From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):
The next Aspinall Operations meeting will be held this Thursday, January 19th at the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose CO. The meeting will start at 1 PM.
Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:
In November 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chief of Staff, Matt Fritz, established an agency team to conduct an After-Action Review of EPA’s response to the Gold King Mine (GKM) release that occurred on August 5, 2015. The team, comprised of employees from across the agency, interviewed over a hundred people and reviewed a large volume of documents to identify lessons learned and develop recommendations for the Administrator’s consideration. Among the documents reviewed were after-action reports from previous emergency responses, which showed that some of the issues identified at Gold King Mine were not new. On December 21, 2015, the After-Action Review Team submitted its report detailing ten specific recommendations to improve how the agency responds to emergency incidents and to ensure a highly effective EPA Emergency Response Program that can adapt quickly to dynamic, unpredictable situations. These recommendations, shown in Appendix A, were:
Recommendation 1: Establish a National Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) at EPA. Recommendation 2: Institute Senior Official training plan. Recommendation 3: Institute ICS key leadership training plan. Recommendation 4: Establish an agency data and information management team. Recommendation 5: Improve data and information posting and communications. Recommendation 6: Establish Communications Strike Teams and broaden data training for PIOs and public affairs staff. Recommendation 7: Invest in data resources and clarify roles/responsibilities. Recommendation 8: Build capacity for rapid data collection, interpretation, and dissemination. Recommendation 9: Align public affairs resources and update communications procedures. Recommendation 10: Improve notification procedures, plans, and equipment.
From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):
The EPA outlined its efforts in a report posted on its website late Friday afternoon called “In the Rearview Mirror: Implementation of the Gold King Mine After-Action Review.”
The EPA’s chief of staff announced the changes in February 2016, after the agency took responsibility for the release of metal-laden water from the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015.
The changes were based on a December 2015 after-action report that made 10 recommendations focused on improving its emergency response and communications that the EPA has worked on, the review stated. The original after-action report did not seem to have been posted on the EPA’s website when it was finished. EPA officials did not immediately respond to request for comment on the review Saturday.
The review recommended the agency continue funding emergency management training and positions created as a result of the changes. But it did not list specific budget expenses.
A national emergency response team was trained by December 2016 and it will be deployed to mine spills or releases that the EPA has caused or is directly involved in, or when an event involves multiple EPA regions.
“Quick and effective response to incidents reduces the risk to public safety, environmental damage and potential legal liability,” the report said.
To improve communications, the EPA plans to develop three teams of six that will assist with breaking down complex and technical information. When a team is deployed, they will not communicate with the public but will work behind the scenes.
Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina could not comment on the report, but she acknowledged that there were challenges with EPA communications after the Gold King Mine spill.
“We tried to work through those as situations arose,” she said.
During emergencies, the EPA also plans work with federal, state, local, tribal, trust territory and other partners on development and release of all materials.
Effectively communicating data with the public was another focus of the EPA, and it calls for eliminating the time lag between the EPA receiving data and communicating it to the public.
Residents and local officials were frustrated with the slow pace of metals sampling and interpretation of the data.
This data was needed to determine whether the river could be reopened and used for drinking, agriculture and recreation.
Distrust of the EPA’s data led some residents of the Navajo Nation to keep their irrigation ditches closed, causing lost crops, because they didn’t want to risk using the contaminated water.
The Office of Emergency Management has hired a coordinator to help the EPA with data, and the review solicits funding for training and workshops.
Agency workers also updated their contact lists for tribal governments and plan to update those lists annually.
The agency also updated training for senior leadership on what their role is during an emergency. Satellite communications systems were also upgraded for those working in the field.
After the spill, the EPA team was trapped without cellphone service or a satellite phone and this delayed communications with the state by almost two hours.
Here’s the release from Secretary Jewell’s office:
As part of President Obama’s historic commitment to empowering tribal nations, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Interior Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor today joined tribal leaders to celebrate four landmark water rights settlements that will resolve contention among tribes and neighboring communities over water rights and improve the quality of life for tribal communities and their non-Indian neighbors.
The settlements, negotiated during the past eight years, were ratified and approved in December 2016 under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. The legislation authorized $422 million in funding to the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana to provide clean drinking water and other water-related infrastructure projects that will improve the health, safety and welfare of the Tribe. More than $28 million was authorized for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, located in southern California, enabling them to gain secure water supplies. The legislation secured for the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations of Oklahoma the right to use and benefit from water resources within their historic treaty territories without any federal funding. Finally, the five San Luis Rey Bands of southern California settlement legislation finalized and effectuated a settlement originally enacted in 1988 and did not require additional funding.
