From The Fountain Creek Watershed and Greenway District (Bill Banks) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
If you catch glimpses of Fountain Creek while driving, biking or walking along the creek, you know it tends to be relatively inactive. You might notice cloudy water due to suspended sediment, or you might spot new underwater sandbars. Most likely, you won’t see major changes. But guess what? Fountain Creek is always changing.
Every year, Laura Hempel PhD and a team of USGS scientists investigate how our creek is changing. Dr. Hempel is a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Colorado Water Science Center, located in Pueblo. She explains that fluvial geomorphology is the study of how rivers shape the landscape — and are shaped by the landscape. This broad definition includes the concepts of hydrology (where the water is, how it gets there, where it’s going) and sedimentation transport. It also encompasses ecology, since vegetation influences how rivers behave.
The USGS began monitoring the geomorphology of Fountain Creek in 2012, and Dr. Hempel joined the team in 2018. Currently, the team measures elevation and elevation change in 10 study areas annually, between January and April. This “leaf-off” season improves the GPS signals. (GPS enables the team to identify exact locations.) Plus, the low flow rate during winter makes it easier to wade in and collect data in the wetted channel. This annual monitoring effort is conducted in cooperation with Colorado Springs Utilities.
In the past, the team used manual survey methods — a time-intensive “boots on the ground” approach. Covering the nearly 400 acres was a monumental effort! This year, the team will begin using LiDAR, an aerial-based mapping technology. “We can collect orders of magnitude more data points with LiDAR,” Dr. Hempel says. “Those data will allow us to produce much higher-resolution maps, which is really exciting.”
In addition to measuring elevation and elevation change, annual monitoring of Fountain Creek’s topography will allow the team to study a variety of geomorphic metrics in the future. “For example, examining changes in the streambed’s elevation can indicate whether a reach is aggrading due to sedimentation or degrading due to erosion,” Dr. Hempel notes. “We also have the ability to measure the width and depth of the active stream channel and document specific changes in geomorphology. For example, is the channel cross-section smooth and U-shaped or is it complex and braided? Is the channel migrating laterally or straightening? These are some examples of metrics we can measure from this long-term monitoring data to quantify the river’s changing geomorphology.”
Why monitor the geomorphology of Fountain Creek?
Dr. Hempel explains that measuring changes in river geomorphology can lead to understanding WHY a change is happening. Specifically, what is causing the change? “Here’s the tricky thing,” she notes. “Rivers are dynamic. For example, river meandering is a natural process. Rivers are constantly evolving, so it’s difficult to disentangle natural geomorphic change and evolution from change that is outside of the river’s natural variability. Taking a step back even further, long-term monitoring tells us whether observed geomorphic changes are — or are not — outside of the river’s natural variability.”
What might indicate an anomalous change from natural variability? “The long-term dataset can give us clues,” Dr. Hempel explains, adding a hypothetical example. “Let’s say that in the historic past, a particular meander bend grew at a rate of ½ foot per year, but for the last 10 years that same meander bend grew at a rate of five feet per year. This could indicate a fundamental change in the behavior of the river. The long-term datasets are incredibly important to document the baseline condition and, subsequently, determine whether a river has changed in a way that is outside of its natural variability.”
Active monitoring gives us an understanding of the long-term picture, particularly when a river’s behavior impacts us. “If a river is migrating laterally at a faster rate and this reduces a farmer’s acreage or threatens I-25, that’s a problem,” Dr. Hempel notes. “Managers in the basin could address this one-off problem by installing riprap, for example, but that might not resolve the long-term issue. By identifying the cause, the long-term issue becomes solvable. That’s why monitoring Fountain Creek’s geomorphology is so important.”
An engaged and informed public is a vital piece of the puzzle
Dr. Hempel encourages residents of Fountain Creek watershed to learn more about our creek. “A river reflects all the changes upstream of it,” she says. “Hydrologists call it the ‘pour point.’ Our creek literally integrates everything that is happening upstream: water, erosion, sediment and people. It’s possible that Fountain Creek can be a healthy, ‘well-behaved’ river. Or it’s possible that it won’t be healthy and well-behaved. When we have an informed public, with their voice and votes, residents can better understand our creek. They can say what they want Fountain Creek to be and, if needed, support and implement measures to improve it.”
Check out interactive maps of Fountain Creek!
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, an interactive map may be worth 10 times more. Take a few minutes to review a brief report titled “Elevation and Elevation-Change Maps of Fountain Creek, Southeastern Colorado, 2015-19,” authored by Dr. Hempel. And don’t miss the 10 interactive maps that accompany the report, illustrating elevation changes for each of the 10 Fountain Creek study areas.
For example, Study Area 1’s map layers show that the meander bend in this reach migrated toward the west and became more exaggerated between 2015 and 2019. Click the elevation-change map button, and you’ll notice that its lateral migration resulted in deposition (an increase in elevation) on the east side of the main channel and erosion (a decrease in elevation) on the west side.
To access the maps’ interactive layers, you’ll need to download the PDF files and view them in Adobe Acrobat DC — or use Adobe Reader DC, which is free to download. Find the report and maps here: http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sim3456.
Bill Banks is the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The District was established in 2009, to manage, administer and fund capital improvements necessary to maintain critical infrastructure and improve the watershed for the benefit of everyone in the Fountain Creek watershed.
Overgrown invasive trees and trash that once dominated an 18-acre parcel near Pikes Peak Avenue and South Academy Boulevard have largely been cleared away in recent weeks as Colorado Springs city crews prepare to put in new wetlands.
The lot looks more like a construction site following several weeks of work by crews who removed 200 tons of trash, but this is just a first step in a project expected to take about two years and cost several million dollars to restore the site to a more natural state. The work will slow down stormwater and help improve water quality before it flows downstream, said Richard Mulledy, Stormwater Enterprise manager.
The city will need to change the topography of the property, in part because Spring Creek and a tributary have cut deep ravines across the lot, and plant new native vegetation, including willows and cottonwoods for new wetlands, he said. The creeks themselves could see new boulders and structures to help slow the water down, he said…
In southeastern Colorado Springs, few large undevelopable properties remain, and once restored the parcel could provide a welcoming open space for the neighborhood, he said. The Stormwater Enterprise is working with the parks department on potential trail connections to the property, he said.
The wetlands could improve stormwater quality by removing nutrients from the water, such as nitrogen, that flow in from yard fertilizers and contribute to algae blooms that can kill off wildlife. Wetland plants, such as cattails and bulrushes, can also remove heavy metal particulates from the water and keep them from flowing downstream, he said…
The project is one of hundreds the city has done over the last five years to improve stormwater quality after years of not properly funding infrastructure. The neglect of the stormwater system led to the city recently agreeing to spend $45 million on projects to settle a lawsuit brought by the Environmental Protection Agency, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…
The Colorado Springs City Council approved an increase to monthly stormwater fees set to take effect in July to help cover the cost of those projects. Residential fees will go up from $7 per month to $8 per month over three years.
The project near Pikes Peak Avenue could see some of that funding as it takes shape in the coming years. The recent work to clean up the property and remove trees cost about $100,000 and the full restoration of wetlands could take $2 to $3 million, Mulledy said.
The hot dry conditions that melted strong snowpack early in 2020 and led to severe drought, low river flows and record setting wildfires across the state could be a harbinger of what is to come in Colorado.
Climate change is likely to drive “chaotic weather” and greater extremes with hotter droughts and bigger snowstorms that will be harder to predict, said Kenneth Williams, environmental remediation and water resources program lead at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, headquartered in California.
“We are looking to be moving toward a future that is really decoupled from the past,” said Williams, who is leading a long-term watershed research project in Crested Butte.
In 2020, the Colorado River system had 100% of average snowpack on April 1 but then thwarted expectations when it didn’t deliver the 90% to 110% of average runoff that water managers could typically predict. The river system only saw 52% of average runoff because water was soaked up by dry soils and evaporated during a dry, warm spring, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University.
“It’s not typical, but it could very well be our future,” he said.
The 2020 drought will end at some point, but that appears unlikely this spring with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasting above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation through March, April and May.
Conditions could improve more rapidly on the eastern plains with big spring and summer rain, said Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist.
In the larger picture, breaking the drought across the vast Colorado River Basin will likely take a string of winters with much above average snowfall, Schumacher said.
In the long term, conditions across the Southwest are going to become more arid as average temperatures rise, driven by greenhouse gas emissions, Udall said, with lower soil moisture and stream flows among the negative impacts.
The 19-year stretch of only intermittingly interrupted drought from 2000 to 2018 in the Southwest U.S. was exceeded only by a late 1500s megadrought, the journal Science reported in a paper this year…
New reservoirs could play a role in the future, but construction alone cannot resolve the coming water woes.
“Anyone who thinks they can build themselves out of climate change is nuts,” Udall said. “There is a limit to the amount of storage that’s helpful.”
Too much storage can sit empty and if the water is allowed to sit for too long a valuable portion is lost to evaporation, he said.
In the highly variable years of climate-related weather to come, keeping water flowing to homes and farms will take better planning and a much better understanding of the “water towers of the West,” the remote peaks where significant amounts of snow accumulate above 8,000 feet.
Water managers are keen to know not just how much water may flow into rivers and streams, but when, and also what it might contain because as water flows drop water quality is also likely to be more of a concern…
The rapid change has left water managers and researchers in need of better data to understand short-term trends, such as how much runoff to expect this year and longer-term shifts.
Traditionally Colorado and the West have relied on a network of more than 800 snow telemetry sites — SNOTELS, as they are called by the Natural Resources Conservation Service — that automatically collect snowpack, temperature and precipitation. But now more snow is falling at elevations above the SNOTELS and aerial observations are needed to provide an alternative source of data on snowpack utilities and others wouldn’t otherwise know about, Williams said…
So Denver Water is forming a new collaborative to bring utilities, including Colorado Springs Utilities and other water users, such as water conservancy districts that serve farmers and ranchers, together to fund statewide flights, which can be quite expensive, she said.
The formal planning work around what data to collect and funding flights is set to begin in April and already the collaborative has attracted members from across the state, Kaatz said.
The group hopes to start funding the flights in about a year to provide the high quality data to water managers, Kaatz said. Having that data will be a valuable asset in Colorado’s semi-arid climate as it warms, she said.
“Warming is here and now. It’s not the next generation’s challenge.”
The rapid spring runoff is often the star in the water world. But high elevation groundwater is key to feeding streams in the late summer and winter, helping to sustain fish and late season irrigation. It is also an important source for reservoirs, said Rosemary Carroll, a hydrologist with the Desert Research Institute and collaborator on the Department of Energy projects in Crested Butte.
When Carroll started studying groundwater in the upper Gunnison watershed, she expected to find water that had percolated through the soil for two or three years before reaching streams. Instead, she’s found groundwater about a decade old, which has benefits and drawbacks during dry times, she said.
If the watershed is in a shorter drought, the groundwater can act as a buffer supplying old water that fell as snow and rain years ago, she said. But if it is a sustained drought then the absence of water from the system persists through a lack of groundwater, she said.
If the area continues to see hotter drier conditions, it’s likely that groundwater coming to the surface would be older and there will be less groundwater available to support streams, she said.
As Colorado Springs Utilities braces to absorb hundreds of thousands of new residents in the coming decades amid hotter weather, it is looking to conservation, agriculture, and new water supplies from the Colorado and Arkansas rivers to help fill the gap.
Utilities examined 50 future climate scenarios to prepare its latest 50-year plan and settled on a future that will be on average 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer with no change in average precipitation, instead of relying on historical weather trends to make projections, said Kevin Lusk, a water engineer with Utilities…
As new neighborhoods take shape, particularly in Banning Lewis Ranch, Utilities is planning for the city’s population to increase 53% from about 470,000 people to 723,000, the 50-year plan states. As those residents move in, the city’s annual water demands are expected to rise from 95,000 acre feet a year to 136,000 acre feet a year…
For Colorado Springs, reservoirs are already a key piece of a complex water system that brings 80% of the 95,000 acre feet of water the city uses annually into the area.
The largest amount of new water supply, 90,000 to 120,000 acre feet of water, is expected to come from the new or enlarged reservoirs or water storage within the Arkansas River basin, according to the 50-year plan. One of those projects could be a new reservoir or gravel pit complex between Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoirs, the plan states.
Utilities may also build additional reservoir space in the Colorado River watershed, and it is working with Aurora on a highly controversial new reservoir in the Holy Cross Wilderness in Eagle County. The U.S. Forest Service is expected to make a decision soon on whether to permit the exploration of the new reservoir’s feasibility…
Through conservation, Utilities expects to save 10,000 to 13,000 acre feet of water annually, said Patrick Wells, general manager with Colorado Springs Utilities Water Resources and Demand Management. The city’s watering restrictions adopted last year that limit outdoor watering to three days a week from May 1 to Oct. 15 are meant to help achieve long-term water savings and more than 550 acre feet of water was saved in the first year, he said.
In the future, water owned by agricultural interests, particularly farmers and ranches in the Lower Arkansas River basin, will also play a key role. But rather than purchase it outright, Utilities is looking to lease 15,000 to 25,000 new acre feet of water annually.
The leases are a move away from purchasing farms and their associated water rights outright and transferring that water to the city, a practice called buy and dry. In the 1970s, farmers sold the water rights that previously served 45,000 acres in Crowley County leaving only 5,000 acres in production, The Gazette reported previously.
Cities bought water outright from agriculture through the early 2000s as the primary means of transfer, said Scott Lorenz, water sharing senior project manager with Colorado Springs Utilities.
Now, the state and city are focused on lease agreements that can serve farmers in dry times, he said. For example, in a dry year a farm may not have enough water to put all the fields in production, the producer can lease some water to the city and earn money through the water instead, Lorenz said.
Compensating farmers for their water and taking land out of production can have consequences, however, because it can disrupt the overall agriculture market when farmers aren’t buying seed or materials or employing laborers, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. The buyers the farms supply may also go elsewhere for products if farms aren’t producing annually, he said.
Utilities’ already has several lease agreements in place, including one in perpetuity with the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, a group that replaces the water taken from the Arkansas River through wells. As farmers pump from ground wells supplied by the river, the association ensures water flows back into the river so that downstream residents in Kansas receive their full water rights.
The city has agreed to lease water from the association five out of every ten years and pay for its water every year, said Bill Grasmick, association president. The city also paid for a new reservoir that the association is already using.
By summer, fields of peonies, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and some 40 other varieties of flowers will shimmer in the sun and bend in the breeze.
A pergola will become a cut-flower processing center. An old tuberculosis hut will be transformed into a flower stand.
The renovated barn will host weddings and community events, the empty pig pen will be converted into bachelor’s quarters and the former chicken coop will serve as an outdoor reception area…
Children will be able to pick a Pueblo-grown pumpkin during a fall festival, with hayrides and activities planned for every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October.
“This is one of those places that people have good memories, and that’s one of the things that’s driving my desire to be involved — for people to be in the moment and make memories again,” said Nikki McComsey, owner of Gather Mountain Blooms.
McComsey is leasing a portion of the farm and managing the property, which in the 1930s was bought by the family of the late Nick and Bambi Venetucci and now is overseen by two local philanthropic foundations.
The aged fields, where thousands of pumpkins that were given away grew plump, beans and peas could be plucked from the vine and immediately savored, and grass-fed cows, pastured pigs and productive hens roamed, have lain barren for nearly five years.
Unforeseen contamination of the Widefield aquifer, which was saturated with perfluorinated compounds originating from firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base, forced the farm to stop selling edible goods in 2016.
Revenue dried up along with the plants…
The farm’s primary source of income had been selling water from four of its seven wells to the Fountain Valley’s three water districts, said Samuel Clark, executive director of Pikes Peak Real Estate Foundation.
Water leasing netted the farm $260,000 in 2016, Clark said.
Lost revenue from produce and other consumables sold at farmers’ markets ranged from $30,000 to $190,000 annually, he said.
But the farm is poised to become bountiful once again.
After years of working with the Air Force and area water districts, Venetucci’s wells this week were connected to a new filtration system rendering water from the aquifer safe to use, according to Roy Heald, general manager of Security Water and Sanitation District.
Colorado Springs City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved three years of stormwater fee increases that take effect in July.
Several council members acknowledged the fee increases are needed to make up for the city neglecting to maintain stormwater infrastructure and failing to require developers to meet stormwater standards for years, leading to a recently settled lawsuit that will require stormwater control projects to be built…
Residential fees paid through utility bills are to go increase to $7 per month from $5 per month. Residential rates will then go up to $7.50 per month in 2022 and $8 per month in 2023, according to the approved fee structure.
Commercial properties’ monthly fees will go up to $40.50 per acre per month from $30 per acre. In 2022, commercial fees will increase to $43 per acre per month and in 2023 to $45, the proposal shows. The fees are then expected to remain flat through 2035, said Richard Mulledy, Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise manager.
The fee increases are needed to help cover $45 million in projects required by a consent decree approved in the case brought against the city by the EPA, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The lawsuit stated, in part, that stormwater management in the city was underfunded.
