putting out the fire. Another two dozen or so citizens and businesses are also suing for damage to their properties.

Nobody wants the train to go out of business, but many fear the suits could eventually drive the railroad into bankruptcy, destroying a historic landmark and badly damaging the local economy…

“The responsible decision of train management would have been to not run the train in those super-dry conditions,” said Thomas Henderson, a Denver lawyer whose firm is representing individuals and businesses suing the train. “The train has started fires for years that the feds have had to put out. They should not get a free pass simply because they are big player in town. That’s not how democracy works.”

[…]

Few businesses are as tied to the railroad as the historic Strater Hotel, built in 1887. Roderick Barker’s family has owned it for 93 years, and he figures at least 50 to 60% of his guests ride the train.

“The train is the lifeblood of this whole town,” he said. “If it were to fail it would certainly be one of the most significant things to happen in the history of Durango.”

He believes the train caused the fire and needs to change its operations. But given its contribution to the economy, he questions why any local business would sue the railroad…

Bobby Duthie, an attorney, grew up on 33rd Street in Durango. The train whistle woke him each morning. He’s ridden it more than 50 times. Now he’s working with Henderson in representing those suing the train.

“I was initially reluctant to get involved because I love the train. But I also know that their decision to run it that day was reckless,” he said, sitting in his downtown office. “They had started fires on the tracks the month before and it was just a matter of time until it got out of control.”

According to the federal lawsuit, the wildfire, dubbed the 416 fire, began on Shalona Hill where the grade is steep. As the train climbed, it cast off sparks and cinders. A metal screen on the smokestack caught many but not all.

“I talked to eyewitnesses,” Duthie said. “I know the train started the fire. I’m sad they chose to run it on June 1, 2018.”

Debris flow from 416 Fire. Photo credit: Twitter #416Fire hash tag

Kristi Nelson’s home escaped the fire but suffered major damage in the mudslides.

“They took 23 dump-truck loads of mud from my property,” she said. “It was devastating. I still have a mortgage on top of $116,000 worth of damages. Let’s say I don’t want to do this work. Can I sell it?”

She said people have urged her not to ruin the train. That stings for the former vice president of sales and marketing for the railroad.

“It is with a heavy heart that I entered into this lawsuit because I love the train,” she said. “But if I crashed my car into the train depot they would expect my insurance to pay. The train’s insurance should do the same.”

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine update

From The Albuquerque Journal (Therasa Davis) via The Farmington Daily Times:

[After the August 5, 2015 spill]…The EPA paid state and tribal governments for emergency water tests, but initially denied 79 economic damage claims.

In August 2017, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – who resigned in July 2018 – visited the spill site and said the agency would reconsider the claims. The New Mexico Environment Department said Friday that it was unaware whether any of those payments have been made.

Animas River at the New Mexico/Colorado State line August, 2015.

NMED chief scientist Dennis McQuillan said there is ongoing monitoring to determine long-term effects of the spill.

“Dozens of mines are leaking acid mine water into the watershed,” McQuillan said. “Gold King was just one of those.”

Under new administrator Andrew Wheeler, the federal agency, its contractors and mining companies asked for dismissal of the lawsuits, arguing the EPA had immunity and was already working on cleanup.

Environment Department general counsel Jennifer Howard said a federal judge in Albuquerque rejected that argument in March, so the lawsuits “should definitely start proceeding at a faster pace.”

A November 2018 EPA report showed fish had elevated metal levels in the weeks after the spill, but returned to pre-spill levels by spring 2016.

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

Research by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico Game and Fish, Mountain Studies Institute, San Juan Basin Public Health and Colorado Parks and Wildlife echo that claim.

“The farming industry is still hurting,” McQuillan said. “I’ve talked to farmers who said their sales are down 25% from before the spill because people say they won’t buy food grown on the San Juan. But our agriculture products are safe. The fish are safe to eat. The river is safe for irrigation.”

McQuillan said the federal WIIN Act (Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation) will provide money for the Navajo Nation to test fish in the spill area and start outreach to address the misconception that the river water is unsafe.

In 2016, the EPA designated the area around the spill site as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which opens up money for cleanup and places the site on a priority action list. Howard and McQuillan agreed that was a positive development, but Superfund cleanup is a slow process.

“It was a significant issue four years ago and remains a significant issue,” Howard said. “The motivation for our lawsuit is to have EPA step up to the plate and address the economic impact this (spill) had on agriculture and tourism for our state.”

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

Court ruling could expedite cleanup of long-dormant uranium mines — @COindependent

Old uranium sites in Colorado via The Denver Post

From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled companies must reclaim uranium mines that sit idle for more than 10 years

Recent images of the Van 4 uranium mine show a dark rig towering above a sagebrush and juniper mesa. Beside the scaffolding sit piles of loose white rocks and two metal buildings, one of which drips insulation from its ruptured ceiling. The site is one of western Colorado’s active uranium mines. But it looks deserted.

