The list of military sites with suspected ‘forever chemicals’ contamination has grown — The Military Times #PFAS

From The Military Times (Patricia Kime):

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.

Naval Research Lab Chemical Engineer Katherine Hinnant tests an experimental aqueous film-forming foam at the NRL in Washington, Sept. 23, 2019. NRL scientists are conducting research to support the Defense Department’s effort to replace firefighting foams containing fluorine. Photo credit: Department of Defense

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.”

Also testifying at the hearing was Mark Favors, a former Army specialist whose extended family lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, near Peterson Air Force Base, and who can count 16 cases of cancer in his family, including 10 deaths, five of which were from kidney cancer.

Peterson Base

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.

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org

Efforts to relocate an ancient wetland could help determine the fate of a water project on Lower Homestake Creek — @AspenJournalism

A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Sarah Tory):

One morning last month, Brad Johnson arrived at a patch of rippling yellow grasses alongside U.S. 24, a few miles south of Leadville in the upper Arkansas River valley. Sandwiched among a cluster of abandoned ranch buildings, a string of power lines and a small pond, it is an unassuming place — except, of course, for its views of 14,000-foot peaks rising across the valley.

But appearances can be deceiving. The rather ordinary-looking property was a fen, which is a groundwater-fed wetland filled with organic “peat” soils that began forming during the last ice age and that give fens their springy feel.

“It’s like walking on a sponge,” Johnson said, marching across the marshy ground, stopping every now and then to point out a rare sedge or grass species.

Johnson was visiting the fen to record groundwater measurements before winter sets in. As the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, Johnson is part of an effort spearheaded and paid for by Aurora Water and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo to study new ways to restore fens.

The research could help facilitate future water development in Colorado, such as the potential Whitney Reservoir project, part of a 20-year water-development plan from Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities for the upper Eagle River watershed. The utilities, working together as Homestake Partners, are looking at building the reservoir in the Homestake Creek valley, south of Minturn, in an area that probably contains fens, which could hinder the project.

Aurora and Colorado Springs are working together on the reservoir project, and Aurora and Pueblo are funding the fens research. Although the Whitney project is not directly tied to the fen project, if the research efforts are successful, they could help Aurora and Colorado Springs secure a permit approval for the reservoir — and maybe alter the fate of an ecosystem.

Brad Johnson, a wetland ecologist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, takes groundwater measurements at the research site near Leadville, while his dogs, Katie and Hayden watch. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

Irreplaceable resources

If you’ve walked through Colorado’s high country, chances are you’ve walked by a fen, which are among the state’s most biodiverse and fragile environments. To protect fens, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency drafted a “fen policy” in 1996. The policy, amended in 1999, determined that fens are irreplaceable resources because their soils take so long to regenerate. “On-site or in-kind replacement of peatlands is not possible,” the policy reads.

Inside the Fish and Wildlife Service, however, a different interpretation emerged. “Irreplaceable” became “unmitigable,” making it difficult or impossible to secure approval for any project that would severely impact fens.

Although Johnson is in favor of fen conservation, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “unmitigable” interpretation bothered him. Not only was that status not supported by the fen policy itself, he believes saying “no” all the time is not in the best interest of fens.

“My fear is that if we don’t have the means of mitigating our impacts, we’ll just impact them,” he said.

Eventually, Johnson believes, conservationists will have to make some concessions to development. But by researching better mitigation techniques, he hopes he can help preserve fens in the long run.

Fen soils are made of a rich, organic peat material that take thousands of years to form and require a constant groundwater source to survive. At the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, scientists transplanted fen soils from another site to the “receiver” site south of Leadville where they restored a groundwater spring to sustain the transplanted soils. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

An organ transplant

For water utilities, fens have been particularly troublesome. Fens like to form in high-alpine valleys, the places best suited for dams and water reservoirs that take water from rivers mostly on the Western Slope and pump it over the mountains to supply the Front Range’s growing population.

But the fen policy has stymied many of the utilities’ plans to develop new water projects. Those defeats helped spur Front Range utilities to start researching new mitigation strategies that would help them comply with environmental regulations — and get around the fen policy.

