The 12-inch (30-centimeter) valve will regulate wastewater pouring from the Gold King Mine in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, where the EPA inadvertently triggered a wastewater spill while excavating at the mine entrance in August 2015…
The valve will be mounted in a steel-and concrete barrier about 70 feet (20 meters) inside the mine. The barrier will have water-tight access doors so workers and equipment can get deeper into the mine for cleanup and investigation.
The EPA is also drilling a 170-foot (50-meter) horizontal well into another part of the Gold King to drain any water building up there. That water would be routed through a temporary treatment plant below the mine where wastewater draining from the main entrance is cleaned up.
The EPA said it can control the flow of wastewater from the new drain to avoid another blowout.
The documents did not say say how much the work will cost and the EPA did not immediately respond to emails and a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.
The work is expected to be completed next month.
Peter Butler, a leader of the volunteer Animas River Stakeholders Group, which works to improve water quality in the area, said he agreed with the EPA’s decision to install the barrier and drainage well.
“It’s probably a good idea,” he said. “They are showing an abundance of caution.”
Wastewater has flowed from the Gold King for years, and since the 2015 blowout, it has poured out at a rate of about 500 gallons (1,900 liters) a minute.
Mine waste flows are unpredictable In the San Juan Mountains, where underground water flows through an interconnected warren of mine tunnels and natural faults.
Precautions such as the barrier, valve and horizontal drain will make it safer for investigators to enter the mines and try to figure out the water flows, Butler said.
The Gold King and dozens of other mining-related sites in the region were designated a Superfund district in 2016.
Hualapai and surrounding tribes have inhabited the Grand Canyon region since 700 AD. They survived harsh desert conditions using their knowledge of plants and wildlife behavior, for example using their understanding of the seasonal movements of antelope, sheep and deer to procure food.
Today Hualapai continue to practice sacred ceremonies and collect cultural resources within the canyon. But dams and other development have altered the riparian plant community which now includes many invasive species.
Ka-Voka Jackson, a member of the Hualapai tribe and graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is currently researching methods to remove invasive plants while reestablishing native plants that are culturally important
“To me the Colorado River is really sacred and held really close in my heart because on my reservation we grew up along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon,” she said. “And so being able to work in Glen Canyon National Recreation area is a really important because I am closer to home and our ancestral lands did extend as far as Glen Canyon, so we have ties to that area.”
Tribe and federal agencies have collaborated for decades to manage natural and cultural resources within the Canyon, but cultural and institutional barriers can be much harder to cross than borders drawn on a map.
Ka-Voka and others realized that the perspectives and goals of traditional western scientists often differ from those with local and historical knowledge.
“I think there is a big gap between the traditional ecological knowledge that tribes hold versus the western science, and they don’t communicate,” she said. “There is a gap in that communication but I think they could hugely benefit each other. The tribes have been living here a very long time, so they have a lot of knowledge and it’s often not brought into the science world. There are a lot of reasons for that. A lot of people who hold this traditional knowledge don’t necessarily want to give it to the western scientists because they don’t want it to be exploited, it can be sold as a product, or they don’t want it used out of context. We hold a lot of this knowledge very close. I don’t want to pressure these knowledge holders to give up their knowledge, but I do want them to carefully use it in a way that can benefit everybody.”
From the Colorado River District via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
The Colorado River District’s board of directors has named Andrew (Andy) A. Mueller of Glenwood Springs as its sole final candidate to succeed Eric Kuhn as general manager of the multicounty water conservation district.
Kuhn is retiring after 36 years with the district. The river district board met Tuesday and voted unanimously naming Mueller as the lone finalist for the position.
Mueller is an attorney and a former river district board member. He also served as board president and vice president.
“The board was impressed with Mueller’s credentials, background and vision for the district,” board President Tom Alvey from Delta County said in a news release. “We were fortunate to have an outstanding pool of candidates from which Mr. Mueller rose to the top.”
