#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine update

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 Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

The 12-inch (30-centimeter) valve will regulate wastewater pouring from the Gold King Mine in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, where the EPA inadvertently triggered a wastewater spill while excavating at the mine entrance in August 2015…

The valve will be mounted in a steel-and concrete barrier about 70 feet (20 meters) inside the mine. The barrier will have water-tight access doors so workers and equipment can get deeper into the mine for cleanup and investigation.

The EPA is also drilling a 170-foot (50-meter) horizontal well into another part of the Gold King to drain any water building up there. That water would be routed through a temporary treatment plant below the mine where wastewater draining from the main entrance is cleaned up.

The EPA said it can control the flow of wastewater from the new drain to avoid another blowout.

The documents did not say say how much the work will cost and the EPA did not immediately respond to emails and a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

The work is expected to be completed next month.

Peter Butler, a leader of the volunteer Animas River Stakeholders Group, which works to improve water quality in the area, said he agreed with the EPA’s decision to install the barrier and drainage well.

“It’s probably a good idea,” he said. “They are showing an abundance of caution.”

Wastewater has flowed from the Gold King for years, and since the 2015 blowout, it has poured out at a rate of about 500 gallons (1,900 liters) a minute.

Mine waste flows are unpredictable In the San Juan Mountains, where underground water flows through an interconnected warren of mine tunnels and natural faults.

Precautions such as the barrier, valve and horizontal drain will make it safer for investigators to enter the mines and try to figure out the water flows, Butler said.

The Gold King and dozens of other mining-related sites in the region were designated a Superfund district in 2016.

#Colorado sues U.S. Army/USFWS over Rocky Mountain Arsenal clean up

Rocky Mountain Arsenal back in the day

From CBS Denver:

The arsenal stopped production of chemical weapons and pesticides in the early 80s. Cleanup was finished seven years ago and now much of the area has been turned into a wildlife refuge but many toxic compounds remain.

Colorado says the potential for trouble is still there unless the property has proper control.

“It was referred to as one of the most contaminated pieces of property on the planet,” said Colorado Department of Health and Environment spokesman Doug Knappe.

Knappe manages the hazardous waste program for the state health department.

Now, the agency he works for is suing the U.S. Army, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Shell Oil. The lawsuit claims that an area called “Basin F” still poses a potential threat, “all of these constitute threats to human health and environment.”

He says the state needs proper management of the site.

“We don’t have control of that and we therefore can’t ensure for the protection of humans, health and environment,” said Knappe.

Much of the hazardous waste remains in landfills or contained under covers. The state says even though some ground water remains contaminated, it is treated.

@NatGeo: Why the US Clean Water Rule Needs to Stay in Place #WOTUS #CleanWaterRules @EPA

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

Floodplains, tributaries, wetlands, lakes, ponds, rivers and groundwater form an interconnected whole that helps ensure clean, safe, reliable water supplies. A well-functioning water cycle naturally moderates both floods and droughts, reducing societal risks from both.

The Trump administration’s proposal to rescind the Obama-era Clean Water Rule would further break the natural water cycle just at the time we need to double-down on repairing it…

The motivation for the Clean Water Rule arose from Supreme Court decisions, in particular the 2006 case of Rapanos v. United States, that sowed consideration confusion about which waters came under the jurisdiction of the federal Clean Water Act, and which did not.

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) were spending considerable time and tax dollars determining whether or not a particular stream or wetland was protected under the Act. Just between 2008 and 2015, the agencies had to make some 100,000 case-by-case determinations, causing backlogs and delays.

The 2015 rule, also known as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, clarified the definition and expanded protection to headwater streams and some 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of wetlands. An EPA-Corps economic analysis of the rule published in May of that year found that while the additional water protections would have negative economic impacts on certain industries and farm enterprises, the benefits to society from cleaner and more secure water supplies exceeded those costs.

In June 2017, as the Trump administration moved to rescind the rule, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt ordered agency staff to redo the economic analysis and omit the half billion dollars of benefits associated with wetland protection, according to reporting by the New York Times.

Scientists are speaking out against the repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

A letter already signed by more than 320 scientists (including me) from academia, state agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector notes that more than 1,200 peer-reviewed publications clearly establish “the vital importance” of wetlands and headwater streams “to clean water and the health of the nation’s rivers.”

In an amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court) brief to the Supreme Court in the Rapanos case, ten scientists (including me) argued that “when it comes to the connection of tributaries, streams, and wetlands to navigable waters and interstate commerce, there is no ecological ambiguity….[I]f the Clean Water Act does not protect these resources, then it does not protect navigable waters from pollution, and it cannot achieve its goals.”

Cleanup bill for US military bases could top $2 billion

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From The Spokane Spokesman-Review (Chad Sokol):

It may cost up to $2 billion to clean up toxic firefighting chemicals that have leaked from more than 400 U.S. military installations, including Fairchild Air Force Base, a group of Democratic senators said Tuesday in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The senators, including Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, attributed that cost estimate to U.S. Department of Defense officials.