“They wanted to figure out how to do this right so they could actually permit their projects,” Johnson said.

Through the fen-research project, Aurora and Pueblo saw an opportunity to address the fen policy’s requirement that a project offset unavoidable impacts to a fen by restoring an equivalent amount of fen elsewhere.

Since the fen project began 16 years ago, Aurora and Pueblo have invested $300,000 and $81,500 in the research, respectively. More recently, other funders have joined the effort, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities at about $10,000 each and the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($100,000).

After a number of fits and starts, Johnson three years ago settled on a design for the research that would test whether it’s ecologically possible to transplant fen soils from one location to another. First, Johnson restored the original groundwater spring at the old Hayden Ranch property. Then, he and a team of helpers removed blocks of soil from another degraded fen site and reassembled them, like an organ transplant, at the “receiver” site, where the restored spring now flows through veinlike cobble bars and sandbars, feeding the transplanted fen.

Brad Johnson, the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, at the project site in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Launched by two Front Range water utilities in 2003, the project is studying a new way to mitigate potential impacts to fens, an ecologically rich and fragile wetland found throughout Colorados’ high country. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

Positive signs

It’s still too early to know whether the project could eventually serve as a fen-mitigation strategy for a new reservoir, but Johnson is optimistic about the results thus far. In 2017, after just one growing season, he was shocked to discover 67 different plant species growing at the transplanted fen site — compared with just 10 at the donor site. He was thrilled by the news. The data showed that the transplanted fen ecosystem is thriving.

That’s good news for utilities such as Aurora, too.

A week after Johnson visited the Rocky Mountain Fen Project site, Kathy Kitzmann gave a tour of the wetland-filled valley formed by Homestake Creek where Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to build Whitney Reservoir.

Kitzmann, a water resources principal for Aurora Water, drove down the bumpy, snow-covered road that winds along the valley bottom, pointing to the two creeks that would — along with Homestake Creek and the Eagle River, near Camp Hale — help fill the reservoir. A pump station would send the water upvalley to the existing Homestake Reservoir and then through another series of tunnels to the Front Range.

In the lower part of the valley, Kitzmann stopped at the first of four potential reservoir sites — ranging in size from 6,000 acre-feet to 20,000 acre-feet — that the utilities have identified for the project and the wetlands it would inundate.

“You can sort of see why it wouldn’t be the best, just given the vastness of the wetlands,” Kitzmann said.

Farther along, the valley becomes more canyonlike, with higher rocky walls and fewer wetlands — probably offering a better reservoir site, said Kitzmann, although the permitting agencies won’t know for sure until they complete their initial feasibility studies.

In June, Aurora and Colorado Springs submitted a permit application to the U.S. Forest Service to perform exploratory drilling and other mapping and surveying work, but the agency has not yet approved the permit.

Potential fen impacts are just one of several environmental hurdles facing the project. One of the Whitney alternatives would encroach on the Holy Cross Wilderness. Aurora and Colorado Springs have proposed moving the wilderness boundary, if necessary, to accommodate the reservoir.

It’s also likely that the wetlands in the Homestake Valley contain fens, but until the utilities conduct wetland studies around the proposed reservoir sites next summer, the scope of the impacts remains uncertain.

Environmental groups including Colorado Headwaters, a nonprofit, oppose the Whitney Reservoir project, arguing that it would destroy one of the state’s most valuable wetlands, as well as an important habitat for wildlife and rare native plants.

In the meantime, Aurora is hopeful that Johnson’s research might one day help solve some of the environmental problems around new water development. “We are excited about proving that you can restore and rehabilitate fens,” Kitzmann said.

The dam in the Eagle River headwaters that forms Homestake Reservoir, which diverts water to the Front Range. If the wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley contain ancient peat bogs called fens, it could hinder the progress of the Whitney Reservoir project. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journailsm

Inevitable impacts

But is a transplanted fen as good as not touching one in the first place?

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said fens are still designated a “Resource Category 1,” which means that the appropriate type of mitigation is avoidance, or “no loss.”

White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams echoed the spokesperson’s statement, noting that land managers place a high emphasis on protection for fens: “It’s really hard to replace a wetland in these high elevations.”