The release quoted Mueller as saying, “I’m honored and humbled by my selection. I’ve long held the Colorado River District in the highest regard. I look forward to working with the board and staff of the district to continue the district’s history of excellence and protection of western Colorado’s vital stake in the Colorado River system.”
Mueller was selected after a nationwide search. Per state law, no offer of employment can be made for at least 14 days following Mueller’s selection. No starting date or other details of employment have been established, the release said.
The general manager reports to the 15-member River District board of directors and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the district and management of the 25-member staff.
Mueller is currently a partner with the Glenwood Springs law firm of Karp Neu Hanlon. He was previously the managing partner at the Ouray-based firm of Hockersmith & Mueller. Mueller served as Ouray County’s director on the Colorado River District’s board from 2006 to January 2015.
The Colorado Legislature created the Colorado River District in 1937 “for the conservation, use and development of the water resources of the Colorado River and its principal tributaries.”
The High Desert Conservation District has teamed up with farmer Brian Wilson and Teeter Irrigation, of Johnson City, Kansas, to determine if the company’s trademarked Dragon-Line system will work for this area.
Instead of using the nozzles on the center pivot to irrigate, a row of drip lines are attached that drag behind the sprinkler watering the crop at its base instead of from above.
“It saves water and reduces evaporation, erosion and runoff,” said Travis Custer, agricultural consultant with High Desert. “It is the first trial of the technology in the area.”
To compare crop yields, one section of the center pivot irrigates a field of wheat normally from spray nozzles, and an adjacent section utilizes a series of drip lines attached to the nozzles. After harvest, the yields will be compared. Soil moisture monitors have also been installed in areas watered by the drip and nozzle sections of the sprinkler.
The hybrid center pivot and drip line technology was created by Teeter Irrigation, and launched in 2015. The technology has proven effective in Kansas and other plain states that irrigate from an underground aquifer, Custer said.
But since local farms use surface water delivered via ditches and pipelines that carry more debris, a filter system had to be installed on the center pivot being used on the Pleasant View trial…
Farmers have switched to center-pivot sprinkler technology because it is less labor-intensive than side-roll sprinklers, which must be moved by hand. Center pivots are automated, and move in a circular pattern, watering from a row of nozzle heads. Water flow and speed are adjustable and can be controlled remotely.
But center pivots work best on flatter ground. On undulating farmland and fields with steeper slopes, center pivots can cause water to pool in low spots and run off the field or drain into the sprinkler’s wheel tracks, creating muddy conditions.
What’s exciting is that the drip-system attachment to the center-pivot could eliminate those problems because the water is delivered at ground level, said Steve Miles, board member of the High Desert Conservation District…
It appears to be working in the test plots. The lower areas of the drip-line section are not getting waterlogged, and there is less runoff the field. How often the filter-system has to be flushed is also part of the experiment.
Eric Kuhn prepared for his final Colorado River District Seminar, “Points of No Return,” by riding his bike east to west across the Colorado National Monument the day before. He has announced his retirement from the district and I’m sure he’ll make good use of the time on his road bike, mountain bike, and kayak. He undoubtedly has outdoor interests that I don’t know about. He will be missed by those of us that have learned to listen to his wise counsel about the hardest working river in the world, the Colorado River.
He assured folks in the room, on Twitter and live on Facebook that the seminar was not his last, just his last as the GM of the district he worked at for 34 years. In his early retirement he is authoring a book on Colorado River hydrology that he hopes will “de-nerdify” the subject and appeal to a wide audience. The water nerds in the room all hoped to snag a copy as soon as is it avaiable.
He explained the politics and history of the River. “100 years ago the Colorado River was a beast,” he said, adding, “and we were in a wet time but already seeing shortages.” The beast would unleash huge floods in the Lower Basin, submerging towns and farms and destroying headworks and other facilities. Late in the irrigation season the river often failed to deliver water to finish crops.
Coloradans, led by Delph Carpenter, realized the danger to development of water in Colorado if prior appropriation prevailed on the Colorado River. The Lower Basin states of Arizona and California were first in time and the Upper Basin states were at risk of not being able to develop the farms, cities, and industry at a fast enough pace. The result was the Colorado River Compact which allocated water equally to the Upper Basin and Lower Basin based on the hydrology at Lee Ferry.
