Owner of #GoldKingMine not happy with proposed cleanup solution — The Durango Herald

Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

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.

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

Albuquerque: New injection well installed for ASR

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

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.

Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District is working up a strategy improve odor control

Oxidizing/Polishing Dry Air Scrubber provide a two stage chemistry for the control of odors from hydrogen sulfide (H2S), mercaptans, ammonia, amines and other odors generated in wastewater collection and treatment systems. They are easy to use, effective and economic. Photo credit: Syneco Systems

From The Pagosa Sun (Randi Pierce):

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.

Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District board approves 2020 budget — The Pagosa Sun

Pagosa Springs. Photo credit: Colorado.com

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

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.

City of Durango plans temporary fix for dangerous rapids at Whitewater Park — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

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.

Durango whitewater park plans

Lake Nighthorse changing the game for annual bird count — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

…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.
  • Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Southwest #Colorado remains in severe #drought — The Cortez Journal

    West Drought Monitor December 24, 2019.

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    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.

    San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph December 30, 2019 via the NRCS.

    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.

    Colorado Statewide Snowpack basin-filled map December 30, 2019 via the NRCS.