Video: Sonora Rising — @AmericanRivers #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From American Rivers:

Water and wheat — foundations of life for millennia. In the American Southwest’s arid Sonoran Desert, water flows across Arizona from more than 300 miles away to quench the thirsts of more than four million people and sustain the food, economy, and livelihoods they rely on every day. Join us as we explore the thoughts of three visionaries in Tucson who are creating and growing a circular economy of water, forging a sustainable future for a city that could have gone in another direction. And nearly did.

We hear from third-generation farmer Brian Wong, who grows a variety of low-water and heat tolerant organic heritage wheat in the arid plains northwest of Tucson, and Don Guerra of Barrio Bread, who bakes 1,000 loaves of artisanal bread per day using local and indigenous wheat varieties. Brian and Don are bound together by water and the City of Tucson’s ability to provide it to them, and their community. Lastly, we hear from Tim Thomure, director of Tucson Water — a visionary working to build and sustain a thriving city in the Sonoran Desert.

American Rivers is deeply involved with a number of efforts across Arizona to help sustain the lives of millions of people across the state, ensure the viability of a thriving economy in the desert, as well as protect the vital lifeline for the entire region, the Colorado River.

Join us as we explore these ideas, and others, across the Southwest. For more information about this work, please see our Lower Colorado River page, and follow us to keep in touch with what is going on across this important region of the country.

Extensive #PFAS contamination found under Air National Guard base in Tucson — the #Arizona Daily Star

Photo credit: VisitTucson.com

From the Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

Perfluorinated compounds, commonly known as PFAS, turned up in levels exceeding recommended federal standards in the aquifer underneath the Air Guard base, said the consultant’s report.

But while the contamination appears to be moving toward city drinking wells on Tucson’s south side, the pollution doesn’t pose any immediate health risk to water users, Tucson Water officials say…

That’s because PFAS pollution already detected on the south side is being routed to a treatment plant that’s cleaning it up, and because the city drinking wells nearest the Air Guard base already are shut down.

The newly discovered contamination was widespread, tainting eight monitoring wells across the base and at least one more well at the base’s northern boundary, the report found. Sampling for the report was done from January through March 2018…

The pollutant concentrations ranged from nearly 70 times the EPA’s recommended health advisory level at a well at the base’s northern boundary, to just above the EPA advisory farther south on the base, said the report.

Another monitoring well contained about 30 times the EPA health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion, the consultant’s study found…

Measurable levels of PFAS compounds turned up in soil samples collected on 14 locations on the Guard base, but exceeded recommended health limits only at one of those locations, the report said…

At the same time, Tucson Water officials note that the nearest city wells, lying 1.5 to 2.7 miles northwest of the base, are already out of service because of previously discovered contamination from PFAS, trichloroethylene and 1,4-dioxane.

Polluted water from those wells is being funneled to a south-side treatment plant known as the Tucson Airport Remediation Project.

There, it’s being treated so thoroughly that the compounds are no longer detected as the water leaves the plant to be served to people in the downtown area and just north and south of there…

The ADEQ said it doesn’t have the legal authority to require the Guard base to clean up the contamination on its site.

That’s because the EPA has no formal drinking water limit for PFAS compounds and because Arizona law doesn’t allow the state to have more stringent environmental regulations than the federal government has.

@EPA to drill into the American Tunnel to assess water levels and underground interconnections #AnimasRiver

American Tunnel Terry Portal via MinDat.org

From the Associated Press via Colorado Public Radio:

The EPA said it will drill into the American Tunnel next month to measure water levels and investigate how the passage is connected to other shafts.

The agency is looking for ways to stop or treat contaminated water pouring into rivers from old mine sites in the Bonita Peak Superfund area north of Silverton…

The EPA said it would follow strict safety guidelines when drilling the test well into the American Tunnel.

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1279 (Protect Public Health Firegfighter Safety Regulation #PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) and HB19-1264 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Modifications)

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

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.

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

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.

From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

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.

See where #PFAS pollution has been confirmed in the American West — @HighCountryNews

The U.S. Air Force has been sued after confirmation of PFAS contamination at Lake Holloman, near the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Photo credit: J.M. Eddins Jr./U.S. Air Force

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.

