#AnimasRiver: Heavy metal concentrations meet standards #GoldKingMine

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 Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

Two studies conducted in response to the Gold King Mine spill show levels for heavy metals in the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation meet water quality standards set by tribal and federal environmental agencies.

Karletta Chief, a hydrology professor at the University of Arizona, has been leading a research team to study heavy metals in the San Juan River since fall 2015.

The study — a collaboration between the university, Tó Bei Nihi Dziil, Northern Arizona University, Diné College, Fort Lewis College and the Navajo Nation Community Health Representatives program — is also examining sediment and human health…

For the study, the group focused on lead and arsenic because exposure to both over a long period can be harmful to humans, she said.

Chief explained that 288 water samples were collected from the river, irrigation canals and wells located in Upper Fruitland, Shiprock and Aneth in November 2015, March 2016 and June 2016.

The study used drinking water standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and water standards for animals and plants were screened using standards set by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Chief said levels for arsenic and lead were within the standards for drinking water and for plants and animals.

The group is waiting for results for sediment tests. Information from health assessments conducted on 123 participants could be released in the fall, she said.

San Juan River Dineh Water Users Inc. CEO Martin Duncan said after listening to the report that people want to know if the river water is safe to use for irrigation.

“We need to find out if the water is safe now,” Duncan said.

In response, Chief said results show the levels do meet water quality standards for agricultural purposes.

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency also has been monitoring heavy metal levels in the river since the spill.

Results from the study were presented by Steve Austin, a senior hydrologist with the Water Quality Program under the tribe’s EPA.

Austin said the program has collected water and sediment samples from 10 locations along the river and from the Fruitland and Hogback canals, which supply river water to farms on the reservation. Samples were collected from August to October 2015 and in March 2016 to April 2017.

Those samples were measured using the tribe’s surface water-quality standards from 2007, which also received approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

“For water quality, none of our irrigation standards have been exceeded since 2013. We don’t see an issue with irrigating from the San Juan River,” Austin said.

Austin said the only time the concentration of heavy metals has exceeded standards for irrigation use was when the Fruitland canal reopened. But levels subsided after the canal was flushed.

He added that program officials will continue monitoring the river, and they are waiting for results for fish tissue testing.

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee Meeting on Monday, May 22, 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)

Here’s the release from the New Mexico Environment Department (Allison Scott Majure):

New Mexico’s Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), based out of San Juan County, New Mexico, meets Monday, May 22, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. in the San Juan College Student Center‐ SUNS Room (accessible through the Henderson Fine Arts Center) in Farmington.

The Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) is a group of 9 citizen volunteers from Northern New Mexico, 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. At Monday’s meeting the group will hear and discuss updates from the Navajo Nation and from the U.S. EPA Region 8 as follows:

  • Presentation by Dr. Karletta Chief, University of Arizona, discussing the impact of the Gold King Mine Spill on the Animas River on the Navajo Nation, and
  • Presentation by Rebecca Thomas, EPA Superfund Project Manager-Region 8, providing an update on the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Project.
  • The meeting agenda can be found at: https://www.env.nm.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/May-2017-Agenda.pdf. 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 August 2015 mine blowout, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted to causing which released over three million gallons of mining wastewater laden with more than a million pounds of metals into the Animas and San Juan River systems.

    For more information please visit the New Mexico Environment Department’s Gold King Mine website ( http://www.NMEDRiverWaterSafety.org ) or at http://NMENV‐Outreach@state.nm.us

    S.W. #Colorado flooding of 1911

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

    Here’s Part 1 of a look back at the 1911 flooding along the Dolores River from June Head and Joyce Lawrence writing for The Cortez Journal. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    About Oct. 8, it was reported that the course of the river east of Dolores changed to the other side of town, turning toward the bottom of Dunlap Hill. The Montezuma Journal on Oct. 12 stated that nearly every bridge in this whole region was gone. The railroad track from Dolores to Rico was washed out, taking out the bridge at Ophir loop again, and there were no present indications of getting freight over the railroad for at least two weeks.

    Cortez has been without mail for a week, but it was hoped that a pack train may be put in action from Ouray to Durango until the railroads could be repaired.

    Dolores was wholly under water for a time, and the damage there is great. The Mancos Times Tribune on Oct. 13 reported, “The floods that had been raging were widespread and one of the most disastrous that had been visited upon this section since its occupation by the white man.” The newspaper also reported the town of Dolores was flooded by from 1 to 5 feet of water, the town was strewn with wreckage, and train service from Durango to Silverton and between Dolores and Rico would not be restored for “many weeks at best.”

    No mail reached Mancos for almost a week from any point except Durango. The area of the flood district covered the San Juan County in Colorado and New Mexico, the San Luis Valley and parts of the Western Slope. “The rivers on the rampage dealing destruction to public and private property are the San Miguel, Dolores, Mancos, La Plata, Animas, Pine, Piedra, San Juan, Navajo and Chama and the Rio Grande tributaries in San Luis valley and a number of streams in the southeastern part of the state,” the newspaper reported.

    Here’s Part 2 of the series:

    The Cortez area
    A bad storm hit Cortez on July 10, 1911, when a storm came in and washed out the flumes, laterals and much of the irrigation system. A wall of water took off down McElmo Creek and cut a canyon within a canyon. Whole orchards and wheat fields were washed out into Utah, according to the History of Cortez website.