Stormwater fees also must cover $460 million the city is spending over 20 years to build 71 stormwater projects as part of its 2016 agreement with Pueblo County. The agreement was needed to allow Colorado Springs to start pumping water needed to fuel city growth from Pueblo Reservoir through its Southern Delivery System pipeline.
Here’s the releaseThe Colorado School of Mines (Emilie Rusch):
Published today in Environmental Science and Technology, the research was led by Mines’ Chris Higgins and Juliane Brown
If state and federal regulators focus only on the safety of drinking water, the public could still be exposed to concerning levels of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) via the vegetables on their dinner plate if those vegetables are grown with PFAS-impacted water, according to a new study from researchers at Colorado School of Mines and engineering firm Geosyntec.
Published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the study is the first of its kind to examine PFAS in water that is used to grow crops. Researchers compiled available data on how much individual PFASs are taken into vegetable crops irrigated with contaminated water – in this case lettuce – to estimate the daily dietary exposure intake through vegetables of these so-called “forever chemicals” for both adults and children.
“While there has been an emphasis on identifying and cleaning up drinking water impacted by PFASs, much less attention has been given to assessing risks from consuming produce irrigated with PFAS-contaminated water,” said Juliane Brown, an environmental engineering PhD candidate at Mines who led the research. “This study brings much needed attention to this issue and highlights the potential risks associated with this critical exposure pathway.”
PFASs are a large and diverse group of synthetic chemicals used in many commercial and household products, including Class B fire-fighting foams, nonstick-coated cooking pan production, food contact materials, waterproof textiles and many others. An emerging body of evidence shows PFAS exposure can cause cancer and developmental, endocrine, renal and metabolic problems.
Globally, PFAS contamination of irrigation water and soils in agricultural areas has arisen from a variety of sources, including the use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) on military bases and airfields, the application of treated sewage sludge as agricultural fertilizer and releases from nearby industrial facilities.
But currently, many state and federal agencies are primarily focused on drinking water exposure, missing a potentially importance exposure pathway via irrigation water, said Christopher Higgins, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines and senior author of the study.
“Even when drinking water has been treated and is considered safe, there is a potential for exposure from vegetables irrigated with contaminated water or grown in contaminated soil,” Higgins said. “This study shows that regulations that solely target perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water are inadequate to protect human health risks from PFASs.”
By using statistical modeling techniques akin to the election model prediction forecasts, the Mines-led team was able to consider a range of variability and uncertainty to identify the “most likely” intake and hazard associated with consuming PFAS-contaminated vegetables, using lettuce as a proxy for produce. The team also predicted risk-based threshold concentrations in produce and irrigation water to provide screening levels for assessment. These represent the range of concentrations for individual PFASs in irrigation water predicted to be below a level of concern for human health.
Using the lowest available human health toxicity reference values and a conservative 5th percentile approach, estimated risk-based threshold concentrations in irrigation water were 38 nanograms per liter (ng/L) for PFOA and 140 ng/L for PFOS, two PFASs commonly targeted by regulators.
In the case of PFOA, this suggests that even if irrigation water meets the current 70 ng/L PFOA and PFOS U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory for drinking water, this may not be fully protective of PFOA exposure due to vegetables grown in that water, at least compared to toxicity reference values used by the State of California, which has the lowest toxicity reference value for PFOA in the U.S., Higgins said. Importantly, PFAS contamination also typically includes more than just PFOA or PFOS.
“Another major implication of this study is we really need to come up with a plan to address PFAS mixtures, as these chemicals are nearly always present as a mixture,” Higgins said
The team used real-world data from PFAS-contaminated groundwater to conduct a hazard analysis of a theoretical farm comparing different risk estimates based on established state, federal, and international toxicity reference doses. This analysis showed estimated exposures to most PFASs exceeding available or derived human health toxicity reference values – indicating water-to-crop transfer is an important exposure pathway for agricultural communities with PFAS-impacted irrigation water.
The full study, “Assessing human health risks from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-impacted vegetable consumption: a tiered modeling approach,” is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c03411. In addition to Brown and Higgins, co-authors were Geosyntec principal scientist Jason Conder and project scientist Jennifer Arblaster.
This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (under Assistance Agreement No G18A112656081.)
Here’s the abstract:
Irrigation water or soil contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) raises concerns among regulators tasked with protecting human health from potential PFAS-contaminated food crops, with several studies identifying crop uptake as an important exposure pathway. We estimated daily dietary exposure intake of individual PFASs in vegetables for children and adults using Monte Carlo simulation in a tiered stochastic modeling approach: exposures were the highest for young children (1−2 years > adults > 3−5 years > 6−11 years > 12−19years). Using the lowest available human health toxicity reference values (RfDs) and no additional exposure, estimated fifth percentile risk-based threshold concentrations in irrigation water were 38 ng/L (median 180 ng/L) for perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and 140 ng/L (median 850 ng/L) for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Thus, consumption of vegetables irrigated with PFAS impacted water that meets the current 70 ng/L of PFOA and PFOS U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory for drinking water may or may not be protective of vegetable exposures to these contaminants. Hazard analyses using real-world PFAS- contaminated groundwater data for a hypothetical farm showed estimated exposures to most PFASs exceeding available or derived RfDs, indicating water-to-crop transfer is an important exposure pathway for communities with PFAS-impacted irrigation water.
The city would pay a fine of $2 million and commit to an additional $43 million in stormwater projects over 15 years, Mayor John Suthers announced earlier this week.
Suthers said “an agreement in principle” exists for a settlement between the city — the defendant in the case — and the plaintiffs including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
“We’re now entering a 30-day comment period,” he said. “At the end of it, the judge will evaluate whether he wants to approve the settlement. I suspect he will.”
The mayor said that in the next few weeks, city officials will explain settlement details to the public, and that he already has City Council approval to pay the penalty.
“The federal government would get $1 million of the fine, and the state would get the other half,” he said. “The state’s share actually goes into a current project in the Arkansas River. That’s a lot better than a $12 million fine that was initially discussed.”
As a result of the penalty, however, Suthers said the city will have to raise its stormwater fee to homeowners and businesses over the next 15 years to pay the penalty…
Suthers said the city’s stormwater issues were a result of inaction by previous city councils, but upon his election as mayor in 2015 he pledged to address the issue and heal the rift between Pueblo County leaders, who had threatened to sue the city.
In fact, in the spring of 2016, Pueblo County agreed on a long-range plan in which the city would spend $460 million over 20 years on 71 stormwater projects, maintenance and enforcement.
To help generate the needed revenue, Suthers in 2017 pushed for the re-establishment of a stormwater fee ultimately passed by voters that November…
The city hoped its progress on stormwater issues would prevent a lawsuit, but in November 2016 the EPA initially filed suit and the other plaintiffs joined in. U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch presided over the weeklong bench trial in Denver in September 2018, and issued his ruling two months later.
The lawsuit filed in 2016 claimed the city’s stormwater control efforts were underfunded and understaffed starting in 2009 and for years afterward. The suit also said the city’s failure to control stormwater degraded, eroded and widened Fountain Creek and its tributaries.
City officials stepped up stormwater control efforts in recent years after voters approved a stormwater fee in 2017.
But for years, poor stormwater control sent silt washing down Fountain Creek to the Arkansas River where it filled in the channels of both waterways and caused flooding in communities downstream, including Pueblo and La Junta, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…
The proposed consent decree will also hold the city of Colorado Springs accountable to complete the stormwater projects needed to improve water quality, he said. The document outlines required audits, milestones the city must meet, and hefty fines if it fails to complete the required work.
The proposed consent decree is expected to be finalized soon. It must be submitted to U.S. District Court Judge John Kane by Friday, according to court records. The judge set a deadline for submission of the decree, after the parties were granted six requests for more time to reach an agreement…
U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Danielle Nichols said the proposed consent decree requires the city to spend $11 million on projects intended to mitigate the alleged violations of water quality standards in Fountain Creek and its tributaries. In addition to helping reduce the flow of silt, the work will help keep oil, grease, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers and bacteria out of the waterways, she said…
Fulfilling the requirements of the proposed consent decree could require $100 million in spending to improve stormwater control and associated projects, Nichols said. However, the city would have spent $55 million of the $100 million anyway on operating, personnel and other costs, said Travis Easton, Colorado Springs’ public works director.
The $45 million required to fulfill the consent decree is in addition to the $460 million the city is spending over 20 years to build 71 stormwater projects to meet its 2016 agreement with Pueblo County, he said.
The spending on the consent decree includes $2.1 million mostly in fines that the Colorado Springs City Council approved Tuesday. That money will come from the general fund, not stormwater fees, Mayor John Suthers said.
The federal government will receive $1 million in fines and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District will receive $1 million in state fine revenue to fund projects, according to the proposed consent decree. Pueblo County will receive $25,000 to cover lawsuit costs and the conservancy district will receive $100,000 for lawsuit costs, the document shows…
The fine revenue set aside for the conservancy district will help it fund projects across its five-county territory and help it secure additional grant money to meet the needs for water quality projects, Winner said. The district needs to put in projects, such as riparian zones and ditch lining, he said.
The district could put in $100 million in water quality projects and still have work to do, he said.
At the board’s Sept. 21 meeting, they heard recommendations from town staff and special legal counsel regarding the potential for using the sale of revenue bonds to fund major improvements to its water system over the coming years.
However, instead of revenue bonds, it was recommended Monument create an ordinance to enter a site lease agreement and lease purchase agreement to market Certificates of Participation (COPs) — an alternate form of financing…
Presently, the town has a 2A water fund and an enterprise water fund for its improvements. Formal revenue bonds would have the town fund improvements from just one fund, Richey said. Using Certificates of Participation is a way many municipalities, counties and school districts fund projects without having to raise taxes and is a financial structure approved by the Colorado Supreme Court, Richey said. The collateral for the agreement would be town-owned property, infrastructure and improvements.
With the agreement, Monument would lease its collateral property to BOK Financial in Denver, which would act as the financial trustee in exchange for an anticipated $22 million. BOK Financial then leases back the property to the town, and Monument pays “base rents” to pay off the $22 million over time, Richey said.
Richey said Certificates of Participation also carry added protection for the town since they involve leases over a particular term and not transfer of title. Monument would not lose title to any of its assets, he said.
While town staff plans on raising $22 million through marketing these COPs, other terms like interest rates and repayment amount will depend on market conditions when the certificates go to market. The agreement guarantees the interest rate would not exceed 4.5%, but with present rates it is expected to be just under 3%, Town Manager Mike Foreman said…
Terms for repayment would not exceed 30 years, but Richey said town staff is negotiating for lower terms. Richey also said as base rents are paid, subleased property in the agreement could be removed, which is the goal, or substituted with other property of equal or lesser value.
The board approved the ordinance 6-0 with no opposition from trustees, staff or the public…
Foreman noted the anticipated $22 million from the COPs would leave an additional $5 million in the 2A fund.
The Waldo Canyon Fire changed the way our community looks at natural disasters. A project designed in response to side effects of the blaze is now completed, and aims to be proactive, rather than reactive.
Near Garden of the Gods lies the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project. It’s a 17-acre floodwater detention and sediment collection facility…
After the Waldo Canyon Fire, the burned vegetation was not able to absorb moisture in the way it normally would. Consequently, the area saw flooding, with sediment rolling down the hillsides as well.
So, the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project was designed, with the help of federal, state, and local agencies. A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for $8.9 million bankrolled the project, as well as $844,000 from the city.
Representatives from FEMA and the state visited the completed project on Monday. “If we could do more mitigation across the country, we’d be a much safer country, we’d be a much more resilient country,” said Peter Gaynor, the FEMA Administrator…
In addition, approximately 100 people no longer live in the floodplain. “We’re really not moving people out of the floodplain, we’re moving the floodplain right? And so, we’re changing the shape and the footprint of the floodplain,” said Klein.
The 169 acre-foot storage reservoir is estimated to hold around 360,000 gallons of water, according to the Stormwater Enterprise Manager for the City of Colorado Springs, Richard Mulledy.
Mulledy said the project has made around 100 residents who previously lived within the floodplain safer. He also said they now do not have to pay for floodplain insurance, which can be expensive.
Plus, it will create better evacuation routes during floods if necessary.
At the Monument Board of Trustees meeting Aug. 3, 2020…approved two resolutions to continue water projects which have been on hiatus.
Trustees reviewed a resolution to award a project agreement to Forsgren Associates Inc. for the continued design and development of a new two-gallon [two million gallon] water storage tank and associated pipeline into the town’s water system. Public works director Tom Tharnish said a lot of preliminary work had already been done by Forsgren Associates and continuing the project with the firm would quicken the project’s timeline.
The agreement would allow the majority of the engineering for the project, which involved a change in the size of the tank from 1.2 million gallons. The town is already $60,000 into the project, Tharnish said. When originally developing a 1.2 million gallon tank, the additional capacity required for the upcoming reuse pipeline wasn’t considered…
Another resolution was presented to the board to award a contract to Lytle Water Solutions LLC for the design and development of a new water well at the Water Treatment Plant.
Given recent emergency repairs to Wells No. 3 and No. 8, Tharnish said the department’s senior water technicians approached him with concerns for the same incident occurring later this year…
The idea is to drill a new well on the Well No. 4-5 site and build a short pipe to the existing treatment plant. Since this would create additional flow to an existing plant, the plans for the well have to be approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Tharnish said the new well, which would draw from the Arapahoe basin, would produce 190-200 gallons per minute. Presently, Wells No. 4 and 5 produces 100 and 60 gallons per minute, respectively, which is the way the state has permitted them, he said. Trustees approved the resolution 6-0.
Town Manager Mike Foreman said the town is getting ready to sell revenue bonds prior to November to help fund the water projects planned for the next five years and a workshop with the board to review all future water projects would be forthcoming. Foreman said the town has the opportunity to sell $15-20 million in bonds over the next five years.
Tharnish noted Well No. 3 is repaired and operational, producing 25 gallons per minute more than it did previous to experiencing a failure July 5.
FromColorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, announced Wednesday the approval of a new policy to reduce the use of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — also known as PFAs, a chemical found in firefighting foam.
Among the most serious problems caused by PFAs in Colorado: contaminated well water supplies in El Paso County, most notably in the Widefield aquifer that serves the communities of Fountain, Widefield and Security.
The policy “will provide the department with clear guardrails for setting wastewater discharge permit limits on the chemicals released into local waterways. It also provides time for city and county wastewater treatment plants to work to reduce the chemicals from industries that use them and that discharge their wastewater with these chemicals into local sewer systems,” according to a CDPHE statement…
…delays by the EPA in developing a standard for surface or groundwater limits on PFAs has now prompted the state’s water quality commission to take action of its own. The new policy has been in the works since February.
It’s not without its detractors, including a nine-member group known as AF CURE (the Arkansas Fountain Coalition for Urban and River Evaluation). That group includes Colorado Springs Utilities; the sanitation districts for Fountain, Security and Widefield; and the Tri-Lakes water district. The group claimed the policy is more stringent than existing state policy on groundwater standards and would control decision-making for groundwater discharge for central El Paso County, in the vicinity of Fountain Creek.
AF CURE claimed the policy addresses “parent” PFAs compounds with no known toxicity. The policy would also present challenges to public utilities projects, including costs, according to a group presentation Tuesday.
Colorado Springs Utilities said it has spent $120,000 for PFAs testing in the past eight months, including installing 21 monitoring wells. The water quality division failed to fully look at the economic impact of the policy, the group said. “Do not adopt Policy 20-1 as drafted. There are many unaddressed issues wih significant complications.” And doing the policy through a rulemaking hearing, instead of the administrative hearing held Tuesday, would allow for a “more robust cost/benefit analyses.”
The Water Quality Control Division said what’s known about PFAs in Colorado is not enough:
50% of community systems have unknown levels of PFAS in drinking water
96% of community water systems haven’t had their sources tested
95% of surface water segments have not been tested, which leads to questions about how PFAs impacts fish, livestock and crops
20% of Colorado’s population relies on private wells, yet nearly none have been tested, and shallow wells are a higher risk.
John Putnam, environmental programs director for the CDPHE, said in a statement Wednesday that “we can’t wait for the EPA to come up with guidance; it would take too long. We need to take action now using the most current and best information available so we can start getting a better sense of the level of exposure we have in our state and to take the necessary steps to protect Coloradans from being more at risk.”
The Water Quality Control Division recently collected 71 samples from rivers and streams around Colorado, and every one of them showed at least some detectable levels of PFAs. A sample collected at the mouth of Sand Creek in Commerce City showed a level of 77 parts per trillion, which exceeded the EPA’s drinking water limit of 70 parts per trillion.
While the commission statement said they were unaware that anyone was drinking that water, it’s still a concern since PFAs doesn’t break down and can impact downstream drinking water supplies.
The sampling data indicates that industrial companies that have discharge permits for wastewater may be playing a role in the buildup of PFAs in water supplies. There are several companies that treat and discharge wastewater into Sand Creek, according to the commission statement.