Yet numerous studies have linked exposure to them to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and other health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2007 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives estimated that PFAS are in the blood of 98% of Americans.

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.

In the West, PFAS contamination has been confirmed in water supplies in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. But only Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington regulate the chemicals, and among those, only California requires that public water systems monitor their levels.

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 paigeb@hcn.org.

NM officials await word from Air Force on #PFAS contamination — New Mexico Political Report

Holloman Lake 2008 via the New Mexico Environment Department

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

New Mexico officials find themselves stonewalled by the United States military over water contamination from two U.S. Air Force bases in the state.

In early May, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary James Kenney sent a letter to the U.S. Air Force over contamination, this time at Holloman Lake.

Previously, groundwater tests at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis and Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo showed high concentrations of PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Even in small amounts, exposure to these toxic, human-manufactured chemicals increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancer and problems like ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension. PFAS include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

In response to the groundwater contamination, New Mexico issued notices of violation against the military in late 2018 and again earlier this year. The state also filed a complaint in federal district court, asking a judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and fund, cleanup at the two bases.

But New Mexico is also a defendant in a separate case. After NMED issued a notice of violation against Cannon, the Air Force sued New Mexico, challenging the agency’s authority to compel PFAS cleanup under its state permit…

Moving up the food chain

PFAS’s move through the groundwater, and they’re persistent, which means they stick around for a long time. They also move up the food chain, accumulating more and more within each species.

Scientists have found PFOS in fish-eating birds, even those in remote marine locations. And in Michigan—another state grappling with PFAS contamination from military bases—scientists found PFOS in the muscle of deer living near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. That state issued a “do not eat” advisory for deer harvested within that area.

Holloman Lake is also considered an important area for birds, including migrating ducks. According to the Audubon Society’s website, the lake is the most important area in the Tularosa Basin for shorebirds like Wilson’s phalarope and snowy plovers.

“The bottom line is that you’ve got a wetland complex that provides wintering and migratory bird habitat to thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl each year that is potentially contaminated by a bioaccumulating toxic chemical, that’s not a good thing,” said Jonathan Hayes, executive director of Audubon New Mexico. “Holloman Lakes is also one of a dozen or so sites in the state that are frequented by snowy plover, a species in drastic decline over much of its range and one that is likely to ingest toxic chemicals as they feed on aquatic invertebrates which make up the bulk of their diet.”

In addition to birdwatching, waterfowl hunting is allowed within certain areas at Holloman Lakes. Although the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game issues hunting permits and sets hunting season rules, the responsibility for closing the area to hunting would lie with Air Force officials.

Meanwhile, Balderas and Kenney are still waiting to hear back from the Air Force.

“We have not received a response to the letter sent by NMED and the Office of the Attorney General on May 9,” said NMED’s public information officer, Maddy Hayden. “We are also unaware of any actions the Air Force has taken in the interim to protect the public from exposure to PFAS at Lake Holloman.”

@EPA finalizes near-term plan for cleanup at the Bonita Peak Superfund site: This summer’s work aims to reduce the flow of acid mine drainage

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

From The Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Denver Post:

The work includes dredging contaminated sediment from streams and ponds, diverting water away from tainted mine waste piles and covering contaminated soil at campgrounds.

The agency first outlined the plan last June and finalized it Thursday.

This summer’s work is aimed at reducing the volume of toxic heavy metals that escape from mining sites and into rivers while the EPA searches for a more comprehensive solution under the Superfund program…

The Gold King is not on the list of 23 sites chosen for this summer’s work. The EPA installed a temporary treatment plant below the Gold King two months after the spill, and it’s still cleaning up wastewater flowing from the mine.

Two of the 23 sites are campgrounds, and three are parking areas or places where people meet for tours. The EPA plans to cover contaminated rocks and soil at those sites with gravel or plant vegetation to reduce the chance of human exposure and keep contaminants from being kicked into the air.

Besides the dredging work, the EPA will dig ditches and berms to keep rain, melting snow and mine wastewater from reaching piles of contaminated waste rock and carrying pollutants into streams.

The initial project will cost about $10 million and take up to five years, the agency said.

The EPA said last year the initial cleanup would include 26 sites. But three mines were removed from the list because work will be done there later.