Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Basin Implementation Plan Update
Ed Tolen, SW Basin 1st Vice Chair, explained that in January a sub-committee was set up to select a local expert to work with the SW Basin Roundtable on updating the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). From the proposals received the committee chose Harris Water Engineers to be local expert. Steve Harris (Harris Water Engineering) will no longer participate on the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) or the SW Basin Roundtable, and Carrie Padgett, P.E. of Harris Water will also step down from the SW Basin Roundtable. Roundtable elections will take place in October, Officer elections will take place in July.
There will be a team approach to working on the BIP update that will include the SW Basin Roundtable, the Local Experts (Harris Water Engineers), who work with the General Contractor (Brown and Caldwell) and the CWCB.
Matt Lindberg with Brown/Caldwell, the General Contractor, gave a presentation on next steps regarding the BIP review process. The purpose of the review and update is to improve project data, unpack technical update, revisit goals and objectives and invest in process efficiency.
The timeline for the BIP update is as follows:
March – August 2020 – Local Expert Workshops, Work Plans and Project lists.
September – December 2020 – Basin Analysis/Study
January – December 2021 – Update the Basin Implementation Plan
December to March 2022 – Incorporate Updated BIP’s into the Water Plan Update
To view the full Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan go here.
Update: From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):
In response to decreasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, and a dry weather forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Wednesday, July 1st starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):
In response to decreasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, and a dry weather forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Tuesday, June 30th starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
The Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit on Monday against the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, arguing that the recent 2020 Waters of the United States rule significantly diminishes the number and extent of Navajo waters protected by the Clean Water Act in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The new rule could also adversely impact the amount of federal funding that the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency receives for its water programs.
“At this point in time, with climate change occurring around the world, it’s more prudent than ever to protect our land, water and air. We, as Diné People, have a duty to preserve and conserve our natural resources to ensure that our future generations have access to clean water, air and land. The previous 2015 Waters of the United States rule provided clarity in protecting our Nation’s waters. Therefore, we strongly oppose and disagree with the revised WOTUS,” said President Nez.
The Nez-Lizer Administration is proposing to use $300 million from the CARES Act funding that the Navajo Nation received for water infrastructure and agriculture projects, which will require clean water resources to development and construct.
“Our Navajo people always say that water is life, and that’s very true. When we plan for any type of water projects, we are planning for future generations, not just for today or tomorrow. Clean water is a necessity for life,” said Vice President Myron Lizer.
“Clean water should be protected not only by the Clean Water Act, but also by the Navajo Nation’s treaty rights. It is a necessity of life that is vital to preservation of Navajo culture and tradition,” added Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen N. McPaul.
Department Manager for Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency’s water programs Ronnie Ben said, “Since the inception of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency’s water programs, our main purpose and goal has always been to protect our Nation’s water sources. However, our job becomes difficult when the federal government rolls back environmental regulations in favor of polluters. We currently have organizations on the Navajo Nation who are not in compliance with Navajo Nation and Federal environmental laws and laxing Waters of the United States doesn’t help bring these companies into compliance.”
President Nez and Vice President Lizer thank Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen N. McPaul, Navajo Nation Department of Justice Attorney Michael Daughtry, Contract Attorney Jill Grant, and Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency water program personnel for their efforts in bringing this suit on behalf of the Navajo people.
Utah Rivers map via Geology.com
New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.
As of June 10, water from Four Mile Creek has been turned off due to a call on the creek, leading to a drop in collective diversion flows, according to Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Manager Justin Ramsey.
Last year, water from Four Mile was turned off on July 24, according to Ramsey in an interview on Monday.
“The average day that it’s turned off is June 13, the mean is June 15, so we’re not that far off,” he said. “It’s the mean. I’m not overly worried. I would prefer to keep it on. From here on out Hatcher is going to start dropping.”
According to a press release from Ramsey, total diversion flows are now at 4.3 cubic feet per second (cfs) due to the loss of the water from the Four Mile diversion.
Last week, total diversion flows were listed at 5.8 cfs.
This week, the West Fork diver- sion is still contributing 3 cfs and the San Juan diversion is adding another 1.3 cfs.
As of June 15, three local lakes are full, according to Ramsey’s press release. Stevens Lake, Lake Pagosa and Village Lake all remain full, as they were last week…
As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a reported flow of 221 cfs, well below the average for June 17 of 1,260 cfs.
The highest reported flow total for the San Juan on June 17 came in 1995, when the river had a flow of 4,080 cfs.
The lowest reported flow total came in 2002, when the San Juan River had a flow of 41.4 cfs.
As of June 4, Archuleta County is in “extreme drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The next classification from ex- treme drought is “exceptional drought,” which is the highest standard of drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The southwest portion of the state features counties such as Archuleta, Conejos and Alamosa being fully in extreme drought, while others — such as La Plata, Mineral and Hinsdale — feature a mixture of extreme and severe drought, ac- cording to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a reported flow of 374 cfs, lower than the average for June 10 of 1,480 cfs.
The highest reported flow total for June 10 came in 1952 when the San Juan River had a reported flow of 4,120 cfs. The lowest total came in 2002 when the river had a flow of just 67.1 cfs.
The drought management plan for Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) will be going through some changes soon, and the PAWSD board is seeking input from a variety of community members on the plan’s trigger points.
In an email, PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey explained that the drought management plan will have triggers that are based on river, lake and/or hydrologic data to encourage or require water use reductions.
Within the 2018 drought management plan, there are voluntary drought management water reductions that go all the way up to level four, or severe, drought management measures.
“It was based on the cumulative amount of water we had in the district, so how much water was in the river, how much water was in the lakes, including Hatcher,” Ramsey said in an interview on Wednesday.
Ramsey added that if totals were below a certain threshold, drought restrictions would occur per the 2018 drought management plan.
However, the basis for the 2018 drought management plan was determined to be “flawed,” Ramsey described.
“As you remember in 2018, we had somewhat of a drought. The river still flowed pretty good, but Hatcher really dropped,” he said. “I can have all the water in the world in the river; if I don’t have water in Hatcher, then we’re still screwed.”
In 2018, drought restrictions were not triggered until late October, Ramsey explained.
“But the lake got very low, and we don’t want that to happen again,” he said. “If we would have based it solely on the lake level, then we would have triggered it much earlier than October.”
The revised drought management plan will be “broken up” with various triggers, Ramsey explained, citing examples such as how much water is in Hatcher Lake, the water in the San Juan River and snow water equivalency, among other things.
“Any of those things could cause a trigger to occur. It’s not going to be a cumulative effect anymore. That’s what the major change is going to be,” he said, “instead of it being cumulative, we’re going to break out each of those little components and say if one of these happens, any of these components, we’re going into it.”
PAWSD is looking for input from people on both the environmental side and business side of the com- munity, Ramsey explained.
Anyone interested in serving on a committee to help with the revising of the plan can contact Ramsey at 731-7641 or justin@PAWSD.org.
Flows in local rivers are peaking this week, with a spring runoff that is slightly earlier and lower than normal.
“It kind of depends on where you are, but on the Colorado (River’s) main stem, for sure, the peak is below average,” said Cody Moser, senior hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City.
But despite the lower-than-average flows, this weekend is probably one of the best of the year to go boating on local waterways.
Vince Nichols, owner of the Aspen-based rafting company Blazing Adventures, said this weekend’s relatively big water is akin to a powder day.
The company is running trips on the upper Roaring Fork River, especially the Slaughterhouse section between Cemetery Lane and Woody Creek, and doing so in accordance with Pitkin County-mandated social-distancing and cleaning guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This will likely be one of the high-water weekends of the year,” Nichols said. “For the next seven to 10 days, there will be really good rafting conditions on the Roaring Fork.”
Flows in the Roaring Fork, at its confluence with the Colorado in Glenwood Springs, are predicted to be 74% of average for April through June. According to stream gauges, the Roaring Fork appears to have hit its peak seasonal flow on June 2 at just over 4,000 cubic feet per second. The normal period for peak runoff at this location is between May 29 and June 23, at about 5,900 cfs.
Predicting the exact day of peak flows near Aspen is trickier. The forecast center is predicting a peak for the Roaring Fork in Aspen on Saturday, at 490 cfs, because of rain expected that day. The Roaring Fork at Mill Street was running at a daily high of about 330 cfs on Thursday.
There would be more water flowing through Aspen if not for the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which takes water from the Roaring Fork headwaters near Independence Pass to Front Range water providers. About 600 cfs of water from the upper Roaring Fork basin was being diverted through the tunnel Thursday.
“The challenge is we’ve got that big warmup and precipitation in the forecast in this weekend,” Moser said. “It’s kind of a tough call.”
The low runoff, despite a snowpack that was slightly above normal, is due to 2019’s dry late summer and fall, plus this year’s drier-than-average March, April and May. Dry soils and plants sucked up a lot of the moisture before it made its way into the streams.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey gauges, the Crystal River near Redstone appears to have peaked on June 2, at about 1,750 cfs. The Crystal at this location usually peaks between May 25 and June 18, at about 1,930 cfs.
Downstream on the Colorado, flows peaked in DeBeque Canyon, above Grand Junction, on June 2, at about 13,300 cfs. A typical peak is about 17,000 cfs between May 24 and June 12.
This year’s peak flows on the Colorado near Grand Junction were augmented by releases from several upstream reservoirs to the benefit of endangered fish in the 15-mile reach between Palisade and the Gunnison River, which flows into the Colorado in central Grand Junction.
Beginning May 29, Green Mountain Reservoir, Wolford Mountain Reservoir, the Moffat Tunnel and other water-storage facilities released water to enhance the Colorado’s natural peak in the 15-mile reach. The augmented high flows enhance fish habitat.
