We have just received word that the federal government and the owner of the Sunnyside Mine have agreed to pay a total of $90 million to settle claims relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout. The proposed consent decree will be posted in the Federal Register and opened to public comment for 30 days prior to being finalized.
That consent decree will “resolve all claims, cross-claims, and counterclaims between the United States and Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold Corporation (the “Mining Defendants”) in this multidistrict litigation,” according to the U.S. District Court of New Mexico filing.
The Land Desk will have more details—along with a wonkfest explaining why Sunnyside is even involved with an incident that occurred at a mine it doesn’t own—next week.
The settlement by the numbers:
Amount Sunnyside Gold Corp., a subsidiary of Canada-based Kinross Gold, will pay to the federal government under the settlement, all of which will be used to finance cleanup relating to the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.
Amount Sunnyside Gold will pay to the Colorado Dept. of Health and Environment.
Amount the U.S. government, on behalf of federal settling agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service—will pay to “appropriate federal accounts” under the settlement.
The Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Department, Department of the Interior, Department Agriculture and state of Colorado announced Friday they have reached a settlement with Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent company Kinross Gold Corp. to fund remediation in the Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton.
In the case of an old-fashioned standoff, the federal government will drop its claims against Sunnyside Gold Corp. and Canadian mining company Kinross Gold Corp. and the two companies will drop their claims against the federal government after the settlement.
Sunnyside Gold Corp. will pay $40.95 million to the federal government and the EPA and another $4.05 million to Colorado, while the United States will contribute $45 million to the cleanup of mining contamination in the area…
The agreement marks the end of Sunnyside Gold Corp.’s remediation work in the Bonita Peak Mining District. The EPA previously ordered the company to undertake a costly investigation of groundwater in the area in March 2018.
The state of Colorado has also released Sunnyside from its reclamation permit obligations, which require the company to clean up its past mining operations and meet the conditions of a reclamation plan approved by the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, a branch of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
In addition, the settlement limits the future liability of both Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent company…
The settlement was made as a matter of practicality with no admission of wrongdoing or liability, Myers said in an email to The Durango Herald.
Myers noted the federal government’s matching $45 million was a result of the federal government’s own liability for the Gold King Mine spill and damage to the surrounding area…
The Colorado and the federal governments have argued that Sunnyside Gold Corp. is partly at fault and responsible for funding remediation in the Bonita Peak Mining District after placing bulkheads in the 1990s to prevent the drainage of contaminated water.
In legal filings, the state has said the bulkheads backed up waste in surrounding mines, including the Gold King Mine, which was released when EPA contractors accidentally caused a blowout…
The EPA has already spent more than $75 million to remediate the site.
The Bonita Peak Mining District Community Advisory Group is working to define water-quality targets and other environmental standards that will need to be met for the area to be considered decontaminated. Those targets will help guide the work of the EPA…
[Ty Churchwell] said a full cleanup of the site will likely take at least another decade. He pointed to similar Superfund sites near Leadville and Idaho Springs that each took about two decades.
The settlement is a step in that direction.
FromThe Associated Press (James Anderson) via The Colorado Sun:
The agreement must be approved by the U.S. District Court in the District of New Mexico after a 30-day public comment period…
An EPA-led contractor crew was doing excavation work at the entrance to the Gold King Mine, another site in the district not owned by Sunnyside, in August 2015 when it inadvertently breached a debris pile that was holding back wastewater inside the mine.
An estimated 3 million gallons of wastewater poured out, carrying nearly 540 U.S. tons of metals, mostly iron and aluminum. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted…
Monies will be used for water and soil sampling and to build more waste repositories. The EPA said in a statement Friday it has spent more than $75 million on cleanup work “and expects to continue significant work at the site in the coming years.”
The proposed consent decree follows Sunnyside settlements with New Mexico and the Navajo Nation earlier this year. Sunnyside admits no fault in the agreement.
Greeley Water and Sewer customers can expect about 10% rate increases starting this month, as the department funds more than $200 million in investments over the next several years.
The Greeley Water and Sewer Board recently approved the new rates in a unanimous vote, according to a city news release. On average, residents can expect a utility rate increase of about $10 a month, or about 9.8%.
The increases take effect this month, but residents may not see the changes until their February utility bills.
The increases break down as follows, according to the release:
Water: An average increase of $4.16 per month will help cover the city’s participation in a new water storage reservoir to provide enough water for more than 4,500 new residents.
Sewer: An increase of $4.22 per month will cover the cost of state- and federally mandated sanitary sewer upgrades. The mandates reduce the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous allowed in the city’s treated wastewater discharge to reduce algae growth.
Stormwater: An increase of $1.54 per month will help the city resolve downtown flooding issues. The city will upgrade its storm drainage to handle large rain events, such as the one in July that damaged businesses and homes.
In the release, Harold Evans, chairman of the water and sewer board, cited the regulatory changes and providing for the city’s rapidly growing population as drivers behind the rate increases.
The laboratories and other buildings that once housed a chemical manufacturer here in New Jersey’s most populous city have been demolished. More than 10,000 leaky drums and other containers once illegally stored here have long been removed. Its owner was convicted three decades ago.
Yet the groundwater beneath the 4.4-acre expanse once occupied by White Chemical Corp. in Newark remains contaminated, given a lack of federal funding…
But three decades after federal officials declared it one of America’s most toxic spots, it’s about to get a jolt. This plot in Newark is among more than four dozen toxic waste sites to get cleanup funding from the newly-enacted infrastructure law, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday, totaling $1 billion…
On that same day in November that Freeman looked out at the White Chemical site, President Biden signed legislation reviving a polluter’s tax that will inject a new stream of cash into the nation’s troubled Superfund program. The renewed excise fees, which disappeared more than 25 years ago, are expected to raise $14.5 billion in revenue over the next decade and could accelerate cleanups of many sites that are increasingly threatened by climate change.
The Superfund list includes more than 1,300 abandoned mines, radioactive landfills, shuttered military labs, closed factories and other contaminated areas across nearly all 50 states. They are the poisoned remnants of America’s emergence as a 20th-century industrial juggernaut.
The 49 sites receiving money from the infrastructure law include a neighborhood in Florida with soil contaminated from treating wooden telephone poles, a former copper mine in Maine laced with leftover metals, and an old steel manufacturer in southern New Jersey where parts of the Golden Gate Bridge were fabricated.
America’s toxic spots
Many of these sites are also in poor and minority communities, such as Newark, where most residents are African American. Biden has said easing the pollution burden that Black, Latino and Native Americans bear is central to his environmental policy.
No state boasts more Superfund sites than New Jersey. Some of them, such as the White Chemical site, have lingered on the agency’s “priorities list” for decades…
The law that established the Superfund program in 1980 gives the EPA the power to compel polluters to clean up their noxious messes. But many of these companies have gone out of business, or in some cases, it is hard to find the culprits. Congress taxed the chemical and oil industry to create a trust fund for these orphaned sites, but the taxes expired in 1995.
By the early 2000s, the trust fund was drained. The agency has grappled with a mounting list of costly and complex hazardous waste sites ever since…
The new bipartisan infrastructure law reestablishes fees on the sale of more than 40 chemicals often found in fuels, plastics and other products, ranging from 44 cents to $9.74 per ton depending on the compound.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other groups lobbied unsuccessfully to defeat the proposal…
Biden administration officials, however, said the tax revenue will provide a critical boost for underfunded projects. Carlton Waterhouse, Biden’s nominee to head the EPA’s land office, said that even after paying for projects that got no financial support last year, there will still be money left over…
To fully clean up the ground where White Chemical once stood, crews will have to inject a cocktail of chemicals underground to break down lingering volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethene, which is linked to neurological problems and several kinds of cancer. Right now, no building can be constructed over the contaminated aquifer without the risk of hazardous fumes accumulating indoors…
Until Friday, the EPA had to shelve the plan for nearly a decade because it cost $16.6 million. But with the tax reinstated and with Congress providing an additional $3.5 billion for the Superfund program, work in Newark and on dozens of other orphaned sites will begin “as soon as possible,” according to the agency.
Global warming gives these projects even greater urgency. The Frelinghuysen Avenue lot is one of more than 900 toxic waste sites facing ever-increasing risks from rising seas, fiercer wildfires and other disasters driven by climate change, according to a 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office.
Climate impacts could unleash hazardous waste at 60 percent of Superfund sites, mainly due to flooding. More than a dozen Superfund sites flooded after Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast in 2017. In Newark, even a Category 1 hurricane could damage the White Chemical site, the GAO said…
Reviving the chemical production fee is a step toward making the Superfund program operate as originally intended, with industry paying to clean up its messes even after companies go bankrupt. The tax will be up for renewal again in 2031.
Toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” in the ocean are transported from seawater to air when waves hit the beach and that phenomenon represents a significant source of air pollution, a new study from Stockholm University has found.
The findings, published in Environmental Science & Technology, also partly explain how PFAS get into the atmosphere and eventually precipitation. The study, which collected samples from two Norwegian sites, also concludes that the pollution “may impact large areas of inland Europe and other continents, in addition to coastal areas”.
“The results are fascinating but at the same time concerning,” said Bo Sha, a Stockholm University researcher and study co-author…
The study highlights the chemicals’ mobility once they’re released into the environment: PFAS don’t naturally break down, so they continuously move through the ground, water and air and their longevity in the environment has led them to be dubbed “forever chemicals”. They have been detected in all corners of the globe, from penguin eggs in Antarctica to polar bears in the Arctic.
The Stockholm research team collected aerosol samples between 2018 and 2020 from Andøya, an Arctic island, and Birkenes, a city in southern Norway. It found correlating levels of PFAS and sodium ions, which are markers of sea spray. The chemicals’ transfer occurs when air bubbles burst as waves crash, and the study found that PFAS can travel thousands of kilometers via sea spray in the atmosphere before the chemicals return to land.
Some regulators and the chemical industry have long claimed that dumping PFAS into the ocean is an appropriate disposal method because it dilutes the waste to a safe level. The study concluded that the approach isn’t safe because the chemicals are returned to land, which can pollute drinking water sources, among other issues.
“The common belief was that PFAS would eventually wash off into the oceans where they would stay to be diluted over the timescale of decades,” said Matthew Salter, a co-author of the study and researcher at Stockholm University. “But it turns out that there’s a boomerang effect, and some of the toxic PFAS are re-emitted to air, transported long distances and then deposited back onto land.”
A $1.6 million settlement agreement with Sunnyside Gold Corp. was approved by the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees to resolve the company’s liability for damaged natural resources at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site where the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout occurred.
Colorado Natural Resources Trustees include state Attorney General Phil Weiser, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Jill Hunsaker Ryan and the Executive Director of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Dan Gibbs.
The settlement will allow trustees to fund restoration projects in natural areas damaged by the spill and other releases of hazardous substances within the Superfund site.
Trustees will now begin to consult with regional stakeholders, including local governments and nonprofit groups, solicit proposals and allocate the money for environmental restoration and property acquisition projects.
“The settlement announced today is a step in the right direction to address the damage suffered in Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners region in the wake of the Gold King Mine disaster and other degradation of our natural resources,” Weiser said in a news release. “The trustees look forward to partnering with the local community on how to invest the funds.”
The work reflects the mandate of the trustees to take necessary actions to address when Colorado’s natural resources are injured or destroyed.
In an email to The Durango Herald, Gina Meyers, director of reclamation operations for Sunnyside Gold Corp., said the settlement agreement was reached as a matter of practicality, with no admission of liability or wrongdoing.
The settlement agreement resolves the trustees’ claims that Sunnyside caused or contributed to releases of acidic, metals-laden mine wastewater into the Upper Animas River watershed. Sunnyside operated the Sunnyside Mine from 1986 until 1991…
The settlement agreement will be filed with the U.S. District Court in Denver. Once filed with the court, the agreement will go through a 30-day public comment process.
After the close of the comment period, Sunnyside Gold Corp. and the trustees will present all comments received to the court. The court will ultimately decide whether to approve the settlement.
“The trustees look forward to infusing funds into the local economy through community endorsed reclamation projects that improve watersheds and address legacy mining impacts,” Gibbs said in a news release.
[December 3, 2021], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that 39 new projects are being invited to apply for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans and four projects are being added to a waitlist. The agency anticipates that, as funds become available, $6.7 billion in WIFIA loans will help finance over $15 billion in water infrastructure projects to protect public health and water quality across 24 states.
“Far too many communities still face significant water challenges, making these transformative investments in water infrastructure so crucial,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The WIFIA invited projects will deliver major benefits like the creation of good-paying jobs and the safeguarding of public health, especially in underserved and under-resourced communities. This program is a shining example of the public health and economic opportunities that will be achieved under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”
EPA’s WIFIA program will provide selected borrowers with innovative financing tools to address pressing public health and environmental challenges in their communities. Consistent with its announced priorities, the WIFIA program is making $1.2 billion in loans available to support infrastructure needs in historically underserved communities. Additionally, 14 projects will help protect infrastructure from the impacts of extreme weather events and the climate crisis. New and innovative approaches, including cybersecurity, green infrastructure, and water reuse, are included in 24 projects.
By diversifying its geographic reach and the types of selected borrowers, the WIFIA program will also expand the types of projects it supports. For the first time, entities in Connecticut, Delaware, and Hawaii are invited to apply. Three small communities, with populations of 25,000 or less, are selected for WIFIA loans totaling nearly $62 million. In addition, seven projects submitted by private borrowers and public-private partnerships totaling over $1.5 billion in WIFIA financing are included.
EPA is also inviting state agencies in Indiana and New Jersey to apply for a total of $472 million in WIFIA loans through EPA’s state infrastructure financing authority WIFIA (SWIFIA) program. EPA’s SWIFIA loans are available exclusively to state infrastructure financing authority borrowers, commonly known as State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs, and will allow these programs to finance more infrastructure projects in their states. These programs will combine state resources, annual capitalization grants, and the low-cost, flexible SWIFIA loans to accelerate investment in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to modernize aging systems and tackle new contaminants.
WIFIA Invited Projects:
Baltimore City Department of Public Works (Md.): $36 million for the Water Infrastructure Advancement 2021 project.
Charlotte Water (N.C.): $169 million for the Mallard Creek Sewer Basin Wastewater Collection and Treatment Improvements Program.
City of Ashland (Ore.): $36 million for a 7.0 Million Gallons per Day Water Treatment Plant.
City of Bellingham (Wash.): $136 million for the Post Point Resource Recovery Plant Biosolids Project.
City of Boise (Idaho): $272 million for Water Renewal Services Capital Investments Projects.
City of Chattanooga (Tenn.): $186 million for Wastewater Compliance and Sustainability Projects.
City of Cortland (N.Y.): $12 million for the Homer Avenue Gateway Project.
City of Memphis (Tenn.): $44 million for Stormwater Upgrades.
City of Oregon City (Ore.): $12 million for Water Rehabilitation, Resiliency and Improvement Projects.
City of Philadelphia (Pa.): $260 million for the Water Department 2021 project.
City of Port Washington (Wis.): $12 million for the Water Treatment Plant Improvement Project.
City of Santa Cruz (Calif.): $164 million for the Santa Cruz Water Program.
City of Westminster (Colo.): $130 million for the Water2025 project.
City of Wichita (Kan.): $181 million for the Wastewater Reclamation Facilities Biological Nutrient Removal Improvements Project.
County of Hawaii (Hawaii): $24 million for Hawaii Wastewater Treatment Upgrades.
EPCOR Foothills Water Project Inc. (Ore.): $76 million for the Lake Oswego Wastewater Treatment Replacement Project.
Fishers Island Water Works Corporation (N.Y.): $14 million for Water System Improvements.
Gainesville Regional Utilities (Fla.): $14 million for the Sanitary Sewer Replacement and Improvement Project.
Helix Water District (Calif.): $16 million for the Drinking Water Reliability Project.
King County (Wash.): $287 million Master Agreement.
Marin Municipal Water District (Calif.): $11 million for Marin Water.
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) (Mo.): $278 million for MSD Project Clear – Deer Creek Watershed / Lemay Service Area System Improvements.
Metro Water Services (Tenn.): $186 million for the Process Advancements at Omohundro and K.R. Harrington Water Treatment Plants Project.
Narragansett Bay Commission (R.I.): $28 million for Field’s Point Resiliency Improvements.
New Castle County (Del.): $32 million for the Christina River Force Main Rehabilitation Project.
Project 7 Water Authority (Colo.): $39 million for the Ridgway Water Treatment Plant.
Rialto Water Service LLC (Calif.): $68 million for Microgrid and System Improvements.
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (Calif.): $618 million for Wastewater Capital Plan Resilience Projects.
Santa Clara Valley Water District (Calif.): $575 million for the Pacheco Reservoir Expansion Project.
Santa Clara Valley Water District (Calif.): $80 million for the Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program.
Santa Margarita Water District (Calif.): $22 million for Recycled Water Conversion.
Sharyland Water Supply Corporation (Texas): $14 million for Sharyland Water Supply Corporation Water System Infrastructure Improvements.
South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (Conn.): $20 million for Lake Whitney Dam and Spillway Improvements.
Tualatin Valley Water District (Ore.): $16 million for the Water System Upgrades Program.
United Water Conservation District (Calif.): $52 million for the Santa Felicia Safety Improvement Project.
Upper Santa Ana River Watershed Infrastructure Financing Authority (Calif.): $177 million for the Watershed Connect project.
Village of New Lenox (Ill.): $70 million for Phase 1 Improvements projects.
American Infrastructure Holdings (S.D.): $20 million for the Sioux City Biosolids to Fertilizer Project.
Lake Restoration Solutions, LLC (Utah): $893 million for the Utah Lake Restoration Project.
Northern Water (Colo.): $464 million for the Northern Integrated Supply Project – Glade Reservoir Complex.
Southland Water Agency (Ill.): $479 million for the Southland Water Agency Infrastructure System.
