Peru Basin acid mine drainage cleanup update

Jumbo Mine Cabin in-front of Adit September 25, 2017. Photo credit Environmental Protection Agency.

From the Environmental Protection Agency via Summit County (Brian Lorch):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking immediate action to perform mine cleanup activities at the Jumbo Mine in Summit County’s Peru Creek Basin, approximately seven miles east of Keystone Resort.

The Jumbo Mine, which produced gold, copper, lead and silver, operated from 1915 to 1918. Historic mine operations also generated significant volumes of waste rock and tailings piles. Inactive and abandoned for a century, the mine site was identified in the early 1990s by EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE), as well as in the Snake River Watershed Plan, as a significant point-source contributor of metal-contaminated flows into Peru Creek and the downstream Snake River.

Historic hard-rock mining in the Peru Creek Basin left a legacy of contaminated and abandoned mine sites, whose acid mine drainage significantly degrades water quality. Much has been done to study the problems in the Snake River watershed, beginning in the early 1970s. Most studies have focused on the Peru Creek drainage, which is home to the Pennsylvania Mine, the largest, longest-operating mine in the watershed. In coordination with Summit County and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS), EPA completed cleanup actions at the Pennsylvania Mine in 2016.

The Jumbo Mine is another high-priority abandoned mine site in the Peru Creek Basin identified by the Snake River Watershed Coalition as a remediation project site capable of significantly improving water quality in the Snake River watershed.

Summit County purchased the land surrounding the abandoned Jumbo Mine in early 2016 for public open space. A restrictive covenant placed on the adjacent property containing the abandoned mine site allows for EPA’s cleanup actions to occur, but also limits the County’s liability for the existing environmental issues and associated cleanup actions.

“We had been looking to acquire this piece of property for a long time, recognizing that it has many open space values,” said Brian Lorch, Summit County Open Space and Trails director. “But before we could take steps to purchase the property, we needed to ensure that it could be cleaned up in an economical manner.”

EPA is implementing the cleanup work as a time-critical removal action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Last week, the agency began the work, which it plans to complete in about three weeks.

Cleanup activities involve diverting water draining from a mine adit around or over adjacent tailings piles in a limestone and membrane-lined ditch. According to EPA studies, water quality of the adit drainage degrades as it crosses the mine tailings, contributing high levels of suspended and dissolved lead, zinc and other metals into the stream. Diverting drainage around the tailings into a lined ditch should greatly improve water quality.

“The overall approach will help reduce the discharge of metals into Peru Creek,” Lorch said. “A passive treatment approach at the Jumbo Mine site is quite similar to numerous mine cleanups performed elsewhere by the County.”

Since 2001, Summit County has worked with EPA to identify and prioritize mine sites in need of cleanup in the Peru Creek Basin. The County’s proactive coordination with EPA facilitated recent cleanup efforts at the Pennsylvania Mine and numerous other sites in the area.

“We are really happy and grateful to see EPA continue its mine cleanup efforts in the Peru Creek Basin,” Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “The Summit County community is very supportive of our efforts to clean up abandoned mine sites on County property, voting in 2015 for a mill levy that provides funding for cleaning up mine-impacted sites.”

Jumbo Mine looking up at channel liner installation from lower middle section of waste rock pile. Photo credit Environmental Protection Agency.

#COWaterPlan: Coalition embarks on Blue River efficiency project — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Blue River
Blue River

From The Sky-Hi Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Efforts continue throughout Colorado with implementation of the one-year-old state water plan, and Summit County is trying to do its part.

A countywide push led by the town of Frisco and the High County Conservation Center (HC3) recently garnered a $94,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to move forward with a comprehensive Blue River watershed efficiency-planning project. The regional venture, scheduled to start in January 2017, has a total budget of $162,500, and matching cash and in-kind labor contributions from each of the county’s major municipal water providers make up the difference…

The Blue River itself acts as a source for drinking water and agricultural irrigation to Summit’s 29,000 year-round population, not to mention the countless visitors who spend time on the water body each year for recreation. Projections suggest the local population will increase by at least 5 percent over the next decade, meaning the need to conserve and discover additional efficiencies is one of the more painless ways to get ready for the additional ask.