Ruedi Reservoir, above Basalt on the Fryingpan River, did not participate in the coordinated reservoir operations this year because there was not surplus water to contribute, said Tim Miller, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation who manages water levels in Ruedi.
“I was getting kind of worried about fill a month ago,” Miller said. “I was pretty sure we didn’t have extra. We haven’t received anything near average precipitation for part of April or all of May.”
Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water, is currently 79% full. Releases from Ruedi will decrease Friday to allow it to fill, bringing flows on the Fryingpan to 115 cfs. Miller said it could end up about 5,000 acre-feet short of filling this year, which usually happens in early July.
Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit and investigative news organization that covers water and river issues in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the June 5 edition of The Aspen Times.
A monthly surcharge to cus- tomer’s water and wastewater bills was approved by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors at a regular meeting on May 14.
The monthly surcharge for water is 68 cents per equivalent unit (EU) while the wastewater surcharge is 22 cents per EU, according to PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey.
This surcharge relates to the PAWSD board previously discussing fee waivers for affordable housing and utilizing those surcharges
to make up for the money lost.
At a regular meeting of PAWSD on Jan. 16, a worksheet was pre- sented that outlined what these fee
waivers would be.
For potential affordable housing developments that are under 60 percent area median income (AMI), PAWSD would be willing to waive 100 percent of its capital investment fees (CIF).
For developments that are 60 to 80 percent AMI, PAWSD would be willing to waive 50 percent of its CIF; for developments that are 81 to 100 percent AMI, PAWSD would be willing to waive 25 percent of its CIF according to the worksheet.
At a regular meeting on May 14, the Pagosa AreaWater and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved its half of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID).
The IGA pertains to the two entities sharing equipment. The PSSGID approved its half of the agreement at a meeting on May 5…
A new vacuum truck would cost about $600,000, Ramsey explained. According to Ramsey, the PSS- GID just bought a new vacuum truck and uses it about two times
“We would use it half a dozen times a month. Neither of us use it all that much, but both need to have it because you’ve got a lift station that’s failing and backing up you’ve got to suck that stuff out,” he said. “It just kind of makes sense that we share a vac truck as opposed to both buying two $600,000 pieces of equipment.”
In the event that the PSSGID allows PAWSD to use the vacuum truck and also supplies a driver, PAWSD would pay the PSSGID’s driver.
he IGA also applies to sharing staff, Ramsey explained, adding that PAWSD had recently hired a supervisory control and data acquisition engineer that PSSGID would like to utilize sometimes…
The IGA between the PSSGID and PAWSD was approved unani- mously by the PAWSD board.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski):
After nearly a two-year wait, Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery staff and biologists in Durango have spawned a new lineage of Colorado River cutthroat trout that were rescued from a remote stream during the 416 Fire in 2018.
This marks a major milestone for CPW’s on-going species conservation work in Colorado, and the result of decades of work by dedicated biologists, researchers and field staff.
Fertilized eggs of the San Juan cutthroats will hatch by mid-summer; some of the fingerlings will be placed in back-country streams in the southwest area of the state and others will be held at the Durango hatchery to start a sustainable brood stock. Now, the hatchery staff and biologists will continue the long-term effort to restore these native trout to their home waters.
“I’m thrilled that we’ve gotten a spawn from these fish, it’s been a long process and we’ve got a lot more work to do,” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for CPW in Durango.
The story of these fish that hold a unique genetic marker goes back nearly 150 years and includes some serious biological detective work. Since the 1970s, CPW aquatic biologists have searched back-country streams looking for isolated populations of cutthroats — Colorado’s native trout. In southwest Colorado in the 1980s and 1990s, biologists found cutthroat trout that were suspected to have unique characteristics in eight small streams. Back then, however, technology to analyze genetics fully was still being developed. The biologists kept their eyes on the fish and made sure non-native trout were not stocked nearby.
In 2012, researchers from the University of Colorado went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History looking for preserved specimens of cutthroat trout that had been collected in Colorado. Two of the specimens they found were taken from the San Juan River near Pagosa Springs in 1874.
An analysis showed that the fish had genetic “fingerprints” specific to the San Juan River Basin. CPW researchers then began a similar analysis of the cutthroats they’d found in southwest Colorado. By this time, genetic-analysis technology had advanced and in early 2018 scientists confirmed that the marker in the museum specimens matched the cutthroat trout recently found in the wild.
Biologists and hatchery staff then made a plan to start propagating the fish. The 416 Fire helped push the project along.
When the fire started north of Durango, biologists worried that ash and sediment run-off could kill the cutthroats in the remote streams. So CPW worked with the San Juan National Forest to go into the area to capture the wild trout and bring them to a special isolation hatchery in Durango. Only 54 cutthroat were recovered from the fire area.
White and Durango Hatchery Manager Toby Mourning have been concerned because the fish did not produce any spawn last year and some of the fish died. But the turnaround this year is a major milestone for the restoration effort.
“We’re not getting a lot of eggs, but enough to provide some for a limited amount of stocking and some to start a captive population that will be sustainable,” Mourning said.
In order to protect the fish, CPW is not providing details on stream locations. Biologists hope, however, that in a few years anglers will be able to find this unique cutthroat trout in the wild.
White explained that the work on this native is a significant conservation effort. In 2018, after the genetics of the fish were confirmed, he said: “We always ask ourselves, ‘What if we could go back to the days before mining, pioneer settlement and wide-spread non-native fish stocking to see what we had here? Careful work over the years by biologists, finding those old specimens in the museum and the genetic testing gave us the chance, essentially, to go back in time. Now we have the opportunity to bring this native trout back to southwest Colorado.”
Beginning in 2021, the Bureau of Reclamation will repair El Vado Dam.
Built in 1935, the dam is one of the only steel faceplated dams in the country. It can store around 200,000 acre-feet of water.
Some of the steel faceplates of the dam have become cracked and bent due to shifts in the land around the dam, wrote Bureau of Reclamation Public Affairs Specialist Mary Carlson in a March 6 email.
The shifts in land have also caused erosion behind the faceplates and cracks and bending in the plates on the dam’s spillway, she wrote.
Bureau of Reclamation Civil Engineer Carolyn Donnelly discussed the potential effects of these changes at the Fifth Annual Rio Chama Congreso Feb. 29.
“The spillway, some of those face plates, if you walk on it, you can hear it’s kind of hollow underneath and they move, so if we started using that at the full capacity, water could get under those plates, take them out, and then there could be failure of the dam,” Donnelly said. “And luckily there’s not a large population downstream, but for those who are there it would not be a good thing.”
El Vado stores water for irrigation in the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which includes six pueblos—Santa Ana, Kewa, Cochiti, San Felipe, Isleta and Sandia.
It also sometimes stores drinking water for cities including Santa Fe and Albuquerque as part of the San Juan-Chama Project.
Carlson wrote that the Bureau of Reclamation is still working out details about how water will be stored and move during the repair, for which the reservoir will be close to empty for at least a year.
At its regular meeting on May 5, the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) approved a purchase of $73,317 for additional pumps for pump stations.
Pumps were previously pur- chased in December of 2019 and have since been installed, Public Works Director Martin Schmidt explained during the meeting.
Since the installation of those pumps, however, they have seen failures and other issues, Schmidt explained.
The town ultimately got the assistance of its on-call engineer service, RG and Associates (RGA), to further investigate the problem and the town’s lift stations, Schmidt explained…
RGA, through its research, found that a series of things are causing pumps to fail, Schmidt explained.
Currently, staff is looking at prices for swing check valves to replace a ball valve pump control, he explained.
“That is something that really needs to be done no matter what else we do in this phased process because the current system creates a lot of dead head time,” Schmidt described.
According to Schmidt, “dead head time” is where pumps are pumping against a closed valve.
“For any pump system, there is an allowable amount of time that can happen, but because we have two 115 horsepower pumps, pumping in series, that time is shockingly short for our system,” he said. “Because we have so much power pushing against the valve, we need to get rid of that ball valve and put in something that opens when sufficient pressure is built.”
Other things the PSSGID can do with swing check valves is re- programming the PSSGID’s vari- able sequencing drives for slower startup and shutdowns, Schmidt added.
Additionally, town lift stations have seen cavitation from an in- correctly sized reducer, Schmidt explained.
“What it’s doing is it’s destroying the impellers, it’s destroying the wear plates,” Schmidt said, adding that cavitation causes main seals to be lost on the pumps.
In a follow-up email on Tuesday, Schmidt described cavitation as being caused by pressure changes in a fluid, which creates bubbles that collapse “violently.”
Part of the recommendation is to get a pump with an 8-inch inlet into the dry-well location, paired with the pumps purchased in December, he explained at the meeting…
Rebuilding and trying to fix the current pumps would put the price within $10,000 of buying a new pump that hasn’t had cavitation and other issues.
Additionally, rebuilding old pumps costs about $17,000 each, he added later…
According to Schmidt, the additional pumps will solve the cavitation issues in a single train at both lift stations.
“We spent $56,000 and change in December and because of a few different things, now we’re looking at $73,317 for a pair of pumps,” Schmidt said. “If you approve the purchase of these two pumps to- day, we still have four pump loca- tions that will be running pumps in some state of disrepair and not operating at full ability.”
According to RGA’s recommen- dation, the town would purchase those two pumps and then four additional ones, Schmidt added.
The motion to approve the pur- chase of additional pumps at the cost of $73,317 was approved via a unanimous vote of the PSSGID board.
Snowpack levels in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado typically peak in April or early May, before starting a rapid downward slide as temperatures rise and spring runoff gets underway. This water year — which so far has tracked just below average in terms of snowpack — appears to be following the “normal” pattern. Yet it also continues a trend of earlier, and diminishing, snowpack-peaks.
