Widefield Aquifer: USAF responds to Fountain City Council concerns

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):

Peterson Air Force Base bosses worked Tuesday to soothe the Fountain City Council’s frustrations over the base’s role in polluting drinking water for thousands of residents in southern El Paso County…

“We have two objectives: One is to be as transparent as humanly possible,” Col. Eric Dorminey, vice commander of Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, told the council. “Two is to foster the partnership we have with the city of Fountain.”

The Air Force wants the pollution cleaned up as badly as local residents do, Dorminey told the council.

“We are committed to finding a means to mitigate these concerns,” he said.

Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said the council knows better than to shoot the messengers from Peterson.

“While Peterson is where this potentially is coming from, they are not the ones who pull the strings,” Ortega said. “The leaders in Washington, D.C., are the ones we need to poke and prod.”

Monday, local officials twisted arms in Washington to prod the Air Force into faster action on the issue.

Officials from Fountain, Security and Widefield met with Air Force leaders at the Pentagon.

Locals are frustrated that they’re left with a substantial bill to install filters or bring in other water sources to get perfluorinated compounds out of their drinking water.

While the Air Force provided filters as part of an initial $4.3 million effort to provide clean water, the service didn’t come up with cash for buildings to house them, nor did it budget for pipelines to connect water users to other sources.

Water districts and utilities in Security, Widefield and Fountain have paid $6 million in checks responding to the water crisis, and they expect that tap to hit $12.7 million by the end of 2018.

The Air Force has said it won’t reimburse water districts for most of those expenses.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican who arranged the Pentagon confab, called the gathering productive…

Lamborn said it remains unclear, though, whether the Air Force will pay up.

The congressman said he’s frustrated by the military’s slow response to the contamination…

The City Council meeting also comes a day after an open house held by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on a proposed site-specific groundwater standard in central and southern El Paso County for the toxic chemicals.

The standard would limit two well-known types of perfluorinated compounds in the area’s groundwater to 70 parts per trillion (ppt), or a shot glass of the chemical in 107 million gallons of water.

It also would create the state’s first legally enforceable means to make polluters clean up contaminated areas. The likely boundaries extend across a wide swath of the county, including central and eastern Colorado Springs, Peterson Air Force Base and southern portions of Fort Carson.

State officials plan to release their draft of the rules in December, and a hearing is slated for April 9.

While Fountain now relies on clean water from Colorado Springs Utilities, the city could be forced to pull water from the aquifer in a drought.

At the council meeting, leaders said they have been frustrated by the lack of communication from the Air Force. They had been asking to meet with Peterson bosses for months.

#AnimasRiver: Lead pollution at Bonita Peak Mining District superfund site

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

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

This lead and dozens of other contaminants are spreading beyond waste-rock piles into surrounding “halos” where they are absorbed by plants and then can be ingested by bugs and transferred from the insects to birds to, ultimately, mammals. EPA officials said tissue samples from deer will be tested to assess ecological harm.

“You start to understand the scope of the environmental problem and how long this is going to take,” EPA Superfund project chief Rebecca Thomas said after a town hall meeting this week in Silverton. “It is pretty overwhelming.

“We don’t really have an active mining industry in this state anymore. Yet we still see so many impacts. And we’re just looking at the Bonita Peak Mining District in the San Juan Mountains. Think how much more widespread it is across the Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big problem. It’s going to take many years to solve it — and a lot of money.”

The lead, measured at concentrations up to 5,000 parts per million, surfaced in the latest round of sampling and study that were spurred by a federal declaration last year of a Superfund environmental disaster linked to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill that turned the Animas River mustard-yellow through three states.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said Superfund cleanups will be the EPA’s priority, even as he and other Republicans push to trim the agency’s $8 billion budget, because Americans deserve to have environmental harm fixed as required by law.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

A recent Denver Post article is being called misleading and inaccurate for overstating the risks to wildlife from mine contamination around a Superfund site near Silverton.

“The statement that EPA crews found that lead is threatening birds and animals is not accurate,” Environmental Protection Agency project manager Rebecca Thomas wrote in an email Friday. “The terrestrial risk assessment is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached.”

Around 7 p.m. Thursday, The Denver Post sent a “Breaking News Alert” for a story titled “EPA crews working on Gold King cleanup find elevated lead threatening birds, animals and, potentially, people.”

In the story, the Post draws the conclusion based on a presentation the EPA gave Monday, in which the agency said preliminary sampling of soils around the Superfund site found levels of lead at some locations at 5,000 parts per million.

The Post said these levels are 100 times higher than “danger thresholds for wildlife.”

However, EPA had said this data had not been validated.

“The statement regarding ‘danger thresholds’ for wildlife in The Denver Post story is misleading,” Thomas said. “At this point, we are looking at very conservative screening values in assessing potential risk.”

San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenheir, a former miner and geologist who is quoted in the Post article, also took issue with the story.

“I tried to explain that to (the reporter) and he just didn’t get it,” Fetchenheir said. “He had his mind made up there’s going to be lead problems.”