Background on WIFIA
Established by the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014, the WIFIA program is a federal loan and guarantee program administered by EPA. WIFIA’s goal is to accelerate investment in the nation’s water infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental credit assistance for regionally and nationally significant projects.
This fall Colorado has launched two new programs, one aimed at removing firefighting foam containing so-called “forever chemicals” from fire departments, military bases and other properties and an emergency grant program aimed at helping communities where the chemicals have appeared in drinking water.
The chemicals, known broadly as PFAS or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances, have long lifespans and have been linked to certain cancers. Contained in such common substances as Teflon and Scotchguard, they are also widely used to fight fires, particularly those involving jet fuel.
“We’re learning more every day about PFAS and its exposure in our environment,” said Erin Garcia, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
The unregulated substances were once thought to be rare, but since at least 2015 have shown up at alarming levels in communities such as Fountain and Security, where groundwater was contaminated by runoff from the nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Those two communities were forced to shut down their water systems, find temporary substitute supplies, and build new treatment systems.
The chemicals have also been found in groundwater wells that serve Commerce City and in areas near the Suncor Refinery in Adams County and Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, among other sites.
Two years ago, as more testing revealed more contaminated sites, the CDPHE vowed to boost its oversight. Since then the Colorado Legislature has provided the health department with more authority and money to combat the problem, including conducting surveys to identify contaminated sites and drinking water systems, and providing as much as $8 million to buy contaminated firefighting foam and store it, and to help communities whose water has been tainted by the compounds.
Dozens of fire departments, military facilities, water utilities, and commercial properties as diverse as hotels and apartment complexes, are now monitoring and testing for the substances.
As Colorado has ramped up its oversight, last month the EPA announced it would begin work on a regulation that will, for the first time, set a limit on PFAS compounds in drinking water. It is set to be available for public review next fall and would be finalized by the fall of 2023.
Ron Falco, CDPHE’s safe drinking water program manager, said he’s pleased the EPA is moving to regulate PFAS, but he said fast action is critical.
“We want the EPA to hit that timeline,” he said.
The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, which serves Commerce City, is watching the state’s progress carefully. It discovered PFAS contamination in 2018 when it began testing voluntarily for the substances after the crises in Fountain and Security.
It already had in place a carbon filtering system and was able to strengthen it to reduce PFAS contamination in its system to 35 parts per trillion (ppt), half of the EPA’s voluntary 70 ppt guideline. It also had to shut down wells whose contamination levels were so high, 2400 ppt, that no amount of carbon filtering could remove the chemicals fast enough to keep the drinking water safe.
“The key here is that we can treat the current levels,” said Kipp Scott, manager of drinking systems at the South Adams County district, but better treatment will be needed once the federal regulation takes effect.
And that means the district will need to install a new system that uses an ion exchange technology to remove the chemicals. Its estimated cost is $70 million. Scott said the district hopes the state’s emergency grant fund and new federal infrastructure dollars will help cover the cost.
“I hope this moves in the right direction, and we can continue to provide safe water to our customers,” Scott said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:
Today [October 6, 2021], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $15.8 million in water infrastructure funding for projects that will improve access to safe drinking water for the Tuscarora Nation, the Navajo Nation, and the Alaska Native Village of Tununak. This funding, which will be placed into an interagency agreement between EPA and the Indian Health Service (IHS), will be used to boost public health protections by improving access to safe water for drinking, cooking, and hygiene.
“While most people have access to reliable and safe water, some communities lack this basic necessity—even today,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “With this grant funding, EPA will help build drinking water systems to improve water access and water quality for the Tuscarora and Navajo people and the residents of Tununak.”
EPA is awarding this grant funding to the Indian Health Service, which is prioritizing projects in three Tribal communities through interagency agreements:
The agreement will support the development of an interconnected water source to Tuscarora Nation, which currently relies on private well water from a highly contaminated ground water source or bulk water delivery. The agreement will prioritize $5.6 million in WIIN grant funding to improve water access.
The agreement will focus $3.8 million to support three well projects to benefit Navajo Nation. This funding will help address widespread public health concerns and water supply vulnerabilities by improving access to safe drinking water.
The agreement will provide over $6.4 to support the Alaskan Native Village of Tununak. The effort will improve water access and support the creation of a new public water system to benefit the community.
“Today’s grant is a step forward for the thousands of Navajo families who have waited too long for access to safe and reliable drinking water,” said U.S. Senator Mark Kelly. “In the Senate, I remain committed to ensuring that the water infrastructure needs of Arizona’s tribal communities are addressed.”
“Access to clean drinking water has been and continues to be a challenge for Native American communities across the country. On Navajo Nation, the Diné people—myself included—have struggled to haul water from livestock wells to their homes for cooking, bathing, and so forth,” said Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency Executive Director Valinda Shirley. “This $3.8 million investment in access to clean water will transform the lives of many families across Navajo Nation.”
These projects are funded under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act’s Assistance for Small and Disadvantaged Communities Tribal Grant Program. Under this program, and through an interagency agreement with the Indian Health Service, EPA is awarding a total of $24 million in critical infrastructure needs for Tribal communities. EPA previously awarded $9 million to the Alaskan Native Villages of Tuluksak and Stebbins in April 2021.
Colorado may have more locations where dangerous PFAS “forever chemicals” are stored and used than any other state in the U.S., according to a database released by the EPA after challenges from a watchdog group.
About 21,000 industrial sites in Colorado appear on the previously undisclosed EPA database of locations that “may be handling” PFAS, with more than 85% of those places related to oil and gas, and heavy concentrations of possible locations at the industry’s core in Weld County, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which forced EPA to release the data.
PFAS chemicals repel water, lubricate, and prevent stains better than many other substances, and have been used in firefighting foam and thousands of common household and industrial products worldwide.
The national database includes more than 100,000 possible PFAS locations, according to the watchdog group that forced EPA to release it, far more in the most recent analyses of PFAS ubiquity throughout the country. A map released in July by the Environmental Working Group put the number of Colorado locations possibly handling and discharging PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) into the environment at 501.
State officials investigating PFAS contamination and solutions in Colorado said they are not surprised by the extent of the EPA PFAS listings…
Colorado starts foam buyback
Colorado in September launched a new program to help local fire departments replace stores of firefighting foam containing PFAS with a safer alternative, and store the chemicals until the state figures out a disposal method, Dani said. Municipal water supplies covering 90% of state residents have been tested for the chemicals, and the state now encourages anyone using private well water to sign up for testing.
PFAS, which encompasses thousands of chemicals with slight variations, can run off into groundwater and accumulate in fish, animals and humans. While federal and state officials are still establishing safe human consumption limits for PFAS, the EPA says studies show the chemicals cause “reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals,” as well as tumors. High cholesterol levels in those exposed are also common impacts.
The chemicals, also used as repellents or lubricants, and previously in nonstick pans, as well as thousands of other products including fast-food wrappers, do not appear to break down or lose their potency, thus earning their “forever” label.
Physicians for Social Responsibility claimed in a July report that oil and gas companies in some states used PFAS or chemicals that break down into PFAS in fracking wells between 2012 and 2020. Colorado was not among the six states listed in that report.
California, a much larger state by population, is second in in the database’s total of “may be handling” sites, at about 13,000, with Oklahoma third, according to PEER, a nonprofit that provides legal and technical support to whistleblowers. PEER won release of the EPA’s PFAS registry and database through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The vast reach of PFAS chemicals and potential water contamination should put pressure on federal and state regulators to finally complete long-running studies on how to set a strict national drinking water standard, demand safer substitutes and force cleanups of spills, PEER advocates said.
“Colorado has become the PFAS capital of the United States,” said PEER’s Rocky Mountain director, Chandra Rosenthal. As EPA consistently delays moving its PFAS “guideline” to a specific cap in drinking water, Rosenthal said, “it is imperative that the state set a drinking water standard ASAP. Offering filters and bottled water to impacted communities isn’t sufficient.”
From Public Employees for Envinronmental Responsibility:
To address the threat posed by toxic PFAS chemicals, EPA announced a PFAS action plan almost three years ago. One of the steps in that plan was the development of an interactive map that would show sources and concentrations of PFAS in the environment.
When that map was never produced as promised, PEER sent a records request to EPA for data and information about the map. After months of delay and stonewalling by the Trump administration, PEER sued and finally began receiving documents. We felt EPA was hiding something, and we were determined to find it.
Under the Biden administration, we continued our records request. Finally, we received an EPA data set with information on some 120,000 industrial facilities “may be handling” PFAS, a figure that is over three times higher than outside experts had estimated. These figures show a scale of potential PFAS contamination in this country that is gargantuan.
The EPA figures indicate that the listed sites involving PFAS manufacture, import, handling, or storage –
Are in areas with more than 25% minority residents, with nearly 40% located within a three-mile radius of those communities;
Are found in all states and territories, but that three states, Colorado, California, and Oklahoma (in that order), house more than one-third of all the facilities listed; and
Include more than 6,000 facilities with a history of environmental violations.
The agency categorizes more than half of these facilities (around 57%) as active, with one-quarter (around 27%) categorized inactive, while the status of the balance (around 16% or more than 20,000 sites) is listed as “unknown.”
“PFAS” refers to a family of human-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFAS are used as non-stick coatings, firefighting foams, stain and water protection for fabrics, and protective coatings; more recently, they have been used in food packaging, cosmetics, medical devices, and other commercial products, like artificial turf.
Why was EPA sitting on this data?
Probably because these revelations have huge implications for our nation’s battle to contain PFAS pollution. PFAS are associated with a variety of ailments, including suppressed immune function, thyroid disease, testicular and kidney disease, cancers, and liver damage. Because PFAS have a strong carbon-fluorine bond, they do not easily break down in the environment and are called “forever chemicals.” As a result, they are virtually impossible to destroy and there is no know safe way to dispose of PFAS.
Despite the serious nature of this problem, EPA is taking a lax approach to regulating these chemicals, even as communities around the country are spending millions of dollars to clean up contaminated water supplies. This data is another indication that EPA is not doing its job and seems more worried about appeasing the chemical companies than protecting public health and the environment.
PEER is advocating regulation of PFAS as a class of chemicals, removing them from our drinking water and food supply, and removing them from consumer products. In addition, PEER has been asking EPA to treat PFAS as a hazardous waste from manufacture to disposal, employing a so-called cradle to grave approach.
List of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of the US appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 120,000 locations around the US where people may be exposed to a class of toxic “forever chemicals” associated with various cancers and other health problems that is a frightening tally four times larger than previously reported, according to data obtained by the Guardian.
The list of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of America appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Colorado tops the EPA list with an estimated 21,400 facilities, followed by California’s 13,000 sites and Oklahoma with just under 12,000. The facilities on the list represent dozens of industrial sectors, including oil and gas work, mining, chemical manufacturing, plastics, waste management and landfill operations. Airports, fire training facilities and some military-related sites are also included.
The EPA describes its list as “facilities in industries that may be handling PFAS”. Most of the facilities are described as “active”, several thousand are listed as “inactive” and many others show no indication of such status. PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment, thus even sites that are no longer actively discharging pollutants can still be a problem, according to the EPA.
The tally far exceeds a previous analysis that showed 29,900 industrial sites known or suspected of making or using the toxic chemicals.
People living near such facilities “are certain to be exposed, some at very high levels” to PFAS chemicals, said David Brown, a public health toxicologist and former director of environmental epidemiology at the Connecticut department of health…
A Guardian analysis of the EPA data set shows that in Colorado, one county alone – Weld county – houses more than 8,000 potential PFAS handling sites, with 7,900 described as oil and gas operations. Oil and gas operations lead the list of industry sectors the EPA says may be handling PFAS chemicals, according to the Guardian analysis.
In July, a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility presented evidence that oil and gas companies have been using PFAS, or substances that can degrade into PFAS, in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), a technique used to extract natural gas or oil…
The EPA said in 2019 that it was compiling data to create a map of “known or potential PFAS contamination sources” to help “assess environmental trends in PFAS concentrations” and aid local authorities in oversight. But no such map has yet been issued publicly…
The new data set shows a total count of 122,181 separate facilities after adjustments for duplications and errors in listed locations, and incorporation and analysis of additional EPA identifying information. The EPA facility list was provided to the Guardian by the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), which received it from the EPA through a Freedom of Information request. (Peer is currently representing four EPA scientists who have requested a federal inquiry into what they allege is an EPA practice of ignoring or covering up the risks of certain dangerous chemicals.)
Colorado state health officials said they’re hopeful a recent federal court ruling that effectively overturned Trump-era rules reducing oversight of Western rivers and streams will allow states to revert back to a more protective standard.
“We are aware of Arizona’s court decision and are following what it means for other states, especially arid states such as Colorado. We are hopeful the Arizona ruling will apply nationwide because it has the potential to allow states to revert back to standards that protected our state waters more,” said Trisha Oeth via email.
Oeth, who is the environmental health and protection policy director at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), also said the state understood the need to ensure that more certainty regarding the regulations was critical to protect all the interest groups affected by them.
The Trump rule sought to overturn Obama Administration rules that expanded the scope of the Clean Water Act. But Aug. 30, the Arizona court rejected it, saying it harmed streams in Western states and ignored important science. It has directed regulators across the country to use a set of rules developed prior to the Obama Administration’s actions until the Biden Administration can develop new regulations.
Since 2019, when the Trump-era rule was finalized, the CDPHE has been working, without success, on a proposed permitting program that lawmakers would have to approve. The permitting program would have covered streams and rivers left unprotected by the Trump rule. The so-called dredge-and-fill permits proposed by the state would be required when activities such as road and home building affect streams no longer covered by the Trump rule.
But farm interests, developers and contractors remain concerned that the Clean Water Act (CWA) rule, known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, will remain mired in legal battles and regulatory uncertainty, delaying projects and raising their costs.
“It’s a big fear of ours,” said Zach Riley, the Colorado Farm Bureau’s director of public policy. The organization, which has 23,000 members, had supported the narrower WOTUS rule.
The political seesaw has been going on for decades with the CWA legally hamstrung over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge-and-fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and Western irrigation ditches.
Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, the CWA is credited with making U.S. waters some of the cleanest in the world. But it has also been difficult to administer, in part because the country is home to widely different geographies and because of numerous court cases that have altered how it is interpreted by different presidential administrations.
Western states have been particularly concerned because in the Midwest and East, for instance, major rivers that carry barge and shipping traffic are clearly “navigable,” the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was navigable, it was subject to federal law.
But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that often don’t flow year round and don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. Over the years many of those streams too became protected by the Clean Water Act.
The Trump administration’s WOTUS rule, however, excluded them, saying that only navigable streams would be regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states that don’t flow year round or carry commercial shipping traffic would no longer have been protected.
Whether Colorado can or should craft a new permitting regulation that will remove it from the political back-and-forth that has dogged WOTUS and provide industry and environmental groups with more certainty isn’t clear yet.
The CDPHE has not yet said what it plans to do, saying it is still analyzing the Arizona decision.
“At the state level, it will be interesting,” said Alex Funk, senior counsel and director of water with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which has advocated for a new state permitting program. “We’re still supportive of a state program to get out of this habit of having new WOTUS rules every four years…we need something that will survive at the federal level.”
Still others want the CDPHE to take a breather, to wait and see how the EPA and other agencies interpret this latest ruling before trying to create a new state regulation.
“Given the pace of change and the multiple rounds of litigation, the state could take more time to discuss what’s needed,” said Gabe Racz, an attorney who represents water utilities and industry at the Colorado Water Congress.
And Racz said he believes there is a chance that the Biden Administration will be able to craft new rules that can endure at the federal level, regardless of who is in the White House.
“The Biden Administration announced they planned to develop a durable rule. I’m hopeful. That’s a step in the right direction,” Racz said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), published a draft of the first EPA-validated laboratory analytical method to test for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in eight different environmental media, including wastewater, surface water, groundwater, and soils. This method provides certainty and consistency and advances PFAS monitoring that is essential to protecting public health.
“This new testing method advances the science and our understanding of PFAS in the environment, so we can better protect people from exposure,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This illustrates the progress we can make when working with federal partners in an all of government approach. I want to thank the Department of Defense for its leadership on this issue and for working with us to achieve this important milestone.”
A partnership between EPA and the Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program has produced draft Method 1633, a single-laboratory validated method to test for 40 PFAS compounds in wastewater, surface water, groundwater, soil, biosolids, sediment, landfill leachate, and fish tissue. Until now, regulated entities and environmental laboratories relied upon modified EPA methods or in-house laboratory standard operating procedures to analyze PFAS in these settings. With the support of the agency’s Council on PFAS, EPA and DoD will continue to collaborate to complete a multi-laboratory validation study of the method in 2022.
“This is one of many examples of strong EPA – DoD Collaboration on issues of national importance. Currently the Department is working with EPA, other federal agencies, academic institutions, and industry on over 130 PFAS-related research efforts, and we expect further progress in the future,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience Richard Kidd.
This draft method can be used in various applications, including National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The method will support NPDES implementation by providing a consistent PFAS method that has been tested in a wide variety of wastewaters and contains all the required quality control procedures for a Clean Water Act (CWA) method. While the method is not nationally required for CWA compliance monitoring until EPA has promulgated it through rulemaking, it is recommended now for use in individual permits.
Draft Method 1633 complements existing validated methods to test for PFAS in drinking water and non-potable water.
Draft Method 1633 complements existing Safe Drinking Water Act methods to test for 29 PFAS compounds in drinking water and a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act method for 24 PFAS compounds in non-potable water.
EPA publishes laboratory analytical methods (test procedures) that are used by industries, municipalities, researchers, regulatory authorities and other stakeholders to analyze the chemical, physical, and biological components of wastewater and other environmental samples. EPA regularly publishes methods for CWA compliance monitoring on its CWA Methods website. Doing so does not impose any national requirements to use the method. Only after EPA promulgates a CWA analytical method through rulemaking (at 40 CFR Part 136) does it become nationally required for use in NPDES permit applications and permits.