“With these four agreements, the Obama Administration has completed a dozen landmark Indian water rights settlements – more than any previous administration – that put an end to complex and litigious water rights controversies for 20 tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, California and Nevada,” Secretary Jewell said. “Today’s celebration marks not only these incredible accomplishments, but the start of a new journey working together to implement these hard-won settlements.”
The total $3 billion in funding authorized for Indian water rights settlements during the current Administration represents a major commitment to help provide safe drinking water and support economic development activities, including hydroelectric power, agriculture improvement and water marketing.
“The settlements, which have been a top priority of this Administration, represent the culmination of generations of hard work and dedication by the tribes and their neighbors,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “Each of the settlements had widespread local and bipartisan congressional support, and implementing the agreements will bring much needed investments to Indian country, help stabilize water supplies in various communities, and improve water resources management for all concerned, including non-Indian communities.”
The Blackfeet settlement reflects decades of struggle and commitment by the Tribe – and negotiations with the State of Montana – to quantify and secure a tribal water right of more than 800,000 acre-feet while protecting the rights of existing water users. The settlement includes funding for the Tribe to develop and manage its water resources.
The Pechanga settlement, which will partially settle litigation filed by the United States in 1951, was achieved only after a long and arduous struggle. The Pechanga Band negotiated the settlement with its neighbors, the Rancho California Water District, Eastern Municipal Water District and the Metropolitan Water District. The Band has tirelessly pursued the quantification of its water rights and engaged its neighbors in a multi-year process of building mutual trust and understanding. The resulting settlement benefits all of the parties, securing adequate water supplies for tribal members and encouraging cooperative water resources management among all parties.
The Choctaw and Chickasaw settlement in Oklahoma – the first Indian water settlement to be finalized in that state – reflects a unique and collaborative approach to water management in the Nations’ historic treaty territories. It will advance a collaborative approach to water management and help achieve water security for the State of Oklahoma and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. The settlement includes important protections for the Nations’ future and existing water rights, conserves water resources and provides for cooperation in the regulation of water use.
The San Luis Rey settlement allows full implementation of amendments to the 1988 San Luis Rey Indian Water Rights Settlement Act that benefits the La Jolla, Rincon, San Pasqual, Pauma and Pala Bands of Mission Indians in southern California. The agreement allows the five Bands and the local parties to realize the full benefits of the 1988 Act, including: expressly recognizing the continuing federal reserved water rights of the Bands; addressing the fair allocation of water among the Bands; protecting the water rights of allottees; waiving all past claims the Bands may have against the U.S. regarding water rights and breach of trust relating to water rights; and allowing the Bands to access a trust fund established in 1988 that has now grown to approximately $60 million.
“These settlements recognize tribal stakeholders’ reserved rights to one of their most precious assets and offer the most efficient way of providing vital water supplies to both tribal and non-Indian communities,” said Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Lawrence S. Roberts. “Under the Obama Administration, Indian water rights settlements are a visible example of the Federal trust responsibility to federally recognized tribes and of Federal policies that promote tribal sovereignty, self-determination and economic self-sufficiency. I congratulate all of the parties to these settlements for their leadership in achieving these settlements.”
The eight other settlements enacted during the Obama Administration were:
Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation Water Rights Settlement Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Settlement Aamodt Litigation Settlement Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights Settlement Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement (Hualapai Tribe) Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe – Fish Springs Ranch Settlement
Thoughtful Indian water rights settlements benefit taxpayers when balanced against the potential consequences and costs of continued litigation over Indian water rights claims. Settlements also offer the most efficient way to provide much-needed water supplies to tribal communities in fulfillment of basic Federal trust responsibility to American Indians and Federal policy promoting tribal sovereignty, self-determination and economic self- sufficiency.
Settlements are especially important given the need for water on many Indian reservations and throughout the West and the uncertainty regarding its availability due to drought, climate change and increasing demands for this scarce resource. Settlements resolve long-standing claims to water; provide reliability with respect to supplies; facilitate the development of much-needed infrastructure; improve environmental and health conditions on reservations; and promote collaboration between Tribes, states and local communities.
From the Indian Country Media Network (Vincent Schilling):
On Friday, January 13, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor joined with tribes and members of Congress to celebrate the enactment of four historic Indian water rights settlements that will benefit nine tribes.