Johnson, asked whether he was worried that his research into fen mitigation might end up facilitating the kinds of projects that are most damaging to fens. He sighed. “I’m sensitive to that,” he said.

But like it or not, Johnson believes that more impacts to fens are inevitable. As Colorado’s population grows, water utilities will have to build new reservoirs, the state will need new roads and ski resorts will want to expand.

“I can’t argue with whether they should get built,” he said. “I’m just a wetlands guy.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Nov. 18 print edition of the Vail Daily.

#GlenwoodSprings is spending $1.2M in tax money on a public affairs campaign to fight a mine above town — The #Colorado Sun

Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The city is assembling a war chest to ward off an “existential crisis” stemming from a politically connected company, Rocky Mountain Resources, that wants to expand a limestone mine just above Glenwood Springs’ famous hot springs

“I don’t think citizens have a problem with us spending their money on health and safety issues for things that are a threat to our town. And this proposal, this is 100% a threat to our town. It’s a threat to everything we are,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said about the city’s new publicly funded advertising and media campaign to block a politically connected mine owner from exponentially expanding an open-pit limestone quarry just above the city’s hot springs.

The historic resort city has directed $250,000 toward the fight to stop the expansion of the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry and put another $1 million in a reserve war chest. And Glenwood Springs leaders have gathered unprecedented support for its first public affairs campaign targeting a business, with council members, trustees and commissioners from every municipality in Pitkin and Garfield counties unanimously backing the fight to block the mine expansion.

The resolutions the city has gathered in recent months come from the Pitkin County commissioners as well as trustees and council members from Rifle, Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt, Aspen and Snowmass Village. Every community vote was unanimous…

Garfield County’s commissioners have not formally issued a resolution opposing the mine, but the board is defending lawsuits filed in both state and federal court by the mine’s owner, Rocky Mountain Resources, which argues the county’s enforcement of the mine’s county permit conflicts with state and federal permitting. The resolutions passed by Glenwood Springs’ neighbors demand that RMR comply with those local regulations.

“It’s really cool and it’s really wonderful that these other municipalities are coming to help us,” said Steve Beckley, the owner of the Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which is adjacent to the proposed expansion of the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry. “When a mine owner sues a county and says you don’t have jurisdiction over us even though we are in your backyard, I hope that everybody in this state stands up and takes notice. This could be a precedent that impacts everywhere in Colorado.”

RMR, which has owned the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry since 2016, wants to expand its federal permit with the Bureau of Land Management from 15.7 acres to 447 acres, with mining of chemical-grade limestone and dolomite on 320 acres within that boundary.

The proposal calls for RMR to increase its now-seasonal operations, which are prohibited from Dec. 15 to Apr. 15 and produce up to 60,000 tons of limestone products a year, to a 20-year, year-round operation that would produce 5 million tons of limestone products a year. The proposal seeks BLM permission to use as many as 30 semi-trucks, each making 15 to 20 daily round-trips from the mill down the unpaved Transfer Trail road to a riverside railyard.

The BLM is pursuing an intensive Environmental Impact Statement review of the Mid-Continent expansion plan, but the likely years-long process is just beginning and public comment is months away.

But the communities around the mine are preparing residents for that comment period, hoping the public campaign can sway the BLM to reject the proposal.

In addition to concerns over visibility, truck traffic and potential disruption of the flow of geothermal water that feeds the town’s hot springs, opponents of the mine fret that RMR’s owner, Chad Brownstein, has deep political connections that could greenlight the expansion despite opposition.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt once lobbied on behalf of oil and gas clients for Brownstein’s father’s influential Denver law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

The ultimate decision for the mine expansion will fall to Bernhardt, who is under investigation for influencing policy that benefited California’s Westlands Water District, which was his largest client as a lobbyist.

