#GoldKingMine update: Interview with Jonathan Thompson @jonnypeace #AnimasRiver

Here’s an interview with Jonathan Thompson author of, “The River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster,” from Colorado Public Radio (Andrew Villegas):

What’s the latest?

The EPA recently ordered the Sunnyside Gold Corp. to do some drilling work to investigate where the water originates to help with cleanup. But just a few days ago, Sunnyside Gold sent a letter to the EPA essentially saying, “No, we’re not going to do it.”

What’s their rationale for refusing?

Back in 1992 when Sunnyside Gold Corp. closed the mine and started cleaning up, the company came to an agreement with Colorado that they would plug the mine and do a certain amount of cleanup.

Sunnyside Gold also agreed to clean up unrelated, neighboring mines to offset the pollution in the river. In a way, they were like pollution credits.

The company spent well over $20 million on clean-up. Now they’re basically saying, “Look, we came to this agreement with the state — the EPA signed off on the agreement — and we did everything that we were supposed to do.”

So what’s the next step?

We’ll it’s going to be another court battle, likely. So far, it has been the subject of a number of ongoing lawsuits. This is just going to add to that legal quagmire. In the meantime, it’s just going to delay progress on the superfund cleanup.

Do you foresee the cleanup will eventually finish?

It will take place, it’s going to take a long time. And that’s not totally surprising. Superfund designations tend to be very long, drawn out processes. Don’t expect them to wrap up the cleanup any time in the next 10 years, maybe not the next 20.

What are the detrimental effects to the environment?

Mostly it’s to aquatic life: bugs and fish. It’s bad for them. We’ve seen that dramatically on the Animas River, where the mine spilled into. The number of species of fish downstream for maybe 40 miles downstream has declined.

Are people threatened by these kinds of spills?

Not necessarily. People were certainly affected because they had to close the river and they had to shut off irrigation ditches. And it was also emotionally and psychologically traumatic for people, to see the river turn that color. As far as health effects go, there wasn’t enough lead or mercury in the spilled water to really affect human health, and many wastewater treatment facilities downstream are able to clean these things out.

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

@EPA: Bonita Peak Mining District Human Health Risk Assessment

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

Click here to read the report. Here’s the introduction:

The Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site (Site) is located in southwestern Colorado. The Site consists of 48 historic mines or mining-related sources where ongoing releases of metal- laden water and sediments are occurring within the Mineral Creek, Cement Creek, and Upper Animas River drainages in San Juan County. Drainages within the Site contain over 400 abandoned or inactive mines, where large- to small-scale mining operations occurred. San Juan County is comprised of 10 historic mining districts (Colorado Geological Survey 2017). Historic mining districts within the Mineral Creek, Cement Creek, and Upper Animas River drainages include Animas, Animas Forks, Cement Creek, Eureka, Ice Lake Basin, and Mineral Point. Hereafter, the term “mining districts” or “Site” is used to refer to the mining districts within these three drainages. This document is a baseline human health risk assessment (HHRA) for the mining districts. The purpose of this document is to characterize the potential risks to humans, both now and in the future, from exposures to contaminants that may be present in the mining districts, assuming that no steps are taken to remediate the environment or to reduce human contact with contaminated environmental media. The mining districts are primarily used by humans for recreational, occupational, and tribal purposes. The receptor populations of interest for the risk assessment included campers, hikers, hunters, recreational fishermen, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) guides, ATV recreational riders, and county road workers. An addendum to this risk assessment will be developed to evaluate tribal exposures once the necessary exposure data are available.

The results of this assessment are intended to help inform risk managers and the public about current and potential future health risks to humans that may occur as a result of exposure to mining-related contaminants due to recreational and occupational activities, and to help determine if there is a need for action to protect public health at the Site. Site managers will also consider the results of the ecological risk assessment and any regulatory requirements in determining appropriate remedial actions for the Site. As appropriate, discussions and recommendations on how to manage potential risks will be provided in the Feasibility Study. The identification of remedial action levels, which will guide future remediation efforts, will be provided in the Record of Decision.

The methods used to evaluate risks in this HHRA are consistent with current guidelines for human health risk assessment provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use at Superfund sites (EPA 1989, 1991a, 1991b, 1992, 1997, 2002a, 2002b, 2002c, 2004, 2009a).

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Despite findings, agency says cleanup remains a priority

A new study has found no serious risk to human health stemming from mines included in a Superfund site around Silverton, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“This is a good news story,” said Christina Progess, Superfund remedial project manager. “And it’s a really important milestone for the project that paints a more full picture in terms of what cleanup work needs to be done.”

[…]

As part of the Superfund process, the EPA must evaluate the risks contamination slated for cleanup has on human health. In the case of Bonita Peak, exposure to mine waste through incidental ingestion and inhalation stood as the highest possibilities for people who visit the area.