For the last few years I’ve been following, graphing, and posting snow water equivalent levels at three high-altitude SNOTEL stations: Columbus Basin, located in the La Plata Mountains west of Durango; Red Mountain Pass; and Molas Lake (near Molas Pass). Looking back at the graphs one thing that immediately stands out is that there is no “normal.” Terrifyingly dry years (2018) are often followed by wickedly wet ones (2019).
However trends do appear. Notice in the graphs below that although the snowpack level for the first of April and May fluctuate wildly from year-to-year, the overall trend line is on a downward slope. Also note that in the ’80s and ’90s the levels on May 1 were as likely to be higher than on April 1, but as time goes on, the peak tends to be earlier. This would appear to be a sign of a warming, drying climate (at least for this admittedly small sample size and short period of record).
Something not seen in these graphs: A hot early May has melted a lot of snow. If the current melting rate continues, there won’t be any snow left by June. And that could mean that the Animas River already hit its peak, topping out at about 2,200 cfs on May 5. That would be a pretty disappointing spring runoff. The warm temperatures have also put most of the region into some level of drought conditions, despite the near-average-snowfall this winter.
Of course, you never know what might happen this time of year in the San Juans. Temperatures could fall, and big storms might still hit. But don’t count on it.
Extreme drought has crept back into Southwest Colorado…
“With climate change, we expect to see these really big swings from wet to dry years,” said Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist with Colorado State University. “But the trend is we’re in a mega-drought.”
For context, Udall said it’s important to look at Colorado’s weather the past three years. In 2018, it was one of the hottest and driest years on record. The next year, however, brought one of the best snowpacks in recorded history.
For 2020, it appears the pendulum has swung back to hot and dry.
“It’s not as bad as 2018, but it’s still bad,” Udall said. “Probably within the bottom 10 driest years on record.”
On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor relisted parts of Southwest Colorado in the “extreme drought” category for the first time since the region was downgraded after the 2018-19 winter…
Southwest Colorado’s current dry spell began in October 2019 and lasted through the winter. Though high elevation weather stations recorded about normal snowpack levels, researchers estimated snow levels were below average.
This spring, too, has been all but void of precipitation. April saw just 10% of normal precipitation levels for the region, making it one of the driest months on record. From October to April, the region saw 70% of its average precipitation levels.
As a result, the Animas River is expected to have 63% of its normal water supply.
Unusually high temperatures, too, have exacerbated the lack of snow and rain. In April, for instance, the region was 10 to 20 degrees higher than average, according to data from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center.
Above-average temperatures this early in the season have caused snowpack to melt and rivers to run higher and earlier than normal. The Animas River, for example, is expected to peak this weekend at around 2,700 cubic feet per second. By comparison, the Animas River usually peaks during the first week of June around 4,700 cfs.
Most of the snow has already melted off the San Juan Mountains – the Animas, Dolores, San Miguel and San Juan river basins have just 50% of normal snowpack levels for this time of year.
The hot and dry conditions have elevated concerns about fire danger in the region. Pugh said soil moisture is in the lowest fifth percentile, a sign that fuels on the ground are ripe to burn and would be difficult to put out.
Hal Doughty, chief of Durango Fire Protection District, said local fire chiefs in the region sent a letter Friday to La Plata County, requesting commissioners implement Stage 1 fire restrictions.
La Plata County commissioners are expected to vote on the restrictions Tuesday. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions on Friday…
On April 7, the Forest Service announced a complete fire ban across 24 national forests in the Rocky Mountain region, including the San Juan National Forest.
Lorena Williams, spokeswoman for the Forest Service, said the agency is expecting above-average fire potential in May and June.
“Fuel dryness levels have hit critical levels, and above-normal fire potential exists at all snow-free elevations in Southwest Colorado,” she said. “We are preparing for active fire behavior that will be difficult to control. As we’ve seen very recently, any ignitions can lead to rapid fire spread when aided by wind and slope. As fuels dry even more, less wind and less slope will result in the same amount of spread.”
Udall said there is some connection between dry years and wetter monsoons later in the summer: The sun heats the land more, which pulls moisture-laden air from thousands of miles away.
“I don’t think there’s any question that happens,” he said. “But it’s just not a guaranteed thing. The odds are just higher.”
Udall pointed to a scientific study published April 17 in Science that concludes a drought of epic portions is the new reality for the American Southwest, driven in part by climate change…
Williams and his colleagues, however, found by studying soil moisture content in tree ring records that the region had experienced four periods of more than two decades of severe drought conditions in the past 1,200 years.
The study found the current drought in the region since 2000 is the second-worst drought experienced in that time span, second only to a dry spell in the 1500s.
Add complications with climate change, which is expected to move storms farther north and raise temperatures in the Southwest, and concerns about water availability and intensified wildfire seasons begin to mount.
“I’ve always been worried about Southwest Colorado,” Udall said. “As the planet warms, areas right on the edge of big deserts like Southwest Colorado are really at risk.”
Here’s a guest column from Al Pfister that’s running in The Pagosa Sun:
We are living in an age where we are facing drier and warmer times ahead. While we have had a few wet years over the past two decades, looking over that entire time span, we have been in a drought. We are currently in a severe drought with gradually worsening conditions in southern Colorado over the past few months. This scenario is believed to be a foreshadowing of our future.
The Colorado Water Plan, completed in December 2015, recognized these conditions and outlined numerous strategies to guide all water users in collaboratively addressing our challenging water future.
One of those strategies was the development of stream management plans (SMPs). SMPs are intended to compile a community’s understanding of a watershed’s collective environmental, recreational, agricultural and municipal water needs, identifying information gaps, and promoting projects and processes that meet those needs and gaps.
In 2018, community representatives formed a group, now called the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP), to better understand current and future local water use and needs through the Colorado Water Plan’s SMP process. Funding for this local effort is provided by the state through Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), Southwest Basin Roundtable, San Juan Water Conservancy District, Archuleta County, Town of Pagosa Springs, Banded Peak Ranch and numerous other partners.
Envisioned as a three-phase process, the ultimate purpose of this effort to explore opportunities to conserve the Upper San Juan Basin streams and their uses with wide-ranging community support and decisions based on local input and current science and assessments. In order to ensure a broad representation of the community’s interests are brought forward and maintained through the process, a steering committee was formed. Representatives of agricultural, environmental, recreational, and municipal water users, private landowners, business owners, and local government comprise the steering committee.
While forming the steering committee and informing stakeholders about this endeavor, the local water users decided to call it the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership to recognize the voluntary and collaborative nature of this effort. Phase I, just completed, of this effort entailed formation of the steering committee and outreach to stakeholders, identification of our community’s collective values on issues, opportunities and the geographic scope of the WEP. Funding for Phase II has been obtained and is now awaiting formal approval from the CWCB in order to proceed with implementation.
Phase II will focus on assessing the environmental, recreational, and agricultural structural water needs and values of our community. We will be working with partners, San Juan Conservation District and Lotic Hydrological, to evaluate current and future water needs via community input and scientific analysis. Our goal is to complete an assessment that can prioritize projects and processes to meet those needs. This assessment will inform the development of an Integrated Water Management Plan that lists goals, potential projects and actions in Phase III, as determined by the local community.
In order to accurately assess and identify projects that align with local values and needs, the WEP is again asking for community input throughout Phase II. To help the WEP and our partners better understand environmental, recreational and agricultural structure needs this year, our partners will be working directly with ditch companies, land owners, governmental agencies, as well as providing updates to the general public throughout the process. We greatly appreciate your involvement and input, helping our communities in the San Juan River Basin better prepare and secure our water future.
“I think, unfortunately, it’s one of those years that’s kind of a bummer,” said Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center. “Everything is going to be below average.”
Snowpack in the San Juan Mountains this winter hovered near historic averages, according to Snotel sites, which track snow depth.
But Snotel sites tell only part of the story.
For one, there are a limited number of sites in the basin. And this year, elevations above most Snotel sites around 11,000 feet didn’t receive as much snow as usual.
To make matters worse, drought conditions last summer and fall caused the ground to dry up significantly, so soil likely will absorb more snowmelt than normal, at the expense of rivers and streams.
As a result, the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts the Animas River will receive about 70% of the water it usually does in spring, Nielson said.
The forecast center also predicts the Animas River likely will hit a peak flow of 2,300 to 2,500 cubic feet per second, though as much as 3,000 cfs is possible…
As of Friday, Snotel records show Southwest Colorado’s snowpack is melting at an accelerated rate: Snowpack in the San Juans is 70% of normal historic averages for this time of year.
Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director for the city of Durango, said a heavy snowpack year in the winter of 2018-19 provided good storage for the town’s reservoir, which should help water reserves during a below-normal runoff.
The city of Durango gets most of its water from the Florida River and supplements supply from the Animas River when demand increases…
Water is not being pulled from the Animas River to Lake Nighthorse this year, said Russ Means, general manager of the reservoir, as crews work on the intake structure across from Santa Rita Park.
On Friday, the Animas River was running at 1,700 cfs, which is 25% higher than average for this time of year, said Frank Kugel, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.
Please enjoy the article below and then Click here to become a member at Water Education Colorado.
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.
An inactive gravel mine in the Animas Valley plans to formally shut down and repurpose the land for a large-scale commercial development. The move has some in the rafting community wondering what will become of a popular river put-in along the Animas River.
For the past few years, the nearly 50-acre gravel mine owned by Four Corners Materials, Inc. at 876 Trimble Lane (County Road 252), near Trimble Crossing and along the Animas River, has sat idle.
On Thursday, however, the owners requested a change in land-use designation for the property, from industrial to commercial, which would allow a range of new developments on the land…
The main issue at a La Plata County Planning Commission meeting Thursday was the fate of the river access point to the Animas River, just downstream of the Trimble bridge.
The boat ramp is privately owned by Four Corners Materials, but for years, the company has allowed the public to access the Animas.
