Fountain has received the second of two Air Force-supplied water filters

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The delivery Wednesday of the granular-activated carbon filters marked another milestone in the city’s efforts to avoid the fouled Widefield Aquifer, which is contaminated with chemicals linked to a Peterson Air Force Base firefighting foam…

Fountain last used the aquifer in 2015, and residents have been asked to conserve water while the city relies solely on the Pueblo Reservoir.

The city’s first Air Force-supplied filter will likely be operational in about four to six weeks, said Curtis Mitchell, Fountain’s utilities director.

The filter delivered Wednesday likely won’t be turned on until spring 2018, because it won’t be needed during the fall and winter, when water usage dips, Mitchell said…

So far, the Security, Widefield and Fountain water districts have spent more than $6 million to avoid perfluorinated compounds in the aquifer.

From KOAA.com:

The new treatment system, installed at Aga Park downtown, is said to be effective in removing the PFC’s from the water. Both new units, the other installed in June near the Fountain Library, are expected to be fully operational before next summer.

“We’re very pleased to be making progress toward the ability to treat and use our groundwater,” said Curtis Mitchell, City of Fountain Utilities Director. “Our groundwater is a very important resource required to meet the water demands of our growing community.”

The City of Fountain will work on design plans for a permanent groundwater treatment plant within the next few months.

USAF does not plan to reimburse water suppliers for mitigation of Widefield aquifer pollution

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From the Associated Press via U.S. News & World Report:

The Air Force doesn’t plan to reimburse three Colorado communities for the money spent responding to water contamination caused by toxic firefighting foam previously used at a military base, potentially leaving the towns with an $11 million tab…

The Air Force has pledged $4.3 million in aid, and only $1.7 million of that amount will go to the water districts. Much of the rest is being spent on bottled water and filters. “We don’t back pay — we cannot reimburse,” said Cornell Long, a chemist with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

An email sent to the newspaper from the engineer center in response to a request for clarification said, “The Air Force does not have the authority to reimburse communities for costs incurred in dealing with environmental contamination issues.”

The military plans to continue studying the toxic chemicals in the foam and their effect on residents’ health until 2019. Air Force officials said last week they do not expect to carry out a remediation plan for the contaminated wells until next decade…

An Air Force report released Tuesday said that other sources likely contributed to the aquifer’s contamination, though none has been identified.

The delay has angered residents, and the cost is overwhelming the towns’ resources, which will lead to rate hikes in at least two of the three communities.

“We really need financial help,” said Roy Heald, manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts. “We need to get going on those things before the 2020s.”

Fountain plans to raise water rates by 5.3 percent this year, and Security plans to study a rate hike this fall. Widefield officials don’t expect to raise rates, though its long term solution — a new treatment plant for 10 affected water wells, could add $10 million to $12 million to their costs.

Security is also planning to build a treatment plant. It is paying Colorado Springs Utilities for uncontaminated water in the meantime for $1 million a year.

Fountain officials have budgeted $4.2 million in fixes through 2018.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder):

The defendants have moved to dismiss a sweeping lawsuit over chemicals polluting the Widefield Aquifer.

The suit, brought last fall, alleges that chemical giant 3M and other firms that sold firefighting foam to the Air Force should have known that it contained dangerous perfluorinated compounds, now thought to be a health risk. Thousands of water users in Widefield, Fountain and Security were told to stop drinking water from the aquifer last year after testing determined it contained dangerous levels of the compounds.

Attorneys for 3M, in a motion to dismiss the proposed class-action suit, argued that the firm didn’t know the foam was toxic when it was sold to the Air Force. The motion also argues that the Air Force, not 3M, used the foam, and polluted the environment.

“3M’s action is too far removed from the claimed injury for the court to reasonably infer foreseeability,” attorneys for 3M wrote, “or any duty arising therefrom.”

While the Air Force last week admitted that foam releases at Peterson Air Force Base since the 1970s might have allowed the chemical to seep into the aquifer, the military isn’t named in the lawsuit. Suing the military is nearly impossible because of sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that blocks all but the rarest claims against the government.

With the federal path blocked, lawyers representing plaintiffs in several lawsuits have targeted the chemical manufacturers with claims that the polluted wells stem from the sale of a dangerous product.

The suits have been merged into a single megasuit at federal District Court in Denver. The plaintiffs are also asking that all property owners in the area be recognized as a class, allowing them to head to court as a group rather than requiring them to each sue.

