Lowry Landfill Superfund Site update

Lowry Landfill 2008

From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

For two decades, hydrogeologist Lee Pivonka has monitored toxic waste at and around the Superfund site for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

He’s one of the most prominent voices in the state calling for more scrutiny of the site.

Pivonka told Sentinel Colorado that pollution testing wells — not private wells for drinking — north of the Superfund site boundary were found to have unacceptably high levels of contamination as far back as 1995, when city councillors gave Murphy Creek the green light. Chemicals in many wells have never returned to acceptable levels, he said.

Dioxine plume Lowry Landfill via The Denver Post.

In 2002, EPA became concerned with a chemical called 1,4 dioxane. The stuff is widely found in trace amounts in household products such as detergents and shampoos. It is probably a carcinogen if ingested in high-enough concentrations through drinking contaminated water, the EPA says, but most people will not be exposed to it that way in their lifetimes. The New York state legislature recently passed a ban on products with more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane. The bill is pending Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

For Murphy Creek golfers teeing off and residents, the danger is low, the WSDs said.

Further to their point, it’s unheard of for golfers to drink the creek water. The course itself, like the Murphy Creek neighborhood, is irrigated with clean City of Aurora water.

But scientists have also monitored 1,4 dioxane because it moves quickly in water. They believe that tracking the chemical could indicate other toxic waste following it.

As the state government’s lead researcher for the site, Pivonka has watched for the last 20 years and conducted more evidence about the leaking waste. In 2015, he co-authored a lengthy analysis to try and spur new fixes.

That paper mapped underground chemicals spreading down the Murphy Creek wash past East Jewell Avenue, below the edge of the Murphy Creek Golf Course and the community itself.

The paper estimated that 425.6 million gallons of contaminated water has leaked from the site in the plume, according to data from about a decade earlier. It’s a worrisome prospect for homes near the plume and on well water, such as the Raders’.

In the paper, Pivonka recommended that the EPA and the polluters try something new. The EPA recently heeded his suggestion that EPA stop injecting huge amounts of treated water north of the site.

Water was treated for various chemicals except for 1,4 dioxane, and pumped north of the site until the early 2000s. The WSDs then began treating water for 1,4 dioxane and injecting that north of the site until October 2018.

But while Pivonka and others conduct their own studies, the EPA and polluters have relied on separate studies and often come to separate conclusions. The debate over how and when the pollution has spread is rooted in a parallel universe of research at the EPA.

That agency’s conclusions, however, are often based on research commissioned by the WSDs.

The WSDs told Sentinel Colorado that, based on their information and EPA conclusions, the plan for containing the waste is currently protecting the public.

Karen Crummy of public relations firm BluePrint Strategies responded to Sentinel Colorado as the WSD spokeswoman. Crummy is routinely a spokesperson for oil and gas industry political causes.

The group believes the plume exists but is shrinking, pointing to data from a commissioned 2018 study indicating decreases in 1,4 dioxane levels at various locations north of the site.

Dave Wilmoth, a City and County of Denver official and environmental engineer, recently toured the site. He is a site expert representing Denver in the WSD group…

Wilmoth said the plan in place is working effectively. The contamination north of the site is little more than trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane, he said, blaming the outdated practice of dumping water contaminated with the stuff beyond the site’s northern barrier wall.

“No regulations,” he said of 1,4 dioxane. “No one knew.”

But that was almost two decades ago.

EPA spokesperson Rich Mylott said the containment plan is “working effectively to prevent off-site exposure to contaminants.”

However, the EPA is not sure that shallow and deep groundwater is safe from contamination, and directed the WSDs to commission their own studies of possible contamination. Two years ago, the agency declined to say in a multi-year study and report whether the site was adequately protecting the public.

The possible contamination of aquifers is a huge concern for Pivonka and Rader.

Two aquifers, the Denver and Dawson, overlap just north of the site where the plume is contaminating surface waters. The Dawson formation lies above the Denver, a 3,000-square mile table of water, separated by a leaky barrier of earth.

Both are important sources of drinking water for the dry Front Range. Serious contamination would threaten a key resource that scientists believe will become more scarce in the decades to come.

The EPA also acknowledges the existence of the surface water plume in the review but said the WSDs need to conduct more studies before it creates a plan.

In the years since, the polluters’ group has been doing just that. They say they are working to get the additional data EPA needs to again find the site remedy “effective and protective.”