To set an enforceable limit, the EPA must pass through a complex set of steps established in law to regulate contaminants in drinking water. And powerful lobbies that face cleanup liability, including the chemical industry, oppose regulation of PFAS as a group…
LONG TIME COMING
The question of whether and how much to regulate these persistent chemicals in drinking water has spanned the administrations of US presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald J. Trump. “This is a multi-administration failure to take action on PFOA and PFOS and on the broader class of PFAS chemicals that may pose health effects,” says Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney for the Environmental Working Group, which has called for limiting the two chemicals in drinking water since the early 2000s. “It has taken EPA an extraordinarily long time to do anything.”
Action toward possibly regulating these chemicals in drinking water began about a decade ago, when the EPA gathered data collected by water utilities on occurrence and levels of PFOA and PFOS. Neither PFOA nor PFOS is manufactured domestically anymore, but communities across the nation face legacy pollution. Also, either chemical may still be imported as a component, such as a coating, in products.
Drinking water in at least 25 states is tainted with PFOA or PFOS. In some areas, including the Pease Tradeport, other PFAS also turn up, according to data gathered by the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University. Overall, PFAS may contaminate public drinking-water systems that serve an estimated 19 million people living in the US.
Recent heavy rain is testing draining in Colorado Springs, and so far improvements seem to be working…
The city made a commitment four years ago to improve infrastructure, including redoing drainage and bringing the system up-to-date.
That work is ongoing, but so far the efforts seem to be making a difference.
“A lot of that too is coordination with us and the 2C program, so when they go in to repave roads, they’re rebuilding curb and gutter, we’re working with them to replace pipe, fix that conveyance as we go,” said Stormwater Enterprise Manager Richard Mulledy.
City leaders say runoff appears to be cleaner because less trash is making its way downstream.
Controlling the speed and the amount of water is also helping.
The state’s Water Quality Control Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to enact a policy to put new limits on per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. The class of chemicals is a common ingredient in everything from nonstick pans to foam used to smother flames from jet fuel.
A growing body of scientific evidence has linked the chemicals to a range of health problems, including cancer and pregnancy issues. Meanwhile, federal efforts to regulate the chemicals have lagged, leaving states to take action on their own.
Liz Rosenbaum, founder of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, was relieved to see Colorado join the list of states cracking down on the chemicals…
Rosenbaum’s community just south of Colorado Springs is widely seen as ground-zero for Colorado’s growing PFAS pollution crisis. In 2016, scientists found elevated levels of a specific PFAS in the drinking water for Security, Widefield and Fountain. The study traced the contamination to firefighting foam used at Peterson Airforce Base. Two years later, another study found elevated levels of the same chemical in community members’ blood.
Further testing has since revealed the chemicals in waterways across the state. Recent results from a state study found four water sources where levels exceeded a health guideline set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008. All of the samples had some detectable levels of the chemicals.
In an effort to control the problem, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division proposed rules to require wastewater treatment plants and industrial sites to monitor the chemicals. It also established the authority for the state to limit the chemicals in future wastewater permits.
But the focus on wastewater was met with a fierce backlash from cities and private interests.
Three days before the commission hearing, Aurora, Colorado Springs and Greeley joined utilities and water districts in demanding regulators pause deliberations over the new rules. The motion to vacate claimed the rules focused on wastewater treatment plants, which do not add PFAS to water systems.
The groups called on the regulators to instead focus the source of the chemicals, like companies making carpet products or consumers using nonstick pans.
The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which serves more than 2 million people around metro Denver, put an especially shocking number behind their objection. If the state required wastewater districts to clean up the chemicals, it could cost ratepayers over $700 million.
Representatives for the Colorado Water Quality Control Division dismissed those concerns. Manufacturers and airfields would also face new scrutiny to clean up the chemicals, which means the wastewater district probably wouldn’t end up stuck with the problem. Under the rules, the district also likely wouldn’t face any of the new limits on PFAS until 2031. Meg Parish, a permit manager with the division, said by then it could be far cheaper to clean up the chemicals.
Here’s the release from the City of Colorado Springs:
The City of Colorado Springs has closed Prospect Lake, in Memorial Park, effective immediately, until further notice due to the presumed return of toxic algae. The closure follows a visual inspection Monday, June 15 by Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services staff. A precautionary water sample is scheduled to be taken from the lake by Colorado Springs Utilities on Tuesday, June 16. This test is to confirm the presence of mycrocystin toxin, which is produced by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae.
“Our region has again been experiencing hot, dry weather, creating conditions similar to what we experienced prior to the 2019 algae bloom in Prospect Lake,” said Erik Rodriguez, health, safety and environmental specialist with the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department. “Given today’s visual inspection, and the lake’s recent history with mycrocystin toxin, we have closed Prospect Lake for usage at this time. If Tuesday’s water sample returns positive, we will continue to test weekly until the bacteria clears up.”
Prospect Lake was closed for 12 weeks in the late summer and early fall of 2019 due to blue-green algae. Since that time, Parks’ staff has taken proactive measures, including the application of an enzyme-based, non-pesticide treatment that consumes the biomass at the bottom of the lake and helps oxygenate the water. The first two treatments were applied May 26 and June 11. The next scheduled treatment is Tuesday. Additionally, more water will be added to the lake, which will increase the oxygen level and help dilute the toxin.
During the closure, the following activities are prohibited: swimming, bathing, paddle boarding, tubing, water skiing and non-motorized boating of any kind. No pets are allowed. The use of permitted motorized boats is encouraged as this activity can help aerate the water. Fishing areas will remain open, though anglers are urged to clean fish well and remove guts.
BLUE-GREEN ALGAE BACKGROUND
What is harmful algae?
Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria common in lakes throughout Colorado. When conditions are right, blue-green algae multiplies quickly. Those conditions include sustained hot weather, stagnant water, and polluted stormwater runoff.
These conditions result in too much nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in the water. This causes the harmful bacteria to grow faster than the ecosystem can handle. The increased bacteria harm water quality, decrease the amount of oxygen available to animals living in the water, and can produce a toxin that is harmful to humans and pets.
Blue-green algae are self-limiting, naturally-occurring bacteria, which means it eventually phases itself out of bodies of water.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) offers additional information about blue-green algae on its website.
FromColorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
A bill on toxic firefighting chemicals that have contaminated water supplies in southern El Paso County won unanimous support Thursday from the House Finance Committee.
[HB20-1119] was approved by the House Energy and Environment Committee on March 9, before the General Assembly shut down for 10 weeks due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to bill co-sponsor Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Colorado Springs Republican, the measure is a fix of sorts for legislation that passed in 2019 which banned the use of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, known collectively as PFAS.
The 2019 law banned Class B firefighting foams that contain “intentionally added” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Those chemicals were used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base in El Paso County and have been found in the Widefield aquifer, which serves Security, Widefield and Fountain, communities near the base…
Last year’s bill created the clean water process for PFAS, Landgraf said. “What we didn’t realize is that it also eliminated the ability of the airports to stay in business. United could not get their insurance because we banned any use of PFAS. They have to practice with it a couple of times every year to keep their insurance in place,” Landgraf said.
This year’s measure allows the testing to take place in airline hangars. The runoff will be captured in catch basins and then disposed of.
The bill also requires a the state’s solid and hazardous waste commission to come up with a certificate for any facility — like an airport — or firefighting department that shows PFAS is present on the premises.
Landgraf said the certificate will help the state track PFAS. “Right now we don’t know who’s using it and not using it,” she said.
The Colorado Aviation Association backs the bill in its current form, according to lobbyist Kelly Sloan, who pointed out that the use of PFAS is on its way out. The Federal Aviation Administration is planning to phase out the use of PFAS at airports, but for now, airports still have to comply with those federal regulations, he said…
The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.
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From Water Education Colorado (Laura Paskus and Caitlin Coleman):
When Water Justice is Absent, Communities Speak Up
Two years ago, a company that analyzes property data crunched the numbers on more than 8,600 zip codes in the United States and found that America’s most polluted neighborhood was in northeast Denver. The study, from ATTOM Data Solutions, shows that Denver’s 80216 zip code, which includes Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and River North, topped its “environmental hazard index.” As of 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory reported that 22 facilities were still releasing toxic chemicals in 80216, chemicals such as nickel, lead, methanol, creosote and more.
“The neighborhood is parked between gas refineries, the former airport, and then, also, what was at one time an Army base making mustard gas,” says University of Denver law professor Tom Romero, II, who has spent his career dissecting the factors behind environmental injustices in Colorado. There are two Superfund sites and six brownfield sites in 80216, plus the knot of Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 severs the neighborhood from the rest of Denver and increases pollution from highway traffic. The area is also home to a predominantly low-income, Hispanic and Latinx community, says Candi CdeBaca, Denver City Councilwoman for northeast Denver’s District 9.
Last year, CdeBaca became the first person from the neighborhoods to represent on the Denver City Council, ever. She points to an opposition campaign to the Central 70 Project as the beginning of the neighborhood rallying to achieve representation against environmental inequities.
The Central 70 Project broke ground in 2018 to widen the highway through Denver. It will demolish the viaduct that carries I-70 over Elyria-Swansea, replacing it with a below-grade highway. Residents had a list of worries: losing their homes to eminent domain, living even closer to the highway, and unearthing a Superfund site, which they feared would re-expose harmful heavy metals and increase health risks, CdeBaca says.
Their opposition campaign didn’t stop the highway work, but the community came together and won in one sense—the Colorado Department of Transportation will pay for a long-term health study, collecting data to determine whether toxins in the air, soil and water are making residents sick. They also gained a louder voice. “Those losses were the first start of me galvanizing some community power around environmental racism,” says CdeBaca. “Now we have this amplification of groups who never had representation in our government from the neighborhoods that were polluted.” She points to the importance of local voice and representation in all issues, particularly for communities that want to bring about environmental justice. “There is nothing that I support more than activating people power,” CdeBaca says.
With water affordability, access and quality challenges—all of which can translate into health impacts—the role of water in Colorado isn’t always one of fostering healthy communities, yet it could and should be. What contributes to these less-than-whole communities? And what does it take to recognize the issues and how they evolved, address power imbalances, engage the community, and restore equity where it’s been missing?
What is Environmental Justice?
Environmental injustices in Colorado, or anywhere, can span cities and suburbs, sovereign tribal lands, and rural communities. They have their roots in narratives of immigration, development and industry, and political power dynamics, further influenced by evolving legal and regulatory frameworks.
In 1990, EPA Administrator William Reilly created an Environmental Equity Workgroup to assess evidence that “racial minority and low-income communities bear a higher environmental risk burden than the general population.” The agency, which went on to establish an Environmental Equity office in 1992, later changing its name to the Office of Environmental Justice in 1994, defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” It has since expanded to offer a range of programs that provide services from grant funding to technical assistance and training. It also runs a National Environmental Justice Hotline.
Another early definition of environmental justice came from University of Michigan professor Bunyan Bryant, who said it refers to places “where people can interact with confidence that the environment is safe, nurturing and productive. Environmental justice is served when people can realize their highest potential.”
Scholars add additional layers to the term—it’s not just about identifying who is or isn’t harmed but includes some form of restitution, says Kelsea MacIlroy, an adjunct professor and PhD candidate in the sociology department at Colorado State University.
“There are a lot of different ways to talk about justice that aren’t just about who and how but also about a long-term social justice component,” MacIlroy says. “Does the community actually have an authentic seat at the table in addressing the ills?”
80216 may feel it all. “Denver was segregated, and that segregation manifested itself in a variety of ways in terms of water,” Romero says. “It meant that Denver’s communities of color, particularly African Americans and Mexican Americans, were living in close proximity to the areas with heavy industry, where the affordable housing is.” That’s a pattern and practice, he says, that was established in the 20th century and continues today. Many environmental justice cases have similar roots, as repeated practices that ultimately create winners and losers.
When Government Fails
Americans watched one of the most high-profile environmental justice cases unfold in Flint, Michigan, in 2015 and 2016 when corroded lead pipes poisoned the population.
To save money, in April 2014, the city switched its drinking water source and began supplying residents with Flint River water that wasn’t treated under federal anti-corrosion rules. The population was predominantly black, and more than 40 percent of residents were below the poverty threshold. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, no level of lead exposure is safe but higher lead exposure leads to more health challenges including anemia, kidney and brain damage, heart disease, decreased IQ and more. In children, the impacts are especially toxic.
Residents began noticing a rusty tint to their tap water in the summer of 2015, but it wasn’t until October 2015 that the governor ordered Flint’s water source switched. By then, though the new water was safe, the plumbing wasn’t—corroded pipes continued to leach lead into drinking water. Bottled water and free faucet filters to remove lead at the point of use were distributed.
More than five years after the crisis in Flint began, the city and its residents are still recovering. The city’s FAST Start program is removing and replacing lead and galvanized steel service lines across the city, but it’s a big, expensive job. FAST Start has been funded with $25 million from the State of Michigan and $100 million allocated by Congress through the Federal Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation Act of 2016. As of December 2019, less than 40 percent of the city’s pipes had been replaced, with many residents still relying on faucet filters or bottled water.
Fifteen state and local officials were charged with various crimes, including involuntary manslaughter—some took plea deals and most cases were dropped. Residents now mistrust their water and water providers. That mistrust has flooded the nation, with many more communities now coping with elevated lead levels and lead pipe replacement.
According to the independent Flint Water Advisory Task Force’s final report, released in 2016, breakdowns in protocol, dismissal of problems, and failure to protect people occurred at nearly every level of government. Not only were customers supplied with unsafe drinking water, government officials were slow to acknowledge the problems and rectify the issue by providing safe water. According to the 2016 report, the Flint water crisis is a “story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental justice.” Had there been local control of resources and decisions, they write, the problems wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.
Coping with Forever Chemicals
Flint’s toxic water is not unlike the water quality issues discovered in 2016 in the Colorado towns of Fountain and Security-Widefield. That’s when water providers and residents learned that PFAS chemicals, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were detected at levels above EPA’s new 2016 health advisory levels. The source of the chemicals: firefighting foam used for decades to extinguish training fuel fires at the U.S. Air Force’s Peterson Air Force Base. The Air Force now uses a replacement foam at the base, and in 2019, the Colorado Legislature enacted restrictions and bans on PFAS foam, but the damage has been done. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they bioaccumulate and remain in the environment for a long time, with half lives (the amount of time it takes the chemical to decrease to half its original value) in humans of two to eight years, depending on the chemical. They have been linked to cancers, liver and kidney damage, high cholesterol, low infant birth weight, and other ailments.
“We ended up having 16 family members that lived within that area that had cancer, and five of them died of kidney cancer,” said Mark Favors, during a public event on PFAS at Colorado School of Mines in January 2020. Favors is a former resident of Security, a U.S. Army veteran, a PFAS activist, and member of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition. “A lot of [my family] are military veterans. One of my cousins, while he was doing two combat tours in Iraq, the Air Force was contaminating their drinking water. That’s the crazy part. How they’ve admitted it and it’s just hard to get any type of justice on the issue,” Favors says.
These southern El Paso County towns aren’t home to what are often considered disadvantaged populations—the poverty rate is between 8 and 9 percent, slightly less than the statewide average; about 60 percent of residents are white, and about 20 percent are Hispanic or Latinx, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. However, census numbers don’t represent military personnel who temporarily reside in the area. According to El Paso County’s Health Indicators report, published in 2012, four military bases in the county employ 40,500 military personnel and about 21,000 contract personnel.
When EPA tightened its health advisory levels in 2016, they were 10 times more restrictive than what the agency had previously advised, and water providers realized they had a problem. They acted quickly to provide residents with free bottled water and water filling stations while they suspended use of the aquifer, then worked to broker deals to purchase clean water from other municipalities. Some of those deals were only temporary. Since June 2018, the City of Fountain has worked to get back on its groundwater supply, treating the groundwater with granular activated carbon units provided by the Air Force. Now it is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a full, permanent groundwater treatment plant. The story in Security is similar—the Security Water and Sanitation District has been importing water, primarily from Pueblo Reservoir, to meet the needs of its residents since 2016, which involved building new pipelines and purchasing extra water from Colorado Springs Utilities—an added cost. Security avoided raising water rates for a time, paying those costs out of its cash reserves. By 2018, residents had to absorb a 15 percent rate increase, with another 9.5 percent increase in 2019.
The Army Corps of Engineers is constructing a treatment facility in Security, too, which should be complete by the end of 2020. Once the plant is finished, Security will switch back to a combination of groundwater and surface water, and rates should stabilize once the costs of those pipelines are recovered, says Roy Heald, general manager at Security Water and Sanitation Districts.
Who pays to protect the health of those who rely on this water? “What responsibility did [the Air Force] have in rectifying this? What about the local sanitation districts? They have to deal with this. It’s not their fault but they’re tasked with giving clean water,” says MacIlroy at Colorado State University.
