#CDPHE is considering limits for PFCs

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado health officials grappling with groundwater contamination from firefighting foam — containing a toxic chemical the federal government allows — have proposed to set a state limit to prevent more problems.

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment limit for the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) also could give leverage in compelling cleanup by the Air Force, which has confirmed high levels of PFCs spreading from a military air base east of Colorado Springs. More than 65,000 residents who relied on the underground Widefield Aquifer as a water source have had to find alternative supplies or install new water-cleaning systems as a plume of PFCs contamination moves south through the Fountain Valley watershed.

“We need to be able to have not just a carrot, but a stick,” CDPHE environmental toxicologist Kristy Richardson said last week, discussing the effort to set a state limit.

The proposed maximum allowable level of 70 parts per trillion in groundwater — matching a health advisory level the Environmental Protection Agency declared in May 2016 for two types of PFCs — wouldn’t be finalized until April, Richardson said. A boundary has yet to be drawn for where the limit would apply.

But such regulatory action could help state officials navigate a complex environmental problem. Other states have set PFC limits as scientists raise concerns about PFCs, which have been linked to health harm, including low birth weights and kidney and testicular cancers. Few public health studies have been done, even though people south of Colorado Springs apparently have ingested PFCs for years in public drinking water.

An Air Force investigation confirmed contamination of groundwater by PFCs used in the aqueous film-forming foam that fire departments widely use to put out fuel fires, such as those caused by airplane crashes. PFCs also are found widely in consumer products, including stain-proof carpet, microwave popcorn bags and grease-resistant fast-food wrappers.

The chemical properties that make make PFCs useful keep them from breaking down once spilled, especially in water. Scientists say people and wildlife worldwide have been exposed at low levels.

At the Peterson Air Force Base, PFCs contamination of groundwater has been measured at levels up to 88,000 ppt with soil contamination levels as high as 240,000 ppt. And Richardson said PFC levels in groundwater south of Colorado Springs — communities including Security, Widefield, Fountain, Stratmoor Hills, Garden Valley and the Security Mobile Home Park — were measured at a median level of 120 ppt — well above the EPA health advisory limit.

Richardson favored a broad area for the groundwater limit — “so that maybe we can begin to look at other sources. … My biggest concern is the extent” of the plume, she said.

Fountain Creek: #Colorado Springs Nov. 7 stormwater ballot measure cost

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 Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The city’s stormwater measure on the Nov. 7 ballot has stirred a lot of debate. Some don’t like the flat-fee concept — $5 per household, and $30 per acre for commercial land. Others say too many details remain unresolved.

But one thing is beyond dispute: Colorado Springs’ stormwater system sucks, and it’s going to take many years and a lot of dough to fix it. Far from a sexy topic, stormwater drainage gets no respect, and the consequences of that came into full focus during a tag-along with Water Resources Engineering Division Manager Rich Mulledy on Aug. 31.

To grasp the gravity of the problem, you have to get down in the weeds, literally, to see what’s going on along channels that border roads where tens of thousands of cars whiz by daily, their drivers unaware of possible catastrophes waiting to happen.
Monument Creek

Mulledy, a slim 38-year-old engineer and Colorado Springs native sporting a Chicago Cubs cap, leads the way on a short hike behind the Goose Gossage Youth Sports Complex on Mark Dabling Boulevard. “So if you’re playing ball out here,” he quips, “you wouldn’t know about it.”

Beyond the outfield fences, he passes through trees before scampering down a steep embankment to a sandbar where Monument Creek gurgles its way along an embankment prone to sloughing, which sends sand, gravel and trash careening down the creek to its confluence with Fountain Creek, which, in turn, flows south to the Arkansas River east of Pueblo.

Fountain Creek, Mulledy says, is unlike any other in the United States due to its wild fluctuations in flows, from 125 cubic feet per second during normal times to 25,000 cfs in heavy storms. “There’s no other creek that’s a sand bottom creek that sees that kind of flash,” Mulledy says. “It’s a tough creek.”

