CDPHE: State provides $575,000 in grants to improve water quality

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (Meghan Trubee):

This year, seven entities across the state will receive more than $575,000 in grant funds for projects aimed to improve water quality. Projects must be focused in one of three areas: stormwater management training, projects that improve water quality where there’s been a violation, and the planning and/or construction of stormwater or wastewater improvement projects. Government agencies, publicly owned and nonprofit water systems, watershed groups, stormwater program administrators, training providers, and private landowners were eligible to apply.

The grants are an important assistance tool for communities working to improve water quality in their area. Small and economically challenged communities are given priority for the funds.

Funds for these projects come from penalties collected for water quality violations (Section 25-8-608, C.R.S., of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act and HB 11-1026). This list is subject to change based on contract negotiations.

@GovofCO ready to fight feds over changing state oil and gas and other environmental rules

Natural gas flares near a community in Colorado. Federal rules aim to lower risks of natural gas development. Photo credit the Environmental Defense Fund.

From The Aspen Times (David Krause):

“We’re still the only state that has such rigorous regulations. Some half-cocked official in Washington might decide they want to make an example of that and say it’s too much regulation,” Hickenlooper said. “We’ve worked hard to go through all the regulations to get rid of all the deadwood, the red tape, the bureaucracy and have lean, efficient regulation that actually helps businesses to succeed.

“I don’t want the federal government to come in and tell us what we created between business and the nonprofit communities isn’t good anymore because it doesn’t fit their political paradigm.”

He said states no longer can wait on the federal government for help, especially as the county grows economically and in population.

“I’m not sure the federal government is going to be much of a partner as we look at solving all the problems of our growth,” he said. “We’re going to have to solve them ourselves.”

[…]

From now until the next governor is inaugurated on Jan. 8, 2019, Hickenlooper said his administration will work to be a leader on the state level. After that, he just wants to be useful.

“There is a wonderful poem by a woman named Marge Piercy called ‘To Be of Use.’ I’m going to look for a good way to be of use,” he said of life outside the governor’s office. “I’ve got another year or 370 days or something like that. We’re going to finish strong. We’re going to push on the places where we think Colorado should be a national model.

@DenverWater estimates $600 million in costs to treat for molybdenum if temp standard is made permanent

Climax Mine

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Chronic ingestion of molybdenum can cause diarrhea, stunted growth, infertility, low birth weights and gout

Colorado health officials on Wednesday ignored state scientists and delayed for two years a decision on a mining giant’s push to weaken statewide limits on molybdenum pollution of streams, including a creek flowing into Dillon Reservoir, Denver’s drinking water supply.

Denver Water contends that Climax Molybdenum’s campaign to jack up molybdenum pollution limits 43 times higher than at present could cost ratepayers up to $600 million for expansion of a water treatment plant. Trace amounts of molybdenum — below a health advisory level — already flow out of Denver taps.

But Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials and federal Environmental Protection Agency officials on Wednesday rescheduled a Dec. 12 molybdenum rule hearing for November 2019.

A CDPHE hearing officer said the delay will allow time for industry-financed studies to move through a peer-review process and for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to make decisions on molybdenum toxicity. A “temporary modification” that currently allows elevated molybdenum pollution from the Climax Mine was extended this year through 2018, and CDPHE officials at Wednesday’s meeting opened the possibility it could be extended again.

CDPHE scientists opposed the delay. The scientists, Denver Water and a coalition of mountain towns have opposed the push by Climax to allow more molybdenum pollution of Tenmile Creek, which flows down from the Climax Mine above Leadville into Dillon Reservoir, where water flows out through a tunnel to Denver and the upper Colorado River Basin. CDPHE water-quality scientists have determined that molybdenum pollution at the proposed new limits would kill fish and could hurt people…

Denver Water treatment plants cannot remove molybdenum, and expanding one plant to do that would cost from $480 million to $600 million, utility officials said in documents filed to the CDPHE.

Those costs ultimately would hit ratepayers, the 1.4 million people who rely on Denver Water for their domestic water supply. The molybdenum pollution from Tenmile Creek that reaches Denver facilities today is “below the human health advisory levels,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said.