“The Air Force really has stepped up,” Heald says. But they may have to step up further—in 2019, the Security Water and Sanitation Districts and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, another affected entity, sued the Air Force to recoup the costs of purchasing and piping in clean water. Their lawsuit cites negligence for disposal of chemicals, remediation of contamination, and breaching a responsibility to prevent dangerous conditions on the defendant’s property. Heald wouldn’t comment on the pending lawsuit, but says, “As long as [cash] reserves are at an adequate level, if we received a windfall there would be no place else for it to go besides back to our customers.” Those recouped costs would likely take the form of lower or stabilized rates.
Residents are also pushing for justice through a class-action lawsuit brought by the Colorado Springs-based McDivitt Lawfirm, which has teamed up with a personal injury law firm in New York to file against 3M, Tyco Fire Products, and other manufacturers of the firefighting foam.
“There’s going to have to be some sort of accountability and justice for these people who unknowingly, for years, drank colorless, odorless high amounts of PFAS,” says Favors. He calls for better oversight and demands that polluters are held accountable.
As for coping with PFAS-related health challenges, there are still a lot of unknowns, but El Paso County was selected to participate in two national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies to better assess the dangers of human exposure to PFAS, and to evaluate exposure pathways.
Locally, the study and lawsuits might help recoup some financial damages—but PFAS-related water contamination isn’t isolated to these Colorado communities. In July 2019, the Environmental Working Group mapped at least 712 documented cases of PFAS contamination across 49 states. Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, hoping to implement a national PFAS drinking water standard, estimate the number is even higher: 1,400 communities suffer from PFAS contamination. A U.S. Senate version of a PFAS-regulating bill has yet to be introduced. But in February, EPA released a draft proposal to consider regulating PFOS and PFOA, just two of the thousands of PFAS.
Justice through Water Rights
Environmental justice isn’t exclusively an urban issue. Injustices involving pollution, public health, access, affordability and water can be wrought anyplace—including rural and suburban areas. For rural communities, the issue comes to a head when people, organizations or entities in power seek more water for their needs at the cost of others.
In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, acequia communities fought for years to protect their water rights and way of life. Acequias are an equity-based irrigation system introduced by the original Spanish and Mexican settlers of southern Colorado. “What it means is that the entire community is only benefitted when all resources are shared,” says Judy Lopez, conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands. There, Lopez works with landowners to preserve wildlife habitat, forests, culturally significant lands, and ag lands—including those served by acequias.
The Town of San Luis, the heart of Colorado’s acequia community, is one of the most economically disadvantaged in the state. It’s in Costilla County, where more than 60 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latinx—more than any other county in Colorado—and 25 percent of the population live in poverty, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. But the people there are long-time landowners, never separated from the land their ancestors settled, four to seven generations back, Lopez says. They have the state’s original water rights to match, including Colorado’s oldest continuously operated water right, the San Luis People’s Ditch, an acequia established in 1852.
Prior to statehood, the territorial government recognized acequia water rights. But when the Colorado Constitution established the right of prior appropriation, the priority scheme of “first in time, first in right” became the law, challenging communal rights.
“It was very difficult for [acequias] to go to water court and say, ‘This guy is taking my water,’” Lopez says. “It was very difficult to quantify the use and who was using it.”
It wasn’t until 2009 that the Colorado Legislature passed the Acequia Recognition Law. The law was developed by Rep. Ed Vigil with the help of the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, an entity that represents more than 73 acequias and 300 families who depend on them. Amended in 2013, the law solidifies the rights of acequia users. According to the Colorado Acequia Handbook, it allows “acequias to continue to exercise their traditional roles in governing community access to water, and also strengthens their ability to protect their water.”
In order to be recognized under the Acequia Recognition Act, acequias needed bylaws. Over the past six years, Colorado Open Lands, the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, and the University of Colorado Boulder have partnered to help 42 acequias write bylaws, thereby protecting their water. “The bylaws were still based, in large part, on those oral traditions,” Lopez says, “and included protective language that said, ‘If a water right is sold, or a piece of land is sold, that acequia gets the first right to purchase those rights.’”
Even having water rights doesn’t guarantee water access: Over the past few decades, the federal government has settled longstanding water rights cases with sovereign tribes, in many cases backdating tribal water rights to the dates of their reservations’ establishment. Although the tribes now have the nation’s oldest established water rights, they haven’t always, and they still come up against structural and financial barriers that prevent them from developing water and getting the real benefit of those rights.
Of the more than 570 federally recognized tribes in the United States, as of 2019 only 36 tribal water rights settlements had been federally approved. The Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes in Colorado are among that small number, but despite their long journey, the tribes still don’t have access to all the water they own.
Tribal water rights have their roots in the Winters Doctrine, a 1908 case which established tribal water rights based on the date the federal government created their reservations—thereby moving tribal water rights to “first in line” among users.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the U.S. government filed and worked through claims on behalf of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes to surface waters in southwestern Colorado. In the 1980s, Congress approved a settlement between the tribes, the federal government and other parties; in 2000, the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act was amended, entitling tribes to water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed Animas-La Plata Project (A-LP), as well as from the Dolores Project’s McPhee Reservoir. Construction on A-LP began in 2001, and the project’s key feature, Lake Nighthorse—named for Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell—began filling in 2009.
Prior to the Dolores Project, many people living in Towaoc, on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, did not have running water and instead trucked it in to fill water tanks at their homes, says Ernest House, Jr., senior policy director with the Keystone Policy Center and former director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. His late father, Ernest House, Sr., was pivotal in that fight for water. “I was fortunate, my father was able to see A-LP completed. I think he probably, in his own right, couldn’t believe that it would have been done and could be done,” he says. But even today, some Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute communities still lack access to water, and aging infrastructure from the 1980s needs updating and repairs.
“Our tribes as sovereign nations cannot maintain or move forward without access to water,” House says. “We have to remind people that we have tribal nations in Colorado, and that we have other tribes that continue to call Colorado home, that were removed from the state, either by treaty or forced removal,” he says, adding that acknowledging the difficult past must be a part of conversations about the future.
Those conversations include state, regional, and federal-level water planning. The Colorado tribes are engaged in Colorado’s basin roundtable process, with both tribes occupying seats on the Southwest Basin Roundtable, says Greg Johnson, who heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Planning Section (and serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees). Through the roundtables, local stakeholders conduct basin-wide water planning that is eventually integrated into the statewide Colorado Water Plan. However, until recently, tribal involvement in regional Colorado River negotiations between the seven U.S. basin states and federal government has been nonexistent. Change is brewing—a 2018 federal Tribal Water Study highlighted how tribal water resources could impact Colorado River operations, while a new Water and Tribes Initiative is working to build tribal capacity and participation in water negotiations throughout the basin.
“The Utes have been in what we call Colorado for the last 10,000 to 12,000 years,” House says. “It would be a shame if we were left out of the conversations [about water].”
The External Costs of Industry
Government is vital to addressing the legacy of environmental injustice, and preventing future problems, but finding solutions also demands reconsidering how business is done.
Consider Colorado’s relationship with the extraction industry, visible in the 19th-century mines that pock mountain towns, uranium-rich communities like Nulca, and the escalation of oil and gas drilling today. Colorado is an “epicenter” of extraction and environmental justice issues, says Stephanie Malin, associate professor at Colorado State University and a sociologist who studies energy development and extraction.
Lack of local control in the past has been especially frustrating, Malin says, since private corporations earn profits off the resources but then outsource the impacts. In the end, extractive industries have a track record of leaving communities and governments to bear the costs of cleanup.
Take Gold King Mine as one high-profile example. In August 2015, wastewater from an abandoned mine in San Juan County contaminated the Animas River between Silverton and Durango. Contractors hired by EPA accidentally caused 3 million gallons of mine waste, laden with heavy metals, to wash into the Animas. New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation all filed to sue EPA, with farmers reporting that they couldn’t water their crops and others saying they had to truck in alternative water supplies. But those responsible for the contamination were long-gone. Like tens of thousands of other mines in the region, the Gold King Mine was abandoned in the early 20th century.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)—more commonly called Superfund—which Congress passed in 1980, was originally set up as a “polluter tax” on oil, gas and chemical companies at risk of contaminating communities or the environment. But Congress never reauthorized the tax, which expired in 1995. By the early 21st century, the fund was bankrupt. Today, these cleanups are funded entirely by taxpayers.
“It’s part of a bigger pattern of privatizing profit and nationalizing, or socializing, risk,” Malin says. “Then, communities and the environment are left holding the ‘external’ costs.” Those external costs, she says, are nearly unquantifiable: “The intergenerational impacts in particular are so hard to gauge, in terms of what the communities are absorbing.”
While these problems can seem intractable, there are solutions, Malin says. For example, the bond amounts companies are required to pay up-front should better reflect the actual cost of cleanup, she says. Last year, Colorado lawmakers made strides to unburden taxpayers in just that way, with an update to Colorado’s old mining law.
The new Colorado law, HB19-1113, makes sure water quality impacts from mining are accounted for and long-term impacts are avoided. The law says that the industry can no longer self bond—a practice that allowed mine operators to demonstrate they had the financial resources to cover clean-up costs rather than providing the resources up front. Without self bonding, taxpayers won’t be left paying for remediation if the company goes bankrupt. It also requires mine operators to factor water quality protection costs into their bond—and requires most to develop a water quality treatment plan. This means that reclamation plans must include a reasonable end date for any needed water quality treatment, hopefully ensuring Colorado will avoid new perpetually polluting mines.
State lawmakers are currently looking at a more encompassing environmental justice bill, HB20-1143, introduced in January 2020. At press time the bill was still under consideration. If it moves forward as introduced, the bill would increase the maximum civil fine for air and water quality violations—from $10,000 per day to $47,357 per day, which would be adjusted annually according to the consumer price index—reallocating some of the financial burden back on polluters. It would also authorize the use of the money in the state’s water quality improvement fund, which is where those water quality violation fines go, to pay for projects addressing impacts to communities. The bill would also bolster the state’s environmental justice efforts, with a new environmental justice advisory board and environmental justice ombudsperson who would run the advisory board and advocate for environmental justice communities.
Speaking up for Tomorrow’s Climate
Environmental justice can’t be about a single issue, says Lizeth Chacón, executive director of the Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial-justice, member-led organization based in Denver and Pueblo. That means looking at water-focused environmental justice alongside related issues such as climate change, racial justice, inequities, poverty, housing, power dynamics, and more.
“When we are talking to our members, we are talking to them about the fact that they are working two jobs and still cannot put dinner on the table in the week, talking that they live in fear of being deported and being separated from their families, talking about the fact that they are sick, or have headaches, or have to spend money on water because they can’t drink the water coming out of their tap like other people can,” she says. “It can’t be seen as one issue … This work has to be holistic.”
Currently, the Colorado People’s Alliance is working on a climate campaign directed by its members in Commerce City. “They said, ‘This is something that’s impacting all of us, regardless of where we’re from, whether we’re undocumented or documented, what our economic status is,’” she says. The Alliance is focused on greenhouse gas emissions, which have immediate health impacts and long-term water effects.
Another approach in northeast Denver is proceeding thanks to an EPA environmental justice grant, in which organizers will convene youth, local leaders, and scientists to create a community science project that leads to a more fishable and swimmable Denver South Platte River. The river flows through Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, but it used to be a dumping ground, with a landfill beside its banks. Clean ups and improved recreational access, much of which has been spearheaded by the nonprofit Greenway Foundation since its founding in 1974, have created opportunities for kayakers downtown, but river access in northeast Denver, beyond the popular Confluence Park, is limited. In addition, E. Coli levels are often high, making swimming inadvisable. Access to a healthy waterway makes communities more vibrant and whole, supporting health, wellbeing, recreation, and cultural and spiritual practices, but also connection. This may be the only recreational water access available to some urbanites.
“Rivers are one of the major pathways to healing the environment and healing ourselves,” said Jorge Figueroa at an initial workshop for this project in December 2019, where they began to establish a youth advisory board. Figueroa runs El Laboratorio, an organization that brings people together from different disciplines and cultures to creatively solve environmental challenges. (He is also on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.) He’s working on this project with Lincoln Hills Cares, a nonprofit that provides outdoor education, recreation and experiences to youth who may not otherwise have these opportunities; and Colorado State University, which is developing a new campus at the National Western Center, called Spur, in the neighborhood. The partners expect to have a plan ready by the end of 2020, and the project should begin in 2021.
Figueroa, who grew up and has family in Puerto Rico, also witnessed, up close, the wave of climate refugees who left his home state after Hurricane Maria devastated it in 2017.
“It’s critical for us to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and in the reliability of our municipal potable water systems,” Figueroa says. “But from an equity perspective, we need to ensure that the more than a trillion dollars that will be invested in the nation’s public water systems provide the most benefit to the most people.” His suggestion to build climate resiliency in an equitable way: water conservation. “Water conservation can be a supreme water equity tool: It provides cheaper water for the community and more resiliency and reliability for the system. It’s not only an ideal climate change adaptation strategy but also is one of the top, by far, equity water strategies.” When you don’t consider equity in water decisions, you can make vulnerable communities more vulnerable, he says.
Whether working to improve environmental justice structurally and physically through conservation and resiliencies, or politically and financially through new regulations, bonding or taxation, there are many opportunities to do better. But there are also social justice elements to work on. Chacón recommends involving community members at the beginning of a process—not at the end. She says it’s important to listen—and to not dismiss people when they disagree.
Looking forward, it’s up to everyone in positions of power to actively create space for disadvantaged communities to lead, says Chacón. “To us, the people who are closest to the pain are the ones closest to the solution because they know what’s happening in their community best of anyone.”
Some of the principles of engaging communities in these situations are “almost universal,” says Colorado’s Michael Wenstrom, an environmental protection specialist in EPA’s Environmental Justice Program. Wenstrom worked in Flint over the course of a year following the water emergency, “assisting them to connect with processes, in understanding what their rights are, and helping them learn how to raise their voices effectively,” he says.
He says that where communities and families are already overburdened—with poverty, crime, racism—they often don’t have time, expertise or resources to recognize the problems, nevermind address them. “In addition, people in low-income communities may be less inclined to raise their voices for various reasons,” Wenstrom says. Reasons could include racism, job discrimination, or, for some, the fear of being identified as an illegal resident.
He says officials like him who come into communities as outsiders must be careful, persistent, and work to build trust. “As trust builds, we can then start pointing people toward tackling issues related to pollution or public health,” he says. But, Wenstrom cautions, if people don’t believe they can make a difference, they won’t raise their voices in the first place.
Laura Paskus is a reporter in Albuquerque N.M., where her show, “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future,” airs on New Mexico PBS. Caitlin Coleman is editor of Headwaters magazine.
Adoption of permanent water conservation principles prior to a drought crisis makes sense. We live in a semiarid climate and will have periodic droughts. Long-term planning is always less costly and painful than crisis response.
The new ordinance addresses the frequency and time of watering for those using automatic sprinkler systems.
1. You may operate sprinklers up to three times per week, your choice of days. This is adequate frequency for turf and almost all plants that will do well in our climate.
2. Between May 1 and Oct. 15, sprinkler operation is prohibited from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the warm hours of the day, most water applied will be lost to evaporation. While it might seem to be a good idea to run the sprinklers mid-day when it is very warm, it will actually be less beneficial to the turf than watering at a cooler time of the day.
3. Drip irrigation, watering cans and hose watering with a shut-off nozzle are allowed at any time.
4. If you are establishing a new landscape or have other special circumstances, you can apply to Colorado Springs Utilities for a permit or allocation plan.
5. Broken or leaking sprinkler systems are required to be repaired within 10 days.
6. Water runoff across nonirrigated ground, street or sidewalks is prohibited.
City officials announced last week it received a $2.9 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration for stabilization work along 9,000 feet of Cottonwood Creek, Biolchini said. The city plans to match the grant with $993,924 from funds intended to improve its stormwater management.
The work will also keep thousands of cubic yards of sediment from washing into Fountain Creek and flowing south to Pueblo, Biolchini said. The project is among 71 Colorado Springs must complete as part of an agreement with Pueblo County to better control the volume and quality of water flowing south in Fountain Creek…
Colorado Springs officials expect to spend $16 million in 2020 on stormwater improvements using fees paid by homeowners and nonresidential property owners, according to the city’s website. Officials must spend $100 million on stormwater projects, operations and maintenance from 2016 through 2020 to comply with the Pueblo agreement. Projects are on track to hit that goal, Biolchini said. The five-year benchmark is part of the requirement to spend $460 million over 20 years on stormwater improvement.
Construction to help prevent erosion of Cottonwood Creek is expected to be designed this year and completed in 2021, he said.
The construction will likely include reshaping the banks so they have gradual slopes and burying hardened structures to keep the creek from changing course, he said.
…there’s a risk that [Robin Andrews] and other people with illnesses linked to the chemicals could end up with no compensation for their health problems. That’s because a major manufacturer, DuPont, recently unloaded its PFAS obligations to smaller companies that do not have the money to pay for them.