Rushing runoff from Colorado Springs crumbles banks and sends hundreds of thousands of tons of sediment to Pueblo County, whose officials are none too pleased. There, sediment clogs levees and befouls the Arkansas River. After a 2014 regional ballot measure to fund drainage projects failed at the polls, Pueblo County officials threatened to rescind their construction permit for Colorado Springs’ Southern Delivery System (SDS) pipeline that delivers water from Pueblo Reservoir, unless the city dealt with stormwater. A deal approved by City Council in April 2016 enabled SDS’s activation in exchange for the city spending $460 million on drainage over the next 20 years. That spending eats into the general fund budget, which Mayor John Suthers says is needed to hire more cops and firefighters. Hence, the stormwater fee measure, which is intended to lift that burden.

On this August day, Mulledy doesn’t have to point out damage from Monument Creek’s raging waters. A 20- to 25-foot dirt wall towers along the east side of the creek, where waters carve the banks and threaten to undermine the wall, triggering a collapse of a plateau above. That could bring a storage business crashing down.

“The natural tendency of a stream is to move,” Mulledy explains. “Point [sand] bars move and push the water into the bank. It’s a built environment, so we built up next to it. Now, there’s nowhere for the river to move.”

The city plans to install grouted boulders along a 350-foot stretch at the base of the wall, tying into bedrock. Then, the area will be backfilled with dirt to create a slope, which will be sown with seed to encourage vegetation. “Then it can hold itself, even in big storms,” he says.

Sounds simple, but getting the right kind of heavy equipment into the creek area poses a challenge. “With road work, you can drive up, mill it and pave it,” Mulledy says. “Here, we have to create an access point. We have to bring material in, then we have to armor it for a 100-year [flood] event.” Moreover, the stream’s path itself will need to be moved west to allow workers to construct the project. Lastly, drop structures will be built to flatten the creek bed and retard the water’s flow.

Cost: $750,000.

After the project is completed in 2020, Mulledy says, the site should be inspected annually to assure it holds.

North Douglas Creek

As cars speed by on Interstate 25 just yards away, Mulledy hikes down a slope, through sunflowers and thistle, to the edge of North Douglas Creek where he warns visitors to stay away from the edge — a drop of 30 feet to the creek bed.

Here, the creek has eroded soils so dramatically that part of a concrete box culvert has broken off and been carried about 20 yards downstream. Gas and water lines are exposed, along with a drainage pipe, which juts some 10 feet from the canyon wall, acting as a yardstick for how far the banks have been chipped away.

“Colorado Springs Utilities is worried about that gas line and so are we,” Mulledy says.
To the north is Johnson Storage and Moving, while on the south side lies a construction materials business. Both are threatened.

“Johnson Storage is losing their lot,” Mulledy says, noting the embankment is chipping off several feet per year. Erosion is so bad, Sinton Road adjacent to the culvert could topple some day.

One of the problems stems from development practices in the 1960s and ’70s that followed the then-conventional wisdom to simply move storm flows out of the city as fast as possible. Now, best management practices call for slowing down those flows using detention ponds and drop structures. “We have a better understanding than we used to,” Mulledy says.

This segment of Douglas Creek is part of the city’s network of 270 miles of open channels and 500 miles of storm sewers — subject to inspection by federal regulators of the city’s municipal separate storm sewer system, or MS4, permit, issued through the Environmental Protection Agency.

Violations of that permit and the Clean Water Act led the EPA and the state to sue the city last year. The case is pending and could take years to resolve as the city reconstitutes its program to address water quality and conveyance, compliance with plan review and site inspection for new developments, and maintenance of its entire system.

This particular spot is so tenuous that Mulledy says crews visit it whenever heavy rains come. The fix, he says, will require installation of concrete walls along the bend in the creek to stop sloughing earth, structural fill and grouted rock. A crane will be employed to remove chunks of the concrete culvert.

Cost: $3.5 million.

Like many other projects, this undertaking will require the approval of federal flood plain managers and the Army Corps of Engineers. Work is slated for 2020.

Pine Creek

The most spectacular sight of the day comes at a canyon just north of the Margarita at Pine Creek restaurant, which sits dangerously close to a roughly 50-foot drop-off to Pine Creek below. Another on the city’s list of 71 projects included in the intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo, this site will require stacking boulders to create a wall at least 10 feet high, from the creek bed to the bottom of an exposed limestone shear. Below that limestone is a clay layer notoriously susceptible to erosion. Under that lies pure shale, easily crumbled, especially when the creek runs up to 10 feet deep during 10-year storms. “It’s a little stream,” Mulledy says, “until it rains.”

