In November 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chief of Staff, Matt Fritz, established an agency team to conduct an After-Action Review of EPA’s response to the Gold King Mine (GKM) release that occurred on August 5, 2015. The team, comprised of employees from across the agency, interviewed over a hundred people and reviewed a large volume of documents to identify lessons learned and develop recommendations for the Administrator’s consideration. Among the documents reviewed were after-action reports from previous emergency responses, which showed that some of the issues identified at Gold King Mine were not new. On December 21, 2015, the After-Action Review Team submitted its report detailing ten specific recommendations to improve how the agency responds to emergency incidents and to ensure a highly effective EPA Emergency Response Program that can adapt quickly to dynamic, unpredictable situations. These recommendations, shown in Appendix A, were:
Recommendation 1: Establish a National Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) at EPA.
Recommendation 2: Institute Senior Official training plan.
Recommendation 3: Institute ICS key leadership training plan.
Recommendation 4: Establish an agency data and information management team.
Recommendation 5: Improve data and information posting and communications.
Recommendation 6: Establish Communications Strike Teams and broaden data training for PIOs and public affairs staff.
Recommendation 7: Invest in data resources and clarify roles/responsibilities.
Recommendation 8: Build capacity for rapid data collection, interpretation, and dissemination.
Recommendation 9: Align public affairs resources and update communications procedures.
Recommendation 10: Improve notification procedures, plans, and equipment.
The EPA outlined its efforts in a report posted on its website late Friday afternoon called “In the Rearview Mirror: Implementation of the Gold King Mine After-Action Review.”
The EPA’s chief of staff announced the changes in February 2016, after the agency took responsibility for the release of metal-laden water from the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015.
The changes were based on a December 2015 after-action report that made 10 recommendations focused on improving its emergency response and communications that the EPA has worked on, the review stated. The original after-action report did not seem to have been posted on the EPA’s website when it was finished. EPA officials did not immediately respond to request for comment on the review Saturday.
The review recommended the agency continue funding emergency management training and positions created as a result of the changes. But it did not list specific budget expenses.
A national emergency response team was trained by December 2016 and it will be deployed to mine spills or releases that the EPA has caused or is directly involved in, or when an event involves multiple EPA regions.
“Quick and effective response to incidents reduces the risk to public safety, environmental damage and potential legal liability,” the report said.
To improve communications, the EPA plans to develop three teams of six that will assist with breaking down complex and technical information. When a team is deployed, they will not communicate with the public but will work behind the scenes.
Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina could not comment on the report, but she acknowledged that there were challenges with EPA communications after the Gold King Mine spill.
“We tried to work through those as situations arose,” she said.
During emergencies, the EPA also plans work with federal, state, local, tribal, trust territory and other partners on development and release of all materials.
Effectively communicating data with the public was another focus of the EPA, and it calls for eliminating the time lag between the EPA receiving data and communicating it to the public.
Residents and local officials were frustrated with the slow pace of metals sampling and interpretation of the data.
This data was needed to determine whether the river could be reopened and used for drinking, agriculture and recreation.
Distrust of the EPA’s data led some residents of the Navajo Nation to keep their irrigation ditches closed, causing lost crops, because they didn’t want to risk using the contaminated water.
The Office of Emergency Management has hired a coordinator to help the EPA with data, and the review solicits funding for training and workshops.
Agency workers also updated their contact lists for tribal governments and plan to update those lists annually.
The agency also updated training for senior leadership on what their role is during an emergency. Satellite communications systems were also upgraded for those working in the field.
After the spill, the EPA team was trapped without cellphone service or a satellite phone and this delayed communications with the state by almost two hours.
FromThe Farmington Daily Times (Magdalena Wegrzyn , Leigh Black Irvin , Joshua Kellogg and Noel Lyn Smith):
Federal lawmakers, tribal leaders and state and local officials presented a rare unified front today as they vehemently denounced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that it will not pay more than $1.2 billion in claims filed against it in response to the Gold King Mine spill.
The EPA said the Federal Tort Claims Act prevents the agency from paying claims that result from “discretionary” government actions. Congress passed the law to allow government agencies — and in this case, contractors working on their behalf — to act “without the fear of paying damages in the event something went wrong while taking the action,” according to a press release from the EPA.
Three federal lawmakers representing New Mexico denounced the news in a joint statement, calling the agency’s reasoning a “shameful legal interpretation of liability.” Meanwhile, Navajo Nation officials questioned who would take responsibility for reimbursing tribal members hurt by the spill, which on Aug. 5, 2015, released more than three million gallons of toxic wastewater into a tributary that feeds the Animas River, which flows into the San Juan River, ultimately emptying into Lake Powell.
The EPA said the work contractors conducted at the mine near Silverton, Colo., is considered a “discretionary function” under the law.
Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrats, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., issued a statement saying they would continue pushing for legislation to hold the EPA accountable. They also said it would be up to the courts to determine whether the EPA’s defense is legitimate.
Heinrich said in a phone interview that he intends to introduce legislation to ensure the EPA pays claims that have already been filed, as well as future claims.
“I’m going to speak to all of the senators from Colorado and Arizona, and we’re going to introduce legislation to do this right,” he said.
An EPA agency official said paying the claims would discourage cleanup efforts — such as the one being conducted at the Gold King Mine when it was breached — in the future…
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the tribe will continue pursuing its lawsuit against the EPA and several other entities. He said the tribe plans to work with president-elect Donald J. Trump’s administration to address claims tied to the spill.
“It doesn’t stop here,” Begaye said shortly after attending an inauguration ceremony in Shiprock for recently elected Northern Agency chapter officials. “This is one step, and we will continue taking the next step and if we have to, we’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court.”
An EPA official said 73 claims related to the mine spill were filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Four were from governmental agencies and the rest were from individuals and companies…
Joe Ben Jr. served as the Shiprock Chapter’s farm board member when the spill occurred. Ben, a farmer himself, said he did not file a claim but knows several other farmers who submitted claims for lost crops and revenue…
… collecting compensation doesn’t weigh heavily on [Earl] Yazzie. Instead, the farmer said he’s more concerned about whether to plant crops this spring and if he’ll irrigate with water from the San Juan River…
Included in the $1.2 billion is about $154 million in tort claims that are part of a lawsuit filed by the state of New Mexico, according to the EPA official. She said the EPA’s defense will be used in court to deny payment of those claims…
The EPA official acknowledged the announcement was slow in coming, adding “we spent a lot of time trying to see if there was any other way to address this because this is obviously an answer that leaves a lot of people unhappy who have been hurt.”
Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Christie St. Clair):
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) posted the final fate and transport report for the Gold King Mine (GKM) release. The report focuses on understanding pre-existing river conditions, the movement of metals related to the GKM release through the river system, and the effects of the GKM release on water quality. The research supports EPA’s earlier statements that water quality in the affected river system returned to the levels that existed prior to the GKM release and contamination of metals from the release have moved through the river system to Lake Powell.
“This report is a comprehensive analysis of the effects on water quality from the Gold King Mine release,” said Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “While data indicate that water quality has returned to pre-event conditions, EPA is committed to continue our work with States and Tribes in the river system affected by the Gold King Mine release to ensure the protection of public health and the environment.”
The area affected by the Gold King Mine release consists of complex river systems influenced by decades of historic acid mine drainage. The report shows the total amount of metals, dominated by iron and aluminum, entering the Animas River following the release — which lasted about nine hours on August 5, 2015 –was comparable to four to seven days of ongoing GKM acid mine drainage or the average amount of metals carried by the river in one to two days of high spring runoff. However, the concentrations of some metals in the GKM plume were higher than historical mine drainage. As the yellow plume of metal-laden water traveled downstream after the release, the metal concentrations within the plume decreased as they were diluted by river water and as some of the metals settled to the river bed.
There were no reported fish kills in the affected rivers, and post-release surveys by multiple organizations have found that other aquatic life does not appear to have suffered harmful short-term effects from the GKM plume. The concentrations of metals in well-water samples collected after the plume passed did not exceed federal drinking water standards. No public water system using Lake Powell as a source of drinking water has reported an exceedance of metals standards since the release.
Some metals from the GKM release contributed to exceedances of state and tribal water quality criteria at various times for nine months after the release in some locations. Metals from the GKM release may have contributed to some water quality criteria exceedances during the spring 2016 snow melt. Other exceedances may reflect longstanding contributions of metals from historic mining activities in the region and natural levels of metals in soils and rocks in the area. EPA will continue to work with states and tribes to interpret and respond to these findings.
Results from this analysis will inform future federal, state and tribal decisions on water and sediment monitoring. EPA will continue to work with states and tribes to ensure the protection of public health and the environment in the river system affected by the Gold King Mine release.
Read the final report, “Analysis of the Transport and Fate of Metals Released From the Gold King Mine in the Animas and San Juan Rivers”: https://cfpub.epa.gov/si/si_public_file_download.cfm?p_download_id=530074
The 2015 Gold King Mine spill deposited nearly 540 tons of metals over a 9-hour period into Cement Creek, which feeds into the Animas River, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday in it final report on the scope and ongoing effects of the spill.
The EPA estimated that roughly one percent of the metals, mostly iron and aluminum, contained in the spill came from the mine, with the rest coming from the waste piles on the hillside below the mine adit and the stream bed of Cement Creek.
The study states “the volume of the GKM release was equivalent to four to seven days of ongoing GKM acid mine drainage,” or “one to two days of high spring runoff.”
