Will the @EPA reconsider the Fountain Creek lawsuit?…@RepDLamborn pow wows with @EPAScottPruitt

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

From the Associated Press via the The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The Denver Post reports that Lamborn has spoken twice with EPA chief Scott Pruitt about the suit, which was filed in 2016 by the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Pueblo County joined the suit this year.

Colorado Springs insists it is investing $460 million with other municipalities over the next two decades to address the problem…

The EPA declined to comment.

[Stormwater] in Colorado Springs flows into Fountain Creek and south to Pueblo, where it joins the Arkansas River. The Arkansas is heavily used by agriculture in southeast Colorado.

The EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment filed suit in 2016, alleging water quality violations.

Lamborn said he’d like to get the Colorado state agency to abandon the suit. But Dr. Larry Wolk, the department’s executive director and chief medical officer, said the agency believes “these significant violations need to be corrected in order to protect the state’s water quality.”

“It’s not just the EPA, but it’s also the state of Colorado that filed the lawsuit,” said Jane Ard-Smith, chair of the Sierra Club’s Pikes Peak chapter. “The EPA doesn’t go around suing willy-nilly. We’ve seen a history of [stormwater] violations, so I would hope that the congressman would see the value of enforcing clean water laws.”

#AnimasRiver: Heavy metal concentrations meet standards #GoldKingMine

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 Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

Two studies conducted in response to the Gold King Mine spill show levels for heavy metals in the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation meet water quality standards set by tribal and federal environmental agencies.

Karletta Chief, a hydrology professor at the University of Arizona, has been leading a research team to study heavy metals in the San Juan River since fall 2015.

The study — a collaboration between the university, Tó Bei Nihi Dziil, Northern Arizona University, Diné College, Fort Lewis College and the Navajo Nation Community Health Representatives program — is also examining sediment and human health…

For the study, the group focused on lead and arsenic because exposure to both over a long period can be harmful to humans, she said.

Chief explained that 288 water samples were collected from the river, irrigation canals and wells located in Upper Fruitland, Shiprock and Aneth in November 2015, March 2016 and June 2016.

The study used drinking water standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and water standards for animals and plants were screened using standards set by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Chief said levels for arsenic and lead were within the standards for drinking water and for plants and animals.

The group is waiting for results for sediment tests. Information from health assessments conducted on 123 participants could be released in the fall, she said.

San Juan River Dineh Water Users Inc. CEO Martin Duncan said after listening to the report that people want to know if the river water is safe to use for irrigation.

“We need to find out if the water is safe now,” Duncan said.

In response, Chief said results show the levels do meet water quality standards for agricultural purposes.

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency also has been monitoring heavy metal levels in the river since the spill.

Results from the study were presented by Steve Austin, a senior hydrologist with the Water Quality Program under the tribe’s EPA.

Austin said the program has collected water and sediment samples from 10 locations along the river and from the Fruitland and Hogback canals, which supply river water to farms on the reservation. Samples were collected from August to October 2015 and in March 2016 to April 2017.

Those samples were measured using the tribe’s surface water-quality standards from 2007, which also received approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

“For water quality, none of our irrigation standards have been exceeded since 2013. We don’t see an issue with irrigating from the San Juan River,” Austin said.

Austin said the only time the concentration of heavy metals has exceeded standards for irrigation use was when the Fruitland canal reopened. But levels subsided after the canal was flushed.

He added that program officials will continue monitoring the river, and they are waiting for results for fish tissue testing.

@EPA Launches New ‘Waters of the U.S.’ Website

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

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

EPA is launching a new website (www.epa.gov/wotus-rule) today to provide the public with information about EPA’s review of the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) as set out in the 2015 “Clean Water Rule.” The site replaces the website developed for the 2015 rulemaking process.

“EPA is restoring states’ important role in the regulation of water by reviewing WOTUS,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “The president has directed us to review this regulation to address the concerns from farmers and local communities that it creates unnecessary burdens and inhibits economic growth. This website aims to provide the public with information about our actions to meet the president’s directive.”