The plaintiffs claim that 3M and other manufacturers ignored warnings about perfluorinated compounds and kept selling the foam to the military, “and continued to do so long after they were aware of the health and environmental risks of their products.”

The defendants say they didn’t know the foam was harmful at the time it was made.

In arguments against 3M’s motion for dismissal, the plaintiffs claim that 3M stopped making the firefighting foam in 2002 due to toxicity concerns, but never recalled the product or warned users of the hazards the foam posed…

A report released by the Air Force last week showed that the chemical was detected at 88,000 parts per trillion near the fire training area at Peterson Air Force Base, that’s 1,257 times higher than the EPA’s advisory level.

Any resolution to the lawsuit could be a long way off.

No timeline has been set for arguments on the motion to dismiss the case.

Some studies that both sides could need to determine liability haven’t begun.

The Air Force claims that studies tying the aquifer’s pollution to firefighting foam are incomplete and may not be finished until late 2018.

The court in Denver this month waived filing deadlines in the lawsuit, slowing its progress ahead of a proposed late August hearing to set a schedule for the case.

Widefield aquifer pollution mitigation update

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

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

In a first-of-its-kind admission for the service, Air Force investigators confirmed that toxic firefighting foam chemicals used at Peterson Air Force Base had leached into the surrounding groundwater. To fix the problem, Air Force officials are proceeding under a process similar to the federal Superfund program – a yearslong procedure for cleaning up complex environmental contamination. No Superfund designation, however, has been made.

The findings were outlined in a report unveiled [July 25, 2017] that examined dozens of soil and water tests over the last year at the east Colorado Springs base.

Over and over, investigators for the report issued the same warning: “There is the potential for a complete groundwater pathway for human receptors.”

At a news conference later Tuesday, Air Force Col. Todd Moore gave no apology but framed the report as an attempt to be transparent about what had transpired in decades of training with the foam. He vowed to cooperate with the community in finding a solution.

“There’s still more to learn,” Moore said.

A final determination about what needs to be done probably won’t come until the completion of another study, which won’t begin until 2019 and still needs congressional approval for funding, said Cornell Long, of the Air Force Civil Engineering Center in San Antonio.

Federal remediation work will push into the next decade, he added, though some help may arrive before then.

“There could be points where you take interim measures,” he said.

Several local elected and water officials expressed disappointment Tuesday at the prospect of a years-long wait for help.

Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega left a closed-door briefing with Air Force and other local officials “frustrated” that Peterson’s latest investigation didn’t appear to be all-encompassing.

He said Air Force officials gave him no clear indication of when they would send the $4.3 million in aid promised last year. Nor did they say whether the service would offer more financial aid to communities burdened with the tainted water, he added.

USAF identifies sources of groundwater contamination for Widefield aquifer

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

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

The Air Force on Tuesday acknowledged potential guilt in fouling the drinking water of thousands of its neighbors but offered no apology and said work on a federal remediation plan likely would not begin until sometime in the 2020s.

In a first-of-its-kind admission for the service, Air Force investigators confirmed that toxic firefighting foam chemicals used at Peterson Air Force Base had leached into the surrounding groundwater. To fix the problem, Air Force officials are proceeding under a process similar to the federal Superfund program – a yearslong procedure for cleaning up complex environmental contamination. No Superfund designation, however, has been made.

The findings were outlined in a report unveiled Tuesday that examined dozens of soil and water tests over the last year at the east Colorado Springs base.

Over and over, investigators for the report issued the same warning: “There is the potential for a complete groundwater pathway for human receptors.”

At a news conference later Tuesday, Air Force Col. Todd Moore gave no apology but framed the report as an attempt to be transparent about what had transpired in decades of training with the foam. He vowed to cooperate with the community in finding a solution.

“There’s still more to learn,” Moore said.

A final determination about what needs to be done probably won’t come until the completion of another study, which won’t begin until 2019 and still needs congressional approval for funding, said Cornell Long, of the Air Force Civil Engineering Center in San Antonio.

Federal remediation work will push into the next decade, he added, though some help may arrive before then.

“There could be points where you take interim measures,” he said.

Several local elected and water officials expressed disappointment Tuesday at the prospect of a years-long wait for help…

A Gazette investigation last fall revealed a string of Air Force studies and other military research dating to the late 1970s that warned that the chemicals – known as perfluorinated compounds – were linked to ailments in laboratory animals including cancer, liver disease and low infant birth weight, a leading cause of infant mortality.

