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.

Fountain Creek: CDPHE has stopped testing of Widefield aquifer plume

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“Pueblo County has not been notified by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Environmental Protection Agency or the Air Force that they have stopped monitoring, testing or sampling groundwater to track the plume,” county commissioner Terry Hart said. “If they have indeed stopped, we would most definitely be interested in learning why they stopped.

“Pueblo County is concerned about any and all groundwater contaminants. We are working aggressively to ensure that any waterway, but particularly Fountain Creek, is clean so they can be assets to our community instead of being a problem.”

State tests for PFCs in drinking water have not been done since November 2016, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment records show. And CDPHE hasn’t measured PFCs in groundwater since February, the records show.

It’s unclear how far the PFCs contamination has moved in groundwater. Back in April 2016, groundwater samples taken south of Fountain, along Hanover Road north of Pueblo, showed PFC contamination higher than 100 parts per trillion — well above the federal EPA health advisory limit of 70 ppt.

CDPHE officials on Thursday confirmed they stopped sampling water and told The Denver Post that’s because EPA funding that enabled the tests ran out. They could not say whether the agency is still monitoring other contaminated groundwater plumes, such as those spreading PCE from dry cleaning.

“The Water Quality Control Division is not conducting any further PFC sampling. ​We expended the funds from the EPA to complete sampling,” CDPHE spokeswoman Jan Stapleman said.

EPA officials in Denver said state water sampling stopped but that the U.S. Air Force still is monitoring PFCs contamination as part of a military investigation at Peterson Air Force Base. That base is strongly suspected as a source of PFCs, a family of chemicals found in aqueous film-forming foams that firefighters use to douse fuel fires.

2017 #coleg: HBl7-1306 (Test Lead In Public Schools’ Drinking Water) on its way to Appropriations

Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From 9News.com (Jessica Oh):

House Bill 1306 would establish a grant that would allow the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to test the water at all public schools in the state for up to three years.

The bill passed 12-1 and now heads to appropriations.

Under the bill, the Department of Public Health and Environment would be allowed to spent up to $300,000 per year for testing, according to officials…

Representative Jim Wilson was the only “no” vote Monday afternoon. He cited efficiency concerns and felt the testing could be more practical.

“Make no mistake.. I’m definitely in favor of testing the water,” Rep. Wilson reiterated.

HB 1306 still has a long way to go starting with appropriations.

If passed, older schools will be a priority for lead testing, officials said. Elementary schools will also be a priority since younger children face a higher risk.

The grant will not cover charter schools, which fall under a different category.

To test your own water at home, you can find more information here.

#Colorado Springs responds to @EPA/CDPHE lawsuit

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

The city’s denial is its first response in court to a lawsuit that claims discharges of pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries violate the laws. The discharges are from Colorado Springs’ stormwater system…

Colorado Springs asserted in Monday’s filing that it “has at all times been in compliance” with permits issued by the state agency to govern the discharges and the stormwater system.

The city contends it should not be subjected to court orders or monetary penalties that the environmental agencies want a judge to impose.

Colorado Springs also contends that allegations in the lawsuit misrepresent the facts of issues in dispute.

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

Battlement Mesa: Ursa Resources backs off injection well application

Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.
Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Ursa Resources and the developer of Battlement Mesa have dropped a zoning change proposal necessary for Ursa to pursue…operating a wastewater injection well near the community’s water intake on the Colorado River.

Battlement Mesa Co. is cutting by about half the size of a proposed zone district that would allow injection wells as a special use. The move eliminates the northern portion of what had been a 37-acre proposed district. That northern portion included a well-pad location where Ursa has approvals to drill for natural gas and had hoped to operate the injection well.

The revised zone district proposal still would encompass another location to the southwest where Ursa has begun the process of seeking approvals for an oil and gas pad that also could hold an injection well if local and state approvals are obtained.

The Garfield County Planning Commission was to have considered the original zone district proposal Wednesday night, but instead agreed to consider the revised application March 8.

