Lower Ark district joins federal lawsuit against #Colorado Springs — @ChieftainNews

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has joined a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs for not controlling stormwater flooding and discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

The lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in Denver by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment.

Essentially, the suit argues that Colorado Springs has continued to violate federal clean water standards with discharges into Fountain Creek that sometimes contain high levels of E. coli bacteria and fecal coliform.

The lack of stormwater controls isn’t in question. Colorado Springs officials have negotiated a deal with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on flood control.

When the lawsuit was filed, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers complained that any money the city spends fighting lawsuits over stormwater flooding would be better spent on fixing the problems.

But the Lower Arkansas board decided last month that too little has been done. Its lawyers urged the board to join the lawsuit to make certain the district participates in any negotiated settlement with Colorado Springs over flooding problems on Fountain Creek.

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

#AnimasRiver: Justice Dept. to look at #GoldKingMine spill lawsuit — Albuquerque Journal

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From the Associated Press (Dan Boyd) via The Albuquerque Journal:

New Mexico’s lawsuit against neighboring Colorado over the fallout of a massive mine spill could be affected by the pending presidential transition, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked the federal Department of Justice to weigh in on the case…

Top-ranking state officials indicated Monday that they are taking a wait-and-see approach to the request for the federal government’s legal opinion – even if that means a drawn-out court saga.

“We will be interested to read the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General’s opinion of our lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court against the state of Colorado,” state Environment Secretary-designate Butch Tongate said in a statement.

New Mexico’s lawsuit, filed in June, contends Colorado was too lax in its oversight of water contaminated by decades of mining and should be held responsible for the fallout of the 2015 Gold King mine spill. It was filed by Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office and outside attorneys hired by the Environment Department…

In addition to the lawsuit against Colorado, New Mexico has also filed a lawsuit in federal court against the EPA and the owners of a mine adjacent to the Gold King Mine. That lawsuit seeks more than $136 million in damages, which would be used to pay for economic losses the state attributes to the mine spill, specifically in the tourism, recreation and agriculture sectors.

The U.S. Supreme Court…handles cases that involve one state suing another. And it’s common for the nation’s highest court to ask the solicitor general, a top attorney within the Justice Department, to weigh in on such cases by filing official court briefs. The briefs lay out the federal government’s views on the case, including its merits.

#AnimasRiver monitoring results available at meeting — Farmington Daily Times #GoldKingMine

The Animas River at the Colorado- New Mexico state line, August 7, 2015. Photo courtesy Melissa May.

From The Farmington Daily Times:

New Mexico Environment Department Chief Scientist Dennis McQuillan will present an update Monday on the department’s monitoring efforts on the Animas River following last year’s Gold King Mine spill, according to an NMED press release.

In August 2015, crews working for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency triggered a blowout at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo. The blowout caused millions of gallons of water laden with toxic mine waste to flow down Cement Creek into the Animas River and eventually the San Juan River.

Following the spill, NMED formed a Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee. The committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the San Juan College Student Center, 4601 College Blvd. Meetings are open to the public.

For more information, go to http://nmedRiverWaterSafety.org.

#AnimasRiver: @EPA wants to keep [#GoldKingMine] treatment plant running — Farmington Daily Times

The Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary water-treatment facility at Gold King Mine, October 2015,  via Steve Lewis/The Durango Herald.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary water-treatment facility at Gold King Mine, October 2015, via Steve Lewis/The Durango Herald.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Farmington Daily Times:

A final decision will be made next month, the EPA said. The agency announced its intentions last week.

The plant began operating in October 2015, and the agency said at the time it would run at least through the end of this month and possibly longer…

The EPA is looking at long-term solutions for the Gold King and 47 other nearby mining sites, which send millions of gallons of acidic wastewater to creeks and rivers every year. The area was designated a Superfund site in September, clearing the way for a multimillion-dollar federal cleanup expected to take years.

The temporary treatment plant cost $2.9 million. The original plant cost $1.8 million, and the EPA later expanded it for $1.1 million more.