For decades, DuPont manufactured PFAS-type chemicals in a plant close to Andrews’ home in this tiny South Jersey town on marshy land near the Delaware River. Her grandfather and father both worked at the sprawling plant, known as the Chambers Works, which covers 1,400 acres of riverbank in the shadow of the bridge to Delaware.
In 2017, after she developed unexplained high liver enzymes, her well water tested positive for PFAS; she now runs it through a large filtration system in her basement and has it monitored every three months.
DuPont “could have been a great company and a very good thing for this area had they chosen to take care of people and to be responsible with the way they disposed of these toxins,” Andrews told NBC News. “But they weren’t. I believe it was an economic decision to put people at risk.”
Jeff Tittel, senior chapter director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, has watched DuPont’s moves with concern. “They are setting up other companies to take the fall on liabilities that won’t have enough money, so even if people win lawsuits, they will get nothing or very little,” he said.
On Wednesday, the EPA disclosed it “has multiple criminal investigations underway concerning PFAS-related pollution.” The agency did not identify the entities being investigated and it could not be determined if DuPont is one of them.
Daniel Turner, reputation and media relations manager for DuPont, said the company had not received an information request from the EPA related to a criminal investigation…
In 2015, as problems associated with PFAS were becoming clearer, DuPont began a series of complex transactions that transformed the company’s structure. As a result of the transactions, responsibility for environmental obligations associated with the chemicals shifted onto other entities.
The first shift by DuPont occurred in 2015, when it assigned the great majority of liabilities associated with PFAS to The Chemours Company, a new entity containing DuPont’s chemicals business that was spun off to its shareholders…
In a statement provided to NBC News, DuPont spokesman Turner denied that the Chemours spin-off was an attempt to evade environmental and legal liabilities associated with PFAS. “The reason for the spin-off,” Turner said, was that DuPont “was seeking to transform itself into a higher growth, higher value company” and “saw more growth opportunities in its other businesses.”
A second spin-off was Corteva Inc., in 2019, an agriculture science company that holds other legacy DuPont operations and some PFAS liabilities.
The third transaction occurred last June when so-called new DuPont was created. Formerly known as DowDupont, its businesses include electronics, transportation and construction. Because of the two other spin-offs, new DuPont is two steps removed from PFAS obligations…
Chemours, with primary responsibility for the estimated tens of billions of dollars in PFAS obligations, does not have anywhere near the money or assets to cover them. Chemours’ net worth — its assets minus liabilities — stood at just $695 million as of Dec. 31, 2019.
If Chemours becomes insolvent, Corteva Inc. will be responsible, corporate filings show. Corteva does not have the funds to cover tens of billions in estimated PFAS costs either. Turner declined to say whether PFAS responsibilities would ultimately revert to DuPont if Chemours and Corteva are unable to pay them. A lawyer for Chemours declined to comment.
Corporate spin-offs like DuPont’s that transfer liabilities associated with problematic businesses are becoming more common, analysts say, especially in the energy and chemical fields.
“You’re seeing it again and again,” said Clark Williams-Derry, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Spinning off your legacy liabilities into a separate corporation and to some other responsible party appears to be part of the standard playbook in these industries.”
DuPont is not the only PFAS manufacturer under scrutiny. Another is 3M, headquartered in Minneapolis. Both companies stopped making PFAS over a decade ago. 3M is fighting the suits and says it is cooperating with government investigators.
DuPont and 3M both face lawsuits over problems allegedly linked to PFAS. But DuPont’s shift of its PFAS liabilities to Chemours has drawn its own raft of litigation. In a complaint filed last year against DuPont by Chemours, it contended that the 2015 deal was fraudulent. DuPont knew and intentionally hid the scope of the liabilities when it dumped them into Chemours, the company alleged.
In response, DuPont says Chemours executives were well aware of the PFAS problems at the time of the spin-off and could not have been duped. Next up is the judge’s ruling on oral arguments in the case…
Legal filings allege DuPont knew for decades that PFAS posed a threat to humans…
In early PFAS cases, lawyers for plaintiffs found internal, undisclosed DuPont documents showing toxicity in PFAS. While the company has acknowledged the findings in court filings, it argued that they were either inconclusive or applicable only to employees working with the chemicals, not to people drinking tap water near DuPont facilities.
The New Jersey lawsuit alleges that DuPont began to recognize toxicity in the most common PFAS chemical in the 1960s but did not tell the state or local communities about the problem.
DuPont has not answered the New Jersey complaint but in previous lawsuits, DuPont has denied that it hid PFAS risks. DuPont spokesman Turner declined to say how long DuPont knew about the toxicity of PFAS, but said the company has provided extensive information over the years to the EPA about potential harm related to the chemicals.
The New Jersey suit also says DuPont hid the results of a 1981 blood sampling study of pregnant employees who worked with the chemicals that found one-quarter had children with birth defects…
The potential that shareholders will take on undervalued liabilities is greater in spin-offs, merger experts say. That’s because the kind of in-depth due diligence that a third-party buyer would do to to determine possible liabilities is not typically done by new owners in a spin-off. Those owners are essentially trusting the parent company to be forthcoming about the obligations.
Had DuPont instead sold its legacy chemicals businesses to another company, the buyer would have dug into the obligations associated with its PFAS production prior to the purchase. Any resulting deal would take those potential liabilities into account, resulting in either a lower sale price, an insurance policy or a right by the buyer to recover costs from DuPont later.
Because DuPont’s existing shareholders took on the liabilities in the Chemours and Corteva spin-offs, that detailed assessment was not done. The Chemours lawsuit alleges that DuPont pursued the spin-off so it “could control the transaction structure and economics” after concluding that “no rational buyer” would accept the liabilities associated with PFAS.
DuPont spokesman Turner disputed this, saying that multiple firms submitted proposals to acquire Chemours before the spin-off. He declined to provide specifics about those companies, however, or their bids.
Back in 2015, when DuPont was preparing to spin off Chemours, the parent company made insufficient disclosures about the environmental liabilities to be shouldered by the new shareholders, the Securities and Exchange Commission found. The company had to provide more details, regulatory filings show.
One Year After EPA Pledged to Act on PFAS Exposure, Key Parts of the Strategy Have Yet to Be Implemented
Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined a group of senators in a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler requesting he provide an updated timeline for when the EPA will implement commitments made in the agency’s plan to combat exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The EPA released its PFAS Action Plan one year ago today and has yet to implement many of the commitments outlined in the strategy. Bennet, who raised concerns about flaws in the EPA’s initial plan, is an author of the PFAS Action Plan of 2019 and has long worked to address contamination issues across Colorado.
“As you are aware, communities across the country are struggling to respond to the widespread issue of PFAS contamination. The human health risks from this class of chemicals, which include birth defects, various forms of cancer, and immune system dysfunction, are still being examined, and the uncertainty has caused great concern among our constituents,” wrote Bennet and the senators in the letter.
The lawmakers went on to underscore that the PFAS Action Plan alone is insufficient to address the full scope and urgency of the problems associated with PFAS exposure, which is why failure to take an initial step to implement this plan is particularly concerning. They also highlighted that the EPA committed to establish federal drinking water standards last year for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two of the most prevalent PFAS chemicals, but have also failed to follow through on that pledge.
In their letter, the senators also addressed other parts of the plan that have not been prioritized, including important remediation efforts to help expedite cleanup of PFAS contamination under the EPA Superfund law.
“Yet, despite then-Administrator Scott Pruitt committing the EPA to designating these materials [PFOA and PFOS] as hazardous substances in May 2018, the EPA has not even sent a proposal to the Office of Management & Budget for interagency review, let alone published it for public comment,” wrote Bennet and his colleagues.
The senators closed their letter with a request that the EPA provide an update on the status of every commitment made in the PFAS Action Plan, as well as an update on the timeline for executing the priorities included in the strategy.
Bennet has long worked to address the health effects, cleanup, and reimbursement issues associated with PFAS, chemicals used in firefighting foams that have contaminated drinking water sources near military bases across the country, including at Peterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Colorado Springs.
Bennet pushed for a nationwide study on the health effects of PFAS and for additional funding for remediation and clean up.
Bennet secured $10 million for the nationwide Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in the 2018 omnibus package.
Bennet secured an additional $44 million in funding for Air Force environmental restoration and remediation in the 2018 omnibus package. A significant amount of that funding was used for remediation around Peterson AFB in Colorado.
Bennet supported a provision in the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that required a plan on how the Department of Defense might reimburse state or municipal agencies that expended funds to provide alternative water supplies.
Bennet wrote to the CDC to ask that the nationwide study include communities in Colorado near Peterson AFB.
Bennet visited communities around Peterson AFB to receive an update on remediation efforts. There, Bennet also received an update on the challenges water districts are having receiving reimbursement for steps they took to clean up drinking water.
Bennet demanded the Trump Administration (CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)) release the results of a study regarding what levels of certain chemicals are safe in drinking water. According to news reports at the time, the EPA had been working to block the release of results from a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) study on the toxicity of certain PFAS.
Bennet passed an amendment to provide funding for the Department of Defense to reimburse state and municipal water authorities for actions they took to clean up and mitigate PFAS in drinking water. The amendment was included in the Department of Defense-Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations bill, which passed the Senate in 2018. The provision was not included in the final version of the bill that was signed into law.
Bennet wrote to the CDC/ATSDR to voice disappointment that the CDC will not include military and civilian firefighters in its investigations of the human health effects of PFAS contamination pursuant to Section 316 of the FY19 NDAA.
Bennet and his colleagues introduced the PFAS Action Plan of 2019, legislation that would mandate the EPA, within one year of enactment, declare PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, and enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation.
Bennet introduced an amendment to the NDAA to authorize the U.S. Air Force to reimburse local water districts, like those around Peterson AFB, for actions they took to treat and mitigate PFAS contamination.
Following Bennet’s 2018 letter calling on the CDC to include Colorado communities near Peterson AFB in the nationwide study on the health effects of PFAS, Bennet praised the agency’s decision to include these communities.
More than 12,000 El Paso County water users have been impacted by the chemical, which tainted the Widefield aquifer.
In 2016 the EPA lowered its health advisory levels for the compounds, vastly expanding the number of southern El Paso County residents considered at risk for exposure. A subsequent study tied the contamination to the decades-long use of a firefighting foam at Peterson Air Force Base.
Water districts in the towns of Security, Widefield and Fountain have either tied into uncontaminated water from Colorado Springs Utilities, or installed filtering systems to eliminate the chemicals.
In the letter, the senators say they believe the agency has not acted quickly enough to make water safe…
The lawmakers are asking for the EPA to prioritize the establishment of a maximum contamination level for drinking water and to allow cost-recovery for cleanup by labeling PFAS as hazardous substances.
A new court document states that progress continues toward resolving an environmental lawsuit against Colorado Springs for degrading Fountain Creek.
The document was filed last week in Denver at the U.S. District Court for Colorado, where the lawsuit is pending.
“The parties have continued to make significant progress toward a settlement that encompasses an agreement for relief for all violations alleged,” the court filing states…
After a trial last year, a judge decided Colorado Springs had violated its permit that regulates discharges of the city’s storm water sewer system into the creek. Remaining to be decided is what the city would do to remedy the violations.
The new document states that since October, the five parties have been exchanging drafts of a proposed agreement on how to settle the dispute.
“The parties have met monthly (since November and) continued to have monthly scheduled settlement meetings so that they can continue their progress toward (a settlement),” the document states.
Last week, Senior Judge John L. Kane granted the parties’ request to keep the case on hold until May 22, so they can continue their work. Kane is presiding over the case.
He emphasized, however, he would not keep the case on hold beyond May 22 based on the same grounds that the parties have been stating.
When Wendy Rash was diagnosed in 2005 with a thyroid disorder, chronic fatigue and other ailments, her doctor couldn’t explain her suddenly failing health.
Soon, other family members became ill. Her brother-in-law contracted fatal kidney cancer. Her father-in-law developed esophageal cancer. Then her 32-year-old son began having severe kidney problems.
It wasn’t until 2016 that scientists tested the tap water they had been drinking and found it was contaminated with man-made chemicals known as per-fluorinated compounds, part of a family of chemicals called PFAS. The chemicals were traced to firefighting foam from a nearby military airfield, one of hundreds of Pentagon bases nationwide that for decades may have contaminated drinking water used by tens of thousands of people.
“We had no clue,” said Rash, 58.
The role played by PFAS in the family’s illnesses is not known. Studies have shown a link between the chemicals and a range of health problems, including an elevated risk for some cancers, but they have not established a clear cause-and-effect relationship.
Rash’s family history of illnesses is common in Fountain, a Colorado Springs suburb flanked by mountains and military bases. And the scientific uncertainty about how much risk residents face has only worsened the anxiety many feel, as Fountain and surrounding towns have become a center of the growing national furor over the possible health effects of ingesting PFAS.
Congress is trying to expand regulation of the chemicals. Earlier this month, the House voted 247 to 159 in favor of a bill requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to designate PFAS as hazardous substances, which would free up funds for the cleanup at contaminated sites.
But the Trump administration has threatened to veto the bill, saying in a Jan. 7 statement that such a move would force high compliance costs on businesses and states, and that the EPA, not Congress, should make the decision.
In response to proposed PFAS regulations, cities and water managers are raising concerns over their financial liability
In the summer of 2018, Lucy Molina, a 45-year-old mother of two who lives in Commerce City near the Suncor oil refinery, said a city council member told her that her tap water was contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, also known as PFAS. At the time, she said, she didn’t know what the chemicals were. It was just one more reason to not drink the water in the heavily industrial north Denver area…
The city’s water utility, South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, put out a news release in July 2018 saying the water was safe to drink because the PFAS concentrations fell below the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion. One part per trillion is about equal to one grain of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
But in the wake of growing public concern over PFAS, a group of chemicals used in a range of products, including firefighting foam, non-stick cooking wear and Gore-Tex waterproof outdoor gear, Colorado’s health agency is questioning whether that concentration limit is in fact safe.
“If I ask the state toxicologist and I ask experts in the field, they will never use terms like ‘safe’ with respect to PFAS,” said John Putnam, the director for environmental programs at the Department of Public Health and Environment. “Because we don’t really know, since there are limits to all these studies.”
New research has linked exposure to PFAS to health issues including cancer and immune, reproductive, and hormonal dysfunction. But the EPA’s advisory level, which is not enforceable, hasn’t changed since 2016 and seems unlikely to be revised any time in the near future. The Trump administration’s EPA has been rolling back water protections. And Congress has failed to pass comprehensive PFAS regulations, in part because Republicans, including those in Colorado’s delegation, have concerns about how much it will cost cities and water managers to comply. Compliance could include more frequent testing of water supplies costing thousands of dollars per week and upgrades to water treatment facilities that could cost millions of dollars.
That’s left Colorado in the unprecedented position of scrambling to set a drinking water standard — and then trying to enforce it. Putnam said this is a task the state doesn’t have the money or staff to handle yet. And any effort it takes to cut corners to hold polluters accountable or mandate cleanup could be challenged in court by cities, water managers and other groups concerned about their own financial liabilities…
But some residents in Colorado are tired of waiting. Since 2016, the state has known the toxic, mostly non-biodegradable “forever chemicals” have been found in Colorado’s drinking water supplies above the federal advisory limit. The chemicals have been found in groundwater within fire districts in Boulder County and near Front Range military bases, airports and other industrial sites that use PFAS-laced foam to extinguish fires. The cities of Security, Widefield and Fountain, which share a watershed with military bases and the Colorado Springs Airport, are ground zero for PFAS contamination in Colorado. A well at the Peterson Air Force Base tested at 88,000 parts per trillion for a PFAS compound. El Paso County, home to the three cities and four military sites — Air Force Academy, Fort Carson Army Base, Peterson Air Force Base and the Schriever Air Force Base — was selected by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry as the site to take blood samples from residents and study the health effects of PFAS. The chemicals are less likely to be found in high levels in water supplies in other areas of the state, but given the chemicals’ omnipresence in modern life, they’re likely found in nearly everyone’s blood…
In response to public demand and inaction at the federal level, Colorado’s health department is asking the state legislature for legal permission to write drinking water standards for PFAS and is working on separate rules that could hold water polluters accountable by setting a groundwater standard and new permit permit requirements for how much PFAS is allowed to be released into the water.
The bill also could require fire departments and facilities that use PFAS to inform the state how much they have stockpiled, and if used, require that the PFAS be captured and disposed of properly.
Separate from the bill authorizing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to write drinking water standards, the health department’s Water Quality Control Commission has been working on a new PFAS policy that would allow the state to regulate the chemicals through updated groundwater rules. The regulations could also set new conditions on water pollution permits.
Denver is among the cities raising concerns about the proposed regulations. The city has fire departments that use PFAS chemicals and owns the Denver International Airport, which is required by Federal Aviation Administration to use PFAS in its firefighting foam for safety certifications, and it faces financial liability for any regulations adopted. In a written comment to the state’s PFAS Action Plan, a representative for Denver said the state could be legally liable if it moves too fast with PFAS regulations, citing Colorado’s Administrative Procedures Act.