Tuesday’s report detailed several sites where Peterson firefighters sprayed the toxic foam directly on the ground since the 1970s.

The contamination appeared worst in the base’s current firefighting training pit, which had a plastic liner designed to guard against leaching.

The cause: “Overspray” from firefighters, investigators said.

The chemicals there measured at about 88,000 parts per trillion – several thousand times the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.

But the report gave only passing mention to a central path for such chemicals to reach the aquifer.

Investigators admitted pumping contaminated waste into Colorado Springs sewers, but they downplayed that as a contributor to toxic drinking water.

“The holding tank is occasionally drained into the sanitary sewer system, but such events are rare,” the report said, adding each release totaled 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of chemical-laden wastewater.

That admission was in stark contrast to previous statements by Peterson officials.

Last year, base leaders acknowledged pumping foam-tainted water from the lined fire pit, storing it in a nearby tank and dumping it about three times a year into Colorado Springs sewers.

The years-long practice likely made it easy for the chemicals to flood the nearby Widefield Aquifer.

That’s because the chemicals are not removed while passing through the Colorado Springs Utilities’ treatment plant. From there, the plant feeds into Fountain Creek – the aquifer’s primary water source.

The last such publicly acknowledged wastewater release from the base happened last August, and Air Force officials said Tuesday they capped the route leading to the city’s sewer system.

Colorado Springs Utilities has no records of ever authorizing the Air Force to release the chemical-laden wastewater into its sewer system, and its leaders have told Peterson officials not to do so, said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman.

Berry said it is “possible” that Utilities permitted such releases years ago, when the science surrounding these chemicals was “incomplete or unknown.”

The releases weren’t included in Tuesday’s study, because the investigation only planned to look at on-base contamination sites, Long said. Instead, the wastewater discharges will be in the follow-up investigation slated to begin in 2019.

The latest report also failed to mention the toxic firefighting foam’s use inside a half-dozen hangars at Peterson.

An earlier report said investigation wasn’t required for the hangars because the toxic foam was routed into city sewers.

Ratepayers may be on hook

The report comes more than a year into a water crisis that sent thousands of people rushing to buy bottled water in 2016 while their water districts spent millions of dollars to rid their drinking water of the chemicals.

Local water officials since have turned to new water sources or have installed new treatment systems to remove the toxic chemicals from the Widefield Aquifer water. But some water district leaders have criticized the Air Force’s plodding response, and millions of dollars in help pledged by the Air Force has yet to arrive in the coffers of local water districts. Ratepayers also may be on the hook for many of those fixes, because remediation costs have far outpaced military aid.

Many residents teed off on the Air Force at a community open house accompanying the report’s release Tuesday – deriding the years-long timeline for aid.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Military engineers still aren’t sure how far and wide PFC pollution has spread

Air Force officials pledged to conduct further investigations that, sometime after 2019, may include analysis of human health risks. This initial investigation focused on contamination at the base. The spread of contaminants to where tens of thousands of people live remains a mystery, the officials said.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment leaders have said the state was waiting on the Air Force for information on how far and how fast PFCs have moved. El Paso County and CDPHE officials at a public meeting here Tuesday night said their agencies lack money to track the PFCs moving in groundwater at unknown concentrations south toward Pueblo…

Security Water and Sanitation District manager Roy Heald said his agency spent $3.6 million on pipelines and purchases of alternative clean water supplies after municipal wells were contaminated but has yet to receive a promised $800,000 in reimbursements from the Air Force…

Air Force engineers found PFC contamination of groundwater at the Peterson base east of Colorado Springs reached levels up to 88,000 parts per trillion, and that soil contamination reached as high as 240,000 ppt, based on testing of 23 water samples and 33 soil samples at seven sites on the base. They confirmed that the use of aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, which helps put out fuel fires, led to runoff of the PFCs into water tapped by tens of thousands of residents south of Colorado Springs but said they do not know to what extent it has spread or how long it will last.

The Air Force investigation report — more than 600 pages — also blamed other unspecified sources of PFC contamination, reiterating the stance military officials have taken in the year since news organizations revealed that PFCs had contaminated municipal drinking water supplies.

“PFCs are found widely in the environment today, and there are likely other contributors to the contamination,” the report summary says. “As we continue our work with the public water suppliers in the Fountain, Widefield and Security area, we will study remediation steps, as other potential contributors are investigated.”