“Are we worried about the failure of the BLM to listen to the concerns of the community and follow the law? Yes we are and we should be. Some of the lawyers and lobbyists at the Brownstein firm working on this plan are former BLM officials. The revolving door is spinning wildly on this one,” said Matt Ward, an environmental lawyer whose Washington, D.C.-based Sustainable Strategies DC is helping Glenwood Springs plan its campaign…

The proposed expansion of the Mid-Contintent Limestone Quarry above Glenwood Springs by the politically connected Rocky Mountain Resources has spurred the city to create a taxpayer funded campaign against the plan. The mine’s existing footprint of roughly 16 acres is in yellow and the proposed expansion is in red. Photo credit: City of Glenwood Springs via The Colorado Sun

In April, Garfield County’s commissioners held a public hearing and found RMR was not in compliance with the county’s special-use permit last amended in 2010, citing five issues:

* The mine’s federal, state and county permits authorized chemical-grade limestone dust, but RMR was supplying road base and construction materials.

* The quarry operated between Dec. 15 and April 15, when operations are not permitted.

* The mine’s operators expanded to almost 21 acres but the county permit allows operations on only about 16 acres.

* The mine’s exploratory drilling, allowed under a BLM permit, was not authorized by the county permit.

* Mine traffic on Transfer Trail was violating conditions of the county permit.

The commissioners gave RMR until June 1 to correct the permit violations. (The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has approved the operation’s boundary of 38 acres and in 2017 reported the mine was in compliance with its rules.)

In May, less than two weeks before the county’s deadline, Rocky Mountain Resources sued Garfield County commissioners, arguing the county does not have the authority to enforce the permit.

The lawsuits urged both courts to stop the county’s permit enforcement, saying the county’s Notice of Violation conflicted with not just federal and state permits, but the General Mining Act of 1872. The fight hinges on that 147-year-old legislation. RMR says it is mining “locatable minerals,” which federal law dating to 1872 encourages with lesser regulation, smaller taxes and easier access to public lands. But RMR’s Mid-Continent mine has historically produced minerals the legislation describes as “common,” like basic limestone and aggregate, which requires stricter regulation and bigger severance tax payments to the federal government and local communities.

Grand Junction U.S. District Court Judge Gordon P. Gallagher in late September suspended the federal lawsuit while the state court mulled the case…

The lawsuit is now winding through state court.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety last month contacted RMR asking about the Garfield County Special Use Permit and what the company was doing to resolve “potential noncompliance issues.”

Last week the company’s attorneys replied to the division, noting the lawsuits and saying the county “has not acknowledged preemption of state and federal law.” RMR’s attorney David McConaughy, with Garfield & Hecht, said Garfield County won’t act on its list of violations until the federal case is resolved and since the federal case has been stayed, the county’s Notice of Violation “will not be enforced and will have no impact on RMR’s operations for at least several months.”

McConaughy also said RMR is applying for a new special-use permit from Garfield County…

RMR also is asking the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division for air quality permits allowing its Mid-Continent mine to expand its current air quality permit limit on limestone production to 800,000 tons a year from 400,000 tons.

The required Air Pollutant Emissions Notice applications detail air quality mitigation plans for blasting, crushing, screening and moving as much as 3.9 million tons of limestone products for 10 hours a day, 250 days a year. The air quality permit request documents mitigation efforts for 64 daily round-trips by 34-ton trucks on unpaved roads for 10 hours a day, 365 days a year. The request included a check for $573.39 for processing the notice applications.

50 truck trips an hour

The potential for as many as 600 truck trips up and down the unpaved Transfer Trail between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day of the year — that’s 50 trips an hour, according to the BLM application — ranks among the most troubling issues for residents of Glenwood Springs.

Equally troublesome is RMR’s more recent request for the BLM to allow drilling of five wells — between 125- and 250-feet deep — to study water quality and hydrology around the mine as part of a baseline to anchor the BLM’s environmental review of the proposed expansion. RMR is asking the BLM to exclude the monitoring wells from more intensive environmental review.

That proposal drew 250 comments that the BLM is reviewing, agency spokesman David Boyd said.

Glenwood Springs residents fear the wells could disrupt the delicate geothermal network that feeds the historic Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and the newer Iron Mountain Hot Springs, two of the city’s top tourist attractions…

Garfield County’s three commissioners want the BLM to include the drilling of the water-monitoring wells in a comprehensive environmental review to safeguard the hot springs, which they described in a letter to the BLM sent last month as “the lifeblood and economic engine” of the community…

More than 200 Roaring Fork Valley businesses have signed a petition protesting the planned expansion, Peterson said…

Mining for highly valuable, or “locatable” minerals is regulated less tightly and allows for smaller severance taxes paid to local communities. That part of the 1872 mining law was designed to encourage mining for valuable minerals on public land. RMR is arguing its mining of chemical-grade limestone for high-end concrete and dolomite falls under the 1872 legislation’s “locatable minerals” protections.