“Water doesn’t recognize geopolitical boundaries, so it’s important we work as a watershed to accomplish some really good water conservation goals,” said Frisco Councilwoman Jessica Burley, who is also HC3’s community programs manager. “The state has set some interesting water goals, and it’s our job to go forth and conquer from a regional perspective. With these initiatives and this plan, hopefully we will make an impact on the Colorado River basin.”

[…]

The statewide plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new storage and that same total in conservation from urban areas. An acre-foot is the U.S. standard measurement for water bodies and equates to about 326,000 gallons. Sharing 50,000 acre-feet of water possessed by agriculture based on senior rights through alternative methods is another facet of the state plan.

Thus far, the execution of much of the lofty benchmarks has been sluggish, in part due to a lack of funding. It’s why obtaining dollars from the state for such municipal projects is so important. Not only does it provide capital at present while the research is done, but the initial approval also offers eligibility for future grants and loans. Without an CWCB-endorsed efficiency plan in place, funds are otherwise not available.

Mimicking a model previously created by the Roaring Fork Valley, Summit’s Blue River planning enterprise is backed by Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain Metro, Dillon, Silverthorne, as well as Summit County government — “So we all have a little skin in the game, so to speak,” said Burley — with the primary objective of reducing water consumption by a measurable amount in the next few years. The consortium anticipates a 14-month investigation and review process, followed by some potential actionable items, such as leak detection and repairs, education and outdoor watering mandates, as soon as a year after that.

“This is the first step into bringing the Colorado Water Plan to fruition,” explained Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a public policy agency in charge of protecting the named basin. “Part of being more water efficient is finding those leaks and stopping them. That’s efficiency at a systematic level, then it drills down to the retail level with things like lawn irrigation, efficient appliances and efficient spigots and showerheads.”

If it’s to be successful, putting the ambitious state plan into practice will ultimately fall more on the shoulders of each local community and watershed, he added, rather than through commands dictated at the state level. And that’s a summons Summit County leadership recognizes and is attempting to embrace one year later.

Summit County could face strain from #COWaterPlan — Summit Daily News

Blue River
Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

“Seeing what California is going through, it’s much better to plan ahead than having to react to an emergency,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, one of Summit County’s commissioners, and vice chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, a council tasked with management and assessment of the Western Slope’s water supply. “That’s why we’re focused on conservation, which is obviously the most cost-effective way to ‘get more water,’ or share more water.”

Many, including a wide array of environmental and conservation groups endorse the new plan, citing a balanced safeguarding of the state’s $9 billion outdoors and recreation economy with its robust agricultural industries as well as the wildlife that call Colorado’s waterways home. They say it helps lay out Colorado’s environmental and outdoor values, and the timing is key.

“It’s very crucial in this moment, because it’s the best narrative of what is going on,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a public water policy agency in charge of protecting the Colorado River Basin. “Water is something people take so for granted until you go to your spigot and it doesn’t come out.

Pokrandt, also the chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and f0rmer Summit Daily editor, used the swelling weekend traffic of the I-70 mountain corridor as an analogy for this story of the West and how, similarly, increased measures will be necessary to help counterbalance an already stressed system. The state’s water network, he said, needs the liquid equivalent of traffic metering, a toll road and extra lanes bored through Veterans Memorial Tunnels, to negate the effects of earlier decisions like water-centric Kentucky bluegrass across the state’s suburban neighborhoods.