During public comment, residents worried future development plans would close off the access point.
Kent Ford, a professional kayaker who lives in Durango, stressed the importance of the boat ramp, which is the only take-out for boaters who run the Animas down from Bakers Bridge, and the only put-in for river runners traveling to Oxbow Park or 32nd Street.
At a regular meeting of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors on March 12, District Manager Justin Ramsey noted that COVID-19 cannot be spread through drinking water.
“It’s very susceptible to chlorine,” Ramsey said. “We do keep chlorine in our water.”
However, COVID-19 can be found in sewage, Ramsey noted, adding that there are other unhealthy things found in sewage as well…
The only way PAWSD could be affected by COVID-19 is if too many staff members were to get sick, Ramsey added later.
According to Ramsey, the state of Colorado has put together a program, called CoWARN [Colorado Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network] that allows PAWSD to “share” equipment and staff.
“So if PAWSD gets hit real hard with this, I can call Durango and say ‘I need two water operators’ and if they have them available, they’ll send them to us,” he said. “It sets out how we’re going to pay for it and pay them back and so on and so forth.”
In a follow-up interview on March 17, Ramsey noted that PAWSD is now a part of CoWARN.
Additionally, Ramsey noted that PAWSD has run into issues with citizens using and flushing items that cause problems with PAWSD’s infrastructure.
“It is causing somewhat of a problem. It’s not a major catastrophe, but it is definitely clogging some pumps and causing a little bit of issues,” he said.
On March 17, PAWSD’s administrative offices closed to the public indefinitely, Ramsey explained in an email.
PAWSD customers will still receive regular water and wastewater service, Ramsey noted.
No water will be pumped from the Animas River into Lake Nighthorse this year.
That is because the headgates at the dam southwest of Durango, Colorado, have to be destroyed and replaced, according to Animas-La Plata Project Operations, Maintenance and Repair Association General Manager Russ Howard.
Howard told the San Juan Water Commission on March 4 that the $6.5 million project is needed because the design was not appropriate for the location. This work is being done by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
He said work was also done prior to choosing to replace the gate. Howard said $1.5 million was spent “over the years trying to put a Band-Aid on something that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
When asked about the gate, Howard said the design, known as an Obermeyer, gate is not a bad design, but it was not appropriate for the Animas River.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Justyn Liff agreed with Howard that the design was a good design but was not compatible with the Animas River’s conditions. She said on another river it would have worked fine, but the bureau had not realized how muddy the Animas River is.
The amount of mud in the Animas River caused problems and filled the pipes with mud.
In addition to the $6.5 million replacement of the headgates, Liff said the the gate’s original construction, retrofits to keep them operational and engineering studies and design cost about $6.2 million.
Colorado House Bill 1095 says if a local government’s comprehensive plan includes a water-supply element, it must also include conservation policies. While there might be disagreement on how to conserve, some planners are already incorporating water into their land-use decisions…
In the Southwest basin, water demand is projected to increase between 17,000 and 27,000 acre feet by 2050, according to the Basin Implementation Plan. That’s with some conservation by users…
According to scientific models, the Southwest is also more vulnerable to drought as the climate warms, said Gigi Richard, director of the Four Corners Water Center at Fort Lewis College.
“One, we know our population is growing. Two, we know our climate is warming,” Richard said. “Those two things are going to put stresses on the quantity of water available.”
Durango and Bayfield have already included some water conservation measures into their community planning. Ignacio lacks any specific water conservation measures.
The town does not have a comprehensive plan, an advisory document that outlines long-term goals for community development required by state statute…
In Durango, the comprehensive plan references a 2015 sustainable action plan and a 2011 water efficiency management plan. The last time the city implemented water restrictions was in 2002, the year of the Missionary Ridge Fire.
“If that bill passed, I feel confident that we’ve integrated enough … that we would meet those requirements,” Biggs said. “We could always do more and do better.” In Bayfield, the town’s 2005 comprehensive plan does not include some of the town’s updated policies. For example, the 2018 Water Master Plan includes water supply requirements, and those would be incorporated when the comprehensive plan is updated. The town started looking at its emergency water measures during the drought in 2018.
“Every time we have a project in Bayfield, ‘Hey, is there adequate water?’” said Bayfield Mayor Matt Salka. “The answer is yes, but for the town of Bayfield, we always have water in mind.”
Water conservation and efficiency can be a charged topic among users.
Durango water users’ opinions on conservation methods are a “mixed bag,” Biggs said. Some people are actively trying to conserve, while others value a healthy lawn.
In Bayfield, most people seem to support the idea of water conservation, Salka said. “I don’t think it’s a big topic here from a development perspective,” Garcia said of Ignacio. “Some folks are looking at water conservation for reducing their own use and bill.”
The La Plata Electric Asso- ciation (LPEA) Board of Directors voted at its meeting last week to award the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) $13,000 from its Renewable Generation Funds Grant program to support a solar installation to generate electricity for the GGP site in Centennial Park.
Projects were selected based on visibility to the local community, level of innovation, and the potential to blend renewable technologies with educational elements and community engagement.
Grant monies are sourced from LPEA’s Local Renewable Generation Fund — an opt-in fund to which LPEA members can contribute to support the development of renewable energy generation projects in the service territory.
For more information on the program, LPEA members should call 382-3505.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:
The 2020 Annual Water Seminar is titled “Wading into Watershed Health,” and there’s plenty to talk about. Water supply and water quality are inextricably linked to the health of our watersheds–from forest to valley floor. Irrigators, municipalities, tribes, and fish populations are among those impacted by recent wildfires. Efforts to bring significant financial support to southwest Colorado for forest management and wildfire mitigation have been successful. Also, the regional forest products industry is gaining momentum as economic incentives shift.
The National Weather Service is reporting that the Arkansas River Basin’s snowpack, which feeds into the Arkansas River, is at about 116 percent of its average.
At this rate, chile and cantaloupe farmers downstream can expect a good amount of water coming their way by the time the run off starts.
“People that are use to getting water, farmers, municipalities, they should be getting their normal load. If we continue to build up a bigger snowpack, then more people are going to get water as the year moves on,” said service hydrologist, Tony Anderson.
The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors briefly discussed fluoride in drinking water at its meeting on Feb. 13.
PAWSD stopped putting fluoride in the local water supply in 2005.
“The state has contacted us, and they would like to give us a presentation on the pros and cons of [fluoridation of] the water,” PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey said. “We do not put fluoride in the water. I have no wish to put fluoride in the water. I told the state I’ll be happy to sit through their little spiel.”
Asked for comment on the fluoride issue, San Juan Basin Public Health’s (SJBPH) Brian Devine, Water and Air Quality Program manager, sent the following statement via email: “SJBPH supports the evidence-based practice of public water providers distributing water with the optimal levels of fluoride for public health. For some water providers, that means adding fluoride to drinking water, for others in naturally highly-fluoridated areas, it means removing it. Optimal levels of fluoride strengthen growing teeth in children and protect tooth enamel from plaque in adults, leading to less tooth decay. This means lower lifetime health costs and improves the opportunity for everyone to live a healthier life. These benefits led community water fluoridation to be named one of the top ten public health achievements of the twentieth century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and BootJack Ranch are in water court regarding various opposition of diligence claims.
At the Jan. 16 regular meeting of the PAWSD Board of Directors, PAWSD District Manager Justin Ramsey explained that BootJack Ranch, in 2018, started opposing PAWSD’s diligence on its water rights…
Ramsey later explained that, in one instance, BootJack had requested that PAWSD no longer take water from Four Mile if the river levels dropped below a certain percentage during certain months.
“I said that’s an absolutely ridiculous request. We turn our water off three weeks out of every month. It’s idiotic,” he said.
On Aug. 2, 2018, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) placed a call on the San Juan River, which Ramsey explained correlated to BootJack’s earlier requests on PAWSD not taking water from Four Mile.
“Those numbers, they did corresponded with that. I think BootJack figures we quit turning the water on, and the water would get to the San Juan, CWCB wouldn’t do their call and they wouldn’t lose their water,” Ramsey explained. “So they wanted us to augment their water rights is what that was for.”
According to Ramsey, BootJack Ranch is going after PAWSD’s diligence claims…
What PAWSD has decided to do is oppose all of BootJack’s water rights issues, Ramsey noted…
Ramsey noted that there will be a meeting with BootJack to see if the two entities can just “leave each other alone.”
Ramsey explained that PAWSD went to the water court previously and explained that it needs 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Four Mile, which the court agreed to.
“Now it’s called a non-perfected right. We don’t use that 20 cfs at this point. Our plan is to use it in the future,” he explained.
According to Ramsey, the rea- son BootJack has filed this claim opposition relates to water from Four Mile that goes into the San Juan River.
“The CWCB has an instream water right. The CWCB is the only entity in the state that’s allowed to have an in-stream water right. That goes from I think the 1st Street bridge in Pagosa down to McCabe Creek,” Ramsey explained. “If the water level drops, then they can do a call. That’s what they did last year.”
That call affected BootJack, Ramsey noted…
There has never been a time since PAWSD has had the Four Mile water right that it has been able to pull water in the summer, he explained, adding that PAWSD loses that ability in the first part or middle of May.
At a regular meeting of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors on Feb. 3, the board nominated a few direc- tors to sit in on a subcommittee related to the Running Iron Ranch and San Juan River Headwaters Proj- ect (formerly known as Dry Gulch Reservoir).
Chair Al Pfister and board mem- bers John Porco and Doug Secrist were nominated to be on the six- person subcommittee that will also consist of three members of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board.
SJWCD board member Bill Hudson will serve as an alternate for SJWCD’s portion of the subcommittee.
This subcommittee was formed as a result of a joint work session between the SJWCD and PAWSD boards on Jan. 23.