But opponents of the plan say the mine is producing common minerals, which require stricter regulation and heftier payments. Residents and city leaders have collected sales receipts showing the company is selling aggregate, or road base, for local projects, like Glenwood Springs’ new bridge spanning the Colorado River.

Partnership puts valuable water quality information from Western Slope online — @CUBoulder

From the University of Colorado Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science:

Results from a new voluntary survey of private drinking water quality on the Western Slope through a partnership between CU Boulder, Delta County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are available online now.

Ken Nordstrom, the environmental health director for the Delta County Health Department, looks at a physical version of the map. Photo credit: University of Colorado at Boulder

Prior to this study, there was no data on private drinking water quality in this six-county area, and the findings have proven to be relevant to many residents. Of the 457 wells analyzed in the survey, 11% have arsenic concentrations exceeding the Colorado primary drinking water standard maximum contaminant level. Additionally, 15% of the well water that was tested exceeded at least one primary drinking water contaminant standard from the state.

Residents can explore results through an interactive online map created by Holly Miller as part of her recently completed master’s degree in the Environmental Engineering Program at CU Boulder. The site shows locations for all the tested wells, provides links to request free testing kits and houses detailed water-quality information.

Miller’s work was partially funded through a CU Boulder Outreach Award and was a small part of a study funded by the CDC into this issue. That larger project is entering its fifth year and is led locally by the Health Department of Delta County with work being done in Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties, where about half of the residents are on private wells.

Samples for the survey came from volunteers in those communities. Miller’s work was done under Professor Joe Ryan, who said the database was an important step toward public awareness. That is because water quality is an important factor in overall health, but privately owned wells are unregulated and mostly untested for things like arsenic. Putting the survey results online gives residents, many of whom rely on well water, information about their home’s water quality and that of their neighbors so they can make informed health decisions.

“With the maps she created, you can see if you are in an area that already has problems, or areas you may want to avoid if you are drilling a new well,” said Ryan, who is based in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.

Arsenic in groundwater can occur naturally, or it can come from human sources like agriculture, where it was used as a pesticide, or mining operations. Ingestion can have short-term effects, including nausea and fatigue, as well as long-term effects like skin thickening and discoloration. Ryan said that more testing was needed, but the source of the higher levels in this case was likely geologic. He added that better understanding of that aspect would be valuable when making decisions about new wells and development needs in those communities.

Ken Nordstrom, the environmental health director for the Delta County Health Department, said that without a healthy drinking water source, you cannot have a healthy community.

“CU Boulder has helped us develop this resource for individual homeowners to ensure that they have a healthy drinking water supply,” he said.

Holly Miller. Photo credit University of Colorado at Boulder

“Collaborating with Delta County has been a great asset for my professional career. I gained valuable research and outreach skills, which ultimately created the foundation for my current position where I work as the project manager for my program’s geographical information systems database used to map information about abandoned mine-land sites across the state,” she said.

The project is nearing completion, and sample kits have now been sent to approximately 1,000 volunteers. From that group, results have been returned to over 750 of them. Miller said the plan is to update the interactive map by the end of the year, and the Delta County Environmental Health Department staff is planning to survey residents in the counties to identify the impacts this project has had on helping private well owners keep their water safe.

Ryan said this type of work was just as important for students in his lab starting their careers as it is to the communities they are serving.

“This type of work is important because I can bring students into it – but it isn’t just having them take samples and analyzing them. It’s a good case where we are getting them into a mode where they are trying to find out the client’s problem and the best way to address it,” he said. “This kind of work provides extra opportunities for students and real benefits to communities we work with.”