“The offshoot of that is the water equation,” said Pokrandt. “Those people are already coming. They’re already here. How are we going to build water infrastructure for the next increments of residential development? Are we going to put more importance on urban, grassy landscapes, or are we going to moderate that and keep an eye on a better future for the Colorado River and agriculture?”[…]

The mountain communities have consistency voiced concern over additional trans-mountain diversions, taking more of that melted snowpack downstream to the state’s largest population zones, such as Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, that demand and require it. Before the final water plan was announced, a community group calling themselves the Citizens for Western Slope Water submitted a petition to Gov. Hickerlooper with almost 15,000 signatures against any new diversions from the headwaters. Fears of doing so consist of more negative environmental impact due to the rivers being tapped further, which could affect the rafting and fishing industries, in addition to producing more strain on local farmers and ranchers.

Colorado was one of the last Western states to adopt a water plan. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas and California all have one. Because Colorado’s individual municipalities are the ones that make decisions as to who gets water and how much, rather than the state itself, there is some question as to whether Colorado even needed one.

Proponents call the water plan historic in its deployment, even if at this stage, it provides no big solutions and produces little more than a suggested course of action that requires prolonged implementation of its guidelines. Few argue with the intent of the policy, however, in its attempts to solidify local awareness as well extend the conversation about Western water for decades to come — a move which even the plan’s harshest critics can agree upon.

Three-year cleanup targets Summit County’s Pennsylvania Mine — Summit Daily News

Pennsylvania Mine Upper Peru Creek Basin
Pennsylvania Mine Upper Peru Creek Basin

From the Summit Daily News via The Denver Post:

About 8 miles east of Keystone and a couple of miles south of the 14,000-foot-plus Grays and Torreys peaks, the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is considered the worst mine in the state. The mine adds toxic heavy metal concentrations and acidifies water flowing into the Peru Creek, a tributary of the Snake River, which feeds Dillon Reservoir.

A three-year, $3 million cleanup project aims to stop that pollution. The project could serve as a model for future mine reclamation efforts around the state, said Paul Peronard, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The collaborative effort is currently under budget and ahead of schedule, he said, even with the added cost of helping Summit County fix the part of Montezuma Road that washed away in early June.

“This is very much a huge partnership,” said Jeff Graves, senior project manager with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

For decades, government agencies and other interested parties faced issues of liability and funding when trying to tackle the mine’s cleanup.

“It’s quite a conundrum,” said Lane Wyatt, a water-quality expert with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “The problem is you don’t really have anybody to point your finger to in places like this to say, ‘You’re responsible. You got to go clean this up.’ ”

This year the state is working to place one of two bulkheads, or giant concrete plugs, about 500 feet inside the mine. The bulkheads will block water from leaving through one large entry and stop water from flowing freely through the mine, Graves said.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.

“Summit County has a huge stake in this with Denver Water” — Jim Lochhead #ColoradoRiver

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The Colorado River System Conservation program is an effort to address a long-term imbalance on the Colorado River caused by years of drought and water demands that exceed supply.

Denver Water, Central Arizona Project, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority each contributed $2 million and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation pitched in $3 million to create an $11 million fund for Colorado River water conservation pilot projects.

The projects will demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary compensated measures for reducing water demand in agricultural, municipal, industrial and other areas. [ed. emphasis mine]

“Summit County has a huge stake in this with Denver Water,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO.

The county is a headwaters community for the Colorado River, and Lochhead said Summit shares a common interest with the utility in water conservation and in meeting collective obligations to the people and ecosystems down river.

One of the biggest causes for concern, he said, is the dangerously low water level at Lake Powell…

That has a host of consequences for communities up river from the lake, including increased energy bills due to less productive hydroelectric power plants, reduced agricultural output, diminished snowmaking capabilities at ski resorts, water quality issues and loss of funding for protections under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Plus, he said, “we might have to be cut off from our water supply in order to meet our obligations to the lower basin.”

Summit County especially would see the effects in Dillon Reservoir, which Denver Water constructed in 1963 to supply its customers in the Denver metro area.