But, as indicated in previous tests, the river returned to pre-spill levels.
There have been no reported fish kills or significant impacts on other aquatic life, but the EPA will continue to monitor the waterways impacted by the spill, the agency said Friday in a release.
The study also looked at water quality in the Animas to see if it had returned to pre-event conditions and if the impacts of the spill itself had long-term detrimental ramifications on the river given the history of mining in the region…
“The research supports EPA’s earlier statements that water quality in the affected river system returned to the levels that existed prior to the GKM release and contamination of metals from the release have moved through the river system to Lake Powell,” the release said.
Following Aug. 5, 2015 spill, the concentration of contaminants exceeded water quality standards in multiple locations impacted.
This necessitated the building of an interim water treatment plant at Gladstone that was mandated to operate through November 2016, said Cynthia Peterson, community involvement coordinator for the Bonita Peak Mining District. The EPA concluded a public comment session on Dec. 14 regarding the future of the treatment plant, and will release a final decision by the end of January, Peterson said. But the EPA has a preferred course of action.
“EPA’s preferred plan for the water treatment plant is for its continued operations and to look at additional options in the future as we understand more about the nature and spread of the contamination,” she said.
The agency also is conducting remedial investigation to understand the impact of the 48 sites in the mining district, which was named a Superfund site in September, on river contamination, Peterson said. This represents the first step before clean-up operations can begin.
From the Associated Press (Matthew Daly) via The Farmington Daily Times:
Agency says only 1 percent of the metals came from inside the mine and the rest were “scoured” from waste piles on nearby hills and stream beds
Nearly 540 tons of metals — mostly iron and aluminum — contaminated the Animas River over nine hours during a massive wastewater spill from an abandoned Colorado gold mine, the Environmental Protection Agency said today in a new report on the 2015 blowout that turned rivers in three states a sickly yellow.
The total amount of metals entering the river system was comparable to levels during one or two days of high spring runoff, although the concentration of metals was significantly higher at the spill’s peak, the report said.
In February, the EPA estimated the amount of metals in the release at 440 tons. The agency said additional data and improved analysis resulted in the higher final estimate.
The EPA said its research supports earlier statements that water quality in the affected river system has returned to pre-spill levels…
The EPA said in its report that only 1 percent of the metals came from inside the mine, while 99 percent were “scoured” from waste piles on nearby hills and stream beds. The iron and aluminum reacted with the river water to cause the eye-catching mustard color that was visible for days as the plume traveled down the river system into Lake Powell, the EPA said.
Besides iron and aluminum, the spill released manganese, lead, copper, arsenic, zinc, cadmium and a small amount of mercury into the river, the EPA said…
New Mexico Environment Secretary Butch Tongate accused the EPA of using the taxpayer-funded report to try to defend its actions. The state has sued the agency over the spill.
Colorado officials said they had no comment on the report. Utah officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“While data indicate that water quality has returned to pre-event conditions, EPA is committed to continue our work with States and Tribes in the river system affected by the Gold King Mine release to ensure the protection of public health and the environment,” Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s science adviser and deputy assistant administrator in its office of research and development, said in a statement…
The disaster, which turned the Animas River a toxic-looking yellow-orange, prompted concern and anger downstream, particularly in the Navajo Nation and New Mexico, where officials have been continually complaining about the spill’s water-quality impacts and have filed lawsuits against the EPA. The concentrations of some metals in the Gold King mine plume were higher than historical mine drainage, the EPA said in a news release announcing the report’s findings, but the impacts on water quality were not long lasting as some had worried…
There were no reported fish kills in the Animas or San Juan rivers, and the EPA says surveys have round that other aquatic life does not appear to have suffered any short-term impacts…
Also, the agency says the concentrations of metals in well-water samples collected after the 3 million-gallon spill’s plume passed through areas did not exceed federal drinking water standards. No public water system using Lake Powell as a source of drinking water has reported an exceedance of metals standards since the release, according to the EPA.
“Some metals from the GKM release contributed to exceedances of state and tribal water quality criteria at various times for nine months after the release in some locations,” the release said. “Metals from the GKM release may have contributed to some water quality criteria exceedances during the spring 2016 snow melt.”
However the EPA says other metal-level exceedances may reflect the longstanding mine drainage from the region’s historic sites as well as natural levels of metals in southwest Colorado’s soils and rocks. Silverton and its surroundings are now slated to get a federal cleanup of their leaching, historic mines under the EPA’s Superfund program.
The mines and mining sites in Silverton’s surroundings — including the Gold King — pour an estimated 5.4 million gallons of metal-laden waste into the Animas’ headwaters each day.
“Results from this analysis will inform future federal, state and tribal decisions on water and sediment monitoring,” the EPA release said, though it did not immediately elaborate.