In the spirit of transparency, the site will provide the public with relevant information explaining the Agency’s actions, along with the Department of the Army and the Army Corps of Engineers (the agencies), to review the WOTUS rule, including how the agencies are working with our local, state and tribal partners, to examine our role in the regulation of water under the Clean Water Act. All the pages, information and documentation from the Clean Water Rule site will remain available in the EPA archived site, archive.epa.gov.

EPA is initiating consultation and coordination with stakeholders and the public as the agencies implement the February 28, 2017, Presidential Executive Order on “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.”

The February Order states that it is in the national interest to ensure that the Nation’s navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the States under the Constitution. It also directs the agencies to review the existing Clean Water Rule (promulgated in 2015) for consistency with these priorities and to publish for notice and comment a proposed rule rescinding or revising the rule, as appropriate and consistent with the law. Further, the Order directs the agencies to consider interpreting the term “navigable waters,” as defined in the Clean Water Act at 33 U.S.C. 1362(7), in a manner consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006). “Waters of the United States” are those waters that are protected under the Clean Water Act.

To meet these objectives, the agencies intend to follow an expeditious, two-step process that will provide certainty across the country: 1) an initial rulemaking to rescind the 2015 rule and recodify the regulatory definition that had been in place for decades and is currently being used in light of a nationwide stay of the 2015 rule, and thus maintains the status quo; and 2) a rulemaking to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” consistent with direction in the February 28, 2017 E.O.

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee Meeting on Monday, May 22, 2017

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

Here’s the release from the New Mexico Environment Department (Allison Scott Majure):

New Mexico’s Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), based out of San Juan County, New Mexico, meets Monday, May 22, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. in the San Juan College Student Center‐ SUNS Room (accessible through the Henderson Fine Arts Center) in Farmington.

The Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) is a group of 9 citizen volunteers from Northern New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation, who provide a forum for public concerns while tracking the scientific long‐term monitoring of the Gold King Mine spill’s effects in the state. At Monday’s meeting the group will hear and discuss updates from the Navajo Nation and from the U.S. EPA Region 8 as follows:

  • Presentation by Dr. Karletta Chief, University of Arizona, discussing the impact of the Gold King Mine Spill on the Animas River on the Navajo Nation, and
  • Presentation by Rebecca Thomas, EPA Superfund Project Manager-Region 8, providing an update on the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Project.
  • The meeting agenda can be found at: https://www.env.nm.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/May-2017-Agenda.pdf. The CAC works with New Mexico’s Long‐Term Impact Review Team, established by Governor Susana Martinez, to both monitor and discuss with the public the continuing effects of the August 2015 mine blowout, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted to causing which released over three million gallons of mining wastewater laden with more than a million pounds of metals into the Animas and San Juan River systems.

    For more information please visit the New Mexico Environment Department’s Gold King Mine website ( http://www.NMEDRiverWaterSafety.org ) or at http://NMENV‐Outreach@state.nm.us

    Watering down the war: How we may move forward on the issues of growth on the Front Range

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Rentsch):

    More than 4 million acre-feet of water has left the state via the South Platte River since 2009, and in an arid environment like the Northern Front Range of the Rockies, a drop unused inside the state boundaries is considered a drop wasted – especially as the area grows in population and demand for water subsequently increases.

    Experts say that the growth of Northern Front Range towns and cities will not be limited by physical access to water – the supply exists. What is up for debate is how we allocate the resource to provide a sustainable supply of water to meet both human and environmental needs.

    One attempt to solve this problem is the Northern Integrated Supply Project, also known as NISP – a proposed water storage plan that has been in the stages of federal permitting and review since 2004. It may be the most famous – or, depending on who you ask, infamous – water project in the region…

    On the surface, debate over the project seems to be gridlocked as participants wait for the final Environmental Impact Assessment to be complete. Discussion has stagnated over the basic question of whether the NISP project is in fact a dam on the Poudre.

    However, at the heart of the debate are larger questions about how to manage growth on the Front Range without sacrificing the health of the region’s rivers and agricultural land.

    “It’s really a deeper question of what do we want Northern Colorado to look like and how do we want to get there,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado State University Water Center and the Colorado Water Institute.

    NISP basics

    The current project plan calls for the building of two reservoirs: Glade in Larimer County and Galeton in Weld. Additionally, there would be a small reservoir for temporary storage near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, three pump plants and pipelines to deliver the water to the participants and updates to an existing small canal.