The work the agency is doing to provide new laboratory analytical methods reflects the work that the EPA Council on PFAS is undertaking to support federal, state, local, and Tribal efforts to protect all communities from the harmful impacts of PFAS contamination.
Here’s an in-depth report from Laura Paskus that’s running in The Santa Fe Reporter. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Today, we know the [firefighting] foam contained toxic chemicals responsible for polluting the water around hundreds of military bases nationwide, including Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases in New Mexico. And the toxic chemicals are present in the drinking water of millions of Americans…
Over the years, [Kevin] Ferrara has learned that the military knew Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) was dangerous—and so did the companies that manufactured it. But without federal regulations that set drinking water standards or hazardous waste limits, states like New Mexico still can’t hold the Pentagon accountable for the pollution that has crept from the bases into the wells of local residents and businesses. Meanwhile, military firefighters like Ferrara wonder what’s happening within their own bodies—and the bodies of those whose water they polluted.
In the waning days of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) was grappling with a problem. A “forever” problem, as it turns out.
Contractors hired by the military were investigating whether AFFF used at the state’s three Air Force bases had contaminated groundwater with PFAS.
In an August 2018 conference call, Air Force officials told state officials that PFAS had been found in wells at Cannon Air Force Base at concentrations above the US Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. Further studies showed the levels exceed 26,000 parts per trillion—more than 370 times that EPA health advisory—and that PFAS was also in off-base wells that supply homes and dairies in Clovis.
In October, NMED, the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture publicly announced the presence of the contamination on and off the base. They advised private well-owners within a 4-mile radius of the base to use bottled water. NMED issued a notice of violation against the Air Force for breaking state regulations. The agency issued “corrective action permits” with cleanup mandates for the military’s state permits.
But in January 2019, just after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office, the US Department of Defense sued New Mexico, challenging the state’s authority to mandate cleanup.
And although the state made no announcements nor issued any corrective actions, a report the Air Force submitted to NMED during the Martinez administration showed that groundwater samples of PFAS at Holloman Air Force Base were as high as 1.294 million parts per trillion. In February 2019, NMED issued a notice of violation against the Air Force over Holloman, too.
The following month, in March 2019, New Mexico filed its own lawsuit, asking a federal judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and pay for, cleanup at Cannon and Holloman.
But that hasn’t worked out as planned.
“We wanted action quickly. When that wasn’t available, or that wasn’t on the table, that’s when we litigated,” NMED Secretary James Kenney says in an interview.
The lawsuit has been lumped in with hundreds of other PFAS-related lawsuits. One court in South Carolina now oversees all cases regarding PFAS and the military’s use of the AFFF—more than 750 separate actions.
Even though New Mexico has tried to extricate itself from the multidistrict litigation, hoping to pursue its case against the Air Force without being tied to those hundreds of other cases, a judge has denied that request. And in June, the Biden administration’s Defense Department called New Mexico’s attempts to compel cleanup under state permits “arbitrary and capricious.”
In summary, three years after the Air Force notified New Mexico of the PFAS pollution, there are no clean-up plans in place at Cannon or Holloman, though earlier this year, Cannon announced an on-base pilot project to test the best ways to remove PFAS from water. And even though the military knows when, why and how the contamination happened, it has sued New Mexico to say the state can’t make it clean up the problem.
Meanwhile, state Environment Sec. Kenney says the EPA needs to set federal pollution standards for the toxic substances.
In 2016, the EPA established a lifetime health advisory for two types of PFAS found in firefighting foams, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). But that advisory of 70 parts per trillion isn’t a regulatory limit. That means states like New Mexico don’t have any legal tools to require that polluters like the military clean up PFAS.
Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:
[July 12, 2021], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Draft Contaminant Candidate List 5 (CCL 5), which provides the latest list of drinking water contaminants that are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems and are not currently subject to EPA drinking water regulations. As directed by the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA’s CCL 5 identifies priority contaminants to consider for potential regulation to ensure that public health is protected.
“This important step will help ensure that communities across the nation have safe water by improving EPA’s understanding of contaminants in drinking water,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “On PFAS, the agency is working with the scientific community to prioritize the assessment and regulatory evaluation of all chemicals as contaminants.”
The Draft CCL 5 includes 66 individual chemicals,12 microbes, and three chemical groups – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), cyanotoxins, and disinfection byproducts (DBPs). These contaminants have been identified as agency priorities and contaminants of concern for drinking water. PFAS are proposed as a group, with the exception of PFOA and PFOS because the agency is moving forward with national primary drinking water standards for these two contaminants. This action is in keeping with the agency’s commitment to better understand and ultimately reduce the potential risks caused by PFAS.
CCL 5 was developed under an improved process that included new approaches to rapidly screen a significantly larger number of contaminants, prioritizing data most relevant to drinking water exposure and the potential for the greatest public health concern, and better consideration for sensitive populations and children. EPA continues to collect data and to encourage further research on the listed contaminants to better understand potential health effects from drinking water exposure before making any regulatory determinations.
EPA plans to consult with the Science Advisory Board (SAB) on the Draft CCL 5 in the fall of 2021. The agency will consider public comments and SAB feedback in developing the Final CCL 5, which is expected to be published in July 2022. After a final CCL is published, the agency will undertake a separate regulatory determination process to determine whether or not to regulate contaminants from the CCL.
Developing the CCL is the first step under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in potentially regulating drinking water contaminants. SDWA requires EPA to publish a list of currently unregulated contaminants that are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems and that may require regulation. EPA must publish a CCL every five years. The CCL does not create or impose regulatory burden on public water systems or state, local, or Tribal governments. EPA has completed four rounds of CCLs since 1996. The last cycle of CCL, CCL 4, was published in November 2016. EPA began the development of the CCL 5 in 2018 by asking the public to nominate chemicals, microbes, or other materials for consideration for the CCL 5. The agency received 89 nominations and evaluated the nominated contaminants and other contaminant data and information in developing the Draft CCL 5.
Recruitment for a large-scale study on the health effects of “forever chemicals” will start in the Fountain Valley this month and its results could help set federal limits on the chemicals in drinking water.
The work is part of the second large-scale study in the country to examine exposure to perfluorinated compounds — a family of manmade chemicals that linger in the body and have earned the nickname “forever chemicals” — and the health risks they pose.
The first large-scale study was done 15 years ago in Ohio and West Virginia and found probable links between the chemicals and conditions including high cholesterol, thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancers, said epidemiology professor Anne Starling, with the University of Colorado.
This study through the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is set to investigate health effects of the chemicals including impacts to the immune system, kidneys, liver and thyroid. It will also help determine if the chemicals change neurobehavioral outcomes in children trough tests of their attention, memory and learning abilities. The study was expected to begin last fall but it was delayed by the pandemic, Starling said.
Researchers plan to study 7,000 adults and 2,100 children exposed to perfluorinated compounds across seven states, including 1,000 adults and 300 children 4 and older in the Fountain Valley…
The study will also be the first to include people with high levels of a chemical found in firefighting foam in their blood, Starling said.
Firefighting foam from used by the military at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the aquifer that residents in Widefield, Security and Fountain used for drinking water, studies have determined. After the contamination was found in 2016, drinking water providers for all three communities worked to ensure the water was safe. Since then, the Air Force has paid $41 million for three new water treatment plants to bring the level of chemicals down to nondetectable levels.
Researchers will take one-time blood and urine samples to help determine how the chemicals may have affected residents’ kidneys, liver and sex hormones, among other bodily functions. It will not examine whether the chemicals cause cancer.
The urine samples will likely be more indicative of forever-chemicals residents have recently been exposed to, Starling said…
The tests and residential histories should allow researchers to estimate the cumulative lifetime exposure residents have had to the chemicals, according to a news release.
The work will also examine the neurobehavioral effect of the chemicals in children because some smaller studies have suggested that exposure to the forever chemicals early in life may affect children’s development and response to vaccines, but the connection is not yet well established, she said.
The researchers plan to have children complete puzzles and problem-solving tasks, similar to activities they might do in school, as part of the study, she said…
The neurobehavioral tests will not diagnose problems in individual children, she said.
The upcoming study expects to build on a recent study of 220 residents in the Fountain Valley that found the median level of a chemical specific to firefighting foam in residents was 10 times higher than the national median. Some residents had levels of the chemical that were much higher, said Colorado School of Mines Professor Christopher Higgins, a lead researcher on the study…
Scientists don’t know whether the chemical specific to the foam is more or less dangerous than other forever chemicals, Starling said.
The levels of chemicals in residents seem to be dropping and that may be good if some of the health effects are reversible. But some people may still be experiencing long-term health effects…
Study participants will receive individual test results that could be shared with their doctor. The test results may not indicate a problem, but more and more doctors are becoming aware of the potential health effects of forever-chemical exposure, Starling said.
In the long-term, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academies of Science could use results from this study to help set enforceable limits on water contamination. No federal maximum limits on forever chemical contamination of drinking water exist, she said.
Recruitment for the study is expected to start later this month and researchers have set up an office in Fountain to meet with residents. Data collection could take 12 to 18 months. The entire study could be completed in 2024, although researchers should have results to share before that, Starling said.
Monument is planning to install a new water treatment system in the coming months that will remove radium from one of its wells allowing it to start serving the town again.
The town expects to spend about $1.5 million on the new water treatment system, an associated building and lab space. The work will expand an existing facility at Second Street and Beacon Lite Road, said Tom Tharnish, Monument’s public works director.
Extended exposure to radium, a naturally occurring element and common along the Front Range, can cause cancer and other health problems over time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency…
The problem was discovered in the city’s 9th well about four years ago and no unsafe levels of radium ever reached residents’ taps. Monument’s engineers designed a system that diluted the radium to safe levels, but that proved to be only a temporary fix. The well was shut down late last year while the town worked on a more permanent solution, Tharnish said.
The new filtration system will employ a resin that will filter out the radium at the end of the water treatment process, he said…
The new technology will also come with ongoing maintenance costs. The resin will need to be replaced every year to 18 months and will require between $18,000 to $20,000, Tharnish said…
Monument’s board of trustees approved drilling a 10th well in November to help offset the loss of water from the well that had to be shut off because of radium pollution. The work was expected to cost $624,975. The new well is expected to be in production next week, Tharnish said.
The community is also seeking additional water rights, so that it doesn’t need to rely as heavily on its groundwater, Wilson said.
The Arkansas Valley Conduit promises to bring clean drinking water to more residents of southeast Colorado
n the 1940s, the Arkansas River was dammed south of town to build [John Martin Reservoir], a place locals call the Sapphire on the Plains. The reservoir was tied up in a 40-year battle until Colorado and Kansas came to an agreement, in 2019, to provide an additional water source to help keep the levels high enough for recreation and to support fish.
Forty years may seem like a long time to develop a plan to save fish and improve water levels for a reservoir, but southeastern Colorado is used to long fights when it comes to water…
For nearly a century, leaders in southeastern Colorado have worked on plans to bring clean drinking water to the area through the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit, but progress on the pipeline project stalled after a major push in the 1960s. Pollution, water transfers and years of worsening drought amid a warming climate continue to build stress for water systems in the area. Adding to that, the area continues to see population decline combined with a struggling economy.
The water needed for the conduit will be sourced from melting snowpack in the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain ranges [ed. and Colorado River Basin]. Under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, passed in the early 1960s, the water has been allocated for usage in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The water will be stored at Pueblo Reservoir and travel through existing infrastructure to east Pueblo near the airport. From there, the conduit will tie into nearly 230 miles of pipeline to feed water to 40 communities in need.
Renewed plans to build a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley are bringing hope for many people in southeastern Colorado. But in an area that is inextricably linked to its water, the future can seem unclear…
“Deliver on that promise”
“It was nearly 100 years ago, in the 1930s, that the residents of southeast Colorado recognized that the water quality in the lower valley of the Arkansas River was quite poor,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a former Bent County commissioner.
Water systems in the district, which includes Pueblo, Crowley, Bent, Prowers, Kiowa and Otero counties, have two main issues affecting drinking water.
The first is that a majority of those systems rely on alluvial groundwater, which can have a high level of dissolved solids. This can include selenium, sulfate, manganese and uranium, which are linked to human health concerns.
Second, the remaining systems in the water district rely on the Dakota-Cheyenne bedrock aquifer that can be affected by naturally occurring radionuclides. Radium and other radionuclides in the underlying geologic rock formation can dissolve into the water table and then be present in drinking water wells, also carrying health risks.
In 1962, residents in southeastern Colorado thought President John F. Kennedy was delivering a solution to their drinking water problem during a ceremony in Pueblo. Congress had passed the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and Kennedy came to Pueblo to authorize the construction of a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water…
Residents of the 1930s began working on ideas to deliver clean drinking water to southeastern Colorado. By the 1950s, they were selling gold frying pans to raise money to send backers to Washington, D.C., to encourage Congress to pass the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act. But it wasn’t until 1962 that the pipeline authorization became a reality.
Fast forward 58 years, and two more politicians came to Pueblo to address a crowd about the same pipeline project. This time, on Oct. 3, 2020, it was at the base of Pueblo Dam. Because of funding shortfalls, the Arkansas Valley Conduit was never built after it was authorized in 1962.
The Colorado communities could not afford to cover 100% of the costs, as initially required, so in 2009, the act was amended to include a 65% federal share and a 35% local cost share. Additionally, in 2020, Congress appropriated $28 million more toward the project, according to the water conservancy district.
That October day, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner took turns talking about the importance of the project. They told a small crowd that when the pipeline is built, it will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 residents in southeastern Colorado…
The water conservancy district estimates the pipeline project’s cost will range from $546 million to $610 million…
Physical construction of the pipeline won’t start until 2022, according to the water district…
“The solution to pollution Is dilution”
A hand-painted sign with stenciled letters welcomes travelers on Highway 96 into Olney Springs. The highway cuts across four blocks that make up the width of the small town with around 340 residents.
Olney Springs is one of six water systems in Crowley County that plans to have a delivery point, known as a spur, on the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The plans for the pipeline call for two spurs in Pueblo County, three in both Bent and Prowers counties, and one in Kiowa County. Out of the 40 total participants, the remaining 25 are in Otero County…
Located along the Arkansas River about 70 miles east of Pueblo, La Junta is the largest municipality in Otero County. With its population around 7,000 and a Walmart Supercenter, a Holiday Inn Express and Sonic Drive-In, La Junta can feel like a metropolis when compared to Olney Springs.
La Junta is one of two Arkansas Valley Conduit participants, along with Las Animas, that uses reverse osmosis to remove potentially harmful and naturally occurring toxins from the water. Reverse osmosis is a process that uses pressure to push water through a membrane to remove contaminants. According to the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Arkansas Valley Conduit Environmental Impact Statement, reverse osmosis can treat source water to meet standards, but the brine from the process “is an environmental concern, and operation costs are high.”
The other participants use conventional methods to treat water. The environmental impact statement said those methods can be as simple as adding chlorine for disinfection and filtration or adding chemicals to remove suspended solids, but that those treatments “…cannot remove salt or radionuclides from water.”
Tom Seaba, director of water and wastewater for La Junta, said out of a total of 24 water districts in Otero County, 19 were in violation with the state due to elevated levels of radionuclide.
Four of the 19 came into compliance with the state’s drinking water standards after La Junta brought them onto its water system. The remaining 15 are still in violation with the state, according to Seaba.
La Junta spent $18.5 million to build a wastewater treatment plant that came online in 2019 to help meet water standards for its community. But the city’s water treatment came with its own issue: selenium.
After La Junta treats its water using reverse osmosis, the water system is left with a concentrate, which is safe drinking water. However, it’s also left with a waste stream high in selenium. “That wastewater has to go somewhere,” Seaba said. It goes to the city’s new wastewater treatment plant…
According to the environmental impact statement, “La Junta’s wastewater discharge makes up about 1.5% of average annual flow in the Arkansas River.” The study goes on to say that during drought or low-flow events, the wastewater discharge can contribute up to half of the streamflow downstream from the gage.
Seaba is looking to the Arkansas Valley Conduit as a possible answer. “The solution to pollution is dilution,” he said. The water from the pipeline will not have a selenium problem, Seaba explained. By blending water from the conduit with the selenium waste from reverse osmosis, La Junta hopes to reduce costs and stay compliant with Environmental Protection Agency standards to discharge into the river.
The environmental review studied a section of the Arkansas River from where Fountain Creek runs into the river east to the Kansas border. The study found that a section of the river was impaired by selenium…
“I sure don’t drink it”
The EPA sets a maximum contaminant level in drinking water at 5 picocuries per liter of air for combined radium and 30 micrograms per liter for combined uranium. If contaminant levels are above those numbers, the water system is in violation of drinking water regulations, which the state enforces.
According to data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Patterson Valley Water Company in Otero County, one of the 40 pipeline participants, had the highest result of 31 picocuries per liter for combined radium in 2020. In that same county, Rocky Ford, another pipeline participant, had a high result of 0.2 picocuries per liter for combined radium. According to the state health department, Rocky Ford’s combined radium sample numbers were last recorded in 2013.
Manzanola, also in Otero County and a pipeline participant, topped the list with the highest result of 42 micrograms per liter for combined uranium in 2020. In contrast, 19 other pipeline participants, from across the valley, had results of 0 micrograms per liter for combined uranium, according to the most recent numbers from the state health department.
Levels of the two carcinogens are sporadic throughout the valley. The average of the highest results of all 40 participants in the pipeline for combined radium is roughly 8 picocuries per liter and combined uranium is roughly 5 micrograms per liter. According to Seaba, averaging the members’ highest results might seem unfair to some individual water systems because it brings their numbers up, but what those averages do show is that water in Pueblo Reservoir, which will feed the future conduit, is approximately three times less affected by combined radium and combined uranium than the average of current water used by pipeline participants. In 2020, the highest result of combined radium in the Pueblo Reservoir was 2.52 picocuries per liter, and the highest result of combined uranium was 1.7 micrograms per liter…
“I sure don’t drink it,” said Manny Rodriquez. “I don’t think anybody in town drinks the water.”