@EPA and the State of Colorado release plans to protect water quality, enable land reuse at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site

Eagle Mine

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Richard Mylott):

Actions build upon prior cleanup efforts

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) have released two final Records of Decision for environmental remediation at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in Eagle County, Colorado, following the consideration of input received through a public comment process. Both documents, specifying measures to protect water quality and facilitate site reuse, focus on further reducing exposure to heavy metal contamination created by nearly one-hundred years of mining activity at the site.

“These actions reflect both EPA’s and CDPHE’s commitment to efficiently evaluate conditions and protect human health and the environment at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site,” said EPA Assistant Regional Administrator Betsy Smidinger. “Together, we are strengthening the water quality improvements we have achieved in the Eagle River and providing opportunities to bring lands back into safe, productive reuse. EPA remains committed to improving environmental conditions and human health for Americans that live and work near Superfund sites.”

The amended Record of Decision finalized for Operable Unit 1 (OU1) at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site adopts site-specific arsenic remedial goals and modifies surface water cleanup levels for cadmium, copper and zinc to meet more recent standards established for the site by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in 2008. Water quality monitoring in the Eagle River indicates that these standards for cadmium, copper and zinc are not attained in March and April of most years. The OU1 Record of Decision requires institutional controls to protect existing remedial features and expands the current groundwater collection system in Belden and at the mouth of Rock Creek to further reduce metals loading to the Eagle River.

EPA and CDPHE have also finalized a separate Record of Decision for Operable Unit 3 (OU3) focused on soil remediation necessary to protect human health should future residential development occur. EPA created OU3 after a developer purchased a large portion of the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in 2004 with plans to develop the property into a private, residential community. The Record of Decision for OU3 includes a combination of the following elements for areas proposed for development: excavating soil; placing a soil exposure barrier; grading the site; placing institutional controls and conducting monitoring; and/or demolishing structures.

The Eagle Mine Superfund Site is located in Eagle County, Colorado. The site is defined as the area impacted by past mining activity along and including the Eagle River between the towns of Red Cliff and Minturn. Mining activities at the Eagle Mine began in 1879 and continued until 1984. EPA listed the site on the National Priorities List (NPL), commonly known as the list of Superfund Sites, in 1986 because of the mine metals discharge, uncontrolled mine waste piles and the close proximity of the population to the mine and associated features. To better manage the site, EPA divided it into operable units.

EPA and CDPHE issued a final Record of Decision for the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in 1993. Over the years, all required environmental cleanup work has occurred at the site under a number of state and federal directives. EPA declared all cleanup construction activities complete at the site in 2001. Remediation conducted to-date has resulted in significant improvement in water quality and reduction in risk to human health and the environment. Continued operation of the existing remedy, including drawdown from the mine pool and treatment at the water treatment plant, is required to maintain this condition. Contaminant concentrations in surface water and groundwater have decreased significantly, and the aquatic ecosystem continues to show signs of recovery.

For more information about the Eagle Mine Superfund Site, please contact: Ms. Wendy Naugle, On-Site Coordinator, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246, Wendy.naugle@co.state.co.us, or Ms. Jamie Miller, Project Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1595 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO 80202, miller.jamie@epa.gov

You can also visit one of the following Websites: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/eagle-mine, https://www.epa.gov/superfund/eagle-mine

@EPA awards Colorado $1.3M to improve and protect Arkansas River water quality

Lower Arkansas River near Bent

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Richard Mylott):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $1,293,010 to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to help protect human health and the environment through a Nonpoint Source Program Clean Water Act Section 319 cooperative agreement. This grant is given to states to implement environmental programs that address nonpoint source pollution in surface water and groundwater in order to improve and protect water quality.

“EPA is partnering with states to protect and restore watersheds, streams and groundwater,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Investments like this grant allow states to support local watershed projects, improving water quality and supporting communities that depend on clean and healthy water resources.”

Under CDPHE’s Nonpoint Source Program, a targeted basin approach is used to provide funding for projects across the state. Three projects that will address water quality in the lower half of the Arkansas River in Colorado will be funded in 2017. The projects will support the continued voluntary efforts by landowners, local stakeholders, and local governments to address excess selenium pollution in the Arkansas River. Selenium is naturally occurring, but agriculture practices often increase the natural levels in rivers to levels that can harm human health and the environment.

“Our local partners in the Arkansas, Colorado and South Platte River basins will use these funds to plan and implement priority ​water quality improvement ​ projects​,” said​ ​Patrick Pfaltzgraff, Director of CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division. ​ “Perhaps most importantly, the funds will allow us to continue creating and strengthening our partnerships which is so crucial for sustaining quality waters throughout our state. We value and appreciate this EPA funding.”

EPA’s grant will also provide funds to support local watershed planning for two additional river basins and for water quality outreach and education activities. The basic goal for all the projects is to improve water quality and restore the beneficial uses of waters impacted by nonpoint source pollution. The program works through a set of overarching principles that emphasize voluntary and incentive-based participation, locally-led projects, partnerships, measurable water quality improvement, and effective and efficient program administration.