The Lower Basin needed storage to manage the river and the Upper Basin needed time. Boulder (now Hoover) Dam, and Lake Mead would fulfill the need for flood control, hydropower, and late-season irrigation water. Lake Powell was slated to store the Upper Basin water for downstream deliveries.
A hundred years later:
During his talk Eric stated that the West Slope, “Should not support and more transmountain diversions,” because that would put, “plans at risk.”
While not being a “not one more drop” line in the sand it still is a pretty strong statement. Kuhn cited protection of West Slope agriculture, the power pool at Lake Powell, and the Upper Basin delivery requirements under the “Law of the River,” the recreation industry, water quality, and the environment, as reasons.
“River governance must be as flexible to meet a wide range of future possibilities”, he said.
He believes that we need to reduce consumptive use on the river. He added that, the Lower Basin will have to make the lion’s share and they are doing that. Then he backed it up with the numbers:
Mr. Kuhn said that, “If we had a 1950s drought we would probably drain Lake Powell.”
Eric was preceded on the program Bill Hasencamp from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. He said that 1 in 17 Americans get their water from the district (and their members), 19 million folks all told.
“I am from the Lower Basin and we’re about as different as can be,” he said,
Metropolitan’s water supplies come from the Colorado River, Northern California, and locally through conservation and reuse:
California has an active water market, he said, but there is great variability in price:
Demand for water is low this year due to huge winter snowpack:
“The Salton Sea will a dramatic effect on how water is managed going forward,” said Hasencamp. The water body, formed when the Colorado River destroyed an irrigation headworks during construction and has become important habitat for birds displaced by San Diego’s growth. Now it is drying up due to the lack of irrigation return flows and has become a health hazard for residents nearby.
Hasencamp stressed the importance of solving California’s Bay Delta problem. The proposed project will cost $17 billion and firm up the water supply from Northern California:
Hasencamp closed by quoting Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
Dave Kanzer from the Colorado River District moderated a panel about irrigation efficiency. The goal is to avoid unexpected consequences such as increased salinity or less water in the streams due to lower return flows.
Panel member Bill Trampe said that society has to tell irrigators what is required. The return flows from irrigation provide habitat for wildlife and after a 150 years or so that habitat is part of the fabric of the watershed. Absent direction from society ranchers and farmers will go where the money is because the business is very tough.
There was a long session about challenges and successes in Grand County with Lurline Curran, Paul Bruchez, and Mely Whiting. The county at the headwaters of the Colorado River sees 60% of its water exported to the East Slope by Denver Water and Northern Water. The two water agencies are working on projects to firm up supplies and the result could be that more headwaters flows could move east.
One project will rebuild the channel of the Fraser River to better fit the lower flows to keep river temperatures colder. Rocks are being placed to create pools for trout.
Another project, in concert with Northern’s Windy Gap Firming project will create a new natural channel around the reservoir to take it off-channel. The hope is that there will be greater scouring of the Colorado River below the reservoir to support stonefly populations that have been severely impacted.
At lunch Jack Schmidt explained his research into the Glen Canyon Institute’s proposal to drain Lake Powell to dead pool and store the water in Lake Mead. He said that their numbers with respect to evaporation and seepage may not be supported by the studies he has found. He confirmed that under a changed hydrology due to climate change that the option of re-drilling the original bypass tunnels around Glen Canyon Dam to completely drain Lake Powell might work to restore the Grand Canyon.
Afternoon sessions included a panel with Heather Hansman and Eric Kuhn with their thoughts on telling water stories and concluded with a panel of members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and its new Director, Becky Mitchell.
The Colorado River District staff knocked it out of the park again this year. Thanks again.
Take a trip through the Tweets from the conference. The hash tag was #CRDseminar. Be sure to click on the “Latest” button at the top of the page, scroll down to the bottom and read upward from oldest to newest Tweets.