At that work session, it was suggested that a subcommittee should be created to craft an intergovernmental agreement between the two organizations regarding the property and determine what should be done when the Weber leases on the property end in 2023 and for a potential reservoir project…
Also at the Feb. 3 meeting, the SJWCD board briefly discussed who to nominate to be appointed to the Pagosa Springs Urban Renewal Au- thority (URA) Commission.
The 11-member URA commission is set up to consist of the seven town council members, an elected member of the school board, one person appointed by the county commissioners, one mayoral appointee and one person appointed by the taxing districts that levy taxes within the URA boundaries.
A URA’s primary goal is to help redevelopment within the town, and tax-increment funding ( TIF) is a common source of funding for specific URA projects…
Also at the Feb. 3 meeting, following an executive session, the board advised its legal counsel, Jeffrey Kane, to settle various cases the district, along with PAWSD, has with BootJack Ranch.
In a follow-up interview on Feb. 4, Kane explained that there are five cases the SWJCD is a part of.
Two of those cases involve both PAWSD and SJWCD as applicants, while the other three, BootJack Ranch is the applicant, Kane explained.
“The motion that was carried gave me authority to prepare stipulations with certain terms and negoti- ate with the parties to try and settle the cases,” he said.
Also at the Feb. 3 meeting, the SJWCD board elected its officers for the year.
Al Pfister was voted to be chair of the board. He previously served as secretary. Susan Nossaman retained her seat as vice chair.
Porco was elected as secretary after having previously served as chair.
From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance via the Fencepost:
Agricultural producers in southwest Colorado, mostly cow-calf ranchers, expended less labor to access the same amount of water to irrigate their pastures since implementing improvements to their irrigation ditches as part of a community-wide project. They also have seen improvement in riparian habitats. A new video, which can be viewed at https://www.coagwater.org/stream-management, portrays the impact to the community of these project improvements.
The improvements were implemented following development of the Mancos Watershed Plan in 2011. The community project was able to acquire $6 million along with Natural Resources Conservation Service cost share dollars to improve irrigation ditch diversion structures, install pipe irrigation systems and reduce ditch bank erosion in some of the 49 ditches that divert water off the Mancos River and its tributaries. The funding also allowed the watershed to improve the river’s fisheries.
“Ranchers involved in the project were skeptical at first of the help proposed by the watershed plan and the different values and perspectives of those involved in the project,” said Gretchen Rank, director of the Mancos Conservation District. “But as they saw the opportunities to improve their irrigation system, while also improving the environmental health of the river, they agreed to work together on the project.”
“We learned not to make assumptions based on personal views and knowledge,” Rank said. “Involvement in the stakeholder process enabled participants to recognize the diversity of opinions, needs and knowledge that are brought to the table. Throughout the process, participants gained respect for other perspectives, often changing the way they think about the watershed. Decisions made at the watershed level affect everyone within that watershed, so it is important that decisions are data driven and community informed for the best possible outcomes.”
Through the watershed planning process, several ditches were identified as being in dire need of better diversion structures that would require a lot less maintenance and upkeep, according to Ben Wolcott, Wolcott Ranch, Mancos, Colo., who also served on the Mancos Conservation District board of directors.
“Before any of this got upgraded, irrigation diversions were just push-up structures and anything cobbled together, sometimes tree trunks and whatever was in the river,” said Wolcott. “Most years we didn’t even get any water, but now with the new diversion structures and screens we have in place in front of piped ditches, we’ve seen leaps and bounds in (improved) efficiency. I go to each headgate once a week instead of daily, and that is mostly a five-minute maintenance check. The diversions can handle high water really well and then still divert water under low flows.”
Another rancher who has benefited from the project is Ryan Brown, Reddert Ranch, Mancos, Colo. “Over my 60 years, I’ve seen the river channel deepen, which makes it harder to dam up diversions. It was helpful when the Mancos Conservation District came to us and asked if it could help make those diversions more efficient.”
Tom Weaver, Ratliff Homestead, Mancos, Colo., said that before water piping was installed there was a lot of seepage and evaporation in his and his neighbor’s irrigation ditch. “There’s more (water) going down the river now due to increased efficiency.”
Rank added that the piping and diversion improvements have allowed fish to pass through upstream to reach their spawning grounds, while reducing soil erosion and the spread of noxious weeds.
“I think it is important for local landowners to stay involved with their communities and with the organizations that are helping facilitate the changes and improvements like this,” said Wolcott. “Their voice can be heard, and their values can be shared.”
The Mancos Watershed Plan is the second of three projects showcased in a video series. The series is produced by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and River Network with the goal of demonstrating how farmers, ranchers, ditch companies, conservation districts, environmental groups and other entities have come together to improve river health, irrigation efficiency and environmental and recreational use of Colorado’s limited water supplies.
“As Colorado’s population grows, farmland is pressured by development, and agricultural water is being sold or rented to municipalities,” said Greg Peterson, CAWA executive director. “It is imperative that we work with others to preserve agricultural irrigation water and that farmers and ranchers get involved in watershed planning.”
To see a six-minute video of the Mancos Watershed Project, a fact sheet on this project and other resources, visit https://www.coagwater.org/stream-management. For more resources on funding for agricultural infrastructure improvements, contact Greg Peterson with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grants to help fund stream management planning, such as those used by the Mancos Watershed Project, are available through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. For more information on stream management planning in your area, visit http://coloradosmp.org or contact Alyssa Clarida with the Colorado Department of Agriculture State Conservation Board at email@example.com
San Juan County Climate Awareness Coalition
CLIMATE CHANGE: WHAT IT MEANS FOR US
SAVE THE DATE! Friday March 27th
8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Cost: $5 donation encouraged at the door, no charge to register
Location: San Juan College, Farmington, NM
* Agricultural sustainability: climate change in our backyard
* Insect migration
* Disease re-emergence
* Environmental racism and the impact on Native communities
* Transitioning our energy economy
* What we can do: the personal and the political
* Film festival
And much more!
Fri, March 27, 2020
8:30 AM – 5:00 PM MDT
San Juan College
4601 College Boulevard
Farmington, NM 87402
A recap of the current agree- ment between the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and the San Juan Conser- vation District (SJWCD) regarding Running Iron Ranch, San Juan River Headwaters Project (formerly known as Dry Gulch Reservoir) and various leases on the property were topics of discussion by both boards at a joint work session on Jan. 23.
The property is jointly owned by PAWSD and SJWCD, PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey explained, and there is also an agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) that includes terms for both entities to abide by.
There is an ongoing 15-year lease with the Weber family on the property; that lease expires on Jan. 3, 2023, Ramsey added…
The purchase of the property was made via a $9.2 million loan that PAWSD has with the CWCB and a $1 million grant that the SJWCD received.
However, in 2015, the property was appraised for about $4.5 mil- lion, he explained…
Park Ditch included with the prop- erty, specifically 9.1 cubic feet per second (cfs), Ramsey noted…
PAWSD’s loan with the CWCB was restructured in 2016 and, with that restructuring, the loan was broken into two parts, “Loan A” and “Loan B.”
Loan A was described by Ramsey as the “planning period,” which en- compasses 20 years — from Sept. 23, 2016, to 2036 — on how PAWSD and the SJWCD will move forward with a project on the property.
The amount for Loan A is $4.2 million and PAWSD is paying that off with a 1.75 percent interest rate.
After that planning period ends, PAWSD will go into an “optional extended planning period,” or Loan B.
“We can extend it for another 20 years and then we’ll start paying on the remaining $4.5 million, but it’s deferred for 20 years,” Ramsey said, noting the loan would be deferred from 2036 to 2056. “We’re not pay- ing anything on it, so it’s a fairly sweet deal at this point.”
Loan B’s interest rate will be for 3.5 percent, Ramsey added later.
According to PAWSD Director of Business Services Aaron Burns, the current remaining balance for Loan A is $3.35 million.
Since the restructured agree- ment, the annual payment on Loan A is $256,000, Burns noted…
There are four separate par- cels of property that encompass the Running Iron Ranch prop- erty, Ramsey explained, noting that those four parcels have been leased to the Weber family.
One parcel is 68.11 acres, an- other is 5.49 acres, one is 40 acres and the final one is 552.73 acres, according to Ramsey.
Additionally, there is a sand and gravel lease on that property, Ramsey noted.
“When the property was pur- chased, we went into a 15-year lease agreement with the Webers, the regional owners of the ranch. It was four different agreements for a $1 a year,” he said. “I think we got $60 out of this and not just $15.”
The lease agreement is from Jan. 3, 2008, to Jan. 3, 2023, according to Ramsey.
Additionally, the lease agree- ment can be extended via written consent from both the landlord and the tenant, and Ramsey explained that if it is extended the lease should be more for $1 a year.
The lease agreement also states that the Webers kept 18 acres of retained property that PAWSD has to provide access to, Ramsey noted, adding later that a legal access easement to the retained property has been provided.
Other requirements under the lease with the Webers is that PAWSD has to provide irrigation to the retained property, but this expires if the Webers no longer own the property.
Both districts also have to pay all fees associated with the Park Ditch and the Webers get use of the water, Ramsey explained.
“We promised that we won’t interfere with their development of that retained property if they are going to develop something in the future,” Ramsey said. “At this point, I have heard nothing of anything being developed out there.”
One thing the Webers have to do is comply with all applicable laws, including environmental laws, Ramsey noted.
“It’s kind of nice that the state oversees that,” he said. “So, it made me feel much more comfortable that I learned of that.”
If the lease with the Webers ends, the Webers are obligated to restore the premises and take other actions required by applicable min- ing laws and regulations, Ramsey explained.
The Webers must also remove all personal property and improve- ments at the conclusion of the lease, he added later.
According to Ramsey, the Webers are interested in extending the lease.