“We’d likely exceed the human health advisory standard if that (new limit) were to become the statewide water quality standard. … Currently, the concentrations in Tenmile Creek have not been at a high enough concentration that would result in an exceedance of the human health advisory level, so an extension of the ‘temporary modification’ for molybdenum is acceptable,” Chesney said.

A subsidiary of the $46 billion mining giant Freeport-McMoRan, Climax Molybdenum runs the Climax Mine, which was closed for 25 years and reopened in 2012. This led to elevated molybdenum pollution at levels up to 2,500 ppb, 10 times higher than the current statewide limit. The “temporary modification” granted by CDPHE water commissioners, and extended this year, allows this elevated pollution through December 2018…

EPA officials recently said a molybdenum pollution limit as high as 10,000 ppb could be sufficient. But EPA scientists previously have advised lower limits.

“Denver Water’s current position is that the molybdenum limit should be based on scientific evidence. While Climax Molybdenum Company has presented scientific studies in support of its proposed standard, the studies fail to account for the effect high molybdenum concentrations will have on individuals with a copper deficiency,” Chesney said. “Because we do not know how high molybdenum concentrations will affect people with copper deficiencies, and EPA has not modified the Human Health Advisory for molybdenum to correspond with Climax’s proposed standard, the (state water quality control) commission should decline to increase the molybdenum standard to the level proposed by Climax.”

A coalition of mountain towns also is fighting the proposed higher limits for molybdenum pollution of waterways.

“Because of scientific uncertainty regarding the effects of varying molybdenum concentrations on human health, the commission should decline to make the changes that Climax Molybdenum Company has proposed in the statewide molybdenum standards,” Frisco attorney Jennifer DiLalla said. “The town’s primary goal is ensuring that any action the commission may take with respect to molydenum standards is protective of the health of those who live and work and play in Frisco.”

Proposed Climax molybdenum limits, “would be acutely lethal to aquatic life” — CDPHE

Frozen mists over the Blue River Valley turn the sun into a diamond — Bob Berwyn

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

CDPHE scientists warn Climax Mine molybdenum may pose health risk, oppose company push to raise statewide pollution limit

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment water-quality scientists said, in a recommendation to state commissioners, that Climax Molybdenum’s proposed hike “would be acutely lethal to aquatic life” and probably not protective of people.

A Climax report on molybdenum exposures in Colorado “demonstrates that current levels of molybdenum in drinking water may pose a public health risk to communities downstream” of the mine, CDPHE scientists said in filings reviewed by The Denver Post.

State data show molybdenum discharges from the Climax Mine above Leadville in recent years increased to levels 10 times higher than the current statewide limit of 210 parts per billion. CDPHE water-quality control commissioners granted Climax a “temporary modification.” When it expired, the commissioners extended the modification to provide more time to complete a study of molybdenum.

CDPHE officials Tuesday declined to discuss this issue.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials, who oversee Colorado’s compliance with the Clean Water Act, informed state commissioners last week that the EPA would allow a limit higher than what Climax Molybdenum is proposing, according to a document filed Friday.

A regional EPA spokesman issued a prepared statement saying the EPA’s filing is “preliminary,” confirming that “our initial review indicates that the proposed standard would protect water supply uses,” but declined to further discuss this issue

State commissioners often follow EPA guidance in setting pollution limits sufficient to protect people while accounting for variability and uncertainty…

Climax officials cited three rat studies the company helped fund in asking CDPHE to relax the statewide water quality limit for molybdenum in streams used for domestic water to 9,000 ppb billion from 210 ppb. Climax also wants limits for waterways used for agricultural irrigation raised to 1,000 ppb from 160 ppb.

EPA recommendations submitted to the CDPHE said a molybdenum limit for streams tapped for drinking water of 10,000 ppb “would be protective … and consistent with Clean Water Act requirements.” However, EPA regional officials said in the document filed Friday that they would not object if Colorado’s commission “chooses to be more conservative and adopts a more stringent table value standard of 9,000 ug/L (ppb) as proposed by Climax Molybdenum Company.”