    Designed to provide a reliable 40,000 acre-feet supply of water annually to the fifteen participating cities and water districts to meet needs through the year 2030. The project’s participant list includes the cities of Dacono, Eaton, Erie, Evans, Firestone, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Frederick, Lafayette, Severance and Windsor; participating water districts are Central Weld County, Fort Collins-Loveland, Left Hand and Morgan County Quality. Per Northern Water’s estimates, these 11 towns and four districts serve about 240,000 residents in total.

    In order to do this, Northern plans to divert water from the Poudre during wet periods of the year — under projected conditions, the June rise of the river would be considerably lower than ecologists say is healthy. Northern Water is working on a plan to abide by guidelines that will be set by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but what constitutes a healthy flow is up for debate.

    “We’re willing to work on a flushing flow plan because we know it’s a big enough issue,” said Brian Werner, a public relations officer for Northern Water.

    NISP was originally expected to cost $500 million; at this price, participants will pay about $12,500 per acre-foot of water they receive from the project. An equivalent amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson costs around $40,000 to $50,000 per acre-foot.

    However, more recent changes to make the project plan more feasible and sustainable have pushed the estimated price up to around $800 million.

    The project’s effects on the Poudre are of particular concern to ecologists.

    “The Poudre … is a working river, and it’s been developed to meet human needs since the late 1800s,” said Leroy Poff, a doctor of aquatic ecology at CSU. “But it continues to function ecologically in the lives of the citizens of Fort Collins… Proposed future development of the Poudre presents strong challenges to sustaining the ecosystem that we have today.”

    Planning the future of the Front Range

    The Colorado Department of Local Affairs reports that population in Larimer and Weld counties is forecast to increase by 92 percent from 2015 to 2045, exceeding the 53 percent growth forecast in the statewide population. In addition to the increased municipal demand for water, this level of growth has been attributed as responsible for traffic problems, both local and statewide housing shortages, and increasingly unaffordable housing.

    Despite the region experiencing a slight economic dip due to layoffs in the oil and gas industry as the price of oil lowered, the estimates of the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization say that employment in the region is projected to increase by 80 percent between 2010 and 2040.

    The rising cost of living associated with these trends is causing people who hold jobs in metropolitan areas, but who cannot afford the high price tag of living within city limits, to move to smaller communities to take advantage of the more affordable sprawl. These ‘bedroom communities,’ as they’re termed, predominantly consist of residences, schools and churches and lack the commercial development that characterizes a healthy, balanced city.

    “We’re pushing people who don’t have two good incomes out of Fort Collins because of growth,” Waskom said. “What happens is that growth is now occurring in those places that weren’t here (before) and developed water supplies early on in the game.”

    Growth in these areas indicates that there is a lot of logistical work ahead for the various entities coordinating the region’s infrastructure. In addition to issues of water supply, there must also be planning to ensure adequate water quality, air quality and transportation to support the population. Numerous infrastructure improvement plans are in the works, but none have been as publicly contentious as NISP.

    While some opponents of NISP say that stopping the project, and therefore limiting the supply of water available to these developing communities, might be a solution to curb growth, experts say that this is not the case. If absolutely no action is taken, agricultural water rights would be on the hook to make up the difference.

    “I think it’s true and evident that water is probably not going to be what limits sprawl or growth in this area,” Waskom said. “It’s just got to come out of ag, and it comes out of the environment. Those are the two sectors that are at risk, and the economics of it are such that, as agriculture dries up and houses grow on top of what were cornfields, the economy grows. It doesn’t skip a beat.”

    Solutions

    Some groups are seeking to transcend the back-and-forth over NISP by way of compromise.

    Rather than depending on large new reservoirs and diversions, the nonprofit group, Western Resource Advocates, proposes an alternative plan with a diverse water supply portfolio. WRA’s ‘A Better Future for the Poudre River’ plan would, like NISP, provide 40,000 acre-feet of water to participants annually, but would utilize conservation, reuse, water transferred as a result of growth onto irrigated agricultural lands and voluntary agreements with agriculture.