Local groups call for plugging of discharging mines
Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, is not happy about the proposed Superfund cleanup around Silverton, saying the suggestion to plug more mines only redistributes potentially toxic water and doesn’t solve the problem…
In December, two community groups formed to help guide the Superfund process – the Citizens Advisory Group and the Silverton-San Juan County Planning Group – submitted letters to the EPA with a similar recommendation.
The main message: focus on the sites – namely the Gold King, American Tunnel, Mogul and Red & Bonita – which are contributing the most amount of contaminated metals into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.
According to data from the now-defunct Animas River Stakeholders Group, almost half of all metal loading from the 120 draining mines sampled around Silverton comes from these four sources.
And the suggested solution? Place more bulkheads.
“While currently the (Bonita Peak) enjoys high-priority status as a Superfund site, the (community group) is quite concerned its priority could change in the future,” the CAG wrote. “… Bulkheads can be funded with manageable, annual budgeting, unlike a large water treatment facility, which may need a big financial infusion all at once.”
Hennis, for his part, has long maintained that the original bulkheads placed on the American Tunnel caused his mines to start to discharge mine wastewater. Sunnyside Gold has adamantly denied the Sunnyside Mine is connected geologically to Hennis’ mines.
Regardless, Hennis said he was “shocked and appalled” to learn the community groups were in favor of more bulkheads as a main treatment option.
“Bulkheading doesn’t work,” Hennis wrote. “It appears all they accomplished in the long term was to re-distribute acid mine water flows elsewhere, and in the same volume as the original problem.”
Hennis says that if the Gold King and Red & Bonita are plugged, it could shift water back into the American Tunnel, where bulkheads there could be overwhelmed.
“Rolling the dice on a potential catastrophic failure of the American Tunnel bulkheads makes no sense whatsoever,” he said. “If a release of 3 million gallons of mine water from the Gold King raised absolute havoc downstream, a potential release of billions of gallons from the Sunnyside Mine Pool would have unthinkable consequences.”
Hennis instead said the only long-term solution would be to drain the Sunnyside Mine pool, treat the water and shut off spots where water gets into the Sunnyside Mine network.
But this could be costly.
Richard Mylott, spokesman for EPA, said the agency is working to understand the impacts that bulkheading would have on water quality and water levels within the Cement Creek area…
Mylott said EPA has installed several wells to monitor the groundwater system when it tests the closure of the Red & Bonita.
A new injection well built by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority will pump treated river water back into the aquifer for future use in the metro area. The $2 million well, built at the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Treatment Plant in north Albuquerque, is key to the city’s aquifer storage and recovery plan.
Project manager Diane Agnew said the well, which is the first of its kind in the city, is a “success for Albuquerque’s water sustainability.”
“This is like a ‘water savings account’ that builds up over time,” she said. “The injection well gives us an alternate source to meet our long-term water demand. It lets us take (treated) San Juan-Chama water and store it in the aquifer, where it won’t evaporate.”
To access the stored aquifer water, the new well pumps can be “flipped” from injection to extraction.
The project expands on the city’s efforts to recharge the aquifer and address long-term water demand.
Each winter, San Juan-Chama water is released into the Bear Canyon Arroyo. That water infiltrates the ground and eventually ends up in the aquifer.
Agnew said the Bear Canyon setup takes advantage of the arroyo’s natural recharge mechanism, but the water may evaporate before it seeps into the ground, and it can take as long as six weeks to reach the aquifer.
The new injection well can send 3,000 gallons of water a minute directly into the aquifer 1,200 feet below the well site, where it can be stored without risk of evaporation. Injected well water reaches groundwater in just a few days…
As with the arroyo project, water will be injected at the well site from October to March, when water demand is lower.
The water authority has worked with the state Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources to identify other areas in the city which would be optimal for future aquifer injection wells.
Albuquerque’s shift away from pumping groundwater has spurred recovery of the aquifer underneath the city.
A report released last year by the U.S. Geological Survey showed city groundwater withdrawals had dropped by 67% from 2008 to 2016. Aquifer levels in some parts of Albuquerque rose as much as 40 feet during that time.
At its Jan. 7 meeting, the board of the Pagosa Springs Sanitation Gen- eral Improvement District (PSSGID) again worked to deal with a stinky issue that’s plagued the district and some Archuleta County residents — odor control near the town’s two pump stations in the Timber Ridge area.
The odor issues in the area began when the town started using a force main to move its collected waste- water to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District campus for treat- ment. Construction of the pipeline was completed in 2016.
“The odor results from naturally high sulfur in the area, in waste, and the long detention times in the wet well and the force main,” an agenda brief prepared by Public Works Di- rector Martin Schmidt explains.
The PSSGID previously piloted an odor control project with little success, with Schmidt’s document stating, “it did not get close to the levels of H2S [hydrogen sulfide] that were stipulated in the contract.”
PSSGID staff, with engineering support, then brought back information on several options for the board to consider on Jan. 7, along with a recommendation to pair two of the technologies to best control odor and eliminate corrosion.
The four options brought to the board were an oxygen injection system, an aeration system with added ozone (the same technology as the pilot project), chemical dosing, an air scrubber system and an air-injector system that builds dissolved oxygen in the water to eliminate anaerobic bacteria.
Schmidt and Utilities Supervisor Gene Tautges recommended that the board combine the final two options.
The air scrubber system, manufactured by Syneco Systems Inc., has a small blower that creates a negative pressure in the wet well, the agenda brief explains.
“The removed air is scrubbed of H2S by a proprietary media that converts 100% of the H2S into a non-toxic polymer,” the document explains.
Schmidt noted the blower is not much larger than a bathroom fan, with Schmidt and Tautges indicat- ing it operates at a low decibel level, around 55 decibels.
At a regular meeting on Dec. 12, 2019, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved the district’s 2020 budget…
In an email to The SUN, PAWSD Director of Business Services Aaron Burns noted that the only two changes from the draft budget to the final 2020 budget were an in- crease of $30,000 of unspent super- visory control and data acquisition (SCADA) infrastructure funds from 2019 and an additional $15,000 was added to each water plant; this accounts for increased regulatory monitoring requirements, accord- ing to Burns.
Within the final 2020 budget, PAWSD’s General Fund balance is expected to start at $939,542, a 2 percent decrease from last year; PAWSD’s ending balance within the 2020 budget is projected at $871,865, which is a 7 percent decrease from last year’s total of $940,292.
Total revenues for PAWSD are projected to go up 3 percent this year, with the 2020 budget reflect- ing total revenues of $1,115,707 — up from last year’s total revenue of $1,081,087.
PAWSD’s total expenditures are also expected to increase 7 per- cent, going from last year’s total of $1,101,840 to $1,183,384 in 2020.
For its Water Enterprise Fund, PAWSD is expected to see a 7 per- cent increase in its beginning fund balance, with totals going from $5,534,767 to $5,935,717 in 2020 and the ending fund balance total expected to go up 5 percent, from $5,916,044 to $6,215,778.
PAWSD’s Water Enterprise Fund looks to have an 8 percent in- crease in regard to total revenues, with revenues totaling $6,005,467 compared to last year’s total of $5,574,570.
Total expenditures for the Water Enterprise Fund are expected to increase 10 percent, going from $5,193,293 to $5,725,406 in 2020.
PAWSD’s Wastewater Enter- prise Fund will have a 23 percent increase in its beginning fund bal- ance, increasing from $2,552,203 to $3,140,125; the ending fund bal- ance for the wastewater fund is ex- pected to increase from $3,129,565 to $3,252,712, which is an increase of 4 percent.
PAWSD’s total revenues for its wastewater fund are projected to have no change, according to the 2020 budget.
PAWSD’s total expenditures for its wastewater fund are projected to increase 22 percent, going from $2,166,108 to $2,636,374 in 2020.
The city of Durango plans to get back into the Animas River this winter to fix human-made rapids at the Whitewater Park that drew criticism for posing too great a risk to boaters during high water last summer.
Tweaks have been made to the Whitewater Park, which flows along Santa Rita Park, as early as the 1980s. But a full-scale $2.6 million project to enhance the park and build a series of rapids began in 2014 and was finished in 2018.
The most recent issue, which requires the city to get back in the river in the coming months, started three years ago and is considered separate from the Whitewater Park, which was led by the Parks and Recreation Department.
In summer 2016, the city’s Utilities Department spent $1 million to build several new features in the river, just above the Whitewater Park, for the sole purpose of diverting more water into the city’s water intake for municipal use on the east side of the river.
Since then, some members of the boating community have said the new features, which span the entire width of the river, function like low-head dams, one of the most dangerous hazards on a river because of the strong, recirculating water that can flip and trap boats, as well as people.
And if people fall out at the new drops, they have a long, cold swim through the actual Whitewater Park, which includes several major rapids and water temperatures in the low- to mid-40s…
This past summer, [Shane] Sigle said the only way to permanently fix the rapids would be to use grout to cement boulders in the river to ensure a safely designed flow. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which issues permits for work in any waterways) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, however, oppose using grout on river bottoms because it can adversely affect aquatic life.
City officials have said it’s unrealistic, and costly, to get back into the river every year to move boulders and rocks. But without being able to use grout, options are limited.
As a result, while long-term solutions are sought, it appears smaller maintenance projects are the city’s only way to make the river safer.
Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director, said the plan is to get in the Animas River as early as February to start the project, which could cost around $140,000 to $160,000.
Without grouting, though, the river will eventually move the boulders and nullify the improvements the city plans to make this year.
…volunteers with the National Audubon Society’s annual bird count, which has been ongoing since 1949, say they are starting to see the impact the new body of water is having on different species of birds around Durango in winter months.
“Lake Nighthorse has created a different habitat,” said John Bregar, a member of the Durango Bird Club. “It’s attracting water fowl and fish-eating birds we didn’t use to get so much of before. It’s pretty cool to be monitoring that.”