The EPA “must review and act upon any revised standards once they are adopted by the commission for them to be in effect under the Clean Water Act,” the agency’s statement said. “If the commission chooses to retain current standards, EPA will not have an approval or disapproval role.”

[…]

The CDPHE scientists submitted their recommendation Friday to state commissioners, who are scheduled to deal with the matter in December.

Denver Water is opposing the push for a looser statewide limit, along with downstream communities including Frisco, the Copper Mountain resort and people to the west along the Eagle River…

Denver Water treatment plants lack the capacity to remove molybdenum, which in trace amounts can be healthy. While data on human toxicity is limited, chronic ingestion of molybdenum can cause diarrhea, stunted growth, infertility, low birth weights and gout, and can also affect the lungs, kidneys and liver.

Climax officials have told state water quality commissioners their proposal “is not based on any intent or need to increase molybdenum in Climax discharges, and, in particular, Climax does not intend to change its mining or water treatment process in a manner that would cause an increase in the historical discharge of molybdenum into Tenmile Creek.”

Sneffels Creek water quality concerns delaying Ouray County mine

Mount Sneffels

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

Ouray Silver Mines wants to reopen a mine that produces silver, gold, lead and copper and would bring 152 jobs to Ouray County, along with, its proponents say, a 10 to 20 percent boost to the county’s tax base.

But that mine is on hold, due to issues with water quality at a nearby creek tied to the mine that the mine owners say they have worked on for 18 months without any concerns raised by CDPHE until now.

Sneffels Creek, the surface water source near the mine, is about halfway between Ouray and Telluride, as the crow flies. The creek has a long history with mining, going back 140 years.

The mine dates back to 1876 and ran until its mill burned down in 1912. During its early operations, the mine produced 25 million ounces of silver.

Sneffels Creek joins up with another creek and then into Canyon Creek downstream, and then into the Uncompahgre River. Briana Greer, an environmental consultant with Ouray Silver Mines, said when the water originating in Sneffels Creek reaches the Uncompahgre, water quality in that river improves by 50 percent. It’s better water quality than area drinking water, she told the committee.

The idea of starting the mine back up for its silver, gold, zinc and copper began in the 1980s. The mine passed through numerous hands until 2014, when Fortune Minerals of Canada bought it hoping to mine its silver veins. But the company couldn’t sustain production and defaulted on its loans. The chief investor, Lascaux Resource Capital of New York, took over the mine and renamed it Ouray Silver Mines.

Mine CEO Brian Briggs told the General Assembly’s interim Water Resources Review Committee Wednesday that the company has invested $70.5 million to get the mine up and running, and it will take another $36 million to get up to full production. The payoff? Fourteen million ounces of silver, which costs $7.89 per ounce to mine and can bring in about $17 per ounce on the market. The mine also has rich veins of gold, lead and zinc, and the company expects a net a profit of around $76 million, along with 152 well-paying jobs for experienced miners, according to Briggs.

A fifth-generation Ouray native, Briggs has several decades experience in mining, called Ouray “a very, very good mine, the best I’ve every worked on for economic results.”

Ouray County could benefit more than just how the mine will improve its tax base. Briggs explained that Ouray has no gravel pits or other sources for road base. So mine tailings and waste rock, which metallurgical tests show are “benign,” are ground up by the company and provided to the county for road base.

Starting up an old mine has not been without its problems. According to a chart from the company, lead, zinc and cadmium discharges briefly exceeded state standards in 2014, leading to a violation notice last year from CDPHE. Lead discharges exceeded the standards again this past summer due to the failure of a lining in a mine tunnel that is being replaced.

Then there’s the water quality issue, and that’s delaying the mine’s startup.

The mine’s previous owner had a permit to discharge water to Sneffels Creek. The new owners set up a passive water system that could discharge either to surface or to groundwater (underground) water sources.