Rodriquez, who grew up in and still lives in Rocky Ford, was not sure if the water at his apartment was in violation of the state’s clean drinking water act or not. State data showed at that time his water was not in violation. Colorado is required to notify residents if their water system is in violation of the clean drinking water act…
MaryAnn Nason, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, used an example to show how violations can add up: “If a public water system has two entry points that fail for both combined radium and gross alpha (measures of radionuclides), and they have those same violations for 10 years each quarter, that is going to appear as 160 violations on the website. But really, it is one naturally occurring situation that exists for a relatively long time,” Nason said.
For some residents like Ruby Lucero, 83, it makes little difference to her if her water is in violation with the state or not. She plans to buy her drinking water no matter what the results say about her tap water…
“The struggling farmer”
In the past decade, Otero County has seen a 2.9% drop in population. Residents have a ballpark difference of $38,000 in the median household income compared to the rest of the state, and the county is not alone. All six counties that are part of current plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit are seeing economic hard times.
Adding to those factors is drought. Years of drought keep hitting the area’s No. 1 industry: agriculture.
The Rocky Ford Ditch’s water rights date back to 1874, making them some of the most senior water rights in the Arkansas River system. In the early 1980s, Aurora was able to buy a majority of those water rights. Over time, Aurora acquired more shares and has converted them to municipal use…
“We still have a heavy lift before us”
Planned off the main trunk of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pump station near Wiley will push water along a spur to support Eads in Kiowa County. Water that ends up in Eads will have traveled the longest distance of the pipeline project. The majority of the pipeline will be gravity-fed, but this section will need to be pumped uphill.
The journey is a good representation of Eads’ battle with water. Not only is clean drinking water needed, but the area is also desperate for relief from years of drought exacerbated by climate change…
Long said that Eads is different from a majority of the other participants in the project because it is not located along the Arkansas River…
The domestic water that will be delivered via the conduit is even more important for a town like Eads, said Long. “It’s very difficult to attract new industry when you have a limited supply of very poor water.”
Long believes the conduit will make a huge difference to support communities in the Lower Arkansas River Valley…
Long has been working on the Arkansas Valley Conduit project for nearly 18 years.
“After such a long fight, to finally be where we are feels good, but honestly I can say it doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would. Only because I know we have so much work still to do, and I know how difficult the past 18 years have been,” Long said. “We still have a heavy lift before us.”
FromThe Santa Fe New Mexican (Scott Wyland) via The Taos News:
U.S. regulators aim to repeal a contentious Trump-era rule that stirred fierce opposition from conservationists and many New Mexico leaders because it removed most of the state’s water from federal protection.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s head said the agency and the Army Corps of Engineers had determined the rule was causing substantial harm to water bodies and pointed to New Mexico and Arizona as among the states most affected.
The current rule, which has spurred a string of lawsuits, only protects waterways that flow year-round or seasonally and connect to another body of water.
It excludes as “ephemeral” storm-generated streams as well as tributaries that don’t flow continuously to another water body – disqualifying most of New Mexico’s waters. Unregulated storm runoff can carry contaminants into rivers used for drinking water, conservationists say.
Water advocates see the announced change as an encouraging move, but warned it will take time to repeal and replace the rule…
After the EPA states its intention to scrap “the dirty water rule” in the Federal Register, a 30-day public comment period will follow and then the agency can work to repeal it, said Rachel Conn, projects director for Taos-based Amigos Bravos.
Establishing a new rule will take considerably more time, Conn said, but in the meantime it’s crucial to get rid of a standard that is leaving most of New Mexico’s waters unprotected…
Conn and other critics of the current rule have worried it would nix the EPA’s oversight of heavily polluted runoff from Los Alamos County into the Río Grande – a prime source of drinking water – and that it might disqualify the Gila River from protection because that waterway runs dry before reaching the Colorado River.
“After reviewing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule as directed by President Biden, the EPA and Department of the Army have determined that this rule is leading to significant environmental degradation,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
The lack of protections is especially significant in arid states such as New Mexico and Arizona, where nearly every one of over 1,500 streams has been found to be outside federal jurisdiction, the EPA said in a news release.
Regan said the agency is committed to creating a “durable definition” of U.S. waters based on Supreme Court precedents, learning from past regulations and getting input from a variety of interested parties. The agency also will consider the impacts of climate change, he said…
New Mexico is one of just three states that has no authority from the EPA to regulate discharges of pollution into rivers, streams and lakes under the Clean Water Act, which leaves it at the mercy of whomever is in the White House, Conn said…
If the rule is repealed, the regulations will revert to more stringent ones enacted in 1987, said Charles de Saillan, staff attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center…
Congress should intervene and create well-defined and permanent updates to the Clean Water Act to stop the political seesawing that happens every change of administration, de Saillan said.
Congressional action would be much better than having the U.S. Supreme Court make rulings on it, de Saillan said. The last high court decision on which waters merited federal protection was ambiguous, causing more confusion and legal battles, he said.
Members of the Water Quality Control Commission said they were shocked by the blowback to a proposed change that would have made it easier for industry, utilities to send more pollution downstream.
The state Water Quality Control Commission has delayed for at least a decade a controversial proposal that would have allowed further degradation of Colorado waters already challenged by pollution
In a scheduled review of the state’s “antidegradation” provision — a key to the federal Clean Water Act — some on the commission had sought to broaden chances for industries to discharge more pollutants into streams already considered heavily impacted by historic degradation. The rule currently in place says polluters must make a compelling argument that worsening the conditions of a stretch of river is unavoidable in creating economic growth for a community.
Colorado waters are divided into three categories: “outstanding” waters, where no degradation can be permitted; “reviewable,” meaning degradation is only allowed if there is no other way for the economic activity to move forward; and “use protected,” where industrial or city dischargers can degrade existing water quality in heavily impacted streams in order to maintain or expand their operations.
Conservation groups and multiple local and state officials argued last week that the commission’s proposed change would have allowed many more Colorado streams to fall under “use protected,” even when the entity seeking higher pollution permits was the one responsible for historic pollution.
Heavy industrial users, such as Metro Wastewater Reclamation, which treats all metro area sewage, could have used the opening to say they didn’t need to further clean up their discharge.
Citing the intense blowback against the proposed change by dozens of conservation and community groups testifying earlier in the week, the commission late Friday said current protections would stay in place until at least 2031.
“The decision comes after extensive stakeholder engagement with the EPA, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, environmentalists and regulated entities, and it maintains the regulations as they are for the time being,” the state Water Quality Control Division said in a statement…
Opponents of the change said it would open the door for existing permitted polluters such as Molson Coors, Suncor and Metro Wastewater to discharge more pollutants if they could show the water was already degraded beyond a chance for improvement. The industries could have asked for the leeway even if they were the ones whose waste had previously damaged streams, such as on the South Platte River through Adams County. In that stretch of river, discharge from Metro Wastewater’s treatment facility makes up most of the stream volume for much of the year.
Groups testifying against the change ranged from Adams County commissioners to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, to Trout Unlimited and Green Latinos. Industrial dischargers, meanwhile, had argued in submitted filings that their use of waters supported important economic interests for communities, and that some heavily used Colorado streams simply won’t support more aquatic life than they already do…
Conservation groups did not get the relief on Friday that they’d sought since a 2020 commission decision declining to upgrade protections for urban stretches of the South Platte River and Clear Creek, which flows past the Molson Coors plant. They said they will continue to seek ways to tighten down on pollution discharges into those waters and give them a chance to recover further.
The Minnesota-based company recently filed suit in Michigan Court of Claims against the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and its drinking water standards adopted last year. 3M called them “the result of a rushed and invalid regulatory process, scientifically flawed, and reliant on speculative and unquantified purported benefits to justify the costly” rules.
Nessel said the suit is a way for 3M officials to go after the limits for PFAS compounds in drinking water. 3M officials in their suit contend the cleanup efforts will cost millions of dollars in the first year and would continue to climb.
Michigan’s attorney general has sued 3M, along with other PFAS manufacturers, to recover clean up costs, damages to the environment and natural resource damages caused by PFAS contamination. State officials have contended that many of 3M’s products with PFAS ended up contaminating the environment that include land, drinking water and other natural resources.
“3M profited for years from its sale of PFAS products and concealed its evidence of adverse health impacts from state and federal regulators,” Nessel said in a statement. “It is no coincidence that this out-of-state company is resorting to attempts to rewrite our state’s standards put in place to protect Michiganders from PFAS in their drinking water.
Three new water treatment plants in Fountain, Security and Widefield needed to remove toxic “forever chemicals” from the groundwater, carrying a heavy price tag of $41 million, are nearing completion.
The plant in Widefield was finished in February, the Security plant is expected to be operational this week and the Fountain plant is expected to be complete in June, following a pause in construction that lasted more than a month, officials with each district said.
Construction of the Fountain plant was halted because the supplier of critical piping for the plant could not provide it, said Dan Blankenship, utilities director for Fountain, adding that the supplier’s work was delayed by the coronavirus. In a written statement the Air Force Civil Engineer Center said work on the $7 million plant in Fountain is expected to resume May 3. The other two plants are expected to cost a combined $34 million, the statement said.
The Air Force is paying for the water treatment plants that will remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from groundwater because investigations showed the contamination came from Peterson Air Force Base, where firefighters used a foam rich in one of those compounds for decades to put out aircraft fires…
Water providers stopped using the groundwater after the contamination was discovered in 2015 and 2016, and studies are still ongoing to learn about the long-term health consequences of the contamination. The compounds’ ability to stay in the body led to their nickname “forever chemicals.”
Encouraging results from one of the studies conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines showed that the amount of chemicals in blood samples taken from 53 exposed residents dropped from 2018 to 2019, according to a presentation of results. The median level of the chemical most closely associated with firefighting foam dropped 50% in the participants, results showed…
The new treatment plants are meant to protect the public from additional exposure to the chemicals and allow the districts in some cases to return to using a key water source.
In Security, the new plant was tested in December, and water samples showed it was removing problematic chemicals down to undetectable levels, said Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts.
A CBS4 Investigates analysis of public testing data has found levels of perfluoroalkyl substances – commonly known as forever chemicals – in Frisco’s drinking water would be considered too high in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York. The levels would also trigger further testing requirements in Michigan.
Jessica Johnson, who lives and works in Frisco, said she was unaware of the elevated levels.
“I was pretty shocked, honestly, to learn that the forever chemicals were in our water,” Johnson said. “It’s concerning for me; thyroid issues run in my family, so I don’t really want to do anything that would exacerbate that, because I’m sure it’s probably looming on the horizon for me anyway.”
While there is no federal legal limit, the EPA recommends drinking water not have more than 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS combined, but some states say that’s not good enough, setting more stringent legal limits…
State health department testing conducted last summer found Frisco’s drinking water had a level of 58.5 for the chemicals regulated in Massachusetts and Vermont, more than twice the legal limits in those states. The testing also found Frisco had a level of 11 parts per trillion of PFOS, which would be above the safe limit set in New York. Frisco’s PFOA level was only 6.2 part per trillion, but would require quarterly testing in Michigan…
The Town of Frisco says right now, there’s no health concern, because the PFAS levels are below the EPA’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion…
Frisco spokesperson Vanessa Agee wrote in an email, “an interview with Frisco’s Water Division would do nothing to further your viewer’s understanding of PFAS or alert them to a health danger, which are in fact really admirable and helpful goals that we hope you have much success with, as it is vital that we have the facts and current understanding around this evolving research into PFAS and PFAS’ potential impacts on our health.”
Asked why residents were not notified about the PFAS testing results, Agee wrote, “if there were a health concern, then the EPA and CDPHE would require individual notification of residents, and the Town would of course provide that notification swiftly because we authentically care about the health of our neighbors and friends, which is what Frisco’s residents are in this very close-knit community and county. The public would be very well served by understanding that the science around PFAS is evolving, understanding where that science is right now, and having knowledge about what is being done across Colorado and the country to better understand PFAS and their impact on health.”
The state health department has also told CBS4 in a past interview that residents should not be concerned about the elevated levels, because they are below the health advisory, but that if residents are still concerned, they can look at purchasing a reverse osmosis filtration system for their home or bottled water…
Currently, the state of Colorado has taken its own steps to begin regulating PFAS, for example, new state legislation has created a PFAS registry, so state officials know where industrial PFAS sources are located.
But Josh Kuhn with Conservation Colorado says the centennial state should study the issue further and look at setting its own more stringent legal limits…
In the meantime, Agee says Frisco is in the process of conducting further testing in other areas of its water distribution system, including at the tap “to get a more comprehensive picture.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also says it’s in the process of developing a grant program to assist Frisco and other communities with additional testing.
“The CDPHE grant program has not been launched yet so the Town Water Division is doing what it does best, providing safe and delicious water, while always striving to have a full understanding of the facts,” Agee said in an email to CBS4.
The CDPHE says the testing will help officials determine what areas and private wells may be at risk for PFAS.
One question remains: what is the source of the PFAS pollution in Frisco? PFAS can be found in a variety of household products, and even your clothes. The Environmental Working Group also found PFAS in cosmetics.
The state health department is working to find an answer in Frisco, writing to CBS4, “we expect these (test) results to provide insight into where the chemicals may be coming from.”
Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:
[On April 8, 2021] the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [release] an updated toxicity assessment for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), a member of a larger group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Today’s PFBS assessment is part of EPA’s commitment to restore scientific integrity to all of the agency’s actions and increase the amount of research and information available to the public on PFAS chemicals.
“This PFBS assessment reflects the best available science, involved extensive federal, state, and public engagement, and is critical to EPA efforts to help communities impacted by PFAS,” said senior career scientist Dr. Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development and the agency’s Science Advisor. “The assessment posted today fixes the errors in the version issued earlier this year, was developed by EPA career scientists, and upholds the values of scientific integrity. I’m proud to release such an important assessment that will help EPA and communities take action to address PFAS and protect public health.”
EPA, federal agencies, states, tribes, and local communities can use the PFBS toxicity assessment, along with specific exposure and other relevant information, to determine if and when it is necessary to take action to address potential health risks associated with human exposures to PFBS under appropriate regulations and statutes.
The assessment released today has gone through all appropriate reviews, includes input EPA received from external peer review, upholds the tenants of scientific integrity, was authored by expert career scientists in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and has not been compromised by political staff – these were all issues with a version of the assessment that was posted during the previous administration. The release of today’s PFBS assessment upholds the integrity of EPA’s science, which EPA, states, tribes, and more rely on to make decisions that protect the health of their communities.
For the second time in less than a year, state health officials plan to ask lawmakers to fast-track permitting authority over hundreds of miles of streams left unprotected after a 2020 Trump Administration rollback of federal Clean Water Act rules.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s move comes just weeks after a federal court denied Colorado’s effort to prevent the new federal rules from taking effect.
The CDPHE is holding work group sessions and seeking public comment on a proposed bill that is likely to be introduced in the next two weeks, officials said. The CDPHE declined to comment for this article.
Last May Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and won a temporary injunction against the new rules, which would have taken effect in June 2020. But a federal appeals court overturned that decision last month.
As a result, the rules are set to take effect in Colorado April 23. Though many expect the Biden Administration to alter the new rules, once again, state health officials say an interim rule is needed to ensure the state has the permitting authority and the funds needed to protect streams.
Major water interests, such as the nonpartisan Colorado Water Congress, are closely watching the latest legislative effort.
Colorado Water Congress Executive Director Doug Kemper said right now there is too much uncertainty around which streams and which activities will be overseen by federal and state agencies.
“It’s a big deal right now because you don’t really know what activity is covered and what is exempted,” said Kemper. His group has not taken a position on the CDPHE’s initiative, in part because a formal bill has yet to be introduced.
Environmentalists said it’s important that the state moves quickly to assume the permitting authority to protect streams and to allow millions of dollars in construction, dam and road projects to be properly reviewed and permitted.
Industry groups, however, believe new legislation isn’t required right now because the state has some discretion to act already and because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees much of the work on federally protected streams, also has some discretionary authority to review and issue permits.
“We’re concerned that the focus is solely on legislative options,” said John Kolanz, an attorney who represents the Colorado Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. He believes the state could make changes to its own rules, rather than enacting a new law.
“We don’t think it’s advisable to rush through legislation and a complicated rulemaking by the end of the year,” Kolanz said during a public work group meeting hosted by the CDPHE Monday.
Melinda Kassen, general counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership who tracks water quality regulation, disagreed, saying the CDPHE must be given new legal authority quickly in order to adequately monitor and fund stream protection work over the next one to two years.
“The biggest part of this legislation is getting some fees so that the [Colorado Water Quality Control] division can do its job and go out and see what’s happening on the ground,” Kassen said Monday.
At issue is what’s known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. The rule was designed to classify which streams are subject to federal rules and which activities must obtain permits from the Army Corps to ensure those streams are protected even when they are disturbed by home and road building, construction of new storm water systems, and other activities.
But WOTUS has been contested in courts for years over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge-and-fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and Western irrigation ditches, and what is allowable for industries and wastewater treatment plants to discharge into streams.
It has also been difficult to administer because the U.S. is home to such a wide variety of waterways.
In the East and Midwest massive rivers are filled with barge and shipping traffic and are clearly “navigable.” That was the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was considered navigable, it was subject to federal law.
But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 44 percent of Colorado’s streams are intermittent, meaning they are sometimes dry, and 24 percent are ephemeral, meaning they can be dry for months or years and appear only after extraordinary rain or snow. Just 32 percent of Colorado streams are classified as being perennial, meaning they flow year round.
Under the new federal rule only perennial and intermittent streams, or those deemed navigable, are regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states are no longer protected under the law.
If the CDPHE’s new legislative effort succeeds, it would give state health officials the authority to issue so-called dredge-and-fill permits on stream segments no longer protected by the federal law.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
The EPA Office of Water published an advance notice of a proposed rule-making (ANPRM) under the Clean Water Act (CWA) that could lead to development of effluent limitations guidelines, pretreatment standards, and new source performance standards for PFAS manufacturers, formulators, and other industries being studied by EPA.
