@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.

Potential wide-ranging effects of @EPA redo of #WOTUS rule

Farmers Highline Canal Arvada.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Less than 30 percent of Colorado’s estimated 95,000 miles of streams are likely to qualify for protection if the current system is changed as proposed, according to a 2009 study by the conservation group Trout Unlimited. EPA data show that 77,850 miles of waterways in Colorado are ephemeral, only flowing seasonally or during rain.

Federal environmental officials must protect “waters of the United States” under the nation’s landmark 1972 Clean Water Act — by requiring property owners to obtain permits designed to minimize impact before water can be polluted or wetlands destroyed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers administers these permits, typically requiring six months or more for processing — a source of frustration for some.

Trump’s team has proposed to repeal a broader definition of “waters of the United States” that the EPA and Army Corps adopted in 2015 under President Barack Obama — one that expanded protection following U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that created confusion. The court ruled that federal authorities could only require permits for pollution and dredging of “navigable waters.” The Obama-era approach, still not implemented due to lawsuits, allows regulation of flowing water, including ephemeral streams, with exemptions for agriculture.

Publication in the federal register on June 27 of the Trump administration’s proposal to repeal and replace clean water standards triggered a 30-day period for public comment. Then the rollback would take effect. However, more than 70 members of Congress last week requested an extension to no less than six months. On Thursday, the League of Conservation Voters and 18 other environment groups sent Pruitt a letter requesting the same.

While Colorado has state-level rules limiting water pollution that still could apply, there is no state rule against dredging and filling that destroys wetlands and streams.

Beer brewers were among the first to object. Eight craft brewers in Colorado, joined by counterparts nationwide, sent a letter to EPA and Army Corps leaders urging maximum protection.

“Beer is mostly water, so the quality of our source water affects our finished product. Even small chemical disruptions in our water supply can alter the taste of a brew or influence factors like shelf life and foam pattern,” they wrote. “We need reliable sources of clean water to consistently produce the great beer that is key to our success.”

In western Colorado, a growing reliance on pristine water for the economy — depending more on recreation and tourism — compelled concern. The fuzzy meaning of “waters of the United States” and delays issuing federal permits are a problem, many agree, and local officials would welcome greater clarity, said Torie Jarvis, co-director of the Water Quantity and Quality Committee (QQ) of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. But most favor greater protection, not less.

“While QQ supports increased clarity for the definition of ‘waters of the United States,’ this clarity should not mean reduced water quality protection under the Clean Water Act,” Jarvis and the other local leaders told EPA officials June 19, after the feds had asked for input for their proposed repeal and overhaul of clean water rules.

“Water quality in the headwaters of Colorado is critically important for our regional tourism economy as much as for environmental protection. Tourism is the largest employment sector in the headwaters region, comprising 48 percent of all jobs,” local officials wrote. “Tourism in the region includes fishing, hunting, kayaking, rafting, wading, lake and reservoir recreation, wildlife watching, hiking, and snowmaking for ski resorts, all of which depend on clean water.”

Some local officials reckon they could protect cherished watersheds on their own, without robust federal clean water rules, by using their power to regulate land use.

Environment groups last week argued that a federal role is necessary to buttress local power.

“Local governments may be able to control some impacts based on conditions they might impose on developments, but they do not have a statutory obligation to do so — so the ability to protect these important resources ends up relying on their level of commitment to protecting water quality, and their ability to have the expertise and resources to do so, which for smaller local governments can be a real limitation,” Colorado Trout Unlimited director David Nickum said.

“Our main practical concern with the change in these federal standards is that we would lose the protection for seasonal streams and for wetlands from being dredged or filled in — protection that currently is provided. … Allowing those areas to be degraded will in turn have ripple effects downstream onto our drinking water supplies and our important fishing and recreation rivers,” Nickum said.

“Colorado’s outdoor economy and quality of life depend on healthy, clean watersheds, and anglers know that starts at the source: the small, unassuming streams, headwaters and wetlands that rescinding the Clean Water Rule puts at risk,” he said.

“President Trump promised to drain the swamp. Instead, this EPA proposal aims to drain our wetlands and pollute our streams,” he said. “Coloradans deserve better.”

@EPA and the State of #Colorado release proposed plans for environmental cleanup at the Eagle Mine Superfund site

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Jennifer Chergo):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) today released two Proposed Plans for environmental remediation at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site. Both Proposed Plans focus on further reducing heavy metal contamination created by nearly one hundred years of mining activity at the site.

“The cleanup proposals represent both EPA and CDPHE’s commitment to protect human health and the environment at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site,” said Acting Regional Administrator Deb Thomas. “These plans also highlight EPA’s commitment to bringing contaminated lands back to health and reuse.”

The Eagle Mine Superfund Site is located in Eagle County, Colorado. The site is defined as the area impacted by past mining activity along and including the Eagle River between the towns of Red Cliff and Minturn. Mining activities at the Eagle Mine began in 1879 and continued until 1984. EPA listed the site on the National Priorities List (NPL), commonly known as the list of Superfund Sites, in 1986 because of the mine metals discharge, uncontrolled mine waste piles and the close proximity of the population to the mine and associated features. To better manage the site, EPA divided it into operable units (OUs). OU1 focuses on protecting surface water by reducing metals loading from the site to the Eagle River. OU2 focuses on potential human health risks from contaminated soils in the abandoned company town of Gilman. OU3 focuses on soil remediation necessary to protect human health due to planned future development by the current landowner.

EPA issued a final Record of Decision (ROD) for OU1 in 1993 and a final ROD for OU2 in 1998. Over the years, all required environmental cleanup work has occurred at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site under a number of state and federal directives. Response actions at the site addressed the major sources of metals contamination to the Eagle River, including the old and new tailings pile, rex flats and various roaster waste piles near Belden. In 2001, EPA declared all cleanup construction activities complete at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site, except for ongoing operation and maintenance of remedial features like the water treatment plant. Remediation conducted to-date resulted in significant improvement in water quality and reduction in risk to human health and the environment. Continued operation of the existing remedy, including drawdown from the mine pool and treatment at the water treatment plant, is required to maintain this condition. Contaminant concentrations in surface water and groundwater have decreased, and the aquatic ecosystem continues to show signs of recovery.

In 2009, water quality standards established by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission specifically for the Eagle Mine site became effective. Water quality monitoring in the Eagle River revealed that the water quality standards for cadmium, copper and zinc are not attained in March and April of most years. In response, the Proposed Plan released today for OU1 describes a number of alternatives designed to further reduce metals loading to the Eagle River. The preferred OU1 alternative includes the collection and treatment of groundwater from Belden and at the mouth of Rock Creek.

The Proposed Plan for OU3 presents cleanup alternatives focusing on soil remediation necessary to protect human health should future development occur. EPA created OU3, after a developer purchased a large portion of the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in 2004 with plans to develop the property into a private, residential community. The preferred alternative includes a combination of the following elements for areas at OU3 proposed for development: placing a soil exposure barrier; grading the site; placing institutional controls and conducting monitoring; and/or demolishing structures.