The WSDs said it could also consider new solutions, such as drilling new monitoring wells — in addition to the 500 that already exist — changing how they monitor the groundwater, and studying the impact of injecting water north of the site.

The prospect of polluters running their own studies for the EPA worries Bonnie Rader, who is now chairing the site Community Advisory Group.

The group has long received funds from the EPA to hire out its own, independent contractors to study the pollution.

She doesn’t trust the polluters nor the EPA to reach their own conclusions.

The CAG consultant, McGinnis and Associates, reviewed a polluter-funded study of the site in 2013. Rader sent the review to a lead scientist at the EPA, who analyzed the study line-by-line, finding inaccuracies and omissions. The errors include misrepresenting levels of 1,4 dioxane in test wells.

McGinnis also believes the plume is growing, not shrinking.

It’s emblematic of an information gap that strains relationships between the various consultants and agencies.

Different studies come to different conclusions, frustrating all parties involved. Technical disagreements can turn sharky in tone.

Generally, the EPA and polluters believe they should stay the course, while CDPHE and the citizen-hired McGinnis and Associates think more should be done to contain and clean up the waste.

The EPA and polluters can press ahead with their own plans, but area residents and their consultants are extremely concerned about the leaking waste and continue to pressure them.

In the 2017 review, EPA staffers conducted interviews with locals. “All private citizens interviewed are concerned about groundwater contamination and the use of private residential wells,” the report says.

The gulf between the parties has also widened because of little trust and bad communication.

Four years after his paper’s findings, Pivonka said the EPA and polluters “have not been receptive to the recommendations, and continue the same approach to the site.”

Rader is disillusioned with the WSDs and their studies. She said she’s been hearing the same old reassurances for the last 30 years while the waste spreads north, closer to her home.

The polluters’ trust disagrees with the notion that they have not listened to residents, Crummy said. She said WSD representatives regularly attend meetings with locals.

The mass of evidence, varying conclusions and convictions on all sides leaves residents with vague concerns at best but nightmares at worse about the situation actually harming people…

…the mere possibility of pollution has encouraged new, suburban residents to forge an alliance with Rader and other environmental crusaders. While a subdivision lies close to the spreading plume, they are vehemently opposed to a new plan to house thousands of new residents on its doorstep, for reasons of their own…

The Superfund site and its leaking waste was not news to [Nicole] Johnston, who represents the eastern frontier region of the city. She actually became involved in the CAG herself before running for city council, and was interviewed in the EPA’s 2017 review study that downgraded the protectiveness of the site.

She said that 1,4 dioxane may not even be her biggest concern, compared to other chemicals dumped in the Superfund site.

“They put some really, really bad things in there,” she said. “Those other, really bad chemicals could be right behind it.”

Johnston met with Rep. Jason Crow that April afternoon when he visited the plume.

She said that, although the plume concerns her very much, the possibility of two injection wells about five miles from the site could dramatically change the area’s geology.

The wells, proposed by Wyoming- and Denver-based Expedition Water Solutions, would flush mostly saltwater and other by-products from oil and gas extraction more than 10,000 feet below the surface.

Injection wells are known to cause earthquakes in some circumstances, according to the United States Geological Survey.

But the science that the Superfund site geology could be disrupted is far from certain.

Zach Neal, a spokesperson for EWS, said the proposed location was the only possible place for the injection wells because of county zoning restrictions.

He added that the wells would be safely built and regulated. EWS would inject the waste far deeper below the surface than the Denver and Dawson aquifers.

Arapahoe County officials told Sentinel Colorado that staff are still reviewing the applications, and the state government agency charged with reviewing proposals has not taken action since EWS filed its paperwork in February.

Arapahoe County Commissioner Jeff Baker represents the Superfund site area and the residents that live in the unincorporated county. He said he’s also worried about the injection well permits and will be scrutinizing them, he said.

But Baker said he is also open to considering whether the solution to keeping residents safe from the Lowry Landfill should still be trying to contain the waste. He’s open to discussing a plan to clean up the waste, once and for all.

It’s an idea that Bonnie Rader has clamored for during the last 50 years.

How to be smarter with your water — The Highland Ranch Herald

From The Highlands Ranch Herald (Alex DeWind):

Centennial Water has been serving Highlands Ranch for more than three decades, with 90% of water coming from renewable river supplies, according to its website.

The local water district advocates for water efficiency throughout the year, but specifically collaborates with the Irrigation Association during July, Colorado’s warmest month.