In its recent ELG program planning document, EPA described its ongoing Multi-Industry Detailed Study of industrial PFAS use, which focuses on: PFAS manufacturers, pulp and paper manufacturers, textile and carpet manufacturers, metal finishing companies, and commercial airports as industries of interest for potential PFAS discharges, reported The National Law Review.
The ANPRM is open for public comment through May 17, 2021.
There is no approved method for analysis of PFAS compounds in wastewater and EPA is requesting monitoring data that identifies the analytical methods used.
EPA is specifically requesting data about: PFAS in process wastewater, cooling water, contaminated storm water, wastewater from aqueous scrubbers or air pollution control equipment, off-specification products, equipment cleaning wastewater, and spills and leaks from manufacturing or formulating entities.
In addition to wastewater characterization data, EPA will also seek information and data for potential treatment technologies, reported The National Law Review.
The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Michael S. Regan, the former top environmental regulator for North Carolina, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and drive some of the Biden administration’s biggest climate and regulatory policies.
As administrator, Mr. Regan, who began his career at the E.P.A. and worked in environmental and renewable energy advocacy before becoming secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, will be tasked to rebuild an agency that lost thousands of employees under the Trump administration. Political appointees under Donald J. Trump spent the past four years unwinding dozens of clean air and water protections, while rolling back all of the Obama administration’s major climate rules.
Central to Mr. Regan’s mission will be putting forward aggressive new regulations to meet President Biden’s pledge of eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the electric power sector by 2035, significantly reducing emissions from automobiles and preparing the United States to emit no net carbon pollution by the middle of the century. Several proposed regulations are already being prepared, administration officials have said.
His nomination was approved by a vote of 66-34, with all Democrats and 16 Republicans voting in favor..
Mr. Regan will be the first Black man to serve as E.P.A. administrator. At 44, he will also be one of Mr. Biden’s youngest cabinet secretaries and will have to navigate a crowded field of older, more seasoned Washington veterans already installed in key environmental positions — particularly Gina McCarthy, who formerly held Mr. Regan’s job and is the head of a new White House climate policy office…
But most of the opposition centered on Democratic policy. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, called Mr. Biden’s agenda a “left-wing war on American energy.”
“Mr. Regan has plenty of experience,” Senator McConnell said. “The problem is what he’s poised to do with it.”
In his testimony before the Senate last month Mr. Regan assured lawmakers that when it comes to E.P.A. policies, “I will be leading and making those decisions, and I will be accepting accountability for those decisions.”
Mr. Regan has a reputation as a consensus-builder who works well with lawmakers from both parties. North Carolina’s two Republican senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr voted to support his nomination. Even Senate Republicans who voted against him had kind words.
Denver drainage carries contaminants into waterways at levels up to 137 times higher than federal safety limit
Colorado health officials this week declared water quality in the South Platte River as it flows through Denver highly deficient, pointing to E.coli contamination at levels up to 137 times higher than a federal safety limit.
This intestinal bacteria indicates fecal matter and other pollution from runoff after melting snow and rain sweeps Denver pollution through drainage pipes into the river. To deal with the problem, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment has imposed, in a permit taking effect next month, stricter requirements for managing runoff water pollution.
But Denver officials are fighting those requirements and twice petitioned the state health department to relax the new permit.
“What the new requirements do is drastically increase the amount of expensive system maintenance beyond what could make a meaningful impact on E.coli concentrations,” city spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said.
Colorado public health officials last month rejected Denver’s latest appeal. They issued a statement standing by their demands for the city to reduce its water pollution, saying the agency hopes to avoid litigation.
A more aggressive approach is required, state health officials said in the statement, “because the South Platte remains in bad shape for pathogens.”
Denver officials told The Denver Post on Wednesday “no lawsuit has been filed” challenging the permit in state court and that they are “having conversations with the state on five or so new requirements with the hope of reaching compromise.”
“Denver’s storm sewer system is a clear part of the problem,” CDPHE permitting officials said in an email. When inspectors in 2019 sampled water flowing out of city drainage “outfall” pipes into the South Platte, they detected E.coli at levels as high as 1,970 cfu from one pipe and 8,400 cfu from another, state data shows…
“Denver has never opposed the numeric limit of 126 cfu per 100 milliliters,” [Nancy Kuhn] said, but opposes “the specific measures that CDPHE is mandating to achieve that limit.”
A consultant analyzing Denver stormwater runoff in 2018 proposed, in a document included in a 419-page state fact sheet accompanying the new permit, a comprehensive effort to slow down drainage flows, treating runoff water as a useful resource for re-greening in a semi-arid area. He recommended wide use of low-cost measures such as flattening crowned streets, installing small dams in alleys to re-direct culvert-bound gushing runoff, and converting sidewalks to “semi-pervious” surfaces that let water sink between stones into the soil.
Denver’s population growth and development boom have worked against greening to improve water quality. Developers have paved over more surfaces, leaving Denver as one of the nation’s most paved-over cities — especially in newly developed areas — sluicing away runoff water at high velocity without removing contaminants.
Denver officials directed contractors at the city’s new Globeville Landing outfall drainage pipe, in a park built over a former toxic dump site, to install an ultraviolet light. This light, city officials say, zaps away more than 90% of E.coli before runoff water reaches the river.
Wild animals such as raccoons in storm sewers add to the fecal pollution contaminating runoff, Kuhn said, and “dog waste that people don’t pick up is a huge problem and a significant source of E.coli.”
On March 2, 2021, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado in the case of Colorado v. EPA, et al., Nos. 20-1238, 20-1262, and 20-1263, that had issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (“NWPR”) in the State of Colorado. Under the Tenth Circuit ruling, the NWPR was put back into force, and the State of Colorado’s case was remanded back to district court for further proceedings challenging the rule…
A number of lawsuits were filed challenging the NWPR, including Colorado v. EPA. The Colorado case was significant because Colorado sought, and was granted, a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the NWPR in the State of Colorado. The State had argued that by reducing the reach of the Clean Water Act, the NWPR caused irreparable injury to the State because Colorado would be forced to undertake additional enforcement actions in place of the federal government to protect the quality of its waterways. While the district court had found this to be sufficient injury to support the State’s preliminary injunction, the Tenth Circuit found that it was too speculative and uncertain. Thus, the preliminary injunction was rejected and reversed because the State of Colorado could not show irreparable injury. Notably, the Tenth Circuit did not address the merits of the State’s challenge to the NWPR.
Additionally, prior to the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers had requested the court hold the appeal in abeyance for 60 days in light of the new leadership at the agencies following the election of President Biden. The court denied the request and issued its ruling lifting the preliminary injunction the following day. The Biden Administration has indicated it is reviewing the NWPR and may want to make changes to broaden the definition of “Waters of the United States” once again. If that is the case, the agencies may look to settle the Colorado case and other similar litigation with a promise of changes to come.
By summer, fields of peonies, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and some 40 other varieties of flowers will shimmer in the sun and bend in the breeze.
A pergola will become a cut-flower processing center. An old tuberculosis hut will be transformed into a flower stand.
The renovated barn will host weddings and community events, the empty pig pen will be converted into bachelor’s quarters and the former chicken coop will serve as an outdoor reception area…
Children will be able to pick a Pueblo-grown pumpkin during a fall festival, with hayrides and activities planned for every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October.
“This is one of those places that people have good memories, and that’s one of the things that’s driving my desire to be involved — for people to be in the moment and make memories again,” said Nikki McComsey, owner of Gather Mountain Blooms.
McComsey is leasing a portion of the farm and managing the property, which in the 1930s was bought by the family of the late Nick and Bambi Venetucci and now is overseen by two local philanthropic foundations.
The aged fields, where thousands of pumpkins that were given away grew plump, beans and peas could be plucked from the vine and immediately savored, and grass-fed cows, pastured pigs and productive hens roamed, have lain barren for nearly five years.
Unforeseen contamination of the Widefield aquifer, which was saturated with perfluorinated compounds originating from firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base, forced the farm to stop selling edible goods in 2016.
Revenue dried up along with the plants…
The farm’s primary source of income had been selling water from four of its seven wells to the Fountain Valley’s three water districts, said Samuel Clark, executive director of Pikes Peak Real Estate Foundation.
Water leasing netted the farm $260,000 in 2016, Clark said.
Lost revenue from produce and other consumables sold at farmers’ markets ranged from $30,000 to $190,000 annually, he said.
But the farm is poised to become bountiful once again.
After years of working with the Air Force and area water districts, Venetucci’s wells this week were connected to a new filtration system rendering water from the aquifer safe to use, according to Roy Heald, general manager of Security Water and Sanitation District.
Here’s an in-depth report from Emily Holden, Caty Enders, Niko Kommenda, and Vivian Ho that’s running in The Guardian. Click through and read the whole article and to check out the story map detailing the problem. Here’s an excerpt:
Millions of people in the US are drinking water that fails to meet federal health standards, including by violating limits for dangerous contaminants.
Latinos are disproportionately exposed, according to the Guardian’s review of more than 140,000 public water systems across the US and county-level demographic data.
Water systems in counties that are 25% or more Latino are violating drinking water contamination rules at twice the rate of those in the rest of the country.
America’s worst public water systems – those that have accrued more than 15 “violation points” for breaking standards over five years – serve more than 25m Americans, the research shows. An estimated 5.8m of these are Latino.
Texas, where millions of residents lost access to water and power during the recent storm, has the most high-violation systems, followed by California and Oklahoma. The average number of violations is highest in Oklahoma, West Virginia and New Mexico.
The six-month investigation of five years of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other data also shows how:
Access to clean drinking water is highly unequal in the US, based on race, income and geography
Poorer counties have more than twice as many violation points as wealthy ones
Some water systems report hundreds of violation points year after year without any action from the government and without being required to notify customers
Rural counties have 28% more violation points than metropolitan ones
Scientists and former government officials describe a water regulation system that is broken. “Most policymakers believe compliance with environmental rules is high,” said Cynthia Giles, the former head of enforcement at the EPA under Barack Obama, but that belief was “wrong”.
Experts are most concerned about systems serving smaller communities. They say Latinos are particularly at risk because they often live near industrial farms in California and the west that have polluted local water with nitrates in runoff from fertilizers and manure. They are also more likely to live in the south-west, where arsenic violations are common.
FromThe Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Colorado Sun:
Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million
The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice announced Wednesday it has settled with mining companies to resolve claims stemming from a 2015 spill that resulted in rivers in three western states being fouled with a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.
Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million…
The tribe said the toxic water coursed through 200 miles (322 kilometers) of river on Navajo lands…
The tribe’s claims against the EPA and its contractors remain pending. About 300 individual tribal members also have claims pending as part of a separate lawsuit…
The state of New Mexico also confirmed Wednesday that it has reached a settlement with the mining companies. Under that agreement, $10 million will be paid to New Mexico for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue and $1 million will go to Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources…
The settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, but Sunnyside agreed to it “as a matter of practicality to eliminate the costs and resources needed to continue to defend against ongoing litigation,” Myers said in an email…
In August, the U.S. government settled a lawsuit brought by the state of Utah for a fraction of what that state was initially seeking in damages.
In that case, the EPA agreed to fund $3 million in Utah clean water projects and spend $220 million of its own money to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.
After the spill, the EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund cleanup district. The agency still reviewing options for a broader cleanup.
From the Land Desk newsletter (Jonathan Thompson):
Whether the company [Kinross] is at all culpable for the spill is a question the courts have yet to answer. But there is definitely a connection, both hydrological and historical.
Here’s the short(ish) bulleted explanation:
The Gold King Mine workings are on one side of Bonita Peak (in the Cement Creek drainage) and the Sunnyside Mine workings are on the other side of Bonita Peak (in the Eureka Creek drainage). If you look at the two mines in a cross-section of the peak, they sit side-by-side, separated by a lot of rock.
In the early 1900s the owners of the Gold King started drilling the American Tunnel straight into Bonita Peak below the Gold King. The plan was then to link up with the Gold King in order to provide easier access. More than one mile of tunnel was dug, but the link was never completed, prior to the Gold King’s shutdown in the 1920s.
Photographic and other evidence suggests that prior to the construction of the American Tunnel, water drained from the Gold King Mine. However, after the tunnel’s construction the mine was said to be dry, suggesting that the tunnel hijacked the hydrology of the Gold King.
In 1959 Standard Metals continued drilling the American Tunnel through the mountain in order to provide a better access (from the Cement Creek side) to the then-defunct Sunnyside Mine.
After the Sunnyside shut down, the parent company at the time (Echo Bay), reached an agreement with the state to plug the American Tunnel with huge bulkheads to stop or slow acid mine drainage. They placed three bulkheads, one at the edge of the workings of the Sunnyside Mine (1996), one just inside the opening of the American Tunnel (2003), and another in between (2001).
Shortly after the bulkheads were placed, the Gold King ceased being a “dry” mine, and drainage resumed, eventually flowing at more than 250 gallons per minute. After the ceiling of the adit collapsed, water began backing up behind it until it was finally released in one catastrophic swoop in August 2015.
It seems pretty clear that one or more of the bulkheads caused water to back up inside the mountain and enter the Gold King Mine workings, eventually leading to the blowout. At this point, however, no one knows which bulkhead is the culprit, so no one knows whether the water is coming from the Sunnyside mine pool, or whether it is actually coming from the part of the American Tunnel that is still on Gold King property. Until that is determined, the root cause of the Gold King blowout will remain a mystery.
For the longer explanation of the Gold King saga, read my book, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. And for more maps showing the relationship between the Sunnyside and the Gold King, check out my River of Lost Souls reading guide.
The water treatment plant, however, is located on a site known as Gladstone, about 8 miles north of Silverton up County Road 110, owned by the same person who owns the Gold King Mine, Todd Hennis.
Hennis, an entrepreneur based in Golden, has long had an interest in the mines that dot the San Juan Mountains around Silverton, and over the years, has been buying up old mine sites with the hopes of revamping the industry…
After the spill, Hennis agreed to let the EPA use the Gladstone property for a temporary water treatment plant, albeit somewhat begrudgingly.
“When the Gold King event happened, I gave the keys to (the EPA) for Gladstone, and said ‘Go ahead, use anything, just return it after you’re done,’” Hennis said in October 2015. “That rapidly changed into having the hell torn out of my land.”
The water treatment plant continues to operate to this day, and is seen by some invested in the cleanup of mines around Silverton as a possible long-term solution to improving water quality in the Animas River.
Since 2015, the EPA has operated on the Gladstone property through a “general access order,” though the agency has not paid Hennis for use of the land, said EPA spokeswoman Katherine Jenkins.
The EPA has, however, worked for years to come to a long-term lease agreement with Hennis that would include payments for use of the land based on fair market value, but those efforts have not been successful.
“Mr. Hennis has declined EPA’s multiple requests for long-term access and has rejected a long-term lease agreement for EPA’s use of the Gladstone property,” Jenkins said.
Because, in part, of the resources and staff time required to send Hennis monthly general access orders, the EPA on Jan. 6 sent him an “administrative order” that requires him to give the EPA full access to the Gladstone property.
An administrative order, according to the EPA website, is an enforcement tool under the Superfund program.
“We want to have consistent access to the water treatment plant so we can maintain and provide water treatment, that’s the reasoning,” Jenkins said.
When contacted, Hennis said, “I cannot comment on this development, other than to say the EPA currently has access to the site.”
Indeed, Jenkins said that while Hennis has refused to come to a long-term lease agreement, he has not blocked access to the site.
The long-term future of the water treatment plant is an issue high atop the list of priorities in the Superfund around Silverton, known as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.
Some local officials and members of the public have called to expand the operating capacity of the plant to take in discharges from other mines around Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.
But questions have loomed about this prospect, namely who would be financially on the hook to operate the plant in perpetuity.
But for Hennis, all this is a moot point. He’s still adamant that there are plenty of metals, like gold and tellurium, to be mined in the mountains around Silverton.
“Some of you have government pensions to rely on when you retire,” Hennis said at a public meeting in October 2015. “My retirement is Gladstone. Sitting here, listening to people say Gladstone would make a perfect site for a remediation laboratory, having my land cavalierly dealt with, is not a happy feeling.
“I know you wouldn’t want your backyard or your retirement stolen from you,” he continued. “This is not going to happen. I’ve tried to be very reasonable.”
The EPA’s Jenkins said the administrative order would terminate if a lease agreement is signed or if access to the property is no longer needed by the EPA to conduct response activities at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.
The fires burning in the American West were the prompt. Turning to the president, Wallace asked Trump what he believed about climate science and what he would do in the next four years to confront carbon pollution. Trump, at first, demurred.
“I want crystal clean water and air,” Trump responded. Then he pivoted to a familiar talking point: railing against cluttered forests as the cause of wildfires in California and other western states.
The initial line — the desire for crystal clean water — is one that the president repeats frequently, even dating to his 2016 presidential campaign. Immaculate water, he has also said. Clear water. Beautiful water. But the focus on appearances is superficial, according to a number of water advocates and analysts. Revisions to environmental rules that the administration has pursued during the first term of the Trump presidency will be detrimental to the nation’s waters, they said.
“President Trump loves to say that he wants crystal clear water,” Bob Irvin, president and chief executive of the conservation group American Rivers, told Circle of Blue. “But his administration has adopted policies that will result in dirtier water across the country.”
Irvin, an environmental lawyer by training, has worked in Washington D.C. for more than three decades, starting out as a trial attorney in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration. He was senior counsel for fish and wildlife for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He worked for conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the National Wildlife Federation. His career has spanned Republican and Democratic administrations and there was always at least some common ground for environmental priorities, he reflected.
Not during the Trump administration, though. Irvin could not name any beneficial administration policy for waterways. “It is stunning for me to say that,” he said.
Others interviewed for this story were not as absolute, but they echoed, to varying degrees, Irvin’s thoughts: “This administration has been unrelentingly hostile to the idea of conservation and environmental protection, and has been single-minded in its determination to undermine that protection.”