The Durango City Council approved a long-awaited lease Tuesday that will allow the city to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse.
“We have been waiting for this to be on the agenda since 2009,” Mayor Christina Rinderle said.
The 25-year lease will now be sent to the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the property, for approval, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said in an interview.
The city agreed to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse because in 2008 Colorado Parks and Wildlife declined to do it.
The lease agreement is a big step, City Attorney Dirk Nelson said. But the city is not legally ready to open the property yet.
“This isn’t ours to open or close,” Councilor Dean Brookie said.
The city must annex the property; a planning-and-development memorandum of understanding must be signed; and necessary infrastructure, including a dock, must be built.
The city does not have a set time frame for opening the lake yet, Metz said.
“I can promise that we will make that known as soon as we can,” she said.
However, the lease will allow the city to make a good case for keeping some of the grants it has already received for construction of amenities around the lake, including a $3 million state grant that has not been completely spent, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
Another $285,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife will help pay for a boat dock, an overflow parking area and to chip seal the road from County Road 210 to the boat ramp, Metz said.
The lease between the Bureau of Reclamation and the city will allow Parks and Wildlife to fund these projects.
A grant through the Bureau of Reclamation is also paying for an entrance station where boats will be inspected. This construction is underway, and it will be completed in 2017, Metz said.
Once the lake is opened, the city expects user fees to cover the operation of the area, she said.
If the city faced a shortfall in operational revenue, the city and the Bureau of Reclamation would split that cost, but only if the money was approved by the City Council and the U.S. Congress, she said.
Similarly, the city and the bureau could split the cost of future construction projects, she said.
The cost-sharing is specified in the lease, she said.
However, the bureau will own any structures that it funds, according to the lease.
As part of its management plan, the city plans to annex the 1,500 acres of surface water, about 500 acres of land on the east side of the lake, as well as a narrow band of land around the whole lake. This will allow city police officers to patrol the area.
A swimming beach, natural surface trails, camping and picnic areas are planned for the annexed area, but they will be phased in later.
Limiting the annexation to certain areas is meant to protect archaeological sites, Metz said.
During a December meeting of the Natural Land Preservation Advisory Board, Metz said that a plan to manage hunting near the lake must also be agreed upon as part of the preparation to open the lake.
While hunting would not be allowed on annexed land, it could be allowed on adjacent land.
The city plans to work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on hunting management, Metz said.
The lake could offer an area for water fowl hunting that isn’t available close to Durango, said Steve McClung, representing Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a nonvoting member natural land board.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Aquatic Life Discovered on Mineral Creek Above Silverton
Recent studies by Mountain Studies Institute and the USGS on Upper Mineral Creek have found an improving macroinvertebrate population and a naturally reproducing brook trout population. For the past 20 years, this stretch was devoid of aquatic life. The Animas River Stakeholder Group has conducted a dozen mining remediation projects above that reach on Mineral Creek, which has dramatically improved water quality. ARSG will request that the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission make an aquatic life designation under the Clean Water Act for that segment of Mineral Creek. Congratulations to ARSG and its many partners for this water quality remediation success!
Two members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are pressing the Environmental Protection agency to fully reimburse state, local and tribal agencies for the cost of responding to a toxic mine waste spill triggered by the EPA.
Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton said Monday a law passed this month removed some of the obstacles the EPA cited in turning down $20.4 million in requests.
The EPA says it paid $4.5 million in claims but rejected the others, in some cases because the costs came after a cutoff date set by the agency. The EPA said it was following federal law.
An EPA-led crew inadvertently triggered the spill at the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while doing preliminary cleanup work in August 2015.
Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted.
The 2017 budget, as proposed by the finance department, is $31.06 million, a 2.5 percent decrease from last year’s budget, and a roughly 6 percent increase from the revised 2016 budget. That includes the general fund, enterprise funds and intergovernmental funds.
According to city manager Shane Hale, the 2017 budget includes funds that are being carried over from 2016 projects the city didn’t finish by year’s end. The new fiscal year begins Jan. 1.
The approved budget did not include new taxes or tax raises, and the city’s mill levy stayed at 1.21 mills per $1,000 of assessed value property…
The biggest fee increase came from the public works department, which proposed to increase water rates in 2017 by 15 percent. The base rate for a residential ¾-inch water meter will be bumped from $17.20 to $19.80 per month, and tap fees will go up from $4,190 to $4,819 for ¾-inch water taps. Johnson said the increase will help his department pay for several projects in 2017, including repairs on a major water line that pumps in water from outside the town.
“It’s an investment for our customers in their own infrastructure,” Johnson said…
Water: About $3.48 million has been budgeted for 2017, up from $3.28 million, an increase of 6.2 percent.