Leading by example

Centennial Water follows a number of practices to ensure the community’s water supply is used wisely.

Those practices include utilizing high-efficiency rotary nozzles, which use 20% to 30% less water than traditional nozzles by slowly delivering multiple rotating streams instead of a fixed stream.

The water district also promotes a process called cycle and soak, which applies water in three, shorter cycles, allowing the water to seep into the soil, “promoting healthier plants and landscape and eliminating water runoff.”

Soil in Highlands Ranch has high clay content, meaning its water capacity is reached very quickly, sometimes as fast as five minutes, according to Thomas Riggle, Centennial Water’s water conservation and efficiency coordinator.

“Once soil reaches its water capacity, it can no longer hold water, which results in runoff,” Riggle said in the release. “Therefore watering for multiple, shorter periods of time is more effective and promotes healthier plants and soil.”

Centennial Water strives to educate community members on the history of water in Highlands Ranch and how to implement best water conservation practices. Schools, businesses and organizations can request a visit from a water ambassador or Centennial Water staff member at http://centennialwater.org/water-conservation/education-opportunities. The water expert will go over local water challenges and solutions.

Incentives

Centennial Water offers a number of incentive programs that reward residents for their water conservation efforts.

Piloted in 2018, the turf replacement program offers a rebate of $1 per square foot —with a $1,000 maximum — to residents who replace water-intensive plants, such as Kentucky Bluegrass, with xeric or drought-tolerant vegetation, such as bee balm, aster, coneflower, sunflower and marigold. Replacement with artificial turf or hardscape may be accepted but require further approval, according to Centennial Water.

Another program piloted in 2018 is the high-efficiency nozzle retrofit program. Residents may receive $1 for each traditional, fixed spray nozzle they replace with a rotary nozzle, which fits on most popup sprinkler heads.

To apply for an incentive program, visit http://centennialwater.org/water-conservation/incentive-programs. Staff members evaluate the programs to ensure cost effectiveness for all parties involved.

El Paso County water master plan warns about Denver Basin Aquifer depletions

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

Click here to go to the El Paso County website for the project.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

The document says the county’s current water supply is about 146,000 acre-feet per year, but demand is expected to increase to about 160,000 acre-feet per year by 2040 and 206,000 acre-feet per year by 2060…

The plan, prepared by Englewood-based engineering firm Forsgren Associates Inc., makes a variety of recommendations for closing the gap, including monitoring groundwater well levels, exploring ways to reuse water, finding new water sources and considering changes to the county’s land use approval process.

The county is home to more than 21,300 permitted groundwater wells and roughly 70 water providers, from small districts to municipal departments, according to the plan.

Water providers in once rural parts of the county, such as Monument, face mounting concerns about how to ensure that residents have enough water as the population continues to rise.

The primary water source for areas that are not served by Colorado Springs Utilities is the Denver Basin. Experts say it’s hard to pinpoint the rate at which water levels are falling in the system of aquifers, which were filled by precipitation over many years.

By 2060, the county’s current annual supply would be enough to serve a little more than half of the projected population, according to the plan. More residents could potentially be served by Denver Basin groundwater, but only if it’s still economical to pump, the plan states.

Per state law, county commissioners generally decide if there’s sufficient water to serve a new development during final platting, the stage of the land use approval process in which lots are created, said Mark Gebhart, deputy director of the county Planning and Community Development Department.

But the plan suggests that the county consider changing its rules so that determination can be made earlier, such as when a preliminary plan or zoning change is approved, to help ensure that new developments are planned with water supply in mind.

The plan also recommends that the county re-evaluate a subdivision regulation that requires developers to prove that they have a 300 years’ supply of water. The requirement, three times as stringent as a state standard that requires proof of 100 years’ supply, could be waived if developers agree to conservation-minded practices, such as reuse of captured wastewater to offset demands, the plan suggests…

The plan also advises that the county encourage water providers to find more reliable water sources that are replenished regularly by precipitation, rather than deep groundwater sources that are slow to recharge. One possibility might be importing water from the Arkansas River, the plan states.

