@EPA: Bonita Peak Mining District among Superfund sites targeted for intense and immediate attention. (Hope for funding.)

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

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Andrew Mutter/Lisa McClain-Vanderpool):

EPA announces elevation of 21 sites nationwide

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the list of Superfund sites that Administrator Pruitt has targeted for immediate and intense attention. The 21 sites on the list – from across the United States – are in direct response to the Superfund Task Force Recommendations, issued this summer, calling for this list.

“By elevating these sites we are sending a message that EPA is, in fact, restoring its Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the Agency’s mission,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Getting toxic land sites cleaned up and revitalized is of the utmost importance to the communities across the country that are affected by these sites. I have charged the Superfund Task Force staff to immediately and intently develop plans for each of these sites to ensure they are thoughtfully addressed with urgency. By getting these sites cleaned up, EPA will continue to focus on ways we can directly improve public health and the environment for people across America.”

In Colorado, the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) site is on the Administrator’s Superfund list for emphasis. EPA is currently working with the State of Colorado as well as its federal partners, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, to develop a Five-Year Plan that outlines cleanup activities and remediation objectives for the site. EPA is working closely with the local government and community stakeholders to ensure the interests of the community are met.

“We are heavily invested in achieving tangible water quality improvements in the Upper Animas watershed,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento. “EPA has a unique responsibility at this site and by placing it on this list we are recognizing that responsibility and ensuring the community that it is going to be a priority.”

While long-term planning continues, EPA is using an adaptive management approach at the site that supports early actions to improve water quality, stabilize mine features and address priority areas that pose a risk to human health. Through his hands-on engagement at the BPMD site, Administrator Pruitt will advance progress on site cleanup without expending additional taxpayer dollars.

“Today’s announcement to include the Bonita Peak Mining District site to the EPA’s Superfund “Emphasis List” is an important step forward,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We visited the site with EPA Administrator Pruitt in August and are encouraged by his follow through with resources and support to the agency’s cleanup efforts. This is in addition to other national priority list sites like the Colorado Smelter site in Pueblo, where important EPA cleanup actions also are underway. We look forward to working closely with the EPA, our communities and our Congressional delegation to remediate these sites.”

“Secretary Pruitt assured me when I met with him before his confirmation and when we visited the site in August that the EPA would make the right decision for the people of Southwest Colorado, and I appreciate his agency following through on their promise,” said Senator Cory Gardner. “The Gold King mine spill has had a significant impact on our state and there will continue to be a lot of work done by our elected officials and community. This latest commitment to the Bonita Peak Mining District along with continued attention to Colorado Smelter cleanup actions in Pueblo are important steps in the progress that needs to be made by the EPA at both locations.”

“We applaud the EPA’s decision to prioritize the Bonita Peak Mining District site, and we encourage them to keep working with state officials to secure funding for a local community liaison based in Silverton to improve coordination for the BPMD site among local, state, and federal governments,” said Senator Michael Bennet. “The administration and Congress should also work together to ensure all Superfund sites, including important clean-up efforts underway in Pueblo, have the resources and support they need.”

The Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) became a Superfund site on Sept. 9, 2016, when it was added to the National Priorities List. The site consists of historic and ongoing releases from mining operations in three drainages: Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and Upper Animas, which converge into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental concerns.

In developing this initial list, EPA considered sites that can benefit from Administrator Pruitt’s direct engagement and have identifiable actions to protect human health and the environment. These are sites requiring timely resolution of specific issues to expedite cleanup and redevelopment efforts. The list is designed to spur action at sites where opportunities exist to act quickly and comprehensively. The Administrator will receive regular updates on each of these sites.

The list is intended to be dynamic. Sites will move on and off the list as appropriate. At times, there may be more or fewer sites based on where the Administrator’s attention and focus is most needed. There is no commitment of additional funding associated with a site’s inclusion on the list.

EPA remains dedicated to addressing risks at all Superfund sites, not just those on the list. The Task Force Recommendations are aimed at expediting cleanup at all Superfund sites and Administrator Pruitt has set the expectation that there will be a renewed focus on accelerating work and progress at all Superfund sites across the country.