To set such standards under the state’s Administrative Procedures Act and other laws, the state will have to study health research, exposure potentials, and the cost-effectiveness of requiring utilities to meet such guidelines. That will take time and money, Putnam said. In many ways, Putnam said, Colorado’s law was written to slow the pace of regulation…
In September, lawmakers approved $500,000 so that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could subsidize drinking water testing and pay a third party to analyze the samples. As of Jan. 16, of the 891 water providers and private well owners the state notified, 132 have applied for funding to test their supplies. In the 2020-2021 state budget, the department is requesting $250,000 to hire two new toxicologists to help study PFAS exposure and another $500,000 to continue the drinking water testing program.
It’s unclear whether lawmakers will approve the additional money…
Some environmentalists and water utility managers say polluters should be paying the price for cleanup and monitoring. States like New York have sued companies like DuPont and 3M, which manufacture PFAS chemicals. Scott, of the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, said the state should focus on identifying the source of the pollution “so the cost of having to do the treatment is not passed on to our customers.”
Scott said PFAS contamination in his district could be coming from any number of industrial sources in the area. Suncor, an oil refinery located along Sand Creek, has acknowledged it has released PFAS into the water. The facility uses firefighting foam to put out petroleum-based fires…
Commerce City resident [Lucy] Molina said people should at least be given more information about their water quality. She said many of the area’s residents, nearly half of whom are Latino, speak only Spanish. The latest water report is in English. And it doesn’t mention the cancer risks of PFAS exposure.
About 60 percent of Colorado fire departments report that they have firefighting foam with synthetic chemicals known as PFAS, according to a recent survey by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…
“We are highly cognizant of how dangerous PFAS can be in terms of the cancer-causing properties for our firefighters,” said Greg Pixley, a public information officer with Denver Fire Department “We are working every effort we can to reduce PFAS in our day-to-day operations.”
An older generation of the firefighting foam containing PFAS has been retired from use in Colorado, and across military bases. Now, a newer version with a different chemical formula is available. Originally it was believed to not accumulate in the body, but research is emerging that shows potentially toxic health effects are concerns for many of the firefighters who use this product on the front lines…
State health officials know PFAS chemicals are a problem. Conducting a survey is one part of the state’s plan to address the health risks. In addition to reporting PFAS foam supplies, health officials asked which fire departments had used PFAS firefighting foam in the past. About 19 departments reporting using the foam.
However, it’s unclear what, if any, testing will happen across those departments that reported using the foam.
According to the state survey, the largest caches of the new PFAS foam is held by Suncor, the Denver Fire Department, South Metro Fire Rescue and the Pueblo Fire Department.
The departments that have large quantities of the new form on hand use it because they respond to fires at regional or municipal airports. The Federal Aviation Administration requires fire responders at some airports to have the PFAS foam on hand to ensure “the extinguishment of the fire for the successful evacuation of passengers and aircrew during an aircraft fire,” according to a statement from the FAA.
“It was a compromise,” said Eric Hurst, a public information officer with South Metro Fire Rescue. “We essentially worked with Centennial Airport to find the safest environmentally friendly [firefighting foam] available and used that.”
The FAA is under the gun to find a replacement by Oct. 4, 2021, at which time it can no longer require the use of PFAS foam.
The agency is currently researching and evaluating replacement firefighting foams. Some airports like London-based Heathrow have switched to a fluorine-free foam that doesn’t have PFAS chemicals linked to health issues…
“[DIA] along with other commercial airports and airport industry associations, continues to press the FAA for a firefighting alternative that would satisfy commercial travel safety responsibilities while reducing the potential for environmental impact,” said Emily Williams, a public information officer with Denver International Airport.
State law does set some limits on how the new PFAS foam can be used. Legislation in 2019 prevents fire districts from using it to conduct training exercises. It is only to be used to fight fires.
Once a symbol of American ingenuity, PFAS were originally conceived as wonder chemicals that could resist stains, repel water, extinguish horrific oil-based fires, and keep eggs from sticking to the pan. Today, we know them as a Frankenstein-like invention, zombie chemicals that will not die.
Chemists created thousands of such compounds by bonding carbon to fluorine in chemical chains, forging one of the strongest bonds ever discovered. Now they have been found across the planet—even in the blood of arctic foxes and polar bears. Public health studies found PFAS in the blood of about 95 percent of Americans. While the health impact of low levels of exposure is less clear, the chemicals are linked to liver, thyroid, and immune effects, cancer, and low birth weight. It will take billions of dollars—and yet more engineering prowess—to remove PFAS from drinking water and the environment. The task seems bleak, even as the US Department of Defense prepares to spend more than $2 billion on cleaning up PFAS on its bases. Firefighting training sites, airports, and industrial sites are also big contributors.
On Friday, the US House of Representatives passed the PFAS Action Act, which would require the EPA to set drinking water limits for two PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) and to designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund cleanup program. Its path forward is uncertain. Even if the Senate passes the measure, the Trump administration has called its provisions “problematic and unreasonable” and threatened a veto.
But here’s a shred of optimism: Some new technologies show promise in breaking those ultra-strong carbon-fluorine bonds, which means the compounds known as “forever” chemicals could be removed from at least some groundwater. “I have actually started to feel a little bit of hope,” says Chris Higgins, an environmental engineer at the Colorado School of Mines and a PFAS expert. “We’re getting some technologies that seem to be working.”
The most promising approach involves an electrical reaction that looks like lightning striking water. Contaminated water goes through a plasma reactor, where argon gas pushes the PFAS compounds to the surface. Electrodes above and below the surface generate plasma—a highly reactive gas made up of positive ions and free electrons—that interacts with the PFAS and breaks the carbon-fluorine bonds.
“Our goal is to completely destroy the compound and not just transfer it from one phase to another,” says Michelle Crimi, an environmental engineer at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, who works on emerging technology to remediate PFAS. The plasma reactor technique was developed by her colleagues Selma Mededovic, a chemical engineer, and Tom Holsen, an environmental engineer.
Crimi is also using ultrasound waves to create cavities—essentially holes—in the water. When they collapse, they instigate physical and chemical reactions that break apart the PFAS chains. Other researchers are working on electrochemical techniques and even soil bacteria that may metabolize PFAS.
Click here to read the newsletter from the Fountain Creek Watershed & Flood Control District. Here’s an excerpt:
UCCS Values Relationship with Fountain Creek District
Contributed by: Kimberly Reeves, UCCS
More than 100 volunteers from the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs (UCCS) participated in Colorado Springs’ sixth annual Creek Week, working to clear the Templeton Gap Floodway of 40 bags of trash, one and a half grocery carts, and a bicycle wheel.
The District’s Creek Week events raise awareness about the Fountain Creek watershed, by educating volunteers about Colorado’s waterways while clearing litter and debris from the 75-mile long Fountain Creek and 927 square-mile watershed that drains into the Arkansas River. UCCS’ Office of Sustainability has championed efforts to promote events on and around campus since the inaugural event in 2014.
This collaborative effort of private companies, city and county organizations, and non-profits has broadened the reach for our campus community by using resources from all partners to ensure we are communicating the same message to our circles of influence. The connection for students to volunteer through opportunities that support our surrounding community allows them to strengthen their civic engagement and development as world citizens. Creek Week provides a platform to talk about the bigger picture of community members across our watershed from Palmer Lake to Pueblo, which is all supporting healthy waterways through volunteerism.
The past two years, Creek Week has increased its efforts from volunteer clean-up events to involve citizen scientist opportunities, which engaged faculty from UCCS to incorporate these opportunities into their courses. This ability to use the surrounding ecosystem as a place to conduct research benefits our students in not only experiential learning, but also the City of Colorado Springs because our students are investing their time to strengthen our community.
The UCCS community asks for Creek Week dates year-round. It has become a positive expectation that our universities invest in our broader community and provides opportunities to make an impact one clean-up at a time.
From El Paso County via The Colorado Springs Business Journal:
El Paso County is asking business owners and residents to give input for its new master plan in an online survey.
The survey covers similar ground to topics discussed at a visioning workshop held Dec. 11. Nearly 100 residents participated, and their input will be incorporated as the Planning Department finishes up the master plan development process.
Those who were unable to attend the workshop can provide feedback that will be considered as the county continues to develop the master plan.
The county started developing the master plan early this year, in what’s expected to be a two-year process. The Planning Department expects to begin implementing the master plan at the end of 2020.
The planning department, along with master plan consultant Houseal-Lavigne Associates, presented an Existing Conditions Report to the Board of County Commissioners at their meeting on Dec. 12.
Comprised of public input and statistical analysis, the 70-page report is a summary of current conditions in the county and a snapshot of county life as it stands today.
It covers a multitude of topics including zoning, development, transportation, water, military bases, recreation and tourism, community health and sustainability.
According to the county, the report will be instrumental as it develops the Whole County Master Plan.
“Finalizing the Existing Conditions Report is the first step toward understanding where the county is today, and it will serve as a bridge to the future,” Planning and Community Development Executive Director Craig Dossey said in a news release.
“The report gives us a strong foundation of understanding pertaining to the good, the bad and the ugly in the county, and provides a solid starting point as we move forward.”
“At the very least, the report gives residents a good idea of all the moving parts that are going into the master plan process,” John Houseal, principal at Houseal-Lavigne, said in a news release. “You won’t find another document with such extensive content relating to the current state of El Paso County.”
The number of places where the U.S. military spilled or suspects it discharged perfluorinated compounds has grown, Pentagon officials said Wednesday, but they did not say where or how many sites are under investigation for possible contamination.
The Department of Defense previously identified 401 sites on active and former military bases where the compounds — perfluorooctane sulfonate or perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOS and PFOA — were released or a suspected discharge occurred.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon said Wednesday that continued Department of Defense efforts to identify locations with potentially harmful levels of chemicals uncovered more sites, namely National Guard facilities.
He said the department will name the sites when it has verified the number and locations.
“As part of this process, we think there are probably more installations, and I’m not ready to tell you what that number is, but we found that we under-counted,” McMahon told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon.
The chemicals, which are used in firefighting foams to battle aircraft and ship fires and also found in household items such as non-stick cookware, stain repellents and food wrappers, have been linked to some types of cancer and birth defects.
In July, Defense Secretary Mark Esper created a task force to determine the extent of the contamination and potential health risks to military personnel and families posed by the chemicals, which fall under a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The task force also is charged with finding alternatives to PFAS-free firefighting foams.
The group is expected to release an interim report on its findings this month. Originally, the final report was due by January, but Esper shortened the timeline for completion from 180 days to 120, and now, McMahon said, the goal is to release an interim report that will be an “accurate picture of the multitude of things we are doing.” With McMahon retiring from the Department of Defense on Friday, it’s unknown whether there will be a final report.
“I don’t know what will happen after 120 days, whether the task force continues to go or if it stands down. It’s irrelevant to me because the focus is on doing what’s right for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and their families and the communities. We are going to be just as aggressive,” McMahon said.
The Department of Defense established a new website Tuesday that focuses on its work on PFAS and includes congressional reports and other DoD initiatives addressing the investigation and cleanup.
The move comes the week that a movie about PFAS, “Dark Waters,” premiers. The film tells the story of attorney Robert Bilott’s 20-year fight against DuPont, one of the manufacturers of PFAS chemicals. On Tuesday, the movie’s star, Mark Ruffalo, testified before Congress about the dangers of these chemicals.
They are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down, and build up in blood and tissues if absorbed.
“It’s time to regulate PFAS chemicals,” Ruffalo told members of the House Oversight and Reform Environment Subcommittee. “It’s time to end industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water, it’s time to end needless uses of PFAS in everyday products like food packaging, it’s time to finally filter PFAS out of drinking water and it’s time to clean up legacy PFAS contamination, especially at our military bases.”
Peterson is one of the locations where on-base and community water sources tested significantly above the EPA’s recommended PFAS or PFOA exposure limit of 70 parts per trillion.
“Colorado Health Department investigators found that lung, bladder and kidney cancer rates are significantly higher than expected in the same areas of the PFAS water contamination, yet the state has never offered contaminated residents medical monitoring or PFAS blood level tests,” said Favors, who respresented the Fountain Valley (Colorado) Clean Water Coalition.
Dozens of PFAS compounds are used in medical devices, pharmaceuticals and laboratory supplies. As such, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the subcommittee’s ranking member, said, caution should be taken when considering “sweeping action” against an entire class of substances.
“We should be careful of taking actions that have the potential to affect vast swaths of the economy, including hospitals and other [industries] that use lifesaving products made from PFAS compounds,” Comer said during the hearing.
Of the 401 sites named by the Defense Department as having a known or suspected discharge of PFAS, 36 on-base locations had contaminated drinking water and more than 90 had either off-base drinking water or groundwater contamination at levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s accepted threshold.
In cases where the Defense Department found drinking water supplies exceeding the 70 parts per trillion recommendation, the services supplied bottled water and in-home water filtration systems to ensure water quality.
“In some places, we had very marginal levels, so part of this is ‘You don’t have to worry about it.’ But in some places, we have levels that are higher … and we’ve reacted to that,” McMahon said.
Advocacy groups say that no amount of PFAS is safe; the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that has been sounding the alarm on the problem, says that 1 part per trillion is the maximum safe level, based on independent studies.
The EPA has released a draft proposing that the screening level of a contaminated site that would trigger further investigation of PFOS and PFOA should be 40 parts per trillion individually, and for remediation, 70 parts per trillion, combined, in groundwater.
The DoD follows the EPA’s current recommendation of 70 parts per trillion.
McMahon said this week that installation commanders can expect to receive letters instructing them to begin a dialogue, if they have not already done so, with their local communities on the DoD’s PFAS investigation, its findings and any clean up efforts within their communities, according to McMahon.
“One of the things we haven’t done real well is our transparency and activity in getting the message out,” McMahon said. I want our installation commanders to go talk to the community.”
The Environmental Working Group maintains a map as well as lists of the military installations and sites with known PFAS contamination. According to EWG, of the 100 most contaminated sites, 64 had groundwater contamination exceeding 100,000 parts per trillion. The highest known contamination was seen at the former England Air Force Base, near Alexandria, Louisiana, that measured 201.7 million parts per trillion of a PFAS chemical known as PFHxS.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
The Future of Fountain Creek: Frost Ranch Owner Takes the Long View
Here in the Pikes Peak region, many of us play in the Fountain Creek Watershed, whether we’re aware of it or not. We might hike or ride our bikes along Fountain Creek and its tributaries. We might fish or paddle our kayak in the creeks or lakes. But most of us don’t work the land – and we rarely witness Fountain Creek’s tempestuous nature.
But Jay Frost, third-generation owner of Frost Ranch south of Fountain, Colorado, has endured the creek’s unruly temperament for decades. “I’ve been watching the creek all my life,” he says. “We make a living here. We try to deal with its unpredictable nature.”
Frost Ranch has deep roots in local ranching and farming traditions. The Frost family raises grass-fed and grass-finished lamb and beef in its irrigated meadows. They grow non-certified organic vegetables and grass/alfalfa hay in the irrigated parts of the farm. The Frost family takes pride in growing healthy, sustainable food. The lamb and beef are free of hormones, antibiotics, and corn; fields are never sprayed; and vegetable planting, irrigating, weeding, and harvesting are all done using holistic and traditional methods.
Fountain Creek’s erosion and sedimentation issues are vexing. How does this impact Frost Ranch?
“The creek is flashy,” Jay says. “If there’s a little sniffle of rain in Colorado Springs, here comes the water! We can go from a base flow of 60 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 22,000 cfs. When the water calms down, all the sediment drops. The sediment load in Fountain Creek is crazy!”
Simultaneously, the ranch is literally losing property from erosion. “We have a big cut bank – we refer to it as the Great Wall,” Jay notes. “It’s 60 feet deep and at least a quarter of a mile long. It’s sloughing off soil all the time.”
Jay adds that floodwater can wash away fences and irrigation pipes, and sedimentation can damage irrigation infrastructure. The Frost family no longer grazes livestock near the creek due to the invasion of non-native plants. “Parts of the creek are choked with trees and exotic species like salt cedar [tamarisk] and Russian olive trees,” he says. “You can’t fence the dang thing. It’s just gnarly.”
That’s why, nearly three decades ago, Jay helped to form a coalition to begin focusing on the Fountain Creek Watershed – and begin addressing its many issues regarding flooding, erosion, and sedimentation.
This early initiative helped to pave the way for the formation of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control & Greenway District. Soon after the District was formed, Frost Ranch collaborated with District engineers to address a serious erosion issue on the ranch. According to the Project Summary, the lack of vegetation along approximately 400 feet of the creek’s bank allowed soil to be readily removed during high-flow events, resulting in flood damage, bank erosion, and increased downstream sedimentation.
Unfortunately, the repair project didn’t hold – a flooding incident washed it away. But Jay isn’t completely surprised, due to the turbulent nature of the creek. “Fountain Creek is normally a dribble, but it’s prone to flooding,” he says. “It can be wilder than hell when it’s really rolling.”