    In 1911, it was reported that at least two homes were lost. The home of Elsworth Porter went down McElmo Creek. This house was located near the present Battlerock School. After J. D. Lamb lost a house on McElmo Creek that flooded out he hired Peter Baxstrom to build a nice new structure which is located at 12764 County Road G. Both the house on McElmo Creek and the house on Road G may have been stage stops.

    The Mancos Valley
    More rain and high water came as a result of the storms in the Mancos area on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 1911. The Mancos River rose that night and continued to rise all day Thursday until beginning to subside that night, according to The Mancos Times-Tribune on Oct. 6, 1911. The raging torrent brought down quantities of drift wood, trees, logs and anything that was loose. This caused the river to change its channel in many places. In town, it cut in above the post office building threatening, its safety and taking away part of the warehouse belonging to the Mancos Mercantile Co., which had been cut loose from the other building in order to save balance of the structure. In the lower side, the water got the better of the fight made by Nate Bowen to save his premises when a large portion of the water broke through direct onto his house, the Times-Tribune reported. It was saved from complete destruction by trees that grew just above the building which collected a drift and saved his building…

    Pagosa Springs
    The Pagosa Springs Sun on Oct. 6, 1911 stated that Archuleta County was the victim of the devastating flood the day before. “All county bridges were out,” the newspaper said. “Following the flood, a cable was suspended across the river to provide a way for people to cross the river and a way for food to be passed to the other side. The Sun also reported that 10 to 15 residences were destroyed, and 40 to 50 others were damaged.

    The electric plant and train tracks were washed out. Two lives were lost in the flooding when the men were attempting to clear drift wood that had lodged above their shop on Mill Creek. Farmers, ranchers and sheep men all suffered great loss as a result of the flood. Areas surrounding the town were also affected.

    The Animas Valley
    The Salida Record newspaper reported that on Oct. 20, 1911, the it would cost $50,000 to $100,000 to repair the damage to the Rio Grande Southern railway in Ouray.

    The Aspen Democrat-Times reported on Oct. 9, 1911, that “Floods Sweep Country in Vicinity of Durango.” In Hesperus, miners saved the town by dynamiting a new channel for the river, thus diverting the current. The town of Arboles was obliterated, and not all of the 50 inhabitants had been accounted for.

    The Geological Survey reported that 13.6 inches of rain fell Oct. 4-6, 1911, caused the highest flood on record on the Animas River. The Durango Evening Herald on Oct. 6, 1911, stated that conditions in the Animas River Valley were serious: Parts of the valley were flooded to a depth of 3 to 6 feet. Many families had to move to higher ground for safety. Animas Valley from Trimble Springs to Durango “resembled one big lake.” There was general destruction of crops, roads, ditches. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad tracks were seriously damaged.

    Motorized boats banned from Lemon Reservoir to combat invasive species #coleg

    Lemon Dam, Florida River

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    On Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service announced the ban of motorized boats on Lemon Reservoir, which joins two other Southwest Colorado lakes – Totten and Narraguinnep – that were closed this year because of the threat of invasive species…

    While some Southwest Colorado lakes offer a boat inspection, the Forest Service said the resources are unavailable to fund and staff an aquatic nuisance species inspection station at Lemon Reservoir.

    Motorized boats in recent years have become significant transmitters of invasive species – such as the New Zealand mud snail, Asian carp and rusty crayfish, among other plants and animals – into uninfected waters.

    But the main culprits, microscopic zebra and quagga mussels, can quickly infest a waterway, clog reservoir infrastructure and endanger other aquatic life. Costs to treat an infestation, the Forest Service said, are expensive.

    According to the Forest Service, the decision to close Lemon Reservoir to motorized boat use was made after local irrigators, recreationists, the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, La Plata County commissioners and the city of Durango showed significant support…

    The city of Durango pulls its main water supply from the Florida River, out of a reservoir downstream of Lemon Dam. If mussels were introduced into Lemon Reservoir, it wouldn’t take long for the city to feel the impact, Salka said…

    According to the water district’s website, releases from Lemon Dam, about 14 miles northeast of Durango, provide irrigation water for nearly 19,500 acres.

    The Forest Service said a barrier and sign will be installed at the Miller Creek boat ramp, and the closure will be enforced by the agency seven days a week.

    Invasive aquatic species, and finding the money for inspections, are increasingly becoming a problem in Southwest Colorado.

    At Vallecito Reservoir, a popular boating and fishing destination 20 miles northeast of Durango, the boating season this summer was in jeopardy when Colorado Parks and Wildlife said it was unable to fund an inspection station…

    As a result, businesses and community members dependent on the tourism dollars generated from lake users raised $10,500 to help cover operating costs for the inspection station, Beck said.

    The effort was set to raise more, Beck said, when CPW last week said it could cover the remaining $43,500 needed to fund a full season of operation, which starts May 1.

    Beck added that managers were forced to close boat access on the north end of the Vallecito Lake after several incidents where people illegally put their boats into the reservoir.

    Beck said launching a boat illegally could result in a $75 fine, but the agency has “tried not to bite down that way.”

    […]

    He said CPW proposed a bill in the state Legislature this year that would require boaters to purchase a $25 aquatic nuisance species sticker that would fund an inspection station program throughout the state.

    #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!