A WISE Approach to Water Reuse: Q&A with Lisa Darling — @WaterEdCo

WISE Project map via Denver Water

Click here to go to Water Education Colorado (Rachel Champion) and read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

Lisa Darling, Water Education Colorado’s trusted board president, has years of experience working with water reuse—we sat down with her to learn more. Lisa works as executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority (SMWSA), an organization that formed in 2004 when rapidly-growing south metro communities reliant on declining non-renewable groundwater realized they had to shift their water portfolios if they were to be sustainable. Now SMWSA relies on the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership (WISE) between Denver Water, Aurora Water, and 13 SMWSA members, reusing water from Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project—which Lisa worked on for Aurora before moving to SMWSA in 2017. An excerpt of the interview is available in the fall 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine, but you can follow along with the full interview here!

WISE water arrives in Castle Rock; join the celebration June 8 — @crgov

WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority

Here’s the release from the Town of Castle Rock:

For years, Castle Rock Water has made providing long term, renewable water a priority. Now, a major milestone has been reached and the first drops of WISE water are headed to Town. Join the celebration to help commemorate this accomplishment and take a look at what’s coming up next for water in Castle Rock.

The fun-filled family celebration will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 8. Bring the kids, sunscreen and a great attitude to Gemstone Park, 6148 Sapphire Pointe Blvd., to join the festivities and celebrate the WISE water partnership.

After stakeholders officially cut the ribbon, the community is invited for a festival full of games, food trucks, bump soccer, bounce houses, a foam party, giant bubbles, water colors and more. Plus, get a chance to meet the Most Hydrated Man in Castle Rock.

Learn more about the celebration at http://CRgov.com/WISEWater.

The celebration will help mark more than 9 years of planning and $50 million in infrastructure to help ensure the community’s strong water future. When the WISE partnership was created, many communities in Colorado were faced with a drought. With limited, non-renewable resources, communities knew they needed to come up with a plan. Regional water providers saw the opportunity to partner in a solution and share in the expense to buy, transport and treat renewable water.

The WISE partnership is an arrangement between Denver Water, Aurora Water and 10 other south metro water providers to import renewable water. Castle Rock is the southernmost community partner.

Castle Rock Water finished the last piece of infrastructure – connecting a pipeline from Outter Marker Road to Ray Waterman Treatment Plant – in late 2017. The first drops of imported WISE water came to Town in late April.

Follow the entire journey for WISE water with the Most Hydrated Man at http://CRgov.com/WISEWater.

@CSUtilities may offer water to outlying communities in El Paso County

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Should the city be a good neighbor and share its water with those who don’t live within its boundaries?

Yes, says the Colorado Springs Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, which after a year of study has formed draft recommendations that call for removing barriers for bedroom communities to hook up to city water and wastewater systems. The recommendations — due for delivery to the Utilities Board, composed of City Council members, on March 21 — would lower the cost of hookups by up to 26 percent while opening the door to long-term agreements.

So what’s in it for city ratepayers? Plenty, according to Dave Grossman, Utilities strategic planning and government supervisor. New sales could help pay off debt for the $825 million Southern Delivery System (SDS) pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, erase headlines that give the city a bad name and help outside water providers’ groundwater supplies last longer…

Still, the move raises a lot of questions. Why should city ratepayers share their resources with those who chose to live outside city limits, didn’t pay the costs of major Utilities projects and don’t pay city property taxes? Why allow outsiders to become dependent on city water, when the city will likely need that water for its own population in the future? And, at a time when the city is trying to attract more development within city limits, why give away one of the city’s best bargaining chips?

[…]

Until 2010, the city didn’t sell water outside its limits. The policy changed to accommodate sales for three years or less to districts that experienced water shortages or other problems. But they paid 150 percent of city customer charges. There are 11 water districts, six water and wastewater districts and four wastewater districts in El Paso County. Not all would necessarily want to buy city services, but some would.

Many rely largely on groundwater from the Denver Basin, which is rapidly depleting. Despite state and county measures to assure supplies last, the water table continues to drop.

Utilities has had outside deals with Cherokee Metropolitan District east of Powers Boulevard and Donala Water & Sanitation District east of the Air Force Academy. Cherokee needed water temporarily after court decisions prevented its use of some wells, while Donala uses the city’s pipes to convey water it obtained from Pueblo Board of Water Works.

Water districts form such a patchwork that Sean Chambers, who’s worked for several districts and now runs Chambers Econ & Analytics, has teamed with Peak Spatial Enterprises to create an online tool to compile district information in seven counties from Denver to Pueblo. Funded in part by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, it will feature maps, water rates, sources, conservation practices, water quality reports, consumption and the like, listed by address, for use by the public and the real estate industry.