Briggs explained to the committee that the passive system is not only one for today’s mining but for 50 or 60 years from now. Briggs said the system, which has been piloted in Wyoming, for example, should prevent the kinds of problems that happened at the old Gold King Mine near Durango two years ago, when contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally released more than a million gallons of toxic mine waste into the Animas River.

In the mine’s passive system, used mining water is passed through a clay liner that contains fabric with peat moss to absorb metals and then a layer of topsoil. “It makes a tremendous impact on the three metals we’re concerned about: cadmium, lead and zinc,” Briggs said.

The hangup has been just who’s in charge of making sure the system is in compliance at the CDPHE. Briggs said the mine had provided quarterly updates, explaining the passive system, to CDPHE’s enforcement division. In November 2016, the mine owners applied for a termination of its surface water discharge permit, believing it was no longer necessary since the passive system was discharging its water into underground water sources.

In July, CDPHE denied the request, stating the surface water interacts with groundwater sources. “We can’t confirm” whether that’s true, Briggs said.

That left the owners in a pickle – tear up the previous system? Install a new one? “If they want us to discharge into surface water we’ll do that,” Briggs said. But he also appeared to be frustrated that after 18 months of telling CDPHE what they were doing that the agency came back and said that system doesn’t work.

Installing another system will take another year, Briggs said.

The story from CDPHE is a tad different. In a September 3 letter to Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, CDPHE’s Karin McGowan said the mine had an active permit for a surface water discharge. “They are not waiting for a new permit, but may be frustrated because they have not been able to successfully modify their permit because they have not provided the necessary information needed to execute a modification. We are currently working with them to get the necessary information needed,” McGowan wrote.

McGowan further added that the mine changed its manner of discharge, from surface to groundwater, without notifying the division.

The September, 2016 notice of violation was for discharging to a new location without a permit, effluent violations, and administrative violations, McGowan pointed out. “The facility has consistently failed whole effluent toxicity testing permit requirements,” she wrote. The 2016 notice pertains to a 2014 discharge, when the mine was owned by Fortune Minerals, in which water contaminated with lead, cadmium and zinc was dumped at a rate of 400 gallons per minute into Sneffels Creek for about 18 hours.

Briggs told the committee CDPHE has never even visited the site, despite numerous requests by the mine owners…

In a statement, CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley told Colorado Politics that most enforcement is completed through evaluations of self-reported data. “Resource limitations makes it impossible to visit every site on an annual basis and hence permittees are put on a schedule for inspection,” he said.

#ColoradoSprings sales tax revenue up, stormwater infrastructure could benefit

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (J. Adrian Stanley ):

The budget proposal assumes the stormwater fee measure on the Nov. 7 ballot will not pass, but Suthers is prepared to submit an amendment to City Council if it does.

A big chunk of the anticipated increase in revenue is from sales tax collection increases. At times, the city has needed to refund sales tax collections that grew quickly, due to revenue growth limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. But this year, and in 2018, the city will be able to keep $6 million per year in revenue overage thanks to a measure approved by voters in April. That money is dedicated to stormwater projects. (The city is aggressively dealing with drainage issues, in part, because it’s being sued by the federal government for violation of the Clean Water Act.)

Fountain Creek: @EPA and CDPHE lawsuit prep. to continue until April 2018

Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who is presiding over the lawsuit, stated Thursday that pre-trial preparation will continue until April. Matsch, in a written order, said he will set a trial date after that.

In pre-trial work so far, Colorado Springs has turned over 1,275 boxes of documents to the EPA and the state environment department to examine for possible evidence. That is part of the legal process known as “discovery.”

Matsch earlier this year granted requests from the Board of Pueblo County Commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to intervene in the case, on the side of the environmental agencies. Intervention allows the commissioners and the conservancy district to have a direct voice in the litigation in order to protect their interests.

The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce is grown. District officials told Matsch they want to ensure the quality of the river water.

Colorado Springs has denied it is violating the laws. Mayor John Suthers has pointed to its commitment of money and manpower to improve its stormwater system.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its storm management program, as required by permits issued by the environmental agencies.