Failure to secure a big win for infrastructure was surpassed by an agenda to undo environmental protections.
First under Scott Pruitt and currently led by Andrew Wheeler, who lobbied for fossil fuel industries he now regulates, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the reins in the administration’s plan to weaken federal authority and relinquish power to the states.
Like his boss, Wheeler made public statements that lifted water to a place of prominence.
“My frustration with the current dialogue around environmental issues is that water issues often take a backseat,” Wheeler told the audience at the Wilson Center on March 20, 2019, in an event to mark World Water Day. “It’s time to change that.”
And yet, many critics and analysts say that the administration did not change that. Regulatory rollbacks not only at the EPA but from the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Department of Energy leave the country’s waters more vulnerable to pollution and development, they say. States, which are enduring budget cuts to their environmental units, are not in a position to be a backstop, argues Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project.
“The assumption that states are going to come in and fill the gap is not warranted,” Schaeffer told Circle of Blue. Schaeffer was the director of EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement from 1997 to 2002. His group released a study showing that 31 states reduced funding for state pollution control agencies from 2008 to 2018. “When EPA leaves the field, it leaves a lot of work undone,” he said.
The list of places where EPA has left the field or stepped back from it is long. The administration gave coal power plants more time to close unlined waste pits and relaxed standards for pollutants in power plant wastewater that is discharged to rivers and lakes. It narrowed the scope of state reviews of pollution impacts under the Clean Water Act. It withdrew a proposal that would have required mining companies to provide more financial assurance that they could clean up future water contamination. Reversing an Obama-era decision, it decided not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water. Draft rules for lead in drinking water appear to give utilities more time to replace lead service lines.
The U.S. Forest Service, for its part, overturned an Obama-era prohibition on mining leases in about 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. The administration is proceeding with an environmental review of the contested Twin Metals mine, a proposed copper-nickel mine that would be located in the national forest some five miles from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The Bureau of Reclamation, meanwhile, has sought to increase the height of Shasta Dam over the objections of the state of California and the Winnemem Wintu tribe, which do not want higher waters to submerge salmon habitat and cultural sites along the McCloud River. And the Bureau is carrying out an executive order to maximize water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.
Laura Ziemer, the senior counsel and water policy advisor for Trout Unlimited, said that there is a lot of opportunity for the Bureau of Reclamation to invest in drought and climate preparedness in the western states through certain forms of natural water storage and irrigation efficiency. But projects like the Shasta Dam raise are not that…
Out of all these deregulatory actions, one stood out. Most people interviewed for this story singled out the administration’s changes to the scope of the Clean Water Act — the definition of what counts as a water of the United States, or WOTUS — as the most damaging policy for water.
“It’s going to have consequences that are irreversible and far-reaching,” Kyla Bennett, New England director and science policy director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Circle of Blue.
Written by the EPA and Army Corps, the WOTUS rule reduces protections for wetlands and ephemeral streams that only flow after rainfall. Agency staff used national hydrological datasets to calculate that as many as half of the nation’s wetlands and 18 percent of streams would be excluded under the new rule. That means developers will not have to seek permits to fill in wetlands and stream segments that formerly had protection. It also means that requirements to minimize damage and offset unavoidable impacts by restoring wetlands elsewhere have been stricken.
Ziemer noted that western rivers are particularly vulnerable to the removal of protections for ephemeral streams…
Watersheds that are connected from headwater channels to floodplains absorb high flows and retain that water through drought periods. “If we allow all of our hydrologic function to be paved over, we are going to expose ourselves to both flood and drought risk moving forward,” Ziemer said.
The EPA press office declined requests from Circle of Blue for interviews with Wheeler and David Ross, head of the Office of Water. It is the agency’s position that no existing map depicts accurately the boundaries of federal regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. Several federal agencies are now working to publish such a guidepost.
Tipping the Balance of Power
What is the effect of this overhaul? In most cases, it is too early to say. Narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act took effect this June for every state but Colorado. “It takes a while between the time you push the lever on a new policy or decision and the time the impacts show up in water quality,” Schaeffer said.
The administration touts other steps it has taken to secure the nation’s water: a national plan to coordinate the reuse of water, orders to speed up reviews and permitting of things like the management plan for federally managed dams on the Columbia River, and formalizing a water “subcabinet” of department heads who will coordinate policy, a determination that it will regulate two toxic PFAS substances in drinking water. FEMA, to the pleasure of green groups, also quietly advanced new guidance that allows greater use of federal flood prevention funds for natural infrastructure such as wetlands.
In general, the administration’s rules have tipped the balance of power to users of water: mining companies, energy developers, farmers, homebuilders. Even as it moves to regulate two PFAS in drinking water, the EPA is allowing the chemical industry to produce and sell new PFAS substances.
Among the president’s most ardent supporters is the American Farm Bureau Federation. Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the Farm Bureau, told Circle of Blue that the administration has assisted in three ways: collaborating with states on nutrient pollution, encouraging market-based systems for trading pollution credits, and simply listening to farm groups.
“One of our biggest priorities coming into this administration was a more realistic definition of waters of the United States,” Parrish told Circle of Blue. Narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act accomplished that, Parrish said, though the Farm Bureau did not get everything it wanted in the revised rule.
The Utility Water Act Group, a coalition of energy utilities and industry groups that sued to overturn Obama-era coal ash regulations and to support the Trump administration’s environmental policies, declined to comment for this story.
It’s not just the policies that have drawn ire. The Trump administration has sought to transform the process by which those decisions are made: by sidelining scientific evidence and shrinking the environmental review process.
According to a survey of federal scientists, political appointees in the Trump administration raised barriers to using science in policy decisions. More than 4,200 federal scientists responded to the survey, which was conducted in 2018 by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Iowa State University. Half of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that political considerations outweighed scientific conclusions.
The legacy of these four years is still being written. The administration’s policy changes have fared poorly in court. Many have been overturned because of procedural missteps and hastily written justifications. Other rules like the definition of waters of the United States are in the early stages of litigation.
“The territorial seas and traditional navigable waters,”
“Perennial and intermittent tributaries to those waters,”
“Certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments,” and
“Wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters.”
The final definition “provides clear exclusions for many water features that traditionally have not been regulated, and defines terms in the regulatory text that have never been defined before,” according to the EPA. “Congress, in the Clean Water Act, explicitly directed the Agencies to protect ‘navigable waters.’ The Navigable Waters Protection Rule regulates the nation’s navigable waters and the core tributary systems that provide perennial or intermittent flow into them.”
In July, final changes to the rule were published by the EPA to implement section 401 of the CWA that many characterized as gutting a 50-year history of state and tribal water quality regulation.
“This section allows states and tribal nations to protect health and human safety within their geographic boundaries by making permitting decisions related to the discharge of waste into state waterways,” according to a press release published by the Washington State Office of the Attorney General. The press release went on to say that the rule would “handicap states’ abilities to regulate water quality.”
In July, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The case is co-led by New York and California and was joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
The lawsuit alleges that the new rule “unlawfully violates the plain language, intent and established case law interpreting the Clean Water Act.”
“The final rule forces states to issue permits based on an incomplete review of what effects industries will have on waterways,” according to the Washington attorney general’s press release. “States will only be able to consider a narrow range of impacts these projects have on water quality, even when the consequences cause far-reaching and even irreversible environmental damage. The rule also limits the amount of information industry must provide, unreasonably reduces the amount of time states have to make decisions or deny permits and attempts to grant the federal government oversight of projects rather than states.”
Environmental and conservations groups estimate the final rule leaves 50% of U.S. wetlands and millions of miles of streams unprotected, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel…
Colorado met with success in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, where an injunction was granted to stop the rule within the state. “The court found that Colorado met the bar for preliminary injunction and agreed to freeze the rule until the litigation plays out,” according to E&E News.
Colorado’s case says the new rule is “significantly narrower” than prior WOTUS definitions and is “inconsistent with case law on the scope of the CWA and abandons the ‘significant nexus’ test laid out in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion in the 2006 case Rapanos v. United States,” according to Law Week Colorado. “According to this test, wetlands or non-navigable bodies of water fall under the CWA if they ‘significantly affect the chemical, physical and biological integrity of other covered waters more readily understood as ‘navigable.’”
The 10th Circuit convened a remote three-judge panel to hear the EPA’s motion to overturn the injunction, during which Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice Jonathan Brightbill “argued the rules were narrowed to provide clarity in the wake of three Supreme Court cases.”
“Against this thoughtful interpretation of navigable waters and in light of the Supreme court precedent, including the SWANCC decision which definitively holds there is a stopping point to the term navigable waters short of the Interstate Commerce Clause, Colorado points only to generalized objective provisions of the Clean Water Act,” Brightbill said in a Courthouse News Service article, referring to the 2001 case Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Representing the state of Colorado, State Solicitor General Eric Olson emphasized that important protections are missing from the new WOTUS definition.
Bobby Ray Baldock, senior U.S. Circuit judge, pointed out that Colorado could correct the issue with legislative measures.
“Olson explained that Colorado is one of 48 states that previously relied on the federal permitting system and that the new rule was implemented during a state legislative session shortened by Covid-19,” according to Courthouse News. “We absolutely agree we could put in a regulatory regime that could fill that gap, but we can’t do that in 60 days, which is all that they gave us under the rule,” Olson said.
U.S. Circuit Judge Carolyn McHugh disagreed. “That’s self-inflicted because the Colorado approach has been there will be no dredge-and-fill permits,” McHugh countered, according to Courthouse News. “The [federal] response was you’ve known since the executive order was signed, isn’t that fair notice?”
There’s new evidence about the extent of pollution from PFAS compounds—the so-called “forever chemicals”—that were used in non-stick cookware and many other products like firefighting foam and food packaging. PFAS has been linked to suppressed immune function, cancers, and other human health issues. Now, the compounds have been found in a mosquito pesticide, Anvil 10+10, which has been widely applied across the country and could be contaminating water supplies with the toxins.
Anvil is sprayed from helicopters, airplanes, and trucks and is used in at least 25 states from Massachusetts to California. A group known as Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) found PFAS in Anvil samples, and as the Boston Globe reports, the state of Massachusetts confirmed the pesticide contains the compounds. Given the widespread use of the pesticide over the years, specialists say it’s likely that the chemicals have leached into groundwater and other water sources.
The Clarke company, which makes the product, said no PFAS ingredients are used in the formulation of Anvil, but acknowledged the chemicals could have been introduced though manufacturing or packaging. Officials at EPA, who’ve been criticized for delaying new standards to reduce PFAS exposure, said they were looking into the findings and plan to conduct their own analysis.
A representative of PEER said it’s frightening that we do not know how many other pesticides, insecticides, or even disinfectants contain PFAS.
Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter declared that these findings shock the conscience and that states likely have unknowingly contaminated communities’ water with PFAS hidden in pesticides, and she charged that, once again, the EPA has failed to protect the American people from harmful pollution.
Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection AgencyK:
Aggressively addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment continues to be an active and ongoing priority for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today, the agency is announcing two important steps to address PFAS. First, EPA issued a memorandum detailing an interim National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting strategy for addressing PFAS in EPA-issued wastewater permits. Second, EPA released information on progress in developing new analytical methods to test for PFAS compounds in wastewater and other environmental media. Together, these actions help ensure that federally enforceable wastewater monitoring for PFAS can begin as soon as validated analytical methods are finalized.
“Better understanding and addressing PFAS is a top priority for EPA, and the agency is continuing to develop needed research and policies,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “For the first time in EPA’s history, we are utilizing all of our program offices to address a singular, cross-cutting contaminant and the agency’s efforts are critical to supporting our state and local partners.”
“Managing and mitigating PFAS in water is a priority for the Office of Water as we continue our focus on meeting 21st century challenges,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross. “These actions mark important steps in developing the underlying science and permitting techniques to address PFAS in wastewater where the discharge of these chemicals may be of concern.”
EPA’s interim NPDES permitting strategy for PFAS provides recommendations from a cross-agency workgroup on an interim approach to include PFAS-related conditions in EPA-issued NPDES permits. EPA is the permitting authority for three states (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico), the District of Columbia, most U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, Indian Country, and certain federal facilities. The strategy advises EPA permit writers to consider including PFAS monitoring at facilities where these chemicals are expected to be present in wastewater discharges, including from municipal separate storm sewer systems and industrial stormwater permits. The PFAS that could be considered for monitoring are those that will have validated EPA analytical methods for wastewater testing, which the agency anticipates being available on a phased-in schedule as multi-lab validated wastewater analytical methods are finalized. The agency’s interim strategy also encourages the use of best management practices where appropriate to control or abate the discharge of PFAS and includes recommendations to facilitate information sharing to foster adoption of best practices across states and localities.
In coordination with the interim NPDES permitting strategy, EPA is also providing information on the status of analytical methods needed to test for PFAS in wastewater. EPA is developing analytical methods in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense to test for PFAS in wastewater and other environmental media, such as soils. The agency is releasing a list of 40 PFAS chemicals that are the subject of analytical method development. This method would be in addition to Method 533 and Method 537.1 that are already approved and can measure 29 PFAS chemicals in drinking water. EPA anticipates that multi-lab validated testing for PFAS will be finalized in 2021. For more information on testing method validation, see https://www.epa.gov/cwa-methods.
EPA continues to make progress under its PFAS Action Plan to protect the environment and human health, including:
Highlighted Action: Drinking Water
In December 2019, EPA accomplished a key milestone in the PFAS Action Plan by publishing a new validated method to accurately test for 11 additional PFAS in drinking water. Method 533 complements EPA Method 537.1, and the agency can now measure 29 chemicals.
In February 2020, EPA took an important step in implementing the agency’s PFAS Action Plan by proposing to regulate PFOA and PFOS drinking water.
EPA also asked for information and data on other PFAS substances, as well as sought comment on potential monitoring requirements and regulatory approaches.
In November 2020, EPA issued a memo detailing an interim National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permitting strategy for PFAS. The agency also released information on progress in developing new analytical methods to test for PFAS compounds in wastewater and other environmental media.
The recommendations provide a starting point for making site-specific cleanup decisions and will help protect drinking water resources in communities across the country.
In July 2020, EPA submitted the Interim Guidance on the Destruction and Disposal of PFAS and Materials Containing PFAS to OMB for interagency review. The guidance would:
Provide information on technologies that may be feasible and appropriate for the destruction or disposal of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials.
Identify ongoing research and development activities related to destruction and disposal technologies, which may inform future guidance.
EPA is working on the proposed rule to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA. In the absence of the rule, EPA has used its existing authorities to compel cleanups.
Highlighted Action: Monitoring
In July 2020, EPA transmitted the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 5 (UCMR 5) proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for interagency review. EPA anticipates proposing nationwide drinking water monitoring for PFAS that uses new methods that can detect PFAS at lower concentrations than previously possible.
Highlighted Action: Toxics
In September 2019, EPA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that would allow the public to provide input on adding PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory toxic chemical list.
In June 2020, EPA issued a final regulation that added a list of 172 PFAS chemicals to Toxics Release Inventory reporting as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.
In July 2020, EPA issued a final regulation that can stop products containing PFAS from entering or reentering the marketplace without EPA’s explicit permission.
Highlighted Action: Scientific Leadership
EPA continues to compile and assess human and ecological toxicity information on PFAS to support risk management decisions.
EPA continues to develop new methods to test for additional PFAS in drinking water.
The agency is also validating analytical methods for surface water, groundwater, wastewater, soils, sediments and biosolids; developing new methods to test for PFAS in air and emissions; and improving laboratory methods to discover unknown PFAS.
EPA is developing exposure models to understand how PFAS moves through the environment to impact people and ecosystems.
EPA is working to develop tools to assist officials with the cleanup of contaminated sites.
In July 2020, EPA added new treatment information for removing PFAS from drinking water.
Highlighted Action: Technical Assistance
Just as important as the progress on PFAS at the federal level are EPA efforts to form partnerships with states, tribes, and local communities across the country.
EPA has provided assistance to more than 30 states to help address PFAS, and the agency is continuing to build on this support.
These joint projects allow EPA to take the knowledge of its world-class scientists and apply it in a collaborative fashion where it counts most.
Highlighted Action: Enforcement
EPA continues to use enforcement tools, when appropriate, to address PFAS exposure in the environment and assist states in enforcement activities.
To date, across the nation, EPA has addressed PFAS in 15 cases using a variety of enforcement tools under SDWA, TSCA, RCRA, and CERCLA (where appropriate), and will continue to do so to protect public health and the environment.
Highlighted Action: Grants and Funding
Under this Administration, EPA’s Office of Research and Development has awarded over $15 million through dozens of grants for PFAS research.
In May 2019, EPA awarded approximately $3.9 million through two grants for research that will improve the agency’s understanding of human and ecological exposure to PFAS in the environment. This research will also promote a greater awareness of how to restore water quality in PFAS-impacted communities.
In September 2019, EPA awarded nearly $6 million to fund research by eight organizations to expand the agency’s understanding of the environmental risks posed by PFAS in waste streams and to identify practical approaches to manage potential impacts as PFAS enters the environment.
In August 2020, EPA awarded $4.8 million in funding for federal research to help identify potential impacts of PFAS to farms, ranches, and rural communities.
Highlighted Action: Risk Communications
EPA is working collaboratively to develop a risk communication toolbox that includes multimedia materials and messaging for federal, state, tribal, and local partners to use with the public.
The city would pay a fine of $2 million and commit to an additional $43 million in stormwater projects over 15 years, Mayor John Suthers announced earlier this week.
Suthers said “an agreement in principle” exists for a settlement between the city — the defendant in the case — and the plaintiffs including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
“We’re now entering a 30-day comment period,” he said. “At the end of it, the judge will evaluate whether he wants to approve the settlement. I suspect he will.”
The mayor said that in the next few weeks, city officials will explain settlement details to the public, and that he already has City Council approval to pay the penalty.