A Comprehensive Solution is the Best Way Forward
When it comes to Fountain Creek, Jay Frost takes the long view. “I believe we can find a comprehensive solution – a silver bullet – that will address the entire Fountain Creek Watershed,” he says. “A comprehensive solution – an absolutely engineered approach – is always better than just taking a stab at the issues, project by project.”
This is one of the benefits of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which is addressing the watershed comprehensively. In fact, since 2009, the District has planned and/or implemented more than a dozen construction projects to address critical erosion and sedimentation issues throughout the watershed. Various project aspects involve restoring the main channel, realigning the creek, stabilizing steep cut banks, revegetating, protecting wetlands, and restoring riparian habitat. At the end of the day, if Fountain Creek has less erosion, less sedimentation, better quality and accessible water, we all benefit.
I n the conversation with Jay, it was noted that ranchers and farmers are on the front lines of water issues, fighting the good fight. “Yeah,” Jay replies, “but it’s so worth it.”
Local environmental activists and state lawmakers gathered near Colorado Springs on Tuesday to call for more federal support in cleaning up toxic PFAS chemical contamination near some of the state’s military bases, most recently including the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Firefighting foams used regularly on military bases for decades leached chemicals into local groundwater supplies. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory warning of a connection between PFAS and certain types of cancer.
The military has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on cleanup nationwide, including $50 million at Peterson Air Force Base alone.
But speakers at the event organized by the nonprofit Environment Colorado said much more funding is still needed.
Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition founder Liz Rosenbaum urged Colorado’s congressional delegation to fight for more PFAS cleanup funds in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“We have done everything that we can possibly do from the local level, from our city, the county and the state,” Rosenbaum said. “This is a national contamination because it has been done by the department of defense. So we have to look to Congress and our elected officials in D.C.”
Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn sits on the conference committee which is working out differences between Senate and House versions of the NDAA. Lamborn’s office did not send a representative to the press conference.
Republican state Sen. Dennis Hisey said he doesn’t think it matters where the money comes from, as long as Congressional leaders work to raise awareness of how much is left to do in cleaning up these so-called “forever chemicals.”
Here’s an in-depth look PFAS in El Paso County from Faith Miller that’s running in the Colorado Springs Independent. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health will study the health effects of toxic PFAS chemicals — found in firefighting foam used by the military — in residents of El Paso County, thanks to a $1 million federal grant.
Colorado is just one of seven states named in a multisite study into the health effects of the chemicals. Nationally, the study will recruit “at least 2,000 children aged 4–17 years and 6,000 adults aged 18 years and older who were exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water,” according to a statement from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is funding the project along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Colorado School of Public Health, at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver, plans to recruit 1,000 adults and 300 children for the study. Previous research has found that people who lived in the Fountain and Security-Widefield areas, near Peterson Air Force Base, prior to 2015 have higher-than-normal levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood.
The research team will include experts from the Colorado School of Mines, Children’s Hospital Colorado, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the University of Southern California, according to a statement from CU Anschutz.
John Adgate, chair of the school’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and the co-principal investigator on the study, says it’s not yet clear which members of the PFAS chemical group will be looked at, but the list will likely include “PFHxS, PFOS and PFOA, as well as a bunch of others.”
Most extensive research into PFAS chemicals has so far been focused on PFOS and PFOA, while health effects of other PFAS aren’t as well established.
“The El Paso County site is interesting because [the contamination is] mostly from firefighting foams, which results in people having elevated blood levels of what’s known as PFHxS and PFOS,” Adgate explains.
Adgate and his research team found last year that study participants who’d been exposed to the contamination had blood levels of PFHxS about 10 times as high as U.S. population reference levels. Levels of this chemical were also higher than those for residents in other communities exposed to PFAS.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Creek Week – YOU Can Make a Difference!
QUICK – FUN AND EASY
From September 28 – October 6
1 – 2-hour commitment
Anyone can participate – All Ages, Demographics
What is approximately 40 times as heavy as a hippopotamus, is 180 times as heavy as a grand piano, and is 42 times as heavy as a car? The answer is the amount of trash, in tons, that volunteers have picked up during “Creek Week” since its inception in 2014.
“Creek Week” began as a way to encourage citizens to help remove litter and debris from our land and waters, raise awareness of watershed health and to foster a sense of community, and has grown into an annual event. It provides an opportunity for communities to give back, to enjoy the parks and trails they are cleaning and to understand their place in the Fountain Creek Watershed.
Concerned citizens from Palmer Lake, Monument, Colorado Springs, Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Pueblo and beyond will come together from September 28-October 6, to clean and protect the Fountain Creek Watershed.
Participants include individuals and groups, from towns, cities, churches, and organizations. Last year nearly 3,000 volunteers removed 24 tons of litter from Palmer Lake to Pueblo and further. Volunteer participation has grown 350 percent over its 5-year history. Now it’s your turn to get involved. Complete the online form to facilitate a Crew, or click on Public Event Registration to join in on 40+ public cleanups at: at http://www.fountaincreekweek.com . For any “Creek Week” related questions, email the Steering Committee at email@example.com.
A Congressional PFAS Task Force and other members of Congress signed a letter on September 3 asking congressional leadership finalizing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 to keep the House of Representative and Senate provisions addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination and cleanup. In total, a bipartisan group of 162 members of the House of Representatives signed the letter.
As members of Congress return from the August recess, differences between the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, the defense spending authorization bill, will be negotiated this month.
Circle of Blue reports the White House issued a veto threat in July against the House bill, which designates PFAS as hazardous substances under federal law and requires the military to discontinue the use of fluorine firefighting foams by 2025.
Despite some differences, both bills set a timetable for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a national drinking water standard for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
The September 3 letter notes that among the Senate and House provisions included in the Authorization Act are items relating to groundwater that would:
Require groundwater and drinking water quality monitoring for PFAS
Require reporting of industrial discharges of PFAS
Accelerate PFAS cleanups at military facilities through the use of cooperative agreements
Designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund law
Require permits for PFAS discharges under the Clean Water Act
Require the EPA to set a sufficiently protective drinking water standard for PFAS compounds
Require the Department of Defense to treat and clean PFAS-contaminated water used for agricultural purposes.
Warmer temperatures and higher nutrient levels in the water have led to more blue-green algae blooms, which are harmful to humans and potentially deadly to pets, said Erik Rodriguez a Health, Safety and Environmental specialist with the city. The daily temperature record in Colorado Springs has already been broken five times this year.
While the city struggles to find a fix, other Colorado towns have used environmentally-friendly machinery that helps aerate the water. Better circulation gives algae less chance to accumulate.
In the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir in Loveland, sit five SolarBee units — solar powered machines that float in the middle of the lake. They keep the water in the reservoir moving, disrupting the stagnant environment that blue-green algae likes, said SolarBee regional manager Dave Summerfield. Each unit costs about $40,000.
Since the units were installed two years ago, the 150-acre drinking water reservoir has been free of algae.
In the past, the popular method among water treatment agencies was to dump algicides such as copper sulfate into the water. But the solution wasn’t sustainable, said Summerfield.
The bacteria would slowly adapt to the sulfate, forcing maintenance to use more and more of it, racking up costs and dangerous toxin levels…
Rodriguez pointed out that several Colorado Springs lakes already have aeration features in them. Monument Valley Park ponds have a few aerators — devices that create small air bubbles to push the water around. Mary Kyer Park has a fountain in the middle that helps with circulation, he said.
Cyanobacteria, which causes the blue-green algae, thrives off nutrients in the water, specifically nitrogen and phosphorous. Nitrogen and phosphorous get into water in runoff from agriculture, fossil fuels, fertilizers, yard and pet waste, even soaps and detergents. The city’s recent warm weather and heavy thunderstorms haven’t helped, Rodriguez said.
A different judge is presiding over the 2½-year-old environmental lawsuit against Colorado Springs for degrading Fountain Creek.
Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado has replaced Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch, who died in May.
“This is a very, very important case,” Kane said last week when he held his first proceeding, a status conference, on the case. He has been on the bench for 41 years.
“Taking over a case (from another judge) is not very pleasant” because a lot of catching up is required, he told the attorneys. Thousands of pages of documents have been filed for the litigation.
The federal and state environmental protection agencies filed the lawsuit in 2016, and were joined by the Pueblo County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…
After a trial last year, Matsch decided Colorado Springs had violated its permit which regulates discharges of the city’s storm water sewer system into the creek.
The next step would be another trial for Kane to determine what Colorado Springs must do to remedy the violations.
However, The Pueblo Chieftain reported July 30 that all sides notified the judge that they have been meeting “regularly and intensively” all year to try to agree on terms to settle the dispute, instead of going to trial again.
At their request, Kane put the case on hold until Nov. 22 to give them more time for that purpose.
At last week’s court conference, a federal attorney told the judge that the violations “are ongoing.”
Air Force officials released the results of a 2018-2019 Site Inspection at the U.S. Air Force Academy that assessed the potential for Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) presence in ground water, surface water, soil and sediment samples stemming from past firefighting activities.
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center confirmed that groundwater samples from several areas on the Academy were found to be above the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) levels of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA.
PFOS and PFOA are part of a family of synthetic fluorinated chemicals called per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, used for many years in industrial and consumer products that resist heat, stains, grease and water, as well as in commercial industry and military firefighting foam.
Colorado Springs Utilities supplies the drinking water to the Air Force Academy and has not detected these compounds at its water treatment facilities above the method reporting limit of 10 ppt, including its most recent voluntary sampling conducted in the 1st quarter 2019.
However, because levels above the LHA were found in groundwater on the Academy, drinking water wells south of the base could be impacted.
The Air Force will conduct an Expanded Site Inspection in the coming months to assess potential risk to private wells south of the Academy, primarily in the Woodmen Valley area
“We share community concerns about the possible impacts past use of these chemicals may have on human drinking water sources,” said Col. Brian Hartless, 10th Air Base Wing commander. “We will work closely with AFCEC to protect human health and conduct a thorough inspection to ensure safe drinking water.”
Where Air Force operations are found to have contributed to PFOS and PFOA levels in drinking water above the EPA LHA, the Air Force will take immediate action to ensure residents whose private drinking water wells are impacted have access to safe drinking water.
The EPA established a LHA level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water in 2016. The Air Force Academy is one of 203 installations the Air Force identified as a potential Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) release location.
Air Force Academy firefighter training a quarter century ago released a torrent of toxic perfluorinated chemicals that seeped into groundwater and flowed into Monument Creek, a 15,000-page Air Force report released Friday shows.
A series of tests by Air Force researchers showed groundwater had 1,000 times the level of perfluorinated compounds considered safe by state and federal regulators. Records on the training that used firefighting foam loaded with the chemicals are spotty to non-existent at the academy, the report said, but hazy recollections of the training, which ran from the late 1980s to the early 1990s at the pit, less than 100 yards from the creek, led to the recent tests.
Colorado’s health department on Friday recommended that anyone who uses groundwater south of the academy who hasn’t had their well tested should switch to bottled water. The same holds true for anyone whose wells exceed the EPA’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion after testing.
About 30 domestic or household wells exist within one mile downstream of the Air Force Academy, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The Air Force plans to go door-to-door in the affected area to determine if private wells are being used for drinking water, the agency said. In the process, the Air Force plans to take up to 125 drinking water samples from potentially affected private or municipal drinking water wells.
“Our focus is on ensuring no one is drinking water above the EPA’s (advisory level),” the academy said in an email. “In the event any human drinking water sources (are) believed impacted … the Air Force will take immediate measures to provide bottled water or other alternative sources until more permanent mitigation can be installed.”
Colorado Springs Utilities says the chemicals from the academy won’t impact drinking water in the city.
The utility said its wells on and near the Air Force Academy have hardly — if ever — been used. The utility has traditionally relied solely on surface water to supply people on its system. The last time the utility used any wells in its system was around 2002 or 2003, during a significant drought, said Steve Berry, a utilities spokesman. That use was “very limited,” Berry said, though he was unsure whether wells near the academy were used at that time.
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Ellie Mulder, Jakob Rodgers):
Plans are underway to begin testing drinking water wells south of the academy in the Woodmen Valley area after unsafe levels of the chemicals were found at four locations on base, the academy said Thursday.
It was unclear Thursday evening how many people and wells could be impacted.
The discovery of perfluorinated compounds at the academy opened a new front in the region’s battle against chemicals that have fouled an aquifer serving more than 64,000 people just 20 miles to the south, outside Peterson Air Force Base.
And it threatened to push the price tag to remove the chemicals from drinking water here ever higher, beyond the $50 million spent by the Air Force…
Air Force officials stressed that drinking water at the academy wasn’t affected — the base is supplied by Colorado Springs Utilities, which has not detected the chemicals in its water.
Utilities customers south of the academy should not have detectible exposure to the chemicals, said Dave Padgett, the utility’s chief environmental officer.
Unclear, however, is whether residents in that area are using private wells for drinking water and if the wells are contaminated.
Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko, an academy spokeswoman, pledged relief for anyone affected.
“Bottom line, we will do everything we can immediately to ensure people have safe drinking water,” including providing bottled water, Bunko said.
Four sites on the academy were found to have chemical levels higher than an Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion, said Michael Kucharek, another academy spokesman. He declined to name the location of those sites.
An August 2018 Air Force report, however, suggested four possible test sites during such an inspection:
• the academy’s fire training area;
• a fire station and a spray test area;
• an airfield spray test area;
• the academy’s water treatment plant and nonpotable reservoir.
Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:
There is an increasing occurrence of toxic blue-green algae in reservoirs across the United States this year, forcing the limitation of recreational access to the bodies of water for public safety.
In a recent test at Pikeview Reservoir, a popular fishing lake in central Colorado Springs and part of our water system, the bacteria was identified.
While the reservoir is still safe for fishing, as a precautionary meaure, humans and pets are prohibited from entering the water until further notice. Anglers are directed to thoroughly clean fish and discard guts.
We have removed Pikeview as a source for drinking water until the reservoir is determined to be clear of the algae. There are no concerns about this affecting water supply for our community.
Presumptive testing has indicated levels of less than 5 mcg/L.
Sickness including nausea, vomiting, rash, irritated eyes, seizures and breathing problems could occur following exposure to the blue-green algae in the water. Anyone suspicious of exposure with onset of symptoms should contact their doctor or veterinarian. For questions regarding health impacts of exposure, contact the El Paso County Health Department or Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Warming temperatures have contributed to the growth of the bacteria.
The popular fishing lake that lies just south of Garden of the Gods Road tested above acceptable limits for the bacteria the news release read. The water is still safe to fish in, but humans and pets are not allowed. Anglers are asked to clean the fish thoroughly and remove guts, according to the news release.
The reservoir has been removed as a drinking water source, Utilities stated, however there are no concerns about the tainted water affecting the community.
Prospect Lake in Memorial Park has been closed indefinitely after a test found toxic blue-green algae in the water, Colorado Springs officials said Friday.
A “precautionary water sample,” taken from the lake Friday morning by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, tested positive for mycrocystin toxin, also known as blue-green algae.
The lake’s swim beach was roped off and closure signs were posted. Fishing areas remain open, but anglers are encouraged to clean the fish and remove guts. Rentals are not available, and pets are not allowed.
“Given today’s positive test for mycrocystin toxin, we have closed Prospect Lake for usage,” said Erik Rodriguez of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services in a statement. “CDPHE will continue to test weekly until the bacteria clears up.”
In the meantime, the city has banned swimming, bathing, paddleboarding, motorized and nonmotorized boats even with permits, tubing and water skiing.
Officials of Pueblo County and of the Lower Arkansas Valley are making significant progress to resolve a lawsuit against Colorado Springs for years of defiling Fountain Creek.
“The parties have made significant progress toward settlement,” states a July 23 report obtained by The Pueblo Chieftain.
The report was submitted to a judge in Denver of the U.S. District Court for Colorado, where the lawsuit is pending.
The Chieftain reported in December that both sides of the dispute had begun meeting to discuss a potential resolution without further litigation.
The new report and the one in December were signed by attorneys for the litigants: the county commissioners, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health and Environment on one side, and the city of Colorado Springs on the other side…
After a trial last year, the judge overseeing the case decided in November that the Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates discharges into the creek from the city’s storm water sewer system.
The next step would have been for another trial to determine what the city must do to remedy the violations.
The commissioners, the water conservancy district, plus the federal and state environmental agencies stated in December they would ask a judge to order Colorado Springs to improve its storm water system, impose monetary penalties “and other appropriate remedies” if both sides could not agree on how to resolve the dispute.
In last week’s report, all sides stated they “have been meeting regularly and intensively to reach settlement.”
They asked the judge to put the case on hold in order to give them at least until Nov. 22 “to focus on settlement.”
It’s one example of the financial burden this region still bears from the pollution, despite the $50 million the Air Force has spent on cleanup around Peterson.
“There are 60,000 stories just like this and they’re happening at the kitchen sink in every Fountain, Widefield and Security home,” Clark said of the communities whose water was tainted by the foam.