It is being run for slightly less than expected. The EPA initially said it would cost $20,000 a week to run, but the agency said Tuesday the cost is about $16,000 a week.

Cleanup so far has cost about $29 million, the EPA said. That money has gone toward work and reimbursements and aid to state and local governments affected by the Gold King spill.

The temporary treatment plant could be in operation for at least two years while the EPA investigates the area and evaluates long-term options, the agency said.

On April 7,  2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

Widefield Water and Sanitation stops use of contaminated aquifer water — The #Colorado Springs Gazette

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The Widefield Water and Sanitation District became the last major water system to stop using well water from the tainted aquifer, according to the district’s water manager, Brandon Bernard.

As of Nov. 10, all of the district’s customers receive cleaner surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir.

“We’re looking forward to moving forward without having to worry about PFCs,” said Bernard, using an acronym for the toxic chemicals.

The announcement ends one chapter of a water crisis that sent thousands of residents scrambling for bottled water…

The contamination has spawned two class-action lawsuits against companies that manufactured the foam. The Air Force, which found the chemical harmful to laboratory animals as early as the 1970s, also is studying its role in the contamination by drilling several test wells around Peterson Air Force Base…

For months, local water officials raced to limit residents’ exposure to the chemicals, which remain unregulated by the EPA.

Fountain officials shut off their wells in fall 2015 – relying instead on cleaner water from the Pueblo Reservoir. But other water districts couldn’t meet customers’ demands this past summer without using contaminated well water.

Security Water and Sanitation Districts weaned itself from the aquifer in September.

Officials for all three water districts are optimistic that customers will no longer receive contaminated water from the aquifer, unless its cleansed of the toxic chemicals.

Officials in Security and Fountain have previously voiced plans to build treatment plants to filter the fouled water. Water rates there could rise to help finance those projects.

Widefield officials, however, are conducting two test projects to determine whether ion exchange or granular activated carbon filters best remove the chemicals, Bernard said.

Widefield’s test projects, which began in October, are expected to last six months, he said.

The district also is planning a $1 million project to install a pipe under Interstate 25 capable of bringing in more water from the Pueblo Reservoir. Widefield has several thousand acre feet of water stored at the Pueblo Reservoir, and officials there are no longer concerned about running out of water rights this year.

District leaders also plan to meet with Air Force officials on Thursday to coordinate how the military can help filter water. In July, the Air Force vowed to spend $4.3 million to supply bottled water and well water filters for the affected communities.

Unlike other water districts, Widefield is not planning to raise rates in 2017 to pay for the water projects, Bernard said. Rather, they will be paid for using reserve funding.

Customers are only likely to pay for operations costs once a treatment plant is built, he said.

“It’s nice just to not have to worry about our customers being concerned,” Bernard said. “And now we can just move forward with fixing the problem.”

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

#AnimasRiver: @EPA updates Silverton on cleanup — @DurangoHerald

Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best
Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

This time last year, the Environmental Protection Agency, having breached the portal of the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015, was still the target of public lashing for the release of 3 million gallons of mine wastewater into the Animas River.

Yet nearly a year ago to the day, officials from Durango, La Plata County, Silverton and San Juan County were on a tour of Superfund sites around Colorado – an event many note as the turning point in the conversations surrounding listing the mines around Silverton as a Superfund site.

And on Monday, at an EPA-hosted public hearing to update the community of Silverton on the workings of the Superfund site, local officials noted the complete 180-degree turn on the tone of conversations.

“After working with this group, it’s been beneficial,” said San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman, who historically opposed to a Superfund listing. “We’ve learned a lot from it. They are working with us, and we appreciate having a seat at the table.”

San Juan County Administrator Willy Tookey, too, heaped praise on the EPA for reimbursing the more than $349,000 the county spent in response to the spill, as well as contributing to the local economy.

Tookey said the EPA has populated local hotels and restaurants, as well as hired local firms whenever possible. He estimated EPA crews, as well as other federal agencies, spent a total of 775 nights in Silverton hotels.