[…]

Air Force engineers in October began investigating to determine sources of the PFCs that state and local water tests had shown to be spreading from the base, including an area where firefighters trained. PFCs have been linked to health harm — low birth weights and kidney and testicular cancers — but public health epidemiological work in Colorado has not been done. A senior Pentagon official announced that the Air Force would spend $2 billion on PFC cleanups nationwide.

From KRDO.com (Colleen Sikora):

Some water samples collected for the study were more than 200 times the EPA’s standard of 70 parts per trillion.

The base said it has taken steps to replace the foam with a synthetic foam and are working to top the spread of PFCs to other areas.

“Making sure that the community is aware that within the bounds that we’ve been able to eliminate this contaminate, we’ve taken that action and then likewise as we learn more and move forward with that,” 21st Space Wing Commander Col. Todd R. Moore said.

From the Associated Press via US News & World Report:

Base leaders have previously acknowledged dumping wastewater contaminated with foam into Colorado Springs’ sewers three times a year, which likely made it easy for the chemicals to flow into the nearby Widefield Aquifer, a key source of water for the city of Fountain.

But while the report acknowledged the releases, it downplayed that as a contributor to toxic drinking water.

In May, state health officials said they had yet to find any other possible source of the contamination of the aquifer other than the foam, which airmen have used for firefighting training since the 1970s.

On Tuesday, Air Force officials met privately with local officials, including key staffers of Colorado’s congressional delegation, El Paso County commissioners, city staffers, state and county environmental agency officials and representatives of Pikes Peak region water districts.

Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said he left the meeting frustrated that the investigation was not more all-encompassing…

The mayor added that Air Force officials did not say when they would send the $4.3 million in aid promised last year, or if they would more fully reimburse communities burdened with treating the tainted water.

A Gazette investigation last fall revealed a string of Air Force studies and other military research dating to the late 1970s warning of the foam’s danger. The chemicals have been linked to ailments including cancer, liver disease and low infant birth weight.

Tuesday’s report comes more than a year into a water crisis that sent residents rushing to buy bottled water in 2016 while their water districts spent millions of dollars to rid their drinking water of the chemicals, known as perfluorinated compounds.

Local water officials have since turned to new water sources or installed new treatment systems to remove the toxic chemicals from the Widefield Aquifer water.

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

USAF delivers new carbon filter to Fountain

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

U.S. Air Force contractors on Thursday delivered the first of two $400,000 carbon filters designed to strip away two perfluorinated chemicals contaminating city water supply wells…

“We’re a public water system making sure we meet the regulations, even the health-advisory level. Our community — this is a priority for them. We’re going to deal with this,” Fountain utilities director Curtis Mitchell said, watching as a crane lowered two 19-foot-tall filtration tanks near a public library.

“This is a huge step forward,” he said, “because it will give us access to some of our groundwater again.”

But farmer Susan Gordon and other residents of the Fountain Creek watershed still are raising questions about the human-health impact of exposure through drinking water.

Gordon for years drank contaminated water from domestic wells and recently received results from a workers comp blood test showing a PFC called PFHxS in her blood at more than 100 times normal level. Three family members and some people who work on the farm with her also had elevated perfluorinated chemicals in their blood.

While she’s healthy now, “who knows what it could mean 10 years from now?” Gordon said. “Not just me, but lots of people living in these communities have been exposed.”

[…]

Fountain shifted city supplies to surface water sources after contamination was detected last year at levels above the EPA limit of 70 parts per trillion. But nearly 80,000 people in Fountain, Security and Widefield, as well as other communities south of Colorado Springs, long have relied on groundwater as a primary source of drinking water.

Water providers in Security have shifted to surface water delivered from a reservoir west of Pueblo along the Arkansas River, and those in Widefield and Stratmoor Hills have put in water-cleaning systems…

It was unclear whether Fountain’s filters would remove PFHxS. Karl Kuching, business development for the Air Force contractor TIGG, said the filters have proved successful removing some of the PFHxS at a site in Washington state.

Removing short-chain PFCs may require more frequent changing of the carbon, which is injected into the tops of tanks in a slurry and, when exhausted, drained out the bottoms, he said. Two tanks are used. When system operators detect a contaminant “breakthrough,” one tank still filters out contaminants while carbon in the first tank is replaced…

Water restrictions last summer reduced water use so that surface water sources met most of the demand. The restrictions might be imposed again after Tuesday, Mitchell said, so untreated well water isn’t tapped.