The celebration included leaders from the Blackfeet Tribe, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, the La Jolla, Rincon, San Pasqual, Pauma and Pala Bands of Mission Indians, and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians.
U.S. Congressman Tom Cole was also in attendance, along with a number of tribal leaders.
During the announcement and celebration, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell thanked the leaders of the tribes in attendance and informed the attendees that the Obama Administration has reached more water settlements than any administration in history.
“With these four agreements, the Obama Administration has completed a dozen landmark Indian water rights settlements – more than any previous administration – that put an end to complex and litigious water rights controversies for 20 tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, California and Nevada,” Secretary Jewell said. “Today’s celebration marks not only these incredible accomplishments, but the start of a new journey working together to implement these hard-won settlements.
“The settlements, which have been a top priority of this Administration, represent the culmination of generations of hard work and dedication by the tribes and their neighbors,” said Deputy Secretary Connor.
“Each of the settlements had widespread local and bipartisan congressional support, and implementing the agreements will bring much needed investments to Indian country, help stabilize water supplies in various communities, and improve water resources management for all concerned, including non-Indian communities.”
Here’s a report from a tour of Stagecoach Dam from Matt Stensland writing for Steamboat Today. Click through for the cool photo of the drain system from inside the dam. Here’s an excerpt:
It is a careful balancing act at the Stagecoach Dam, where electricity is generated for homes, fish habitat is managed and water is stored for a time when cities, ranchers and industry need it.
Behind the steel door, mineralized sludge covers the concrete walls and incandescent bulbs dimly light the narrow corridor.
These are the guts of the Stagecoach Dam southeast of Steamboat Springs, and it can be a little unnerving knowing that at the other side of the wall, 9,360 pounds of pressure push against each square foot of concrete.
Water drips from the ceiling and falls from drain pipes that collect water from the seeping concrete.
“All dams get water into them,” said Kevin McBride, adding that not having a system to drain the water would create pressure and put the dam’s integrity at risk…
“It’s pretty much paradise here,” said Blankenship, who most recently worked at a coal mine and previously worked in the power house of the USS Enterprise for the U.S. Navy.
Rogers has an electrical engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines.
In addition to monitoring the integrity of the dam, they oversee the hydroelectric power plant, which was named the John Fetcher Power Plant in 1997. He pushed to make electricity generation part of the dam design.
“I think John was a natural conservationist and to have this capability in a project that size and not do it was a bad thing,” said McBride, referring to Fetcher, who died in 2009 at age 97 after being recognized as one of the state’s water leaders.
Above the loud turbine in the power house sits a sign warning people not to stand underneath. That is because above, there is a large, weighted steel lever that will come crashing down if the power generated at the plant needs to immediately come off the grid.
On Tuesday afternoon, the electrical turbine was generating upwards of 500 kilowatts. The system can generate as much as 800 kilowatts, but generation is limited by the amount of water that is flowing into the reservoir.
“The generation, it fluctuates wildly,” said Andi Rossi, the water district’s engineer. “If the flows get too low, we shut down for power generation. In a big wet year, we’ll make a lot of power.”
The water district had been selling the power to Xcel Energy, but Yampa Valley Electric Association began buying the power last year for six cents per kilowatt hour. In 2016, YVEA paid more than $230,000 for the 3.85 million kilowatt hours generated at the dam. That is enough energy to power about 355 homes.
Power generation varies and is dependent on runoff. During the drought year of 2002, only 1.85 million kilowatt hours was produced. When there was abundant snowfall in 2011, 4.7 million kilowatt hours was produced. Since 1999, an average of 3.8 million kilowatt hours has been made each year…
A tower of concrete in the reservoir beside the dam has three gates that allow different temperatures of water to be mixed and sent through a pipe under the dam toward the generator.
From there, the water is either sent through the generator or through a pipe called a jet flow, which shoots water out of the power plant and helps oxygenate the water for fish habitat in the section of river in front of the dam known as the tailwaters.
The area is an angler’s delight and can only be accessed by snowmobile from the Catamount area or by hiking along a county road from Stagecoach State Park.
“It’s phenomenal,” Colorado Park and Wildlife fish biologist Billy Atkinson said.
With improvements by Parks and Wildlife to the river habitat, the area has thrived for fishing, partly because of the dam and reservoir. Relatively warm water released from the dam keeps the section of river from freezing over, and the water from the reservoir is rich in nutrients for the fish.