Nonpoint source pollution encompasses a wide range of sources that are not always subject to federal or state regulation. These sources include agricultural runoff, unpermitted urban runoff, abandoned mine drainage, failing onsite disposal systems, and pollution caused by changes to natural stream channels. Congress enacted Section 319 of the Clean Water Act in 1987and established a national program to control nonpoint sources of water pollution. Through Section 319, the EPA provides states, territories, and tribes with guidance and grant funding to implement their nonpoint source programs and to support local watershed projects to improve water quality. Collectively, this work has restored over 6,000 miles of streams and over 164,000 acres of lakes since 2006. Hundreds of additional projects are underway across the country.

You can learn more about successful nonpoint source projects at https://www.epa.gov/nps/nonpoint-source-success-stories

For more information on the state of Colorado’s efforts to address nonpoint source pollution, visit: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/nonpoint-source-pollution-management

@EPA awards $225K to protect, manage and restore wetlands in #Wyoming

Spring sampling location along Little Sandy River in southern Wyoming. Photo credit: Chris Shope, USGSPublic domain

Here’s the release from the EPA Region 8 office (Lisa McClain-Vanderpool):

Wyoming Game and Fish and the University of Wyoming are wetlands grant recipients

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the University of Wyoming have each received $112,500 in grant funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop protect, manage and restore wetlands in the state of Wyoming. The EPA Wetland Program Development Grants announced today are awarded through a competitive process and are intended to support state and local efforts to increase the quantity and quality of wetlands in the U.S. by conserving and restoring wetland acreage and improving wetland condition.

“Wetland restoration is key to capturing pollutants that impact Wyoming’s natural resources,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Understanding the current health of wetlands and where restoration efforts are most needed will help the many groups working on making the state’s rivers, lakes and streams healthy.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will receive $112,500 to develop a voluntary wetland restoration and protection program and develop plans for critical wetlands throughout the state. Project partners include Ducks Unlimited, the Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, and Wyoming Wetlands Society.

“We are excited to receive this funding,” said Steve Tessmann, a biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “The grant is supporting a much-needed jump-start of a voluntary wetland restoration and protection program in Wyoming. The effort will also include preparation of plans to manage and improve wetlands located on several State wildlife habitat areas.”

The University of Wyoming is also receiving a $112,500 EPA wetlands grant to carry out a multi-year project to improve the effectiveness of monitoring and assessment methods related to aquatic resources. These improvements will be achieved by developing, testing, and calibrating Wyoming-specific protocols to assess wetland condition and value. This project will support state priorities for wetland monitoring, protection, and conservation, focusing on the effects of climate change in highly managed basins. Project partners include The Nature Conservancy, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

“Many people don’t realize that even though the area of marshes, ponds, and streamside forests in Wyoming is small, those wetlands have a large impact on biodiversity and other ecological services,” said Teresa Tibbets, a freshwater ecologist at the University of Wyoming. “Wetlands also often overlap with areas important for agricultural production. Our goal is to develop assessment methods that can inform how we can better manage our water resources to balance the needs of wetland habitats and people.”

EPA Wetlands Program Development Grants assist state, tribal, and local government agencies in building programs that protect, manage, and restore wetlands and aquatic resources. Partners are encouraged to develop wetlands program plans, which help create a roadmap for building capacity and achieving long-term environmental goals. These plans also help prioritize projects and funding needs and ensure that EPA is providing strategic support for states and tribes as they pursue their environmental goals.

For more information visit: https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/wetland-program-development-grants

#ColoradoSprings sales tax revenue up, stormwater infrastructure could benefit

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (J. Adrian Stanley ):

The budget proposal assumes the stormwater fee measure on the Nov. 7 ballot will not pass, but Suthers is prepared to submit an amendment to City Council if it does.

A big chunk of the anticipated increase in revenue is from sales tax collection increases. At times, the city has needed to refund sales tax collections that grew quickly, due to revenue growth limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. But this year, and in 2018, the city will be able to keep $6 million per year in revenue overage thanks to a measure approved by voters in April. That money is dedicated to stormwater projects. (The city is aggressively dealing with drainage issues, in part, because it’s being sued by the federal government for violation of the Clean Water Act.)

Fountain Creek: @EPA and CDPHE lawsuit prep. to continue until April 2018

Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who is presiding over the lawsuit, stated Thursday that pre-trial preparation will continue until April. Matsch, in a written order, said he will set a trial date after that.

In pre-trial work so far, Colorado Springs has turned over 1,275 boxes of documents to the EPA and the state environment department to examine for possible evidence. That is part of the legal process known as “discovery.”

Matsch earlier this year granted requests from the Board of Pueblo County Commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to intervene in the case, on the side of the environmental agencies. Intervention allows the commissioners and the conservancy district to have a direct voice in the litigation in order to protect their interests.

The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce is grown. District officials told Matsch they want to ensure the quality of the river water.

Colorado Springs has denied it is violating the laws. Mayor John Suthers has pointed to its commitment of money and manpower to improve its stormwater system.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its storm management program, as required by permits issued by the environmental agencies.