This map shows estimates of how many private domestic well users in each county may be drinking water with high levels of arsenic. An estimated 2.1 million people throughout the U.S. may be drinking domestic well water high in arsenic

From 9News.com (Anusha Roy):

The Delta County Health Department (DCHD) paired up with the University of Colorado to study water quality in private wells. They said they got definitive data that shows not everyone can trust the water they are drinking.

DCHD oversees six counties: Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel.

Approximately 36,000 people, or 60% of the population, in this area drink water from private wells that aren’t regulated because they’re privately owned, according to the department’s director, Ken Nordstrom.

Nordstrom said there are around 10,000 private drinking water wells in the six-county region his department oversees and that until this point there was no information readily available to the public about the quality of water in those wells…

So with the help of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant, the DCHD started taking a closer look at gathering data and CU Boulder joined in 2016.

Geothermal energy potential update

Subsurface Temperature Map at 20,000 ft. Map via the University of Utah FORGE project.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Joe Vaccarelli):

New research in Milford, Utah led by the University of Utah will study geothermal reservoirs. The university received $140 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) site.

John McLennan, a research scientist and associate professor with the Energy and Geoscience Institute at the University of Utah, shared his insights into the new facility and the potential for geothermal energy in the U.S. during an energy briefing Wednesday hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce at the DoubleTree Hotel.

FORGE will be an underground lab that will drill wells in an effort to extract geothermal energy. Geothermal power can help with agriculture, aquaculture, space heating and more. The site is near the intersection of Interstate 70 and Interstate 15 in central Utah…

Utah has three geothermal plants producing energy at the moment. Colorado does not have any, McLennan said. However, he pointed out that Colorado Mesa University heats and cools its buildings on campus using a geothermal system that includes seven well fields and 171,000 feet of pipes. He noted it could save the university upward of $1 million.

During his presentation Wednesday, McLennan pointed to the benefits and challenges of geothermal energy, noting that many of the areas that have used it are along the so-called “Ring of Fire” of the Pacific Rim or in areas with natural hot springs. He did say that it takes a great deal more water to create energy than oil, but it is a cleaner energy source.

However, the drilling can create a problem and he pointed to several failures over the past 40 years. He said new technology with drilling and connecting wells could have a positive impact on the industry, especially at the FORGE site.

The University of Utah has studied the site since 1980, particularly on seismic level as drilling can spur some activity. He said FORGE is in an area of low seismic activity and small populations of both animals and people.

As for its potential, McLennan said geothermal isn’t in line to replace other forms of energy, but could be a nice supplement of power for communities around the country.

Aquifers: Map of the Principal Aquifers of the United States — @USGS

From the USGS:

The areal and vertical location of the major aquifers is fundamental to the determination of groundwater availability for the Nation. An aquifer is a geologic formation, a group of formations, or a part of a formation that contains sufficient saturated permeable material to yield significant quantities of water to wells and springs.

A two-dimensional map representation of the principal aquifers of the Nation is shown below. The map, which is derived from the Ground Water Atlas of the United States, indicates the areal extent of the uppermost principal aquifers on a national scale. In this map, a principal aquifer is defined as a regionally extensive aquifer or aquifer system that has the potential to be used as a source of potable water. (For study or mapping purposes, aquifers are often combined into aquifer systems.)

Principal aquifers of the United States (modified from Principal Aquifers, U.S. Geological Survey, 2003)

So much for diverting #MN #groundwater to the southwest

Cannon River. By Elkman at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15538148

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Matt McKinney):

A rail company’s proposal to ship Minnesota groundwater in bulk to the Southwest appeared to die a swift death Friday when Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen said she saw “virtually no scenario” in which she would approve it [ed. emphasis mine].

Her response came amid widespread shock and concern over the water shipment plan proposed by Empire Building Investments Inc., the real estate arm of Lakeville-based Progressive Rail…

“We’re long past the days of thinking of our water supplies as infinite, and we shouldn’t be considering any activities that could leave public and private drinking water wells high and dry,” said Trevor Russell, water program director for Friends of the Mississippi River…

Hansen said Empire Building’s request may end up galvanizing legislative efforts to strengthen protections for Minnesota’s groundwater.

Strommen directed the DNR on Friday to send a letter to Empire Building’s chief executive, David Fellon, advising him that he wasn’t likely to get approval.