But what if those districts had access to Springs Utilities’ supply? The city’s roughly 140,000 water customers use about 40 million gallons a day during the winter and more than 100 million gallons a day in the summer, Grossman says. If pressed, the city could provide well over that amount short term, he says.

Besides completing SDS in 2016, which increased the city’s water supply by a third, the city’s abundant supply is linked to conservation measures taken since 2001 that reduced per-person consumption from 130 gallons a day to 82. The city’s system also has capacity; the Bailey Water Treatment Plant, part of SDS, runs at about 10 percent capacity.

As for wastewater, the city has plenty of capacity, Grossman reports, for the next 30-plus years.

More than a year ago, Utilities began looking into whether extending service could benefit everyone. For one thing, the Advisory Committee found, water issues anywhere in the Pikes Peak region impact the city’s reputation and the region’s economy.

For example, in 2016, it was found that groundwater wells had been contaminated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) from firefighting foam at Peterson Air Force Base. The chemicals fouled wells serving Fountain, Widefield/Security and other areas…

Under the committee’s recommendation, outside users would still pay more than city customers — 120 percent of the normal charge for water and 110 percent for wastewater. Currently, the city charges 150 percent for both…

Districts aren’t apt to buy their entire supplies from the city, however, Chambers says. That’s because their goal is conjunctive use — a combination of wells and surface water; if districts can buy water during wet years and pump from their wells in dry years, the aquifer gets a rest and a chance to recharge, he says.

That’s the concept behind WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency), a coalition of 12 entities, including Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority created after the 2002 drought.

Chambers notes that outside sales could help the city retire debt and fund maintenance and operations. Having attended most of the committee’s meetings, Chambers attests the city’s top goal is to serve existing customers. “Utilities has been very protective,” he says, “saying regionalization will not happen unless it’s a benefit to the citizen owners and ratepayers.”

For example, Grossman notes the committee wants to include options for conveying and treating water, but that no outside contracts would be executed if they’d erode the city’s targeted storage benchmarks.

Elbert County growth fueled by sweet spot in the Denver Basin Aquifer system

Denver Basin aquifer map

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Water watchers concerned

There’s also worry about how much water the development would need, and whether that water will truly stay in Elbert County.

The county is in what some residents call a “sweet spot.” There are four major aquifers under the county: Dawson, Denver, Fox Hills and Arapahoe. No other county on the Front Range sits on all four. The Denver Basin, which includes the four aquifers, is the major water supply for the south metro Denver area, and reaches all the way to Colorado Springs to the south and Greeley to the north.

Virtually all of the water providers in the south metro area are looking for ways to save the rapidly diminishing water in the Denver Basin aquifers, which do not respect county lines. That’s meant millions of dollars spent to find other water sources.

And Colorado history is replete with examples of water rights in rural eastern plains counties or those surrounding towns being sold to urban interests, which adds to the wariness of Elbert residents.

Elbert County plans to tap the aquifer to satisfy its projected growth. Last year, a company hired by the county conducted a rural water supply study that would project water demands for the Independence project and another near Kiowa, the county seat, up to 2035 and 2050. Will Koger of Forsgren Associates told those gathered at a community forum that the two developments would require about 9,000 acre-feet per year by 2050, or about 3.2 billion gallons per year.

There are alternatives available, too, Koger said, noting that agricultural land that is developed for residential use will also provide water and the water rights that go with it to satisfy those developments.

That didn’t sit well with some of those at the forum, who pointed out that tapping the aquifer means pumping nonrenewable groundwater, and that could affect wells, the primary source of water for just about everyone in Elbert County.

The county has little in the way of options, with little surface water available from streams or rivers, according to an April 2017 presentation from the state Division of Water Resources.

But the demand for aquifer water is low compared to the available supply, Koger told the audience, and the developments would tap less than 1 percent of what’s available.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Independence project question whether the issue of water is about the development or if it’s about selling water to next door Douglas County. They point to a map included in the Forsgren presentation that they said shows a proposed one-way pipeline that goes from the Independence site to Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Douglas County.

The development schematics includes a proposal for six special districts that would manage the water, which strikes Richard Brown and other concerned residents as odd. The six districts, according to a water and sanitation proposal developed for the county, would be contained within a small section of the development that would not include any homes. One district is an “overlay” that would control the rest.

The developer, Craft Companies, and its owner and board would be the only voters in those districts, according to the water and sanitation proposal.