The senators requested a study of the chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA, which were key ingredients in a foam that was used for decades to douse aircraft fires at military bases and civilian airports…

Other senators who signed the letter include Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

They asked that funds be included in the 2018 budget for the Centers for Disease Control, the EPA and the Department of Defense to study the spread of the chemicals, the health effects and viable alternatives for the toxic firefighting foam.

The chemicals have been linked with cancer, thyroid problems and immune system disorders, although scientists aren’t sure exactly how they interact in the human body.

@EPA accepting comments on #CleanWaterRules #WOTUS

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

From Colorado Corn (Eric Brown):

Farmers and all others interested are encouraged to submit comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on a pair of important issues: The EPA’s proposed 2018 Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO) under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), and its rescind of the 2015 Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.

Comments on 2018 RVO proposal due Aug. 31
The EPA proposed a 2018 Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO) for corn-based ethanol at 15.0 billion gallons — matching this year’s level — but proposed to lower the total RVO, including cellulosic and advanced biofuels, below the 2017 volumes.

During the past decade, the RFS has spurred economic growth for farmers and rural America, provided a dependable structure that assists in stabilizing markets, and promoted new technological advancements in the biofuels industry. With the help of the RFS, corn farmers and the ethanol industry have played a significant role in providing cleaner air and promoting energy independence, among other successes.

Learn more about the proposed RVO rule and submit comments here.

Comments on proposal to rescind the 2015 WOTUS rule due Sept. 27
The Trump Administration has proposed to rescind the waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule issued in 2015. With the rescind of the rule, a new rule-making would take place, likely coming in late 2017 or early 2018.

The rule has been a source of friction in recent years. The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had worked on the WOTUS rule in recent years in an attempt to make things clearer for farmers and others regarding responsibilities and permitting under the Clean Water Act. But as details were released, many expressed frustration that it didn’t provide clarity, and was viewed as an expansion of EPA’s jurisdiction.

To learn more and submit comments on the repeal of the 2015 WOTUS rule, click here.

@EPA: Extension of Comment Period for the Definition of “Waters of the United States” #WOTUS – Recodification of Pre-existing Rules

Middle Dutch Creek near the Grand River Ditch. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

DESK STATEMENT
Extension of the Comment Period for Proposed Rule “Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ – Recodification of Pre-existing Rules”

August 16, 2017

EPA and the Army are extending the comment period by 30 days for the proposed first step of the review of the definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ to provide additional time for stakeholders to weigh in.
Background

The comment period, as now extended, will close on September 27, 2017. The proposed rule was signed by the Administrator and posted to EPA’s website on June 27th and published in the Federal Register on July 27th. With this extension, the public will have more than 90 days to review the proposal. When finalized, the proposed rule would replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with the regulations that were in effect immediately preceding the 2015 rule. For more information on the proposed rule: http://www.epa.gov/wotus-rule
Pre-Publication Version

The EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water, Michael Shapiro, along with Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, signed the following document on 08/16/2017, and EPA is submitting it for publication in the Federal Register (FR). While we have taken steps to ensure the accuracy of this Internet version of the rule, it is not the official version. Please refer to the official version in a forthcoming FR publication, which will appear on the Government Printing Office’s FDsys website (http://fdsys.gpo.gov/fdsys/search/home.action) and on Regulations.gov (http://www.regulations.gov) in Docket No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0203. Once the official version of this document is published in the FR, this version will be removed from the Internet and replaced with a link to the official version.

#Utah #GoldKingMine lawsuit lacks details

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

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliot):

Utah’s $1.9 billion claim against the Environmental Protection Agency for a multi-state mine waste spill says Utah’s water, soil and wildlife were damaged, but it offers no specifics.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office provided a copy of the claim to The Associated Press Wednesday…

Utah’s claim from the spill is believed to be the largest of 144 filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows people to seek government compensation without a lawsuit. The claims seek payment for lost crops, livestock, wages and income and other damages.

The Navajo Nation filed a claim for $162 million and the state of New Mexico for $130 million. Both have also filed lawsuits against the federal government.

Utah also filed suit, but it named mine owners and EPA contractors as defendants, not the government.

The EPA said January it was prevented by law from paying any of the damages under the Tort Claims Act, angering many. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who took over after President Donald Trump assumed office, has said the agency will reconsider at least some of the claims.

Utah’s claim cites damage to the San Juan River and Lake Powell, a vast reservoir on the Colorado River which the San Juan feeds into. It also cites damage to other waterways, underground water, soil, sediment, wildlife and other, unspecified natural resources.

It does not say how state officials arrived at the $1.9 billion figure.

Dan Burton, a spokesman for Attorney General Sean Reyes, said the state’s lawyers came up with the number after consulting with Utah Department of Environmental Quality scientists and others.