“The federal government would get $1 million of the fine, and the state would get the other half,” he said. “The state’s share actually goes into a current project in the Arkansas River. That’s a lot better than a $12 million fine that was initially discussed.”
As a result of the penalty, however, Suthers said the city will have to raise its stormwater fee to homeowners and businesses over the next 15 years to pay the penalty…
Suthers said the city’s stormwater issues were a result of inaction by previous city councils, but upon his election as mayor in 2015 he pledged to address the issue and heal the rift between Pueblo County leaders, who had threatened to sue the city.
In fact, in the spring of 2016, Pueblo County agreed on a long-range plan in which the city would spend $460 million over 20 years on 71 stormwater projects, maintenance and enforcement.
To help generate the needed revenue, Suthers in 2017 pushed for the re-establishment of a stormwater fee ultimately passed by voters that November…
The city hoped its progress on stormwater issues would prevent a lawsuit, but in November 2016 the EPA initially filed suit and the other plaintiffs joined in. U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch presided over the weeklong bench trial in Denver in September 2018, and issued his ruling two months later.
The new regulations would require PAWSD to treat wastewater so that it is cleaner than the water initially taken in through their river diversions, Ramsey explained. This would mean the treated wastewater that gets discharged downstream would be cleaner than the water PAWSD takes in upstream.
Ramsey went on to explain how treating the wastewater to that extent may not be worth it, given the next water district to pull from that water source is over 100 miles away.
According to Ramsey, this would be upward of a $12 million capital investment project.
When asked in a phone interview about where the funding needed for a project like this would come from, he said, “We have no idea, that’s the problem.”
The board also discussed the possibility of raising the monthly sewer service base charge from $32 to $47 in 2025…
In the meeting, Ramsey ex- plained that PAWSD could fight the state on the imposed regulations.
PAWSD has already hired an at- torney to assist with the matter. According to Ramsey, PAWSD chose to hire attorneys with Law of The Rockies, who are currently representing Mt. Crested Butte in its dispute…
According to Walsh, the revised intergovernmental agreement with the Pagosa Springs Sanitation Gen- eral Improvement District (PSS- GID) “clearly stated that expansion and/or modification was a joint expense.”
PAWSD and the PSSGID entered into the agreement for PAWSD to treat the PSSGID’s wastewater.
Drought surcharge plan
The board also discussed the possibility of implementing a new drought surcharge rate plan. The new plan would include five stages of drought, progressing from a vol- untary stage to stage four.
The triggers used to determine the drought stage would include the San Juan River flow rate and the Hatcher Reservoir water level, along with the call date on the Four Mile diversion and the date when snowpacks on the mountains have melted away.
According to a presentation from Ramsey, for the voluntary through stage two categories, there would be no extra sur- charge for up to 4,000 gallons of water used in residential units per month. For stages three and four, there would be a surcharge of $7.68 per unit.
According to the presentation, for the voluntary stage and stage one, there would be no surcharge for residential units using more than 4,000 gallons of water a month. In stage two, a “2x stan- dard tier rate fee” would be ap- plied when using more than 4,000 gallons. Stage three would incur a “surcharge and a 3x standard tier rate fee” and stage four would in- cur a “surcharge and a 4x standard rate fee” for residential units using more than 4,000 gallons of water a month.
These new rates have not been applied yet, and according to Ramsey, PAWSD will be conducting a water usage study before imple- menting a new plan.
The lawsuit filed in 2016 claimed the city’s stormwater control efforts were underfunded and understaffed starting in 2009 and for years afterward. The suit also said the city’s failure to control stormwater degraded, eroded and widened Fountain Creek and its tributaries.
City officials stepped up stormwater control efforts in recent years after voters approved a stormwater fee in 2017.
But for years, poor stormwater control sent silt washing down Fountain Creek to the Arkansas River where it filled in the channels of both waterways and caused flooding in communities downstream, including Pueblo and La Junta, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…
The proposed consent decree will also hold the city of Colorado Springs accountable to complete the stormwater projects needed to improve water quality, he said. The document outlines required audits, milestones the city must meet, and hefty fines if it fails to complete the required work.
The proposed consent decree is expected to be finalized soon. It must be submitted to U.S. District Court Judge John Kane by Friday, according to court records. The judge set a deadline for submission of the decree, after the parties were granted six requests for more time to reach an agreement…
U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Danielle Nichols said the proposed consent decree requires the city to spend $11 million on projects intended to mitigate the alleged violations of water quality standards in Fountain Creek and its tributaries. In addition to helping reduce the flow of silt, the work will help keep oil, grease, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers and bacteria out of the waterways, she said…
Fulfilling the requirements of the proposed consent decree could require $100 million in spending to improve stormwater control and associated projects, Nichols said. However, the city would have spent $55 million of the $100 million anyway on operating, personnel and other costs, said Travis Easton, Colorado Springs’ public works director.
The $45 million required to fulfill the consent decree is in addition to the $460 million the city is spending over 20 years to build 71 stormwater projects to meet its 2016 agreement with Pueblo County, he said.
The spending on the consent decree includes $2.1 million mostly in fines that the Colorado Springs City Council approved Tuesday. That money will come from the general fund, not stormwater fees, Mayor John Suthers said.
The federal government will receive $1 million in fines and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District will receive $1 million in state fine revenue to fund projects, according to the proposed consent decree. Pueblo County will receive $25,000 to cover lawsuit costs and the conservancy district will receive $100,000 for lawsuit costs, the document shows…
The fine revenue set aside for the conservancy district will help it fund projects across its five-county territory and help it secure additional grant money to meet the needs for water quality projects, Winner said. The district needs to put in projects, such as riparian zones and ditch lining, he said.
The district could put in $100 million in water quality projects and still have work to do, he said.
Since the 2016 revelation that groundwater in Fountain Valley, which provided drinking water for Security-Widefield and Fountain, was contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include a number of individual chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFHpA, government agencies, residents and community activists have been struggling to come to terms with what is arguably one of the largest ecological contaminations in Colorado’s history.
On Aug. 4, Chris Reh, associate director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), led a virtual information session for residents of Security-Widefield and Fountain regarding its ongoing PFAS exposure assessment. The assessment will randomly select participants and test blood, urine and tap water for levels of PFAS chemicals. According to Reh, the assessment will identify how people might be exposed to chemicals, calculate the extent of exposure and determine if there is a threat to health.
ATSDR’s exposure assessment is the first part of a process that will continue in 2021 with the Pease Study, a national multi-site study conducted locally by the Colorado School of Public Health that will look at the human health effects of PFAS exposure through drinking contaminated water. While the sites chosen for this study are near Air Force operations, PFAS exposure extends far beyond Air Force bases. Much of the focus in El Paso County is on Fountain Valley, but the Air Force Academy on the city’s Northside also released PFAS chemicals, and residents of Woodmen Valley report health concerns as well, though they are not included in the ATSDR exposure assessment.
El Paso County is one of eight sites nationwide identified by ATSDR for exposure assessments related to PFAS chemicals. The sites, located in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, are co-located with Air Force bases that used aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a type of chemical used to extinguish fuel fires and that contains PFAS chemicals…
Since 2016, community activists have been working to raise awareness of this environmental threat, and Colorado legislators have recently passed laws to address PFAS contamination. While much of the blame, and legal consequences, for this massive and widespread contamination have been aimed at companies that produce PFAS chemicals, such as DuPont and 3M, the military has known of the potential dangers of these chemicals since at least 1989.
The Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory published a study titled “Biological Analysis of Three Ponds at Peterson AFB [Air Force Base], Colorado Springs CO” in November 1989 that raised concerns about contamination coming from the installation. “A series of three man-made ponds on the golf course at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs CO were analyzed to determine their current ecological status and future potential for recreational fishing,” notes the report, which goes on to identify that “Pond 3 cannot be recommended for stocking with fish in its current condition. Low species diversity suggests that this pond is being stressed by an unknown pollutant.” The report identifies a nearby storm drain as a “chronic source of pollutants for this pond.” While the Air Force analyzed a number of factors, such as pH and the levels of phytoplankton and zooplankton, it was quick to identify AFFF as a possible problem, noting that it “was accidentally spilled into pond 3 shortly before the first fish kill. A subsequent restocking resulted in a second fish kill.”
Stephen Brady of the Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs office commented, “When there is a potential our missions are having, or may have had, an adverse impact on communities, we take appropriate measures to protect it. When PFOS was discovered in the aquifer south of base in 2016, we immediately stopped using the legacy foam during fire response and training. We replaced the legacy foam in our fire response vehicles in November 2016 and in the hangar fire suppression systems in 2018 with a more environmentally responsible foam. Our first responders will only use the new environmentally responsible firefighting foam for emergency life-saving response, and do not discharge it during training. The Air Force takes environmental stewardship seriously, and continuously strives to meet or exceed environmental standards.”
By the early 2000s DuPont and 3M were facing lawsuits from residents near their plants and increased scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the EPA formally issued a health advisory regarding PFAS chemicals and set advisory levels of contamination at 70 parts per trillion (ppt)…
While Rosenbaum was organizing FVCWC, the Colorado School of Public Health began to study exposure and health effects from PFAS chemicals. The study was named “PFAS Aware.” In 2018 the PFAS Aware team began sampling water in Fountain Valley. Initial results published in December 2018 showed that “total PFASs in untreated well water ranged from 18 – 2300 ppt” and that “PFASs detected are typical of fire-fighting foam-impacted groundwater.”
On Sept. 18, 2019, the Air Force Academy sent a notice to Woodmen Valley residents, signed by Col. Brian Hartless, the installation commander, warning them that “firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA was used for firefighter training at the Academy from the 1970s until 1990, when we began to consolidate all of our training at Peterson Air Force Base. After that time, the equipment used to dispense the foam was periodically tested until approximately 2005.” Hartless did note that “this firefighting foam has never been used to extinguish a petroleum-based aircraft fire at the Academy” and that “the foam now in use at the Academy is a more environmentally friendly formula that we began using in approximately 2017.” Hartless went on to inform residents that the Air Force would begin sampling wells within the Woodmen Valley Fire Protection District.
According to Hartless, Air Force Civil Engineer Center representatives “identified 37 private wells used for drinking water at homes closest in proximity to the southern base boundary for sampling. To date, 35 of the 37 wells have been sampled.”
Bill Beaudin, a Woodmen Valley resident since 1978, questions the Air Force’s testing process. “The north border of our property is the south border of the Academy,” he says. “We live on six acres. For many years until 1995 we all used well water. We were offered to go on city water at that time and most of us took that option. About 38 families chose not to go on city water for whatever reason.”
Longtime residents like Beaudin were concerned about the fact that the Air Force only tested the wells still in use. “The rest of us all drank that water and so did our children for all of those years in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s until we went on city water,” says Beaudin, “and yet the Air Force Academy chose to just do this select group.”
On March 24, the Air Force announced in a news release, “recent well water monitoring tests on the southeast perimeter of the U.S. Air Force Academy show Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 ppt.”
While the Air Force reported PFOS and PFOA levels below the EPA advisory limits, Rosenbaum says that doesn’t tell the whole story. ”There’s 4,700 different types [of PFAS],” she says, “PFHxS is toxic firefighting foam, which may or may not have PFOA, which is Teflon, or PFAS, which is Scotchgard water-repellent. So when the Air Force Academy said ‘we’re below levels of PFOA and PFAS,’ all of us activists who have been doing this for four years were like, ‘duh.’ You don’t have a Teflon pan company. You don’t have a Scotchgard water-proofing company. You have toxic firefighting foam, so here, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility [PEER] did a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] to try to get the PFHxS levels, and they are really high.”
On March 12, 12 days before the Air Force’s statement, PEER reported that “The Air Force Academy test data of neighboring drinking water wells found levels of two individual PFAS chemicals, PFHxS and PFHpA, at more than 200 ppt in two locations” and “combined PFAS levels at a single well of 503.9 ppt and 537.8 ppt across two separate tests.”
The consternation over the levels of PFAS chemicals in the water stems from concerns over the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Heightened levels of PFAS chemicals have been linked to health problems such as increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to Rachel Rogers, an environmental health scientist with ATSDR.
“A neighbor that was four houses away, her husband died of testicular cancer,” says Beaudin. “A neighbor who has since passed away died from both kidney and bladder cancer. They were longtime neighbors of ours.”
Rosenbaum notes, “The main health issues here are kidney cancers, prostate cancer and a lot of autoimmune diseases.” Autoimmune disease are often difficult to diagnose because symptoms can come from other common conditions…
Lawmakers in Colorado addressed problems with PFAS contamination during the 2019 legislative session. Tony Exum, D-House District 18; Lois Landgraf, R-House District 21; Pete Lee, D-Senate District 11; and Dennis Hisey, R-Senate District 2, sponsored House Bill 1279, which bans the use of AFFFs that use PFAS chemicals for testing or training purposes. In 2020 the same group of legislators sponsored House Bill 1119, which further regulates the use of PFAS chemicals.
On July 10, The city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities, along with the cities of Aurora, Greeley, Fountain and a number of water districts filed a motion to vacate an administrative action hearing by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) in regards to a proposed new policy to address PFAS contamination, referred to as policy 20-1. The motion states, “The Joint Parties recognize the importance of assuring that drinking water supplies are not contaminated by PFAS, and that water supplies contaminated by PFAS are cleaned up. Vacating the administrative action hearing will not preclude the cleanup of PFAS; it will require that regulatory measures imposed by the Water Quality Control Division are properly authorized through a rulemaking hearing.”
Rosenbaum was confused by the motion. “At first the injunction was pretty difficult to understand,” she says. “Here we are Saturday morning and it came across that they wanted all the PFAS discussions taken out of the meeting. This is our fifth contamination to our water district here. We have to do something completely different and drastic and start writing new policy. The state health department wasn’t making a new law, they were adding language to the policy they already had in place.
According to Jennifer Kemp, a public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities, “The reason for our joining several other Front Range entities on the motion to vacate is because we did not agree with the WQCC’s approach to regulating PFAS. Under Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act, a policy is a general statement of interpretation that is not meant to be a binding rule. Therefore, we joined other stakeholders in asserting that the regulation of PFAS is so important that it should have been accomplished with a thorough rulemaking process to establish a statewide PFAS standard.”
On July 14 the WQCC adopted policy 20-1. “What this policy does,” explains Rosenbaum, “is it forces wastewater to test for PFAS. Your drinking water is fine, it’s not contaminated yet, but do you have an industry that’s dumping everything into the wastewater? We have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, so they’re not dumping in rivers anymore but they’re dumping into wastewater.
Now we’re making that accountable in our state. Now we’re explicitly stating in writing CDPHE [Colorado Department of Health and Environment] will receive extra funding to help that water district do an investigation of the industries that are connected to the wastewater system to see if they have PFAS. If they do, now they have to filter it at their site. If you own a restaurant, you have a grease trap. You can’t just dump in the wastewater. If you have a dental office, it’s explicitly written that they have to filter mercury. We’re not doing anything different, we’re just directly applying it where they’ve gotten away with no rules because they’ve been allowed to self-regulate.”
While ATSDR completes their current study, Rosenbaum is planning her next steps. “We need to set maximum contaminant levels in this state,” she says. “What we can do is stop the industry from adding more [PFAS contamination] in. New Hampshire set it at 18 ppt, where the state health department wanted to set it at 700 ppt for PFHxS, which is stupid. The EPA isn’t monitoring PFHxS, they’re just doing PFOA and PFAS, so we brought in evidence from other states saying PFHxs is actually the more harmful one because it’s more prevalent.”
In a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the EPA’s founding, Wheeler said the agency was moving back toward an approach that had long promoted economic growth as well as a healthy environment and drawn bipartisan support.
“Unfortunately, in the past decade or so, some members of former administrations and progressives in Congress have elevated single issue advocacy – in many cases focused just on climate change – to virtue-signal to foreign capitals, over the interests of communities within their own country,” he said.
Environmental groups and former EPA chiefs from both parties have accused Wheeler and his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, of undermining the agency’s mission by weakening or eliminating dozens of regulations intended to protect air and water quality, reduce climate change and protect endangered species.
“EPA was founded to protect people—you, me and our families—but the Trump administration has turned it into an agency to protect polluters.” said Gina McCarthy, who led the agency during the Obama administration and now is president of the NRDC Action Fund, the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Under President Donald Trump, EPA has raised the bar for requiring environmental reviews of highway and pipeline construction; reduced limits and reporting requirements for methane emissions; rolled back vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards; slashed the number of protected streams and wetlands; and repealed federal limits on carbon emissions from power plants.
Courts have blocked some of the changes, but others have taken effect.
In his remarks, Wheeler said that if Trump is re-elected EPA would support “community-driven environmentalism” that emphasizes on-the-ground results such as faster cleanup of Superfund toxic waste dumps and abandoned industrial sites that could be used for new businesses.
He pledged to require cost-benefit analyses for proposed rules and to make public the scientific justification for regulations, saying it would “bring much needed sunlight into our regulatory process” and saying opponents “want decisions to be made behind closed doors.”
Critics say a science “transparency” policy EPA is considering would hamper development of health and safety regulations by preventing consideration of studies with confidential information about patients and businesses.
Wheeler spoke at the Richard Nixon library in Yorba Linda, California. The Republican president established the EPA in 1970 amid public revulsion over smog-choked skies and waterways so laced with toxins they were unfit for swimming or fishing. Some of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, were enacted during his administration.
The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will take charge of remediating abandoned mine lands, including the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado
The Environmental Protection Agency is creating a new office in Lakewood that will focus on cleaning up abandoned hardrock mining sites west of the Mississippi River, including the Bonita Peak Mining District where the Gold King Mine disaster originated in 2015.
The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will be located in the EPA’s regional office at the Denver Federal Center, the agency announced during a news conference at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry in Colorado Springs on Wednesday. EPA’s National Mining Team Leader Shahid Mahmud will be the acting director, and the team will have nine full-time staff positions.