Ursa had encountered considerable opposition to its original planned location for the injection well, which would have been about 600 feet from the water intake.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had objected to that location because of concerns that leaks from the well and associated storage tanks could threaten the water supply. That agency’s opposition was a primary factor in Garfield County planning staff also recommending that the Planning Commission and county commissioners reject the zoning change.

On Tuesday, Kent Kuster, an environmental specialist for CDPHE, wrote to the county that in a recent meeting with Ursa representatives his agency was made aware of an alternative injection well location to the west of Ursa’s originally envisioned site. Kuster wrote that the potential location would “reduce the associated risk to the public water supply,” is more protective of that supply and may warrant further local discussion.

Battlement Mesa is an unincorporated community of several thousand people. Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens said the group’s members don’t want an injection well anywhere within Battlement Mesa. But the group had been particularly alarmed by the idea of an injection well in the vicinity of the water intake.

In a news release Wednesday, Devanney called the change in Ursa’s plans a victory for residents.

“It was clear that public opinion was against the idea of creating an injection well zone in our community, especially one so close to our drinking water supply,” Devanney said. “Although we may see this proposal resurface in another form, tonight residents of Battlement Mesa can take comfort knowing their water is safe — for now.”

[…]

Matt Honeycutt, Ursa’s operations superintendent, declined to say much Wednesday night about the revision in the injection well plans.

“Ultimately it’s to make a better project,” he said.

Don Simpson, Ursa’s vice president of business development, said earlier Wednesday, “We think we’ve come up with a better plan. We’re always looking at different locations, better locations.”

Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co., which as the landowner is the applicant for the zoning change, said a number of considerations played into its decision to revise its proposal, from public input, to its own research and additional due diligence.

One member of the Planning Commission, Greg McKennis, sought unsuccessfully Wednesday night to postpone further consideration of the zoning application for 60 to 90 days to give Battlement Mesa residents a chance to fully learn what’s now being proposed and be able to better comment on it.

“This is a big change and we have no idea what those impacts will be,” he said. “… It’s vital that that community … has more than a couple weeks to do what they need to do to review this,” he said.

However, the applicants had a right to request another hearing sooner unless they waived it, which they weren’t willing to do.

“This timing becomes critical down the road to remove trucks off the road for our development plan,” Honeycutt told the commission.

Ursa says having an injection well will eliminate the need to truck away wastewater from drilling. It currently has approvals to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in Battlement Mesa and now is seeking approvals for three more well pads there.

From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Alex Zorn):

Battlement Mesa Partners, requesting the zoning change for Ursa Resources’ natural gas operations, asked commissioners before a packed hearing room for time to amend the proposal…

The hearing was moved to the March 8 Planning Commission meeting. The Planning Commission staff last week recommended rejecting the proposal in large part because it is close to the community’s water intake.

“I think it would be in the board’s best interest to allow for a continuance so that we can make changes to our application,” said Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co. “A continuance would allow us to bring you more complete information on the request.”

Among the biggest changes would be to change the size of the area requested for rezoning to allow wells to dispose of wastewater from the fracking process. Drilling within the Planned Unit Development already has been approved by Garfield County and the state.

According to Schmela, the revised application will reduce the area of the project by nearly half. The previous proposal sought to rezone 37 acres along the north end of the community by the Colorado River. An updated application will reduce that area by 50 percent, stated Schmela.

Not only will the new application reduce the size of the injection zone, but it will also move the well away from the Colorado River and water treatment intake.

Fountain Creek: Pueblo County Commissioners direct staff to draft motion to join @EPA, CDPHE lawsuit

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Pueblo County – having already received a commitment of $460 million in stormwater projects from Colorado Springs over 20 years – now wants to join in a federal and state lawsuit citing Colorado Springs for violating its federal stormwater permit…

Wednesday, Pueblo County commissioners decided to try to join in the lawsuit, following a December effort by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to also become a plaintiff. The motion to include the Lower Ark, as it is known, hasn’t been decided.

The Lower Ark, representing Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, has seen Colorado Springs break stormwater promises repeatedly, said district Executive Director Jay Winner.