A group of about nine eared grebe, a water bird, which is a rare sight on the Christmas count, were spotted on Lake Nighthorse last year. Double-crested cormorant, a seabird, used to leave Southwest Colorado for warmer pastures but have taken up at the reservoir during the winter.
And two horned grebes, another water bird, which Bregar said were never recorded on a Christmas count and are not common in Southwest Colorado in general, are now wintering on Lake Nighthorse…
Bregar said aside from the rare finds, all kinds of birds take advantage of the waters and fish of Lake Nighthorse, such as bald eagles, loons and mergansers.
“It’s a deep body of water with a lot of fish,” he said, “so fish-eating birds are quite prevalent.”
In all, 31 volunteers counted 6,279 individual birds and 82 different species Dec. 15.
For reference, 2017 was seen as a good year for the bird count, with volunteers finding 85 species and 7,452 individual birds.
And in 2018, the count, which was conducted Dec. 16, found a strong number of diverse species – 82 – but the number of individual birds was down to 6,732…
Some interesting observations from the count include:
Bird counters noted a near record high number of northern harriers, a raptor, at 19. In a previous year, 20 were spotted
The bird count broke the record for white-winged doves. Only twice before has the count recorded that species, and each time, it was just one dove. “This year we recorded six white-winged doves, five near the upper Animas River and one along Florida Road,” Bregar said. “Durango has had a small population of white-winged doves hanging out in the northern portions of our city for years, but they seldom stray far enough south to get counted in our Christmas bird count.”
A flock of 21 snow geese was spotted flying above the skies in Durango. The birds usually are not seen in Southwest Colorado.
The most abundant bird spotted was the Canada goose at almost 1,200. Second place goes to juncos, a medium-sized sparrow, at around 1,000.
Much of Southwest Colorado remains listed in a severe drought although it has accumulated 130% of average snowpack.
According the U.S. Drought Monitor as of Dec. 24, all of Montezuma County and all but the northern edge of La Plata County and the eastern edge of Archuleta County remain listed in severe drought. Virtually all of Dolores, Montrose and Ouray counties were designated in a severe drought.
As of Dec. 30, the severe drought designation remained despite an above-average snowpack for Southwest Colorado.
A SNOTEL map showed 130% of the 30-year average snowpack for the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel river basins as of Dec. 30.
The reason the region remains in the drought category is because the drought monitor tracks precipitation over many previous months, said Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District that manages McPhee Reservoir.
July through October was very dry, with below-average moisture. It will take continued average, to above-average moisture to knock the area out of drought, he said…
A large part of Colorado’s Western Slope remains in severe or moderate drought.
In fact, only the northeast section of the state, including the Denver metro area and the northern mountains around Steamboat Springs, are not under some kind of drought listing.
In all, nearly 70% of Colorado is abnormally dry or in moderate or severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. A year ago, roughly 85% of the state had some kind of drought status, including 11% that was listed as being in exceptional drought.
Despite the continued dry conditions, forecasters said things are better than they were last year at this time when exceptional and extreme drought – the worst categories – had set in. Over the last three months, parts of southern Arizona and New Mexico recovered but portions of Utah and Colorado dried out…
Purgatory Resort was reporting a 54-inch base depth Monday, Telluride Ski Area was reporting a 43-inch base, and Wolf Creek Ski Area was reporting an 81-inch midway base depth.
The other big story of the decade was the environment. As the drought steadily worsened in the early teens, President Ben Shelly found himself between a rock and a hard place. A proposed settlement of the water rights on the Little Colorado River, which would have included the Nation sacrificing a portion of its water rights in exchange for infrastructure, proved so wildly unpopular that he was forced to back down, leaving the Nation to take its chances in court.
A plan to round up Dinétah’s feral horses, which ranchers accused of drinking up and fouling the ever-scarcer watering holes, stirred an international uproar from humane organizations and even actor Robert Redford. It was eventually abandoned and the animals remain a problem, now numbering in the tens of thousands with few natural predators.
Water issues continued in 2015 as an estimated several hundred Navajos — including President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer — joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in protesting the construction of an oil pipeline beneath the tribe’s main water source, braving sub-zero temperatures, tear gas and rubber bullets.
In the summer of that year, the Diné had their own water issue to contend with, watching in amazement as the Animas River ran orange with dissolved metal compounds from an abandoned gold mine near Silverton, Colorado — the result of a botched containment effort by the US. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Navajo Nation joined the states of New Mexico and Utah in suing the agency and its contractor. As of this writing the litigation is still pending.
Then there was Bears Ears National Monument, created by President Barack Obama on Dec. 28, 2016, and reduced by 85 percent by President Donald Trump less than a year later. That’s also slogging through the courts.
But by far the biggest environmental story was the rapid dethronement of King Coal, which for decades had propped up state, local, and tribal economies in the Four Corners.
As prices for natural gas and renewable energy declined, power plant owners beat a hasty retreat from the dirty fossil fuel that had sustained generations of Navajo miners and a good chunk of the Navajo and Hopi tribes’ budgets.
In 2013, the Navajo Nation managed to stave off the closure of BHP Billiton’s Navajo Mine by creating a company to buy it, but there was no stopping the demise of the Navajo Generating Station and the two mines on Black Mesa that fed it.
Environmentalists had for years been pressuring the tribal government to create a plan to replace the revenue that would be lost when the plant closed, preferably by converting it to a sustainable energy producer, but as the last coal shovelful of coal was turned this past November, the only plan was to dig into the Permanent Trust Fund former President Peterson Zah had created in 1985 for just this eventuality.
Meanwhile the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, the tribal enterprise created to buy the Navajo Mine and then lead the Nation into a more sustainable energy future, purchased three more coal mines in Wyoming and Montana — a move that shocked not only environmentalists but the president and Council.
The San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow, New Mexico, is next on the chopping block, slated to close in 2022 unless the state’s Public Regulation Commission approves a plan to convert it to a carbon capture facility.
We’re reporters of the news, not prognosticators. But it’s not too risky to predict that all these environmental issues will extend into 2020 and most likely beyond, joined by ones no one has even thought of yet as irreversible climate change takes hold.
In what could be a major blow to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a federal judge has recommended a district court throw out the train’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit in which the U.S. government is seeking $25 million for fighting the 416 Fire.
In July, the U.S. government named the D&SNG as the cause of the 416 Fire, which started along the train’s tracks north of Durango in summer 2018 and went on to burn more than 54,000 acres of mostly national forest lands in the Hermosa Creek watershed.
After eyewitness accounts and months of speculation, federal investigators determined a cinder emitted from a smokestack from a D&SNG coal-burning locomotive, which was running at a time of extreme drought in Southwest Colorado, sparked the fire.
At the same time, U.S. officials said the D&SNG denied starting the fire, prompting a lawsuit that seeks $25 million from the railroad for damages and fire-suppression costs.
In September, the D&SNG filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying there is no federal law that allows claims to recover fire suppression costs, and the only Colorado law on the issue allows for recovering actual damages from a fire on property – but not firefighting costs.
The judge overseeing the case – U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Blackburn – asked for a recommendation from U.S. Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter on interpreting the law and on whether to dismiss the case.
On Friday, Neureiter filed his recommendation, which supported the U.S. government.
“First, I reject the (D&SNG’s) argument that, as a public entity providing a civic service by fighting a forest fire, the United States is not entitled to recover fire suppression costs,” he wrote.
“The United States was protecting its own property, the National Forest, and acting like a property owner in fighting and attempting to suppress the fire … the United States is entitled to whatever protection is afforded to other landowners in Colorado – including entitlement to recovery of fire suppression costs.”
The 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, ignited on June 1, 2018. By June 21, the wildfire covered more than 34,000 acres and was 37 percent contained. Photo credit USFS via The High Country News
The 416 Fire started at about 10 a.m. on June 1, 2018, approximately 10 miles north of Durango, CO. Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team is managing the fire. The fire is burning on the west side of State Highway 550 on some private land and on the San Juan National Forest. The fire is burning in grass, brush, and timber. The Weather conditions remain critical and fuels are ideal for significant fire growth. The fire has been very active and continues to burn in rough and inaccessible terrain. Many homes have been evacuated and structure protection is in place. Map via Inciweb
Screen shot of Animas River debris flow July 2018 aftermath of 416 Fire (CBS Denver).
Debris flow from 416 Fire. Photo credit: Twitter #416Fire hash tag
Sunnyside Gold Corporation, the last mining company to actively operate in the Silverton caldera, was recognized for “five years of responsible mining and 30 years of successful remediation and reclamation,” according to the award announcement provided to The Daily Times by Sunnyside Gold Corporation.
This award comes as Sunnyside faces continued litigation alleging the bulkheads it installed in the Sunnyside Mine’s American Tunnel led to changes in water levels. The suit claims this eventually created a buildup of water in the Gold King Mine that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contractors later accidentally released when they breached a collapsed portal into the mine.
“The primary purpose of the engineered concrete bulkheads was to isolate the interior workings of the Sunnyside Mine, and to prevent water flow from the interior workings to the Animas Basin,” said Kevin Roach, Sunnyside’s director of reclamation, in an email to The Daily Times.
Roach said that while Sunnyside owns mines near the Gold King, it never owned or operated the Gold King Mine. He said the company was not involved in the Gold King Mine spill and has no responsibility for it.
“There is no physical man-made connection between the Sunnyside and Gold King mine workings,” Roach said.
And Roach stood by the decision to install bulkheads in Sunnyside’s mine workings.
“One of the most important lessons that can be derived from SGC’s successful reclamation is that, in appropriate circumstances, bulkheading of closed mines can be an effective method to improve water quality,” he said.