But, for the most part, the study showed there doesn’t seem to be much risk to human health…

“Overall, there’s a lot of good news in here,” Progess said. “It doesn’t impact the local tourism industry, and folks working out in the district aren’t at risk from a human health standpoint. But (the study) also helps us highlight there are some areas that people come in contact with it.”

While Superfund sites with clear and significant human health risks receive priority within the EPA for funding, Progess said she doesn’t expect the study’s findings to affect Bonita Peak.

“Bonita Peak has always been and continues to be one of the administration’s top priority Superfund sites in the nation,” she said. “I don’t anticipate (funding) being a concern.”

In April, the EPA released a study assessing risks to aquatic habitats, which showed that in areas where water had low pH and elevated metals, fish and other aquatic life populations were highly impaired or nonexistent.

The study helped EPA identify four areas where the agency would like to improve water quality in the Animas River watershed to the point where restoration of aquatic life could be achievable.

@EPA finalizes near-term plan for cleanup at the Bonita Peak Superfund site: This summer’s work aims to reduce the flow of acid mine drainage

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

From The Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Denver Post:

The work includes dredging contaminated sediment from streams and ponds, diverting water away from tainted mine waste piles and covering contaminated soil at campgrounds.

The agency first outlined the plan last June and finalized it Thursday.

This summer’s work is aimed at reducing the volume of toxic heavy metals that escape from mining sites and into rivers while the EPA searches for a more comprehensive solution under the Superfund program…

The Gold King is not on the list of 23 sites chosen for this summer’s work. The EPA installed a temporary treatment plant below the Gold King two months after the spill, and it’s still cleaning up wastewater flowing from the mine.

Two of the 23 sites are campgrounds, and three are parking areas or places where people meet for tours. The EPA plans to cover contaminated rocks and soil at those sites with gravel or plant vegetation to reduce the chance of human exposure and keep contaminants from being kicked into the air.

Besides the dredging work, the EPA will dig ditches and berms to keep rain, melting snow and mine wastewater from reaching piles of contaminated waste rock and carrying pollutants into streams.

The initial project will cost about $10 million and take up to five years, the agency said.

The EPA said last year the initial cleanup would include 26 sites. But three mines were removed from the list because work will be done there later.

A trail of toxicity: the US military bases making people sick — The Guardian #PFAS

Ventucci Farm pumpkin harvest back in the day. Photo credit: Facebook.com

Here’s a report from Tom Dart that’s running in The Guardian. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

In Colorado Springs, businesses are suing the military for perfluorinated compounds, which some are calling ‘Agent Orange 2.0’

Over the last 80 years, much of the land surrounding Venetucci Farm was sold to the US army to establish the base now known as Fort Carson, and today it is hemmed in by highways. Still, with its 200 acres of fields, farmhouse and big red barn, it is a beloved institution in Colorado Springs. As the only community urban farm left in the sprawling city, it is a valuable resource, educating thousands of children about agriculture, sustainability and healthy eating and known above all for its annual pumpkin giveaways.

The autumn pumpkin event has taken place for decades, and a local brewer still makes Venetucci Pumpkin Ale, but now the pumpkins are bought elsewhere. The produce is no longer available for public consumption because farming activities have stopped. In 2016, irrigation water was found to be contaminated with elevated levels of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).

The foundation that runs the farm has joined forces with a local water district to sue the US air force, alleging that toxic chemicals used in firefighting foam at a nearby base have tainted the water, perhaps for decades, prompting health worries and causing economic losses.

Similar concerns have been raised about dozens of other bases across the country. But the problem is not limited to areas close to military installations.

PFCs and related human-made chemicals, more generally known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), have been virtually unregulated since at least the 1950s. As well as at industrial sites, airports and bases, PFAS have long been used in household products thanks to their grease- and stain-resistant properties. They are everywhere: from fast-food packaging to carpets and furniture, water-repellent clothing and non-stick cookware such as Teflon.

The extraordinary resilience that led to them being dubbed “forever chemicals” no longer seems such a boon. As more becomes known about their widespread presence in the environment and the potential health risks, activists are urging state and federal regulators take action to increase oversight and even ban PFAS outright.

A 2007 study estimated that PFAS are in the blood of 98% of Americans, while last year an analysis by the not-for-profit Environmental Working Group found that more than 1,500 drinking water systems nationwide could be contaminated by PFAS, affecting as many as 110 million people.

@EPA Announces Availability of $2.6 Billion in New Funding to Improve Water Infrastructure Across the United States

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of $2.6 billion in new funds to assist states, tribes and territories with improving drinking water and wastewater infrastructure across the country. This funding advances President Trump’s efforts to rebuild the country’s aging water infrastructure, create local jobs, and ensure all Americans have safe and clean water.