“Dillon could be literally drained in that scenario,” he said…

“This situation is becoming increasingly critical. We are already dealing with unprecedented pressure on the southern California region’s water system,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager for The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This innovative program is aimed at expanding conservation efforts from a local level to a collaborative system-wide program.”[…]

“I applaud the far sighted municipal water providers for beginning to address the imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River that could seriously affect the economy and the people who rely upon the river,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor in a press release. “There is still much work to be done, and the Interior Department is committed to supporting the efforts of the Colorado River Basin states and other stakeholders as partners in improving water management and operations, particularly during this historic drought.”

The program’s pilot projects will include residential and industrial water conservation programs and in the agricultural sector, something called “temporary compensated borrowing,” which Lochhead said would pay farmers not to irrigate or to irrigate less than they were.

The pilot projects are in the planning stages but should start next year, he said, and the two-year program will fund them into 2016. Successful ideas could then be expanded or extended.

To ensure that local concerns are addressed and that there is equity and fairness among all parties, the Bureau of Reclamation will manage the conservation actions in the Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada in a manner consistent with past programs. In the Upper Basin, the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and the Upper Colorado River Commission will have a direct role in program efforts.

Denver Water plans to do a broad outreach program and partner with agricultural and environmental groups, Lochhead said.

“I think it’s important that we engage all of those groups in this effort,” he said. “We just set up the funds. Now we got to figure out how to make it work.”

More Blue River watershed coverage here.

There’s a lot of beach at Dillon Reservoir #COdrought

dilloncolorado.jpg

Here’s an in-depth look the economics around Dillon Reservoir from Nathan Heffel writing for KUNC. Denver sells the water to its customers, Frisco depends on wet water in the reservoir for 30% of its tourism. Here’s an excerpt:

After back to back drought years, Dillon Reservoir is about nine to ten feet below average for this time of year. That’s where the interests of Denver Water and the town of Frisco play out.

Dillon is both the largest reservoir in the Denver Water system and a major economic driver for Frisco. During the summer, the marina provides a substantial boost to Frisco’s economy, accounting for a third of the town’s tourism.

A stylized sailboat adorns each street sign in downtown Frisco. It’s a relationship that’s part of their identity; a sail boat is etched on the town logo.

The issue? Frisco doesn’t own any of the water they rely on so much. It belongs to Denver Water and the on-going demands of Front Range water users.

More Blue River Watershed coverage here and here.

Summit County: Happy 20th Anniversary to the Clinton Ditch Company

clintongulchreservoirskyhidailynews.jpg

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Clinton is celebrating its 20th anniversary and its many successes.

“Summit County has a long tradition of appropriating and acquiring water resources to meet the current and future needs of its citizens, business and commerce,” said Gary Martinez, Summit County Manager, “Clinton Reservoir is a key in these efforts … and it was a brilliant move to acquire this fabulous resource back in 1992.”

The historic deal took years of negotiations and involved many parties both locally and throughout the state of Colorado. Climax Molybdenum Company built the dam in 1977 as part of their mining operations. The reservoir capacity is 4,447 acre feet and its water source is Clinton Creek. The water is retained by a rockfill dam approximately 170 feet high and 1,500 feet long. The water in the reservoir is used primarily for municipal, irrigation and snowmaking purposes.

“Clinton Reservoir provides a reliable source of water supply to local private and government entities in an over-appropriated basin,” said Raul Passerini , Resource Engineering Inc. “Also, due to its location high in the basin (at 11,050 feet), releases from the Reservoir for downstream uses help maintain healthy streamflows within Tenmile Creek. During the spring, the reservoir is refilled during periods of peak snowmelt. This helps reduce the potential for downstream flooding near Copper Mountain and the Town of Frisco.”[…]

In addition to the Shareholders and Climax, the other major entity that played a significant role in the development of Clinton Gulch Reservoir is the Denver Water Board. Denver agreed to operate Dillon Reservoir to guarantee the needed yield of Clinton Gulch Reservoir and to use certain components of its facilities to deliver the Clinton water throughout Summit and Grand Counties.

More Blue River watershed coverage here and here.