Sunnyside has maintained the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which triggered the spill, bears the responsibility. Roach further highlighted studies showing the water quality in the Animas River returned to pre-spill conditions shortly after the incident…
The award also comes after Sunnyside refused to comply with an order the EPA sent the company to install groundwater wells and meteorological stations as part of the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site remediation work. The Superfund site includes 48 mine sites believed to have impacted water quality in the Animas River. Some of these mine sites were related to Sunnyside’s operations…
Working to reclaim land
Over the past 30 years, Sunnyside has spent $30 million on reclamation work. Roach said much of Sunnyside’s work occurred at sites it does not own. In addition to installing bulkheads, this work included relocating or removing mine tailings from several sites, including near the Animas River and its tributaries.
Sunnyside Gold Corporation was a latecomer to the mining activity in the Silverton caldera, entering the region in 1985 when it acquired the Sunnyside Mine, which it operated until 1991. The mine itself dates back to 1873 and includes two tunnels for hauling ore and drainage, one of which is the American Tunnel.
Following the installation of bulkheads in the American Tunnel, the Sunnyside Gold Corporation was released from liabilities in 2003 when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment concluded it had completed its obligations laid out in a consent decree.
In terms of the future, Sunnyside does not have plans to resume mining in the Silverton caldera. However, that does not necessarily mean mining is gone from the caldera forever.
While going down a wormhole the other day, I stumbled across a variety of documents on the Gold King Mine on the wonderful Mountain Scholar site. It was an exciting find for me because:
I had never seen these documents before, and I’ve seen a heck of a lot of Gold King documents; and,
These date back to between 1917 and 1925 — long after the mine’s heyday. Because the mine was struggling during this time, there wasn’t a lot of press in the local newspapers about it; and,
They contain the best mine cross-section diagram that I’ve seen from the days that the mine was still active.
In other words, it’s just an additional handful of esoteric ore to add to the pile. But more than that, these documents are important because they could help answer the enduring question: From where does the water now draining from the Gold King Mine originate? To understand why the answer to that question is critical — and why it’s so hard to come by — you’ll have to read my book.
What we do know is that prior to the plugging of the American Tunnel by the Sunnyside Gold Co. with three bulkheads placed in 1996, 2001, and 2003, the Gold King Mine Level #7 was dry. Sometime after the bulkheads were placed, the Gold King adit (opening to the mine) began draining increasing amounts of acidic, metal-loaded water. It was this same water that came gushing out on that fateful day in August 2015.
It may seem like an open-and-shut case in which Sunnyside’s bulkheads are causing water that had drained from the American Tunnel to back up inside the mountain and enter into the Gold King Mine. And it is. But what is not known is which bulkhead(s) is/are causing the problem. And only when we know that will we know whose water is ending up in the Gold King Mine. Is it leaking in from the Sunnyside Mine pool? Or is it water that would have ended up in the Gold King Mine prior to the construction of the American Tunnel in the early 1900s?
It’s complicated, in other words, and explaining all of the intricacies would take, well, a book.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find the answer in these new (to me) documents, although there were a few small clues. I did managed to glean a few nuggets from the reports, however, such as:
I had read in other documents that the Gold King folks had drilled the American Tunnel into Bonita Peak some 6,225 feet before work was halted. But the pictured map from 1918 says the tunnel was 7,000 feet deep at the time (which would have put it directly under the Gold King).
Colorado mining reports indicated that the mine last produced ore in 1924 before shutting down altogether. But among these papers was a receipt apparently showing a shipment in December 1925.
And, finally, the clue to the aforementioned mystery. Though it’s a bit tangled, the text pictured below (from 1923) indicates that there was a lot of water encountered in Level #7 at one time, and that the water, instead of draining out of the Level #7 adit, was apparently “deep drained” by the American Tunnel. This lends more support to the notion that the water now draining out of the Gold King is “Gold King water,” rather than “Sunnyside water.”
Here’s the release from the Utah Department of Natural Resources (Kim Wells:
After reviewing and incorporating over 330 public comments, the Utah Division of Water Resources has finalized regional water conservation goals. Goals were established for nine regions around the state for municipal and industrial (M&I) water conservation. M&I includes residential, commercial, institutional (for example, schools and parks), and industrial water use, and excludes agriculture, mining and power generation.
“We appreciate all those who took the time to review the goals and share their opinions,” said Division of Water Resources Director Eric Millis. “There were some insightful comments, which were incorporated into the report. There is always value in soliciting public input.”
Although the numbers did not change, the comments improved the readability of the report including text clarifications that make the report better. All 334 comments and the division’s response to them are included in Appendix J of the report. The comments were collected during a 30-day comment period that ran from Aug. 27-Sept. 25.
The goals vary by region. When every region reaches its goal, a 16% water use reduction will be realized by 2030. This approach allows the goals to be tailored to each region’s characteristics.
“When you look at the amazing variety we have in our great state – from southern Utah’s red rocks to the Alpine mountains in the north – targeting goals for a specific region allows the goals to account for things like climate, elevation, growing season and specific needs,” said Millis. “It’s a more local and customized approach.”
“The regional goals replace the ‘25% by 2025’ goal. They also build on the previous statewide goal and will require everyone to do their part to conserve this precious resource,” said River Basin Planning Manager Rachel Shilton. “Every step counts and water conservation needs to become a way of life for all Utahns.”
Utah’s previous statewide conservation goal of reducing per-capita use 25% by 2025 was introduced by Gov. Gary Herbert during his 2013 State of the State address. (Gov. Mike Leavitt first set a target to use 25% less water by the year 2050 back in 2000.) Utahns were making great progress on the water conservation front, so Herbert challenged Utahns to cut the time in half. The regional goals are designed to continue to improve the state’s conservation efforts.
To formulate the regional water conservation goals, the Division of Water Resources first gathered public input. During fall 2018, over 1,650 people participated in a water conservation survey, and eight open houses across the state were held. After public input was tallied, a team consisting of water providers, members from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, and Water Resources staff worked with a third-party consultant to provide input on the region-specific goals. Public input was gathered during a 30-day comment period, reviewed and incorporated.
“These goals will help guide the state’s water managers in planning future infrastructure, policies and programs consistent with Utah’s semiarid climate and growing demand for water,” said Millis. “They will also be used to plan conservation programs.”
The 2020 draft budget for the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) was presented to its governing board on Oct. 24.
In the General Fund, the draft budget lists total revenues at $1,116,750 while total expenses are projected to be $1,180,184, leading to an projected ending balance in the General Fund of $900,878 — a projected 7 percent decrease from last year.
Capital projects and contingency are projected to increase 23 percent, going from $10,000 to $12,250, with PAWSD Director of Business Services Aaron Burns ex- plaining that the $2,250 increase is due to an equipment replacement.
That piece of equipment is a GPS unit that is used for locating infrastructure, Burns noted.
In regard to the 7 percent decrease in the General Fund bal- ance, Burns explained that this is related to added expense with a board election year with three seats up for election.
He added that this is also combined with the regular internal transfer of funds to both enterprise funds of the district.
The Debt Service Fund for 2020 is projected to have a beginning fund balance of $22,812, a 42 percent decrease from last year; the ending fund balance for PAWSD’s Debt Service Fund is projected to be $45,229 which is a 98 percent increase from last year’s total.
The 42 percent decrease in the Debt Service Fund’s beginning fund balance is related to a transfer of interest revenue during 2019 to the enterprise funds, Burns noted, while the increase in the Debt Service Fund’s ending fund balance is also related to the projected 2020 interest revenue.
“A transfer to the Enterprise Funds will also be added to the budget for 2020,” Burns wrote in an email.
PAWSD’s Water Enterprise Fund beginning fund balance is projected to have an 8 percent increase, going from $5,534,767 to $5,950,480; the ending fund balance is projected to have a 7 percent increase, going from $5,930,807 to $6,327,892.
Within PAWSD’s 2020 draft budget, water treatment expenses are projected to increase 33 percent, from $903,701 to $1,199,368, and water distribution expenses are projected increase 41 percent, from $957,780 to $1,353,500.
Water treatment costs are projected to increase due to a replumbing project at the San Juan Water treatment plant that would allow for automatic switching from reservoir and river water sources; other items related to this increase are the addition of an employee and some structural repair work, Burns described.
The 41 percent increase for wa- ter distribution was described by Burns as being “skewed slightly.”
“Because actual expenses related to water line replacement and repair were lower than budget in 2019 and we are budgeting for the replacement and expansion of the Putt (sic) Hill water tank in 2020,” he wrote.
Capital projects are projected to be down 38 percent, from $896,502 to $553,510, which Burns explained UV project at the San Juan plant; Burns noted that this project appeared in PAWSD’s budget in 2019.
Within PAWSD’s Wastewater Fund, the beginning fund balance is projected to have an 18 percent increase, going from $2,552,203 to $3,017,909; Burns explained that this increase is because of actual expenses in 2019 being lower than budgeted.
The ending fund balance for PAWSD’s Wastewater Fund is also projected to have an increase, of 4 percent, going from $3,007,349 to $3,117,206.
Within the Wastewater Fund, tap fees are projected to increase by 13 percent, from $28,860 to $32,500, which Burns again noted is because of the 2019 actual figure being slightly lower than the normally budgeted figure used in 2020.
Wastewater collection is projected to go from $706,800 to $927,856, a 31 percent increase, according to the draft budget.
“The District is planning for increased investment in repairing it’s (sic) sewer collection system which will involve the systematic rehabilitation of lift stations and resealing key areas of the system to combat water infiltration during the snowmelt months of the spring,” Burns explained.
Wastewater treatment is projected to have a 24 percent increase from $646,270 to $802,080, accord- ing to the draft budget.
Burns explained that this projected increase is due to mandates made by the state that require effluent testing; this also includes the addition of another employee as well, Burns noted.