The operator, Piñon Ridge Mining, LLC, a subsidiary of Western Uranium & Vanadium Corp., is waiting for the price of uranium to rebound before firing up the mine again. The last time that happened was 30 years ago.

Just how long mines like the Van 4 should be allowed to remain open — but idle — has long been a point of contention in Colorado between environmentalists and mine owners.

Environmentalists argue the site should have been cleaned up and restored to sagebrush scrub decades ago.

But the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, an eight-member panel appointed by the governor that enforces the state’s mining laws, has allowed mining companies to delay tearing down their operations by granting mine owners reclamation exemptions, known as “temporary cessation” permits.

This delay has frustrated environmental advocates. They see the unremediated sites as threatening wildlife habitat, water quality and a new West End economy based on recreational opportunities. They believe companies have relied on temporary cessation permits to sidestep environmental regulations requiring them to close and clean their all-but-shuttered mining operations.

And last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with them.

The court ruled state regulatory board “abused its discretion” by granting two five-year temporary cessation permits to Piñon Ridge Mining, which owns the Van 4 site. After 10 years of sitting idle, the court said, the Van 4 operation must be terminated and the owner must fully comply with reclamation requirements, restoring the site closer to its natural condition.

Phone messages left for the operator of the Van 4 mine seeking a response to the ruling were not returned Wednesday. But the president of the Colorado Mining Association argued it’s important to consider national security risks when deciding whether to close mines.

The court’s opinion could have far-reaching consequences. Owners of the state’s 29 active uranium mines — 16 of which have been granted temporary cessation permits, according to state data — may have to begin tearing down rigs and buildings and testing for radiation. The state does not yet know how many mines are past due for reclamation, according to the court’s interpretation. But it knows there are several.

“Those sites will very likely need to be reclaimed in accordance with this order,” said Ginny Brannon, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

The state estimates the federal Department of Energy holds about $14.5 million in bonds that companies front to ensure resources are available to restore closed mining operations.

View of Durango, CO, Remediated Processing Site (1991) via US Department of Energy.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Radioactive material used for roads, foundations, landscaping in mid-1900s

It turns out more than 100 properties in Durango were missed during a massive, multi-million dollar cleanup in the 1980s of radioactive waste that was once used for the construction of homes, buildings and roads.

Now, more than three decades later, the state of Colorado’s health department says these hot spots that slipped through the cracks need to be cleaned up.

“We’re now looking to raise the awareness of this potential issue in Durango,” said Tracie White, a remediation program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “It’s been on our radar for a while, and we’ve been laying the groundwork. Now, it’s coming into place.”

A cheap and easy material
Durango is no stranger to the issues left behind from the town’s legacy with uranium mining.

In the 1940s, the U.S. government built a mill on the northeast side of Smelter Mountain, now the Durango Dog Park, to reprocess uranium tailings for sale to the Manhattan Project, which produced the world’s first atomic bomb.

After extracting uranium, though, what’s left behind is a gray, sand-like waste product that can be filled with radioactive components, like radium and radon. In Durango, this pile grew to 1.2 million cubic yards, enough to fill nearly 400 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Over the years, people freely used the uranium mill tailings in construction around town, said Duane Smith, a local historian and former Fort Lewis College professor. It was as easy as driving your truck up to the waste pile and taking a load…

The uranium tailings were a cheap, easy material to work with and were used for the foundation of buildings and homes, driveways and roads, including sections of Camino del Rio. The radioactive waste was even used as a substitute for sand in gardens and sandboxes.

The practice went unchecked until the tailings became a major public health concern in the 1970s, which prompted Congress to pass the “Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act” in 1978 to tackle the 24 worst uranium sites around the country.

Durango ranked in the top four.

In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated 122,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste had been used in and around Durango homes, businesses, public buildings, roads and parks, and that it would take years and millions of dollars to remove it all.

Greg Hoch, the city of Durango’s longtime planning director, now retired, said federal government officials went up and down Durango streets surveying for hot spots. In the end, most of the high-risk sites were removed and cleaned up, he said…

But properties were missed, not just evidenced by this recent announcement from the state health department. In 1997, it was discovered that even more hot spots beneath Durango homes and streets remained contaminated by tailings, a discovery that “unsettled” the city at the time, according to The Durango Herald archives.

Records identify 115 properties at risk
This time around, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is trying to spread the word that uranium mill tailings contamination potentially still exists on about 115 properties in and around Durango, but at this point, it’s still a bit of a guessing game.

White, with the state health department, said surveys in the 1980s estimated approximately 915 properties in Durango were believed to have the uranium waste byproduct. While most were cleaned up, there has always been an understanding that some likely escaped the effort, she said.

Recently, however, CDPHE was able to home in on which properties may still pose a risk after records from the 1990s were digitized.

“Now that the records are more easily accessible and searchable, we are able to identify properties that may still have tailings remaining,” White said.

Health officials suspect properties have been passed over for a number of reasons: tailings could have been relocated, properties could have been partially but not fully cleaned or, in some cases, the homeowner at the time refused to take part in the project.