The office, which will use existing agency funds, will primarily focus on remediation work at Superfund sites and other abandoned mining locations, which release millions of gallons of pollution into streams each year. Remediation efforts will include cleaning up sites and the surrounding environment, and in some cases rebuilding the mine for operations.
There are more than 63 Superfund Mining and Mineral Processing Sites west of the Mississippi River, including nine in Colorado. In Colorado alone, there are roughly 23,000 abandoned mines.
Many historic mining sites don’t have an owner or operator to facilitate cleanup operations themselves, placing it in the EPA’s hands…
The new office will also help speed up project timelines, including to clean up hundreds of abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.
An agreement finalized in February designated funding and resources to clean up 24 of the highest priority mines, five years after the federal government and tribe first reached a settlement on the mines…
Another goal of the office is to make it easier for so-called “good Samaritan” cleanup operations, such as those facilitated by Trout Unlimited or The Nature Conservancy. Current law says that if a group wants to contribute to cleanup efforts, they could be responsible for finishing the job, whether they’re capable of doing so or not. While the law is what it is, Benevento said, the new office will do what it can to make collaborative cleanup efforts “as unbureaucratic as possible.”
For a few days in August 2015, invisible mining pollutants could be seen by the world
Five years ago today, a breach at the Gold King Mine north of Silverton sent a deluge of water loaded with heavy metals into the Animas River, turning the waterway an electric-orange hue that caught the nation’s attention.
But five years later, and four years into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup program, there has yet to be meaningful improvements to water quality and aquatic life.
Dan Wall, with the EPA’s Superfund program, said most of the focus since the Bonita Peaking Mining District Superfund site was declared in fall 2016 has been on studying the watershed and the multitude of mines impacting water quality.
The EPA is still in that effort, Wall said, and there’s no time frame for when the agency will present its final work plan for a comprehensive cleanup in the Animas River basin.
The EPA has spent more than $75 million on the site to date.
“It may be slower than what people want,” Wall said. “But we want to make sure our remedy selection is based on science … so the money won’t be wasted and we can be confident to see improvements based on the work we take.”
The stretch of the Animas River between Silverton and Bakers Bridge, about 15 miles north of Durango, is virtually devoid of aquatic life. Fish populations in the river through Durango are unable to reproduce, in part because of heavy metal contamination. And, years ago, the city of Durango switched its main source of water to the Florida River because of quality issues in the Animas.
The Animas River Stakeholders Group formed in 1994 and brought together a coalition of local, state and federal agencies, as well as mining companies and interested people, who sought to improve the health of the river amid heavy metal loading from legacy mines.
Despite the many Stakeholders Group successes, water quality in the Animas River in recent years has diminished, mainly from the mines leaching into one of the river’s tributaries, Cement Creek.
In 2014, the EPA decided pollution had gotten so bad that it stepped in with a $1.5 million cleanup project of its own…
Despite millions of dollars in claims, no one was reimbursed for their losses after the EPA claimed governmental immunity. A lawsuit still lingers in the federal courts from those seeking to recoup costs.
But ultimately, the Animas River did not appear to be too adversely impacted – the spill did not cause a die-off of fish, and long-term studies have shown little to no effect on aquatic life or the waterway…
What the spill did accomplish was to highlight the legacy of mines chronically contaminating the Animas River: The amount of metals released from the Gold King Mine spill is equal to that released every 300 days from all the mines around Silverton.
After years of the possibility of the EPA’s Superfund program stepping in, it became official in fall 2016, with the agency singling out 48 mining-related sites set for some degree of cleanup…
Immediately after the Gold King Mine spill, the EPA built a $1.5 million temporary water treatment plant that takes in discharges from the mine and removes metals, which costs about $2.4 million to $3.3 million a year to operate.
But other than some minor projects around the basin, the EPA has focused on studies to better understand the complex mining district, and evaluate what long-term options would be best for cleanup.
The EPA is set, remedial project manager Robert Parker said, to make stronger headway on a quick action plan to address about 23 mining sites over the next few years while longer-term solutions are being examined.
Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:
New grant program continues implementation of…Administration’s Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposure
(July 30, 2020) — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new grant program to help protect children in tribal communities from lead in drinking water at schools and childcare facilities. With this action, the agency is continuing to make meaningful progress under the Trump Administration’s Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures by engaging with tribes and working to protect childrens’ health in these underserved communities.
“Protecting children in tribal communities from lead in drinking water is a priority for the Trump Administration and EPA,” said U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This new funding helps tribes further reduce lead in drinking water by boosting testing for lead in schools and childcare centers. This, in turn, will increase the health and wellbeing of the coming generation.”
Authorized by the Water Infrastructure Improvements of the Nation (WIIN) Act, EPA is making $4.3 million available to support the Lead Testing in School and Child Care Program Drinking Water Tribal Grant Program. Grantees will use the EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water guidance to implement lead testing programs and develop monitoring, maintenance and/or sampling plans that protect children from lead exposure now and in the future. Beneficiaries of the program must be members of a federally-recognized tribe. EPA will host a webinar in August to provide more information about the 3Ts toolkit and an overview of the grant and its scope.
While the U.S. has made tremendous progress in lowering children’s blood lead levels, some children are still exposed to high levels of lead. In December 2018, EPA with other federal partners announced the Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures. Today’s announcement continues the agency’s significant progress in implementing this plan.
Project needs approval from Sunnyside Gold, a company potentially on hook for costs
It appears the Environmental Protection Agency has found a place for long-term storage of mine waste near Silverton.
The EPA announced this week it is proposing a waste repository for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site on top of the existing tailings impoundment near the Mayflower Mill, about 2 miles northeast of Silverton off County Road 2.
The site, EPA officials say, would serve as a long-term option to store waste that is generated from Superfund cleanup actions, as well as sludge from the water treatment plant that takes in discharges from the Gold King Mine.
“It’s going to be there for the long haul to accommodate any waste we’ll need to remove,” said Christina Progess, the EPA’s lead for the Superfund site.
The proposal comes with one caveat, however: The property is owned by Sunnyside Gold Corp. The EPA has asked for approval from Silverton’s last operating mining company and has yet to hear back.
Gina Myers, a spokeswoman for Sunnyside Gold, said in an email to The Durango Herald that “SGC … had previously offered EPA the use of Mayflower ground for storage of sludge from the underutilized treatment plant.”
Myers did not clarify whether Sunnyside Gold will allow EPA access or not.
The need for a centrally located, permanent dump site for mine waste has been an ongoing issue for EPA ever since the Superfund was declared in fall 2016, about a year after the agency triggered a blowout at the Gold King Mine.
The water treatment plant constructed after the blowout generates up to 6,000 cubic yards of sludge a year – or about a football field buried in 3 feet of muck – and there’s little room on-site for storage. And in the future, the EPA will need a place to take waste removed from other projects…
In August 2019, Sunnyside Gold offered the EPA access to its property at the Mayflower tailings repository, a large series of four impoundments of historic mine waste rock that operated until the early 2000s.
“(The site) is an ideal and proven site for a repository for the water-treatment plant, and, in the interest of good faith and improving water quality, SGC has granted EPA access for this evaluative work,” the company said at the time.
Progess said the EPA sent Sunnyside Gold a consent for access request and hopes to hear of a final decision by mid-August…
If access were granted, the EPA would start a phased approach at the Mayflower tailings, Progess said. A liner would be placed on top of the existing piles for the new waste, which would then be capped.
All told, the EPA’s plan would have the capacity to store up to 609,000 cubic yards of mine waste and sludge. Use of the site, however, would vary year to year, depending on current projects and need…
The Mayflower tailings are suspected of leaching heavy metals into the Animas River, which has prompted Sunnyside Gold to conduct its own multi-year investigation into the matter.
Progess said the investigation remains ongoing, and the EPA would use a different, more stable location at Impoundment 1 on the site to store its waste to begin with. She said leaching is suspected at Impoundment 4.
“We feel comfortable starting the work at Impoundment 1,” she said. “That will allow us years of use while the investigation on Impoundment 4 can continue.”
The public can comment on the proposed plan until Aug. 27. A virtual public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Aug 11.
Progess said the EPA hopes to have the site constructed and ready for use by fall 2021, about the time storage at the water-treatment plant for the Gold King Mine is expected to reach capacity.
It’s fitting that President Trump invoked an interstate highway expansion in Atlanta last week to announce final rules that, if they survive the inevitable legal challenges, will undermine one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act. American voters face a fork in their own road this November — stay on the Trump expressway to environmental degradation and catastrophic climate change, or shift to the road, bumpy as it may be, to a cleaner environment and more sustainable future of wind, solar and other energy sources that do not involve burning fossil fuels.
The COVID-19 pandemic understandably has seized the nation’s attention, but that hasn’t lessened the risk we all face from air and water pollution and carbon-fed global warming. Trump has unabashedly sought to dismantle federal regulatory structures to speed up construction projects while forging a national energy plan based on producing and burning fossil fuels.
His embrace of the oil, gas and coal industries defies the global scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases that make the Earth less habitable by warming the atmosphere, feeding stronger and more frequent storms, triggering devastating droughts that propel human migration, and pushing up sea levels so that they encroach on cities and other human settlements. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week that unusually high tides led to record flooding among one-quarter of Atlantic and Gulf Coast communities where the agency maintains tide gauges. Climate change is no dystopian vision of the future; it is here.
Trump’s efforts to eviscerate regulatory oversight of the environment is rooted in his belief that regulations are for the most part unnecessary hurdles to economic progress. He bewails the amount of time it takes for projects to clear environmental reviews and related court challenges, adding what, in his mind, are unnecessary costs and delays. To be honest, he may have something there. NEPA came into being five decades ago — signed into law by President Nixon — and it’s not out of line to suspect that there are places where the law and the regulations that arose from it could use some reasonable revising. But Trump and his industry-connected advisors are not the ones to trust with such a task.
These new rules are not reasoned updates. By requiring environmental impact analyses to be completed within two years (now they often take twice that), the administration seeks to cut short the consideration of those most affected by major projects — often people of color and low-income households — and disarm the environmental activists fighting to ensure that necessary environmental protections are respected. The rules also would require regulators to no longer weigh the cumulative effects of a proposed project and limit their review to effects “that are reasonably foreseeable” and “have a close causal relationship” to the work being done. So, for example, a proposed project’s emissions could not be added to those of other nearby emitters to determine whether their cumulative impact creates an excessive burden on a specific community.
Separately, the Government Accountability Office reported last week that the administration tweaked the formula for measuring the “social cost of carbon” so that estimates of the potential harm from emissions are seven times lower than they used to be. It’s foolhardy — and dangerous — to look at environmental impacts through such a narrow lens.
Meanwhile, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, after lengthy negotiations with progressive environmentalists who had backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), released a $2-trillion plan for quickly shifting the nation from its reliance on fossil fuels to renewable sources.
It’s not the controversial “Green New Deal” that progressives have been pushing, but it’s in the neighborhood. Getting such a measure through Congress even if both chambers were controlled by Democrats would be no easy task, but Biden’s proposal at least recognizes the dire future we all face if the nation — and the world — do not fundamentally alter how we produce and consume energy.
The world cannot afford to backslide on environmental protections and the all-important fight to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Yes, jobs are important, but survival more so. The errors and consequences of the past are crystal clear. The question is, will we heed those lessons?
FromBloomberg Law (Ellen M. Gilmer, Stephen Lee, and Jennifer A. Dlouhy):
States and environmental coalitions are set to wage multiple challenges to President Donald Trump’s overhaul of federal requirements for environmental permitting, setting up long-term regulatory uncertainty and the potential for a checkerboard of rules across the country.
Trump unveiled the plan Wednesday, replacing Nixon-era rules for how federal agencies conduct reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. The changes are aimed at streamlining permitting timelines for major projects down to two years, Trump said in public remarks in Atlanta…
Yet the move poses risks for developers and federal agencies alike. Congress hasn’t rewritten the requirements in the underlying, 50-year-old environmental law, and streamlined reviews that fall short of its mandates could be struck down in court.
“Even though the president has said that he wants to make this process more efficient and effective, it’s going to make it even worse, because it’s going to create more litigation and uncertainty,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of the lands division at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The controversy and the confusion around these projects is going to increase, rather than decrease.”
The administration’s critics are already sharpening their legal tools, vowing courtroom fights over how the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality crafted the new regulation.
Governor Jared Polis and members of his administration released a statement following the Trump administration’s increased efforts to rollback the bedrock National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
“This bedrock law helps protect the air we breathe and the water that is the lifeblood of our communities. We know NEPA needs to be more streamlined to ensure renewable energy and infrastructure projects can get moving. The voices of Coloradans should be heard on the projects that impact our communities,” said Governor Jared Polis. “Yet the Trump administration continues to put its thumb on the scale in order to favor special interests over hardworking Coloradans who value our environment and support a deliberative, citizen involved government. While I share the goal of cutting red tape, this latest Trump move is a misstep.”
Director Lew and members of the Polis administration testified at a field hearing in Denver in opposition to the Trump administration’s misguided NEPA roll-back
“Our nation’s roads connect our country and economy, but, historically, they divided many communities in their path,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. “Construction of the interstate cut through the heart of many cities and rural areas in America, with right of way often acquired disproportionately from lower-income and minority communities. On the heels of this activity in the 1950s and 1960s, NEPA provided a structured way to ensure a conversation with citizens about how a road, bridge or railway would affect their neighborhood, and to ensure opportunity for them to articulate their views or concerns. We can and should always find ways to improve these processes, but it is critical that we do so in ways that improve our understanding of the cumulative, direct, and indirect impact of projects on both our environment and our neighbors. This action misses the mark.”
“The decision by the Trump Administration to significantly alter NEPA implementation is the wrong direction for our country and Colorado,” said DNR Executive Director Dan Gibbs. “Coloradans highly value clean air and water. They want to protect our wildlife and open spaces, and ensure their communities are safe and healthy. The Trump Administration’s changes reduce safeguards, minimize the need to consider the broader or long-term impacts of federal decisions, and put arbitrary limits on environmental studies. These are contrary to Coloradans’ values and will likely result in further harm to Colorado’s natural resources, our economy, and communities.”
“Colorado’s economy and quality of life depend on clean air, clean water, and a stable climate,” said CEO Executive Director Will Toor. “The Trump administration’s new guidelines appear to be surgically designed to avoid consideration of the climate impacts of projects, will eliminate consideration of the cumulative impacts of fossil fuel development, and will undermine efforts to protect air quality in Colorado and other states.”
“This is what disempowerment looks like,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “The federal government is telling agencies to tune out community voices and ignore the most important issues when making decisions. This includes disregarding or diminishing questions of environmental justice, climate change, ozone pollution, and cumulative impacts. Colorado will once again step into the breach to protect its communities’ health, as well as our air, water and lands.”
The state’s Water Quality Control Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to enact a policy to put new limits on per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. The class of chemicals is a common ingredient in everything from nonstick pans to foam used to smother flames from jet fuel.
A growing body of scientific evidence has linked the chemicals to a range of health problems, including cancer and pregnancy issues. Meanwhile, federal efforts to regulate the chemicals have lagged, leaving states to take action on their own.
Liz Rosenbaum, founder of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, was relieved to see Colorado join the list of states cracking down on the chemicals…
Rosenbaum’s community just south of Colorado Springs is widely seen as ground-zero for Colorado’s growing PFAS pollution crisis. In 2016, scientists found elevated levels of a specific PFAS in the drinking water for Security, Widefield and Fountain. The study traced the contamination to firefighting foam used at Peterson Airforce Base. Two years later, another study found elevated levels of the same chemical in community members’ blood.
Further testing has since revealed the chemicals in waterways across the state. Recent results from a state study found four water sources where levels exceeded a health guideline set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008. All of the samples had some detectable levels of the chemicals.
In an effort to control the problem, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division proposed rules to require wastewater treatment plants and industrial sites to monitor the chemicals. It also established the authority for the state to limit the chemicals in future wastewater permits.
But the focus on wastewater was met with a fierce backlash from cities and private interests.
Three days before the commission hearing, Aurora, Colorado Springs and Greeley joined utilities and water districts in demanding regulators pause deliberations over the new rules. The motion to vacate claimed the rules focused on wastewater treatment plants, which do not add PFAS to water systems.
The groups called on the regulators to instead focus the source of the chemicals, like companies making carpet products or consumers using nonstick pans.
The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which serves more than 2 million people around metro Denver, put an especially shocking number behind their objection. If the state required wastewater districts to clean up the chemicals, it could cost ratepayers over $700 million.
Representatives for the Colorado Water Quality Control Division dismissed those concerns. Manufacturers and airfields would also face new scrutiny to clean up the chemicals, which means the wastewater district probably wouldn’t end up stuck with the problem. Under the rules, the district also likely wouldn’t face any of the new limits on PFAS until 2031. Meg Parish, a permit manager with the division, said by then it could be far cheaper to clean up the chemicals.
The Trump administration’s adoption of narrower protections for wetlands and waterways can take effect almost everywhere in the nation, except Colorado, while courts review whether the move was legal.
A federal Judge in California on Friday rejected a request for a nationwide injunction of the rule. Hours later, a federal Judge in Colorado agreed to freeze the federal rule within that state.
The California court’s decision is a major blow to environmentalists and states that had hoped to block the Navigable Waters Protection Rule across the country before it takes effect Monday. Colorado, meanwhile, is celebrating its success in blocking the rule in the Centennial State.
A coalition of liberal states and cities challenged the joint rule from the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, saying the agencies violated multiple federal laws. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard a marathon session of arguments June 18…
Colorado had filed its own legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
Judge William J. Martinez said some of the state’s arguments were “unusual and partly self-contradictory,” but concluded that the state met the bar for a preliminary injunction, which will put the regulation on hold in that state while the litigation plays out.
Other lawsuits attacking the regulation are pending in district courts across the country, where litigants are pursuing similar efforts to block the measure.
The Trump rule defines which types of wetlands and waterways are subject to federal regulations under the Clean Water Act. The interpretation replaces the Obama-era Clean Water Rule and a set of Reagan-era regulations.