    The Poudre Runs Through It, a group of professionals facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, is looking at ways to bring together the diverse stakeholders on the river and to explore the continuing challenges and opportunities for collaboration.

    “I think until we start to engage more people in that discussion and more groups in that discussion, this is going to be a real tough thing to crack,” said Kehmeier, who is also a member of The Poudre Runs Through It. “It’s going to take more of the water users on the system than just one to make this work.”

    @EPA plans rewrite of the #WOTUS rule

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

    From Capital Thinking (Sarah Vilms and Mallory Richardson):

    Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated its plans to solicit comments by June 19 as to how the agency should rewrite the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule following President Trump’s February 28 executive order (EO) directing the agency to revise the contentious Obama Administration rule. Following the EO, EPA specified its plans to revise the rule through a formal notice-and-comment rulemaking process. While this is typically a lengthy procedure, the Trump Administration has expressed its interest in replacing the rule by the end of the year.

    This follows a meeting last week that was held between the EPA and a number of groups representing state and local officials, including the National Governors’ Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties and the Environmental Council of the states, where participants discussed the Trump Administration’s rewrite of rule.

    #AnimasRiver: @EPA is recommending a scaled-back approach for Bonita Peak superfund due to funding uncertainty

    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):

    EPA crews in southwestern Colorado swiftly stopped an acidic, 15 gallons-a-minute flow from the defunct Brooklyn Mine, drainage that for decades has injected heavy arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese and zinc into Animas River headwaters. That’s a tiny portion of the overall 3,750 gallons-a-minute contaminating the Animas, but is typical of the trickling from thousands of mines that slowly kills Western streams — even as clean water increasingly is coveted.

    “It took half a day. All we did was redirect the adit flow so that it didn’t cross waste rock,” EPA Superfund project manager Rebecca Thomas said…

    …EPA cleanup specialists face the practical reality that the nation’s ailing Superfund program for rectifying environmental disasters may not be able to deliver. Federal cleanups of toxic mining Superfund sites typically take decades due to bureaucracy and scarce funds.

    EPA officials have proposed 40 “early-response” fixes spanning 20 of the mine sites in the mountains above Silverton. If locals approve — public meetings are scheduled next week — EPA crews would embark on these small-scale projects to create ponds that slow drainage so that contaminants drop out, to reroute snow and rain run-off away from waste rock, and to remove tailings that slump into streams and ooze poison.

    The investigation and planning for a full Superfund cleanup still would continue, once EPA chiefs and Congress allocate funds. But the overall cleanup here at 46 sites across the newly designated, 60-square-mile Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site is complicated and costly. It requires mapping a vast underground maze of drilled tunnels and natural fissures, inserting concrete plugs and installing water-cleaning systems. EPA crews also would have to dispose of thousands of cubic yards of metals-laced sludge each year, spreading it in waste pits or possibly injecting it into super-deep bore holes to serve as a buffer and hold acidic mining wastewater inside dormant mine tunnels…

    Less money for EPA could reduce Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment testing of water quality in streams and slow completion of a toxic mines inventory to guide cleanups at thousands of the worst leaking mines, Green said. Next year, Conservation Colorado will push state-level legislation to require mining companies to post sufficient bond money to guarantee proper postmining restoration.

    In Washington, D.C., Earthworks advocates lamented that legislation Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner mulled to promote cleanups has fizzled…

    Beyond the quick fixes, EPA and southwestern Colorado officials also are working to create a scientific research center in Silverton that they envision as a hub for hydrology research to improve water quality at mining sites…

    Next week, EPA officials plan to hold public meetings with residents in Silverton, Durango and Farmington, N.M., for discussion of both the quick fixes and long-term cleanup.

    “Funding is a question,” said Thomas, the EPA project manager. “We certainly will be requesting money this year. We will start the work as soon as the funding is available — no earlier than probably the fourth quarter this year.”

    Yet tangible progress can be made sooner, she said.

    “I’m very optimistic. This is a high-visibility project. The work that we do in this district could be used as a template for hundreds, if not thousands, of abandoned mines across the Rocky Mountain West. There’s a lot of energy here at the EPA, and also at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, to make sure we do the right thing and see some improvement in environmental quality. I’m more optimistic than trepidacious for sure,” Thomas said.