“So far, it’s been a pleasant experience,” Tookey said. “Its been a real pleasure to work with the folks from the EPA.”

For most of the two hour-plus meeting, EPA officials listed numerous actions taken over the summer in the Animas watershed, as it addresses 48 mining sites contributing to degraded water quality.

EPA officials, in partnership with multiple agencies, said they completed an extensive evaluation of the Animas River Basin, information they will take into the winter months to draft a more complete plan for cleanup.

Other tasks taken over the summer included minor work at the Brooklyn Mine and installation of two meteorological stations, a precipitation gauge and a full weather station around the Superfund site.

The EPA and Bureau of Land Management also installed four groundwater wells at the Kittimack tailings between Howardsville and Eureka to establish the depth of the water table and define groundwater flows.

And the EPA’s Rebecca Thomas said the agency will consider future expansion of the temporary water-treatment plant to treat mine waste from adjacent mines of the Gold King, namely the Red & Bonita, Mogul and American Tunnel.

“(It being so close) we owe it to ourselves to evaluate treating that water,” Thomas said.

In addition, lesser-known actions were discussed: testing to see if dust kicked up from ATVs could potentially be harmful to human health, or if plants in the basin, used by Native American tribes for medicinal purposes, could have adverse health impacts.

Thomas said an estimated 4 million gallons of mine waste discharge into the Animas watershed every day, and the agency will prioritize the major contributors, as well as look for lower hanging fruit for cleanup actions.

“It is going to be a long-term project,” Thomas said. “We are going to be here for years and years.”

@EPA sues the Springs — #Colorado Springs Independent

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Not surprisingly, the federal government sued the city of Colorado Springs on Nov. 9 over the city’s repeated violations of the Clean Water Act and the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. The allegations arise from the city’s failure to deal with drainage and failure to comply with its permit to discharge stormwater into the municipal storm sewer system, which ultimately flows into the Arkansas River.

The suit comes despite Mayor John Suthers orchestrating a deal with Pueblo County earlier this year to fix the city’s storm drainage system, costing taxpayers and Colorado Springs Utilities ratepayers $460 million in the next 20 years.

Suthers took office in June 2015, following years of violations in controlling stormwater. Suthers lamented to other media the City Council’s move to abolish the city’s Stormwater Enterprise in 2009. But Council did so after voters approved Issue 300 that fall, which aimed to dismantle the enterprise. (At the time, the city attorney’s office felt the language in Issue 300 failed to force the shutdown of the enterprise, but City Council defunded it anyway, citing voter intent.)

The EPA, however, cites the city’s soft treatment of developers — along with its lack of a stormwater program — for the violations. In early 2013, the EPA issued a scathing report outlining violations and followed up in August 2015 with an equally critical report.

Specifically, the lawsuit notes the city backed off of requiring detention ponds and other flood-control measures in Cottonwood Creek that would have cost $11.4 million, and instead reduced developers’ fees. But that violates the city’s discharge permit, the lawsuit states. It also notes drainage violations at First & Main adjacent to Powers Boulevard and Flying Horse Pond Filing 26 on the city’s far north side. In addition, the city allowed seven residential developments to be built without requiring stormwater controls, in violation of its discharge permit and its own requirements, the lawsuit says. Moreover, the city didn’t enforce its rules when developers violated the city’s stormwater requirements, according to the suit.

“Unless enjoined, the city’s violations will continue,” the lawsuit states, noting it is seeking unspecified civil penalties.

“On Wednesday, the city was served with a broad and unspecific filing from the EPA, citing Colorado Springs for deficiencies in its stormwater system since the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise in 2009,” Suthers said in a statement. “While we recognize that stormwater was underfunded during that time, this was extremely frustrating, considering the commitment the mayor and city council have already made to massive stormwater improvements over the next 20 years.”

Suthers also noted it makes more sense to use city money to fix the problem than pay to litigate the lawsuit or remit fines. “We will ask the federal judge to look at our efforts and our commitments toward real progress and hope that a more constructive resolution can be reached,” he said.