“EPA is delivering on President Trump’s commitment to modernize our nation’s water infrastructure and improve public health and environmental protections,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “EPA’s $2.6 billion contribution to the State Revolving Funds will enable more communities to make the investments needed to ensure Americans have safe water for drinking and recreation. These funds can also be combined with EPA’s WIFIA loans to create a powerful, innovative financing solution for major infrastructure projects nationwide.”

The State Revolving Funds (SRFs) require state match, loan repayments, and interest that flows back to the funds. With more than 30 years of federal capitalization grants and state contributions, approximately $80 billion has been invested into these programs. According to the agency’s estimate of national drinking water and wastewater needs, over $743 billion is needed for water infrastructure improvements. Through loan repayments and investment earnings, the SRFs have leveraged these contributions to provide more than $170 billion in financial assistance to over 39,900 water quality infrastructure projects and 14,500 drinking water projects across the country.

This year, EPA is making available more than $1 billion in new federal grant funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF). This funding can be used for loans that help drinking water systems install controls to treat contaminants such as PFAS and improve distribution systems by removing lead service lines. In addition, more than $50 million in DWSRF grant funding is available to tribes, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia to use for drinking water system upgrades.

EPA is also providing approximately $1.6 billion in new federal grant funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). This funding is available for a wide range of water infrastructure projects, including modernizing aging wastewater infrastructure, implementing water reuse and recycling, and addressing stormwater. More than $64 million in CWSRF grant funding is available to tribes, certain U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia for infrastructure projects.

Background:

Under the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs, EPA provides funding to all 50 states and Puerto Rico to capitalize SRF loan programs. The states and Puerto Rico contribute an additional 20% to match the federal grants. The 51 SRF programs function like infrastructure banks by providing low-interest loans to eligible recipients for drinking water and clean water infrastructure projects. As the loan principal and interest are repaid over time, it allows the state’s DWSRF or CWSRF to be recycled or “revolve.” As money is returned to the state’s revolving loan fund, the state makes new loans to other eligible recipients.

In 2018, the SRFs committed $9.6 billion in drinking water and clean water infrastructure loans and refinancing and disbursed $8.8 billion for drinking water and clean water infrastructure.

For more information, visit https://www.epa.gov/drinkingwatersrf and https://www.epa.gov/cwsrf.

#Colorado files comments on proposed waters of the U.S. rule #WOTUS

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office:

The State of Colorado filed comments with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today expressing concerns about the proposed rule concerning waters of the United States (WOTUS). This proposed rule would remove protections for a number of Colorado streams and wetlands.

“Colorado places the highest priority on the protection of the State’s land, air, and water, and relies on a combination of federal and state regulations to ensure that protection,” the comments read. “The headwaters of Colorado provide a water supply to 19 states and Mexico, providing millions of people with water for drinking, agriculture, industries, and recreation and are critical to the survival of numerous species of concern.”

“If enacted, the Proposed Rule will remove huge swaths of Colorado’s waters from federal jurisdiction. In doing so, the Proposed Rule will impose significant burdens upon the State of Colorado’s government,” the comments explained.

These comments are the result of a collaborative effort by a number of state agencies and the lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office who represent them. “In Colorado, we work together to develop innovative solutions and address our challenges, such as protecting our land, air, and water. Exemplifying the Colorado way, our comments do not simply reflect what we believe needs to be changed in the proposed rule, we propose solutions that reflect the range of concerns related to how we protect water quality, providing a roadmap for the federal government,” said Governor Jared Polis.

“I am proud of how a range of agencies and the lawyers who represent them worked together so effectively on a complex issue. At this time in our history, we need to demonstrate leadership based on listening to a range of concerns and developing thoughtful solutions. Thanks to everyone involved for working hard to do just that,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser. “As this process goes forward, we will continue to operate in this manner.”

Read the full letter here.

Farmington: San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas to report at meeting Wednesday (April 3, 2019) that the recent outage for the #CementCreek water treatment plant did not impact water quality

Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent

From The Farmington Daily Times:

Officials will hear confirmation from the county’s emergency management manager on Wednesday that contaminated water recently released from the Gold King Mine did not adversely impact water quality downstream in the Animas River.

San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas will speak about the mine’s status in his presentation to the San Juan Water Commission during its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the San Juan Water Commission Office Building, 7450 E. Main St. in Farmington.

The presentation will serve as an update for county water commissioners on the Gold King Mine spill of 2015, and what has happened since then.

The mine, near Silverton, Colorado, created concerns for water quality this winter when storms and avalanche danger cut off access to the facility that treats water draining from the mine.

The facility also lost power at that time, causing untreated water to bypass the plant and drain into Cement Creek for 48 hours.