“The system is very productive,” Atkinson said.
In 2016, 25 percent more people visited the section of river, and 4,000 trout were measured per mile.
Not all tailwaters below dams in Colorado are experiencing similar success.
“It depends on the dam and the operations of the dam,” Atkinson said.
From The Farmington Daily Times (Magdalena Wegrzyn , Leigh Black Irvin , Joshua Kellogg and Noel Lyn Smith):
Federal lawmakers, tribal leaders and state and local officials presented a rare unified front today as they vehemently denounced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that it will not pay more than $1.2 billion in claims filed against it in response to the Gold King Mine spill.
The EPA said the Federal Tort Claims Act prevents the agency from paying claims that result from “discretionary” government actions. Congress passed the law to allow government agencies — and in this case, contractors working on their behalf — to act “without the fear of paying damages in the event something went wrong while taking the action,” according to a press release from the EPA.
Three federal lawmakers representing New Mexico denounced the news in a joint statement, calling the agency’s reasoning a “shameful legal interpretation of liability.” Meanwhile, Navajo Nation officials questioned who would take responsibility for reimbursing tribal members hurt by the spill, which on Aug. 5, 2015, released more than three million gallons of toxic wastewater into a tributary that feeds the Animas River, which flows into the San Juan River, ultimately emptying into Lake Powell.
The EPA said the work contractors conducted at the mine near Silverton, Colo., is considered a “discretionary function” under the law.
Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrats, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., issued a statement saying they would continue pushing for legislation to hold the EPA accountable. They also said it would be up to the courts to determine whether the EPA’s defense is legitimate.
Heinrich said in a phone interview that he intends to introduce legislation to ensure the EPA pays claims that have already been filed, as well as future claims.
“I’m going to speak to all of the senators from Colorado and Arizona, and we’re going to introduce legislation to do this right,” he said.
An EPA agency official said paying the claims would discourage cleanup efforts — such as the one being conducted at the Gold King Mine when it was breached — in the future…
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the tribe will continue pursuing its lawsuit against the EPA and several other entities. He said the tribe plans to work with president-elect Donald J. Trump’s administration to address claims tied to the spill.
“It doesn’t stop here,” Begaye said shortly after attending an inauguration ceremony in Shiprock for recently elected Northern Agency chapter officials. “This is one step, and we will continue taking the next step and if we have to, we’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court.”
An EPA official said 73 claims related to the mine spill were filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Four were from governmental agencies and the rest were from individuals and companies…
Joe Ben Jr. served as the Shiprock Chapter’s farm board member when the spill occurred. Ben, a farmer himself, said he did not file a claim but knows several other farmers who submitted claims for lost crops and revenue…
… collecting compensation doesn’t weigh heavily on [Earl] Yazzie. Instead, the farmer said he’s more concerned about whether to plant crops this spring and if he’ll irrigate with water from the San Juan River…
Included in the $1.2 billion is about $154 million in tort claims that are part of a lawsuit filed by the state of New Mexico, according to the EPA official. She said the EPA’s defense will be used in court to deny payment of those claims…
The EPA official acknowledged the announcement was slow in coming, adding “we spent a lot of time trying to see if there was any other way to address this because this is obviously an answer that leaves a lot of people unhappy who have been hurt.”
From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):
The EPA said the claims could be refiled in federal court, or Congress could authorize payments.
But attorneys for the EPA and the Justice Department concluded the EPA is barred from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government.
“The agency worked hard to find a way in which it could pay individuals for damages due to the incident, but unfortunately, our hands are tied,” EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said.
The EPA said it has spent more than $31.3 million on the spill, including remediation work, water testing and payments to state, local and tribal agencies.
The problem of land subsidence in Arizona – the lowering in elevation of land-surface levels, largely the result of groundwater extraction – is a decidedly mixed bag, the Arizona Department of Water Resources is discovering.
Thanks to decreased groundwater pumping in the Phoenix and Tucson Active Management Areas, for example, subsidence rates in many areas of those AMAs have decreased between 25 and 90 percent compared to rates in the 1990s.
That is just one of the major findings of the department’s recent “Land Subsidence Monitoring Report No. 3,” released earlier this month.
And it’s the news from the happy side of the bag.
On the opposite side, land subsidence statewide is proving to be an increasingly serious challenge that is causing problems for infrastructure in some areas. And it is proving to be a headache even in certain parts of active-management areas.
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