Pueblo County commissioners echoed such complaints, saying the city doesn’t adequately fund its stormwater management program, maintain the infrastructure or reduce discharge of pollutants.

In addition to the $460 million stormwater pact, the city has increased stormwater funding to $19 million a year, including $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities. That’s up from $5 million in 2015.

Pueblo County and Lower Ark both cite increased E. coli levels, erosion, sedimentation and flooding.

The county’s action was another blow for Mayor John Suthers, who has committed to rectifying the city’s stormwater problems since he took office in June 2015…

Said Pueblo County Commission spokeswoman Paris Carmichael: “This isn’t about picking a fight with Colorado Springs. This is about giving the citizens of Pueblo County a voice.”

The county had threatened last year to withhold a permit essential for completion of the $825 million Southern Delivery System, a massive water project delivering Arkansas River water to Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West.

So Suthers and other city officials worked with Pueblo city and county officials to hammer out the $460 million intergovernmental agreement, which facilitated release of the permit.

Meanwhile, Suthers also got to work reorganizing the city’s Stormwater Division, bringing in new director Richard Mulledy, who had worked in Pueblo; ratcheting up its staff from 28 to an eventual 66; and releasing an inch-thick new Stormwater Program Implementation Plan on Nov. 2, one week before the EPA filed suit.

The mayor now is asking voters to approve an April 4 ballot measure that would let the city retain $6 million in excess sales tax revenues to further improve the stormwater system. The city’s extra tax money is expected to top out at $9 million or more, with any amount above the $6 million request being refunded to residents if the ballot issue passes.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

The Pueblo County commissioners on Wednesday asked staff to file a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment against Colorado Springs.

Pueblo County wants to join the case to protect its interest during the litigation.

“We did it primarily to make sure we have a seat at the table,” said Pueblo County Commission Chairman Terry Hart.

“It’s one of those issues that whenever any kind of conversation is going on that concerns Fountain Creek or the water volume or quality that’s in the creek, we feel it affects the citizens in our community.”

[…]

Hart and fellow Commissioners Sal Pace and Garrison Ortiz said although there are pros and cons in entering the lawsuit, representing Pueblo County citizens is the most important issue.

“I feel that we have an obligation as a board, as elected officials and as leaders in Pueblo County to ensure that we are doing absolutely everything we can to protect our infrastructure, quality of water and the health and welfare of our citizens,” Ortiz said.

Pace said he greatly cherishes the relationship the county has developed with Colorado Springs through negotiations over the Southern Delivery System’s 1041 permit agreement and hopes this will not do anything to damage it…

Suthers’ office issued a statement from the mayor when contacted Wednesday.

“In light of the fact that Pueblo County is well aware of the outstanding stormwater program Colorado Springs is putting together and that we are meeting and exceeding our commitments under the intergovernmental agreement between our entities, I am very disappointed in their decision to seek to intervene in the EPA lawsuit. Intervention by parties without regulatory authority will only serve to make the litigation more complex, more lengthy, more expensive for all parties and possibly more unproductive.”

[…]

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also wants to join the case as an intervenor to protect the district’s interest during the litigation.

The district filed the same motion in November. A federal judge has yet to make a decision on if the district can join the suit…

Pueblo City Council President Steve Nawrocki said the city manager will ask Council on Monday to give him direction on the issue…

WHAT IT MEANS

By intervening in the lawsuit Pueblo County hopes to:

Support the EPA and CDPHE in its regulatory mission.

Ensure that stormwater control infrastructure within Colorado Springs is properly operated and maintained.

Ensure that there are no conflicts or inconsistencies between the stormwater intergovernmental agreement recently entered by the county and Colorado Springs and any remedy, judgment or settlement entered in this case.

Require Colorado Springs to become, and then remain, compliant with the Clean Water Act, the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, stormwater regulations and the conditions of Colorado Springs’ MS4 permit, and protect against future violations.

Work with Colorado Springs to develop, implement and enforce its’ Stormwater Management Program as required by the MS4 permit.

Prohibit Colorado Springs from discharging stormwater that is not in compliance with its MS4 permit or its SMP.