The project was specifically identified by Pueblo County due to the large amounts of sediment washing into the creek and on to Pueblo via Fountain Creek. Pine Creek starts in Black Forest, winds through Falcon Estates and finally barrels through this canyon before it meets with Monument Creek about a quarter mile away. Power lines along the ridge top are mere feet from the canyon’s lip, and about 100 yards upstream, a bridge might be in danger eventually, Mulledy says.

Like the others, this site will be challenging to access, driving the cost up, he adds.

Cost: $2 million.

The project will be designed next year, and construction is due to begin in 2019.
Green Crest Channel

Green Crest Channel almost claimed a couple of businesses and a portion of Austin Bluffs Parkway back in 2010 before the city shored up the dissolving embankment with a project completed in 2015.

Mulledy worked on the solution to the problem while he was an engineer with Matrix Design Group, later joining the city in February 2016. By buttressing the banks and installing drop structures and grouted boulders, the stream is now healthy and lined with vegetation, such as willows, that appears historic but was placed there by Matrix as part of the project.

Because the new features, including four drop structures, slow the stream’s flow in Templeton Gap, erosion is dramatically curtailed downstream.

Cost: $2.8 million.

Another project upstream from Green Crest will further secure the waterway. At Siferd Street in Park Vista, just east of Academy Boulevard, even a small rain creates monster flooding from an over-topped Templeton Gap waterway. Plans call for crews to raise the road by several feet, lower the creek, and install a box culvert and five drop structures downstream. Work begins in 2020.

Cost: $3.75 million.

Those projects just scratch the surface of problems that become evident when face-to-face with the city’s stream system. With the price tag in the high millions, Mulledy notes he wants to maximize those dollars. That’s why his staff works hand-in-glove with Utilities and the Parks Department to find opportunities to incorporate trails and recreation facilities where plausible.

“Most of our projects are on green corridors,” he says, “so we look for opportunities for green spaces.”

#Colorado Springs “vote yes” on stormwater ballot issue folks gearing up for campaign

Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The Nov. 6 election will be the fourth time voters have been asked to provide longterm funding for stormwater, the other failed attempts coming twice in 2001 and the regional effort in 2014 that went down 47 percent to 53 percent. (Voters in April did allow the city to keep up to $12 million in one-time excess revenue from 2016 and 2017 for stormwater.)

But now, the city faces a lawsuit alleging violations of the Clean Water Act filed by the Environmental Protection Agency and state water quality regulators, stemming from the city’s neglect of its stormwater system and waivers the city gave to developers to sidestep building drainage facilities. Suthers says passage of a stormwater fee, which would raise $17 million a year from residents and property owners, would help the city avoid costly fines from the lawsuit, though some city councilors disagree.

Most of the money to be raised by Invest in COS, the “vote yes” committee, will come from business people and construction contractors, says Rachel Beck, government affairs manager with the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC. “They understand the link between reliable infrastructure and their ability to do business and economic health,” she says. The monthly stormwater fee for commercial property owners would be $30 an acre.

Having hired consultant Clear Creek Strategies of Denver, the committee will use mailers, TV and radio, but so far doesn’t have a slogan for the measure, dubbed 2A on the ballot, Beck says.

Suthers interprets a pre-campaign poll that showed the issue passing comfortably as the community seeing stormwater as a priority, he says. “It also indicates the public has confidence in the city’s leadership and hopefully that will result in greater support.”

Laura Carno, a conservative political operative who lives in Monument and opposed the city’s 2C roads tax measure in 2015, might sit this one out, she says, adding she knows of no organized effort to defeat the fee.

[Douglas Bruce], though, is putting together a “true grassroots organization,” though he himself cannot vote, because he remains on probation for a felony tax-evasion conviction that is under appeal.

Bruce also plans to write a statement against the measure, though the city is not required to mail Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights notices to voters, since those are required only for tax hikes, not fee questions.

Bruce says he’ll target the flat rate in his campaign, noting, “The idea that Suthers’s campaign donors who live in mansions in the Broadmoor [area] don’t have to pay any more than grandma in her trailer, that’s an abomination.”

Notably, the city’s now-defunct stormwater fee charged fees based on impervious surface, meaning those that contributed most to the runoff problem, such as owners of large homes and businesses and parking lots, paid more. The city’s Stormwater Enterprise was shut down in 2011, after fees were suspended in late 2009 as a result of a ballot measure Bruce wrote that called for ending “the rain tax.”

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