Home buyers and sellers are not required to test for radon or uranium issues. However, if a seller is aware of an issue, he or she would legally have to share that information, said John Wells with the Wells Group.

But ultimately, state health officials can’t say for sure whether there’s a contamination problem until crews can conduct gamma radiation surveys. And in yet another wrinkle, that cannot happen until a disposal site is secured to take the waste – and there’s no telling when that will happen.

@USBR advances water delivery project for Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations with contract negotiations for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project’s Cutter Lateral

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

The Bureau of Reclamation invites members of the press and public to a meeting where it will begin negotiations for an operations, maintenance and replacement contract with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority for operation of federally-owned Cutter Lateral features of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, located near Bloomfield, New Mexico.

This operations, maintenance and replacement contract for Cutter Lateral will facilitate water delivery to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations. The negotiations and subsequent contract provide the legal mechanism for delivery of the Navajo Nation’s Settlement Water in the state of New Mexico. WHAT: Public meeting to negotiate the Cutter Lateral operations, maintenance and replacement contract.

WHEN: Wednesday, July 31, 2019, at 1:00 p.m.

WHERE: Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority, 1 Uranium Blvd, Shiprock, New Mexico

WHY: The contract to be negotiated will provide terms and conditions for the operation, maintenance and replacement of specific project features. 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. They can also be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81301, 970 385-6541, mbmiller@usbr.gov.

Installing pipe along the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Photo credit: USBR

USFS has embarked on a bit of a science experiment to see if trees, willows and other vegetation are able to take root on a mine waste pile

USGS scientist measuring pH, Specific Conductance and dissolved oxygen in a remediation ditch constructed with local volcanic rock possessing some acid neutralizing capacity. Brown’s Gulch is below the Brooklyn Mine, a few miles north of Siverton, Colorado, in the Mineral Creek basin. (Credit: Douglas Yager , USGS. Public domain.)

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The U.S. Forest Service has embarked on a bit of a science experiment this summer, to see if trees, willows and other vegetation are able to take root on a waste pile near the Brooklyn Mine, located on a mountainside northwest of Silverton, said Gretchen Fitzgerald, a forester with the agency.

“Not much has been done with this waste rock,” Fitzgerald said. “But I wanted to try this.”

If successful, the project could have beneficial effects on water quality and set a precedent for the future restoration of toxic areas.

“It’s an experiment,” Fitzgerald said…

Because the Brooklyn Mine is located on the San Juan National Forest, the Forest Service is taking the lead on the cleanup there, said Ben Martinez with the San Juan National Forest. But it’s possible previous mining companies could be on the financial hook.

“The EPA along with its federal and state partners are coordinating on site-wide efforts to identify potentially responsible parties at the (Bonita Peak) site,” Martinez said.

In the meantime, federal agencies are going ahead with the cleanup. Martinez said the site is being investigated to find out just how much contamination the Brooklyn Mine is contributing to the headwaters of the Animas, and what the possible right steps are for long-term remediation.

South Fork Mineral Creek, Silverton photo via hhengineering.com

Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group said the Brooklyn Mine was included in a list of the top 33 polluting mine sites created by the stakeholders group years ago. He said the wastewater coming out of the mine, especially, poses a problem, leeching heavy metals into Mineral Creek, a tributary of the Animas River…

While the big picture cleanup is being figured out, projects like Fitzgerald’s tree planting could help with issues associated with the waste rock pile.

For the project, seeds were collected from Engelmann spruce trees right next to the pile, and native flowers were taken from Ophir, a small mountain town 13 miles west of Silverton.

The seeds were sent to a nursery and matured for two years. This summer, interns with Mountain Studies Institute, Southwest Conservation Corps and Outward Bound took on the task of planting 900 spruce trees, 300 flowers and 30 willows.

There’s a bit of technique and skill involved if you want reforested plants at an elevation of 11,000 feet to survive, Fitzgerald said…

Fitzgerald said she’s never undertaken a project quite like this, but if the plants take hold, it could stabilize the hillside and keep the waste rock out of the watershed, acting as a sort of filter.

There is some precedent for trying to grow on mine waste in Southwest Colorado.

According to a Mountain Studies Institute report, some of the most significant and enduring problems of the legacy mining in the San Juan Mountains are soil and water quality degradation associated with abandoned mine tailings and waste rock piles.

And a major impediment to reducing the amount of pollution from these sites, according to the report, is the difficulty of reestablishing vegetation.

How biochar works. Graphic credit: The High Country News

Mountain Studies Institute tried a few years ago to test the effectiveness of biochar (a charcoal used as a soil alternative, rich in carbon) and straw compost at abandoned mine sites around Silverton…

The results were encouraging: The addition of biochar resulted in a nearly 200% increase in biomass on sites with levels of high acidity. On areas where soil acidity was low, however, biochar increased vegetation by only 6% to 11%.

That’s why the Forest Service’s experiment at the Brooklyn Mine is a little more of a test trial: Fitzgerald said the mine waste rock at the site has low acidity. But, the fact some plants are naturally starting to creep out of the ground nearby is encouraging.