Waldo Canyon fire scar restoration update

Waldo Canyon Fire

From the Associated Press via the The Denver Post:

The Forest Service picked this valley as a place to send heavy equipment and fight against the flooding that caused havoc below in the months after the fire. Five years later, the images of cars floating away in Manitou Springs remain unforgettable. Here in this sparse forest, water runs controlled thanks to those excavators, which stacked logs to form dams and sculpted the channel, filled with flow-slowing objects such as rocks and charred branches.

And all along it, willows were planted with the design of further stabilizing the banks. Also, the willows could provide shade. Perhaps with cooler waters, plant and animal habitats will make a suitable home again…

The hydrologist based in Colorado Springs calls this “a pilot site” — the beginning stage for a recovery tactic that could work at riparian areas across the scar. Along with the 2,000 willows planted last month in Waldo Canyon itself, thousands more seedlings could be spread in the barren landscape beyond.

The site showcases other revegetation trends across the scar: the erosion-mitigating grasses that RMFI planted over wiped-out hillsides, accompanied by the Forest Service’s dump of mulch from a helicopter. And Shipstead expects other human action here: biocontrol by releasing bugs which crave the invasive weeds that took root after the fire.

The group steps over the plant henchmen remaining — the spiky thistle and fuzzy mullien. They continue their willow count silently, nervously, it seems…

Five years after the devastation, land managers maintain a hopeful narrative. The Forest Service calls the burn scar 70 percent revegetated — a figure that does not allude to the return of the previous conifer-covered state, but to a transformed one.

The area is taking on a look it likely had centuries ago, says Pikes Peak District Ranger Oscar Martinez. Mother Nature has “reset the clock,” he says, by pulling up the aspens that long lay dormant beneath the now-destroyed pines and firs that dominated for generations in forest time. Also covering the slopes now are tangles of scrub oak; they, like aspens, were eager to make their presence known soon after the conifers departed…

A fire of Waldo Canyon’s magnitude heats the ground to a point of hydrophobicity, where instead of water being absorbed, it is repelled. Further complicating the conifers’ return is the forest’s unique soil — “calling it a soil is kind of a generous term,” Martinez says. Conservationists call Pikes Peak granite “kitty litter,” for its pebbly, porous condition, which rain had no problem moving in the days after the burn, washing the sediment into the canyon and piling it up to heights of grown men.

That phenomenon made portions of the Waldo trail disappear along its 7-mile loop. The Forest Service continues to take questions as to when the trail will reopen, and land managers say people should refine their questions, considering the trail no longer really exists. Realignment seems more than likely…

Back at the recovery site, the willow count continues. Reflecting on the restoration here and at areas across the scar going forward, RMFI’s Peterson wonders about human’s role. “We can jump-start the process,” she says, “but nature is smarter and stronger. Nature will always find a way.”

Fountain Creek: CDPHE has stopped testing of Widefield aquifer plume

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“Pueblo County has not been notified by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Environmental Protection Agency or the Air Force that they have stopped monitoring, testing or sampling groundwater to track the plume,” county commissioner Terry Hart said. “If they have indeed stopped, we would most definitely be interested in learning why they stopped.

“Pueblo County is concerned about any and all groundwater contaminants. We are working aggressively to ensure that any waterway, but particularly Fountain Creek, is clean so they can be assets to our community instead of being a problem.”

State tests for PFCs in drinking water have not been done since November 2016, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment records show. And CDPHE hasn’t measured PFCs in groundwater since February, the records show.

It’s unclear how far the PFCs contamination has moved in groundwater. Back in April 2016, groundwater samples taken south of Fountain, along Hanover Road north of Pueblo, showed PFC contamination higher than 100 parts per trillion — well above the federal EPA health advisory limit of 70 ppt.

CDPHE officials on Thursday confirmed they stopped sampling water and told The Denver Post that’s because EPA funding that enabled the tests ran out. They could not say whether the agency is still monitoring other contaminated groundwater plumes, such as those spreading PCE from dry cleaning.

“The Water Quality Control Division is not conducting any further PFC sampling. ​We expended the funds from the EPA to complete sampling,” CDPHE spokeswoman Jan Stapleman said.

EPA officials in Denver said state water sampling stopped but that the U.S. Air Force still is monitoring PFCs contamination as part of a military investigation at Peterson Air Force Base. That base is strongly suspected as a source of PFCs, a family of chemicals found in aqueous film-forming foams that firefighters use to douse fuel fires.