The foundation, as well as the nearby Security Water District, have sued the Air Force over the chemicals. District general manager Roy Heald said they had to find a new source of water for their customers, a complicated process which involved the construction of a mile-long pipeline to buy water from Colorado Springs. The cost of the pipeline and the first two years of water set the district back $6 million…
In 2018, the Air Force stepped in to cover the district’s water costs until the construction of a new treatment facility was completed. The Air Force will also pay for the facility. Still, Heald said it’s unclear what the ongoing long-term costs will be for the district when it comes to the new facility. It will be needed as long as the contamination remains in the groundwater, which could essentially be forever…
As of this June, $357 million has been spent on PFAS cleanup around 22 Air Force installations nationwide. It’s a lot of money that many who live near the sites say barely touches on the full problem…
There’s disagreement even between government agencies about what concentration of PFAS is safe for humans. A division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that levels should be set seven to 10 times lower than the EPA’s health advisory.
Genna Reed, the lead PFAS researcher for the Union of Concerned Scientists, has said the Department of Defense “misrepresented the scope of this issue in order to avoid having to pay.”
The Air Force would not grant an interview for this story, but states on the PFAS website it established that “protecting human health is our priority.”
Reed said the Department of Defense has limited which PFAS chemicals it tests for in groundwater and only releases data when the results are above the higher EPA threshold.
“Community members who have been exposed to this chemical and were not told of its release are being the ones left with the burden of paying for this contamination and paying to find out how much is in their water and also to find out how much is in their blood,” Reed said.
Rosenbaum said the full blood panel to test for PFAS chemicals costs about $700 — out of reach for many living near Peterson AFB.
Rosenbaum has organized a local clean water coalition to go after grants to test residents’ blood and water. She’s frustrated they have to do that work themselves.
“There’s absolutely no reason for our communities to go into debt over another water contamination that we didn’t cause,” she said.
A [new] groundwater treatment facility is going to be built just north of the existing one.
The facility will be paid for by the Air Force and will be built by the Army Corps of Engineers. The project is part of the agreement reached to protect Fountain’s water from contamination from Peterson Air Force Base in 2016.
While the interest in cleaning up Fountain Creek through downtown Colorado Springs is building, the coalitions and money needed to do it are lagging.
Trout Unlimited, the nationwide organization known for advocating for water quality improvements to bolster recreation, has not been involved. The local chapter’s president, in an interview with The Colorado Sun, cast doubt on the possibility of a sustainable trout population in the stretch, but he said he would be interested in learning more.
There are cleanups of the area around the stream, but any visitor can clearly see that they aren’t solving the problem.
“We’re absolutely talking about it,” City Council President Richard Skorman said. “But, no, there’s not, like, $10 million in a fund today that’s involved in it.”
State Sen. Owen Hill, the Republican lawmaker Peak ventured into the creek with, said he is working to build support among nongovernmental organizations to complete a cleanup. Hill declined to identify the groups because he’s still in the early stages of talks to get them aboard.
“It is a little sketchy, but we aren’t going to change that without building the awareness,” Hill said, noting that he has returned many times to fish the creek. “When you look at our grandparents’ generation, they used to picnic down there and swim in the creek. And now we’re afraid to go down there without waterproof clothing on.”
Colorado Springs’ City Council recently passed ordinances increasing fines for littering and prohibiting camping within 100 feet of a public stream to help improve water quality in Fountain Creek. The latter, which adds to the city’s existing camping ban, has drawn pushback from advocates who say transients are being unfairly blamed for a bigger problem.
Skorman says homeless displacement is a concern of his, but that the city is working toward solutions. He said he envisions that one day the confluence of Monument and Fountain creeks downtown could be like Confluence Park in central Denver, where people swim, kayak and fish.
“We’re probably a good 10 years behind other communities,” Skorman said. “I dream about this at night. It’s my big passion. And I think we’re going to do it here. I think we’re going to do something special.”
As for Peak, he’s going to continue working to raise awareness of Fountain Creek’s potential.
“This isn’t something that the current city council or government did, but it is something that they have to deal with,” Peak said. “What to do? That’s the million dollar question.”
In March, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asked the Department of Defense for details about funding diverted from other projects to pay for cleanup and testing for PFAS, a toxic group of man-made chemicals used in military firefighting foam.
On June 5, the DoD responded to Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware by acknowledging that the Air Force had diverted $66.6 million from other projects to pay for PFAS-related efforts. The Army and Navy did not have to divert any funding, according to the DoD’s letter.
Many of the projects put on hold involved cleaning up other pollution at former Air Force sites…
The funding diverted from those and other projects paid for PFAS testing at 16 former Air Force installations, along with groundwater and drinking water treatment for communities around Wurtsmith, Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire and March Air Reserve Base in California.
“Congress needs to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources needed to fully address its millions of dollars—perhaps billions of dollars—in liabilities related to the DOD-related PFAS contamination in our communities,” Sen. Carper said in a statement following the announcement. “Otherwise, the DOD will just keep robbing Peter to pay Paul by putting important projects on standby and stretching budgets to clean up PFAS contamination.”
Lawmakers are looking to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which funds the Department of Defense, to procure more funding for PFAS testing and cleanup.
The bill already requires the DoD to phase out all firefighting foam that contains PFAS by 2023. While military installations including Peterson Air Force Base have switched to a version thought to be safer, and have stopped using the foam for training purposes, the military continues to use foam with “short-chain” PFAS chemicals, thought to be safer for public health and the environment.
On June 13, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, introduced an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would reimburse water districts (including those in Security-Widefield and Fountain) for treating and mitigating PFAS in drinking water.
“In the wake of contamination, local water districts around Peterson Air Force Base took the initiative and covered the cleanup costs to ensure the safety of drinking water for residents,” Bennet said in a statement. “This amendment will ensure these districts receive the full reimbursement they deserve.”
A separate amendment filed by a bipartisan group of senators would expand monitoring and testing of PFAS, and set a deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFAS, two types of PFAS chemicals once found in firefighting foam.
At an Arvada fire station, Polis signed into law House Bill 1279, which bans certain kinds of foam used in firefighting training. Such foam contains so-called “forever chemicals” that have contaminated drinking water in El Paso County and elsewhere…
The foam contaminated Fountain’s water supply, and it has since installed filters to deal with problem…
HB 1279 bans Class B firefighting foams that contain “intentionally added” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Such chemicals were used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and have been found in the nearby Widefield aquifer, which serves Security, Widefield and Fountain.
The foam was sprayed on the ground and used in a firefighting training area that was flushed into the Colorado Springs Utilities treatment system, which was ill-equipped to remove the chemicals. The effluent ended up in Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield aquifer.
The Air Force since has replaced that foam with a new version that the military says is less toxic, though it still contains perfluorinated chemicals.
In Salida, Polis signed House Bill 1264, which is intended to resolve some of the long-standing problems with the state’s conservation easement program.
Landowners say the Colorado Department of Revenue revoked tax credits awarded to those who entered into conservation easements with land trusts, with more than 800 credits revoked from the 4,000 granted in the program’s first 15 years.
HB 1264 is intended to make the program more transparent, with a warning to landowners that easements are in perpetuity. The bill also requires the Division of Conservation Easements, within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, to set up a committee to determine how to repay those tax credits.
The committee is to hold its first hearing June 25, an addition to the bill made by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.
Legislative leaders in both parties are to appoint the committee members, and lawmakers say they intend to include representatives for those who have been denied tax credits as well as other program critics.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis chose the banks of the Arkansas River in Salida as the ideal location to sign an unprecedented nine bills into law on Monday morning, June 3. The location underscored both the importance of these bills to Colorado’s rural and recreation economies, as well as highlighting Colorado’s growing preference for collaboration to get things done…
SB19-221 – CO Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project
This bill sponsored by Donovan and Roberts, is focused on the funding of Colorado water conservation board projects, and assigns an appropriation to protect those projects…
SB19-186 – Expand Agricultural Chemical Management Program Protect Surface Water
Another bill sponsored by Donovan, Catlin, Coram and including Rep. Jeni Arndt, seeks to protect Colorado surface water from contamination by the expansion of agriculture chemical management plans.
From the High Country News (Paige Blankenbuehler):
Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals exist in furniture, waterproof makeup and clothing, nonstick cookware, popcorn bags, the foam used to extinguish petroleum fires (which is different from the slurry used across the West to fight wildfires), and countless other items. Known collectively as PFAS, this class of chemicals contains more than 5,000 different compounds that are often called “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down in the environment. PFAS chemicals are an omnipresent, if largely invisible, part of daily life.
Because the Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate PFAS chemicals, states are left not only to research and track them, but also to develop regulations to clean up already dangerous levels of pollution. And, according to recent data from the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University and the Environmental Working Group, the West isn’t doing a great job.
Bill Walker, with the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, says that, by and large, Western states are lagging far behind, not only in PFAS regulations, but also in monitoring. “The scope of this problem is growing — not because our exposure to PFAS chemicals is growing, but because we’re finally becoming aware of the persistence of these compounds in our lives,” said Walker. “Because there is so little action from the EPA on this, addressing this crisis falls to the states.”
People can be exposed to PFAS chemicals through household cooking items, or simply by eating popcorn out of the bag after microwaving it. But the greatest source of concern involves military bases, fire departments and airports, where the chemicals are used for extinguishing petroleum fires. That leaves high levels of PFAS chemicals in close proximity to public drinking-water sources. According to recent data compiled by EWG and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University, 610 areas in 43 states have confirmed PFAS contamination. The researchers estimate that the drinking water of approximately 19 million people is tainted.
Most Western states are already facing the consequences of contamination: Municipal water managers are scrambling to address high PFAS levels in drinking water, even as communities experience their health impacts, such as higher rates of kidney and testicular cancers. Still, very few have passed laws that track or regulate dangerous PFAS levels. “Northeastern states are ahead of most other states in monitoring and tracking this contamination,” said Phil Brown, the project director of Northeastern University’s PFAS monitoring project. “But in reality, if you look for it, you’ll find it most everywhere.”
Industry representatives say that while they support more oversight, a “one-size-fits-all” regulation for the class of chemicals goes too far. On May 22, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works held a hearing to discuss appropriate legislation for addressing PFAS contamination. PFAS “play a central role in American life and not all are dangerous to public health,” said Kimberly Wise White, a toxicologist for the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group that advocates for manufacturers of PFAS chemicals. “All PFAS are different; they have different hazard profiles. Some are not water-soluble, for example. It is not scientifically appropriate to regulate as one class.”
Advocates for stronger regulations, however, say that the EPA isn’t doing nearly enough to monitor the problem. And many disagree with White’s suggestion that the chemicals should be regulated on an individual basis, which would allow manufacturers to continue to make money from potentially dangerous chemicals. “The EPA’s current guidelines do not include a commitment to set a drinking water standard, even for a subset of PFAS chemicals that even manufacturers agree are dangerous,” said Suzanne Novak, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy organization.
Meanwhile, ever more Western communities are discovering troubling levels of PFAS in their water. Last month, the water district for the town of Security, Colorado, and the local Pikes Peak Community Foundation filed a $17 million lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense for PFAS contamination from Peterson Air Force Base, near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Shortly after that, the Centers for Disease Control identified the area as part of an upcoming study on the impacts of long-term exposure to high levels of PFAS in drinking water, with research due to begin this fall. New Mexico’s attorney general, too, has sued the U.S. Air Force after confirming PFAS contamination at Lake Holloman, on the westernmost edge of White Sands National Monument.
“PFAS chemicals are one of the most complex groups of pollutants out there,” said Chris Higgins, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, who is researching the effects of exposure in El Paso County. “Once they are in the groundwater, it’s really hard to stop the spread, and treating them is even more difficult.”
Paige Blankenbuehler is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s a report from Tom Dart that’s running in The Guardian. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
In Colorado Springs, businesses are suing the military for perfluorinated compounds, which some are calling ‘Agent Orange 2.0’
Over the last 80 years, much of the land surrounding Venetucci Farm was sold to the US army to establish the base now known as Fort Carson, and today it is hemmed in by highways. Still, with its 200 acres of fields, farmhouse and big red barn, it is a beloved institution in Colorado Springs. As the only community urban farm left in the sprawling city, it is a valuable resource, educating thousands of children about agriculture, sustainability and healthy eating and known above all for its annual pumpkin giveaways.
The autumn pumpkin event has taken place for decades, and a local brewer still makes Venetucci Pumpkin Ale, but now the pumpkins are bought elsewhere. The produce is no longer available for public consumption because farming activities have stopped. In 2016, irrigation water was found to be contaminated with elevated levels of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).
The foundation that runs the farm has joined forces with a local water district to sue the US air force, alleging that toxic chemicals used in firefighting foam at a nearby base have tainted the water, perhaps for decades, prompting health worries and causing economic losses.
Similar concerns have been raised about dozens of other bases across the country. But the problem is not limited to areas close to military installations.
PFCs and related human-made chemicals, more generally known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), have been virtually unregulated since at least the 1950s. As well as at industrial sites, airports and bases, PFAS have long been used in household products thanks to their grease- and stain-resistant properties. They are everywhere: from fast-food packaging to carpets and furniture, water-repellent clothing and non-stick cookware such as Teflon.
The extraordinary resilience that led to them being dubbed “forever chemicals” no longer seems such a boon. As more becomes known about their widespread presence in the environment and the potential health risks, activists are urging state and federal regulators take action to increase oversight and even ban PFAS outright.
The Pentagon is reportedly lobbying for a more lenient standard for cleaning up toxic chemicals used for decades in firefighting foam that have been found in drinking water in southern El Paso County and around the country.
Even if the Pentagon is successful, the Air Force appears unlikely to get off the hook for cleaning up the contaminated Widefield aquifer serving tens of thousands of residents south of Colorado Springs, state health officials said.
The Defense Department’s push to revise safety standards comes as it faces billions of dollars in cleanup costs tied to its decades-long use of a firefighting foam laced with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals, known as PFAS, are tied to cancer, liver disease and low infant birth weight.
The lobbying appears aimed at influencing the Environmental Protection Agency’s groundwater cleanup standard — a level at which cleanup would be required of polluters.
In a report to Congress, the Pentagon said an appropriate level is 380 parts per trillion, the New York Times reported. It’s at least five times what the EPA says could be harmful to people, and dozens of times higher than another federal agency says is toxic to people.
At that level, the military could avoid paying to clean up many contaminated sites across the nation, said David Andrews, senior scientist for the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group.
“Even if it’s the same number of sites, the amount of cleanup you’re doing at each site would be drastically reduced,” Andrews said. “The likely impact is that DoD is really trying to pass on the responsibilities and the cost for cleaning up this contamination. Which is dreadful.”
In a statement, the Pentagon said it takes its cleanup responsibility “seriously.”
“DOD is not seeking a different or weaker cleanup standard but wants the standard risk-based cleanup approach that is based on science and applies to everyone,” the statement said.
Still, one of Delaware’s Democratic U.S. senators, Tom Carper, claimed in a letter to the EPA that the Defense Department is currently only cleaning up sites where groundwater readings exceed 400 parts per trillion, and only removing the chemicals to 70 ppt. The Pentagon was joined by NASA and the Small Business Administration in lobbying for more relaxed standards, the senator said.
The Pentagon report only referenced two PFAS varieties — PFOA and PFOS — even though thousands of other varieties are known to exist. The report was issued last year, and reported Thursday by The New York Times, along with Carper’s letter.
The Defense Department’s maneuvering is expected to have little impact on cleanup operations around Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado health officials say.
State regulations would still force the Air Force to clean up the tainted Widefield aquifer to a more stringent standard that is in line with the EPA’s current health advisory, according to Kelly MacGregor, a Colorado Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman.
The state’s Water Quality Control Commission voted unanimously in April to adopt a site-specific groundwater quality standard of 70 ppt for the same two chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — combined.
Even without the state standard, the aquifer’s contamination downstream from the base is so bad that cleanup efforts around Peterson would likely go unaffected by the Pentagon’s lobbying.
Seven wells drilled about three years ago in the Widefield aquifer showed PFOS at levels of 400 ppt or greater. One well drilled at the Colorado Springs Airport found the chemical at 1,600 ppt.
Neither the state’s adopted groundwater standard, nor lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., touch on the thousands of other types of chemicals, also called perfluorinated compounds.
For communities affected by use of the foam, such as Security, Widefield and Fountain, that could be a significant problem, Andrews said.
For example, another type of chemical called PFHxS is often associated with use of the firefighting foam. And no other type of perfluorinated compound was as common in drinking water samples taken from Security or Fountain wells as PFHxS, nor present at such high levels, according to EPA drinking water data.
A couple of other chemicals were reported as frequently in wells serving Widefield. But again, none were as consistently high as PFHxS.
It also has been found in the drinking water of dozens of other water districts across the country, EPA results show. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says it could cause liver damage and a decreased ability to respond to vaccines.
Several other types of PFAS also have raised health concerns while being found in water systems across the country.
“Really we’d like to see the EPA and the DoD focusing on reducing the total PFAS contamination … shifting into high gear and taking responsibility for cleaning up all of this contamination,” Andrews said.