The Task Force, whose work is ongoing, has five overarching goals:

  • Expediting cleanup and remediation;
  • Reinvigorating cleanup and reuse efforts by potentially responsible parties;
  • Encouraging private investment to facilitate cleanup and reuse;
  • Promoting redevelopment and community revitalization; and
  • Engaging with partners and stakeholders.
  • The Task Force will provide the public with regular updates as it makes progress on the Administrator’s Emphasis list and other Task Force activities.
    The list of sites can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/superfund/superfund-sites-targeted-immediate-intense-action.

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    Many local and national officials saw the listing as the agency fulfilling commitments it made after the EPA in June 2015 released acid mine drainage into the Animas River watershed.

    “That is exactly what was promised to us when we signed up for the National Priority List,” San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay said of the recent announcement.

    Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Gov. John Hickenlooper also supported the announcement.

    While the list is expected to be dynamic, Benevento said the announcement signified a long-term commitment to the area.

    Inclusion on the list is not a commitment of additional funding, according to a news release. But it does place an obligation on the regional administrator to make sure the project manager has the resources that she needs, Benevento said.

    The EPA is working with Colorado, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to develop a five-year plan for the Bonita Peak area that outlines cleanup activities and remediation objectives, the release said.

    The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental concerns.

    Project Manager Rebecca Thomas expects human health and aquatic risk assessments to be finished in the spring and some cleanup work to start in the summer.

    San Juan County commissioners McCay and Scott Fetchenhier also said some sites could be cleaned up in the short-term.

    “There are a couple sites with tailings that could be cleaned up pretty quickly,” Fetchenhier said.

    McCay said understanding the flows of polluted water in the Gladstone area and how best to mitigate those is an immediate priority.

    From The Washington Post (Brady Dennis):

    The push is part of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s promise to prioritize the decades-old cleanup program, even as the Trump administration shrinks the size and reach of the EPA. The 21 sites highlighted by the agency span the country, from a former tannery site in New Hampshire to a contaminated landfill from the World War II-era Manhattan Project in St. Louis to an abandoned copper mine in Nevada…

    David Konisky, a political scientist at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, questioned how EPA put together the list of sites it released Friday.

    “I do find the rationale for inclusion on the list to be strange,” Konisky, who has written extensively about the Superfund program, said in an email. “The EPA selected sites based on the ability of the Administrator to help achieve an upcoming milestone or site-specific action. This strikes me as mostly about creating a credit-claiming opportunity for Pruitt, rather than prioritizing additional resources to sites where communities face the most significant health risks.”

    There are more than 1,300 Superfund sites nationwide, some of which have lingered for years on the EPA’s “national priorities list.” While Pruitt has repeatedly spoken about his focus on the program, calling it “vital” and a “cornerstone” of the EPA’s mission, critics have noted that the Trump administration has proposed slashing the Superfund budget by 30 percent. They also worry that a single-minded focus on speeding up the process at particular sites could result in inadequate cleanups…

    “It’s happy talk,” Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, told The Washington Post in the summer, noting how funding for the program has shrunk over time. “We have Superfund sites, but we don’t have a super fund.”

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    Pagosa Springs: Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership scores dough for two geothermal greenhouses

    Graphic via Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership.

    From the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership via the The Pagosa Daily Post (Sally High):

    The Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) will begin construction of two more growing dome greenhouses — the Community Garden Dome and the Innovation Dome — in spring 2018. These two domes will be installed next to the existing Education Dome in Pagosa Springs’ Centennial Park on a parcel leased from the Town of Pagosa Springs.

    The Colorado Water Plan (CWP) Engagement and Innovation Fund granted Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership $174,500 for the construction of the nonprofit organization’s second and third growing domes. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the CWP grant earlier in November. These funds, coupled with a $34,000 matching grant from Colorado Garden Foundation awarded last February, allow the GGP to fulfill its agreement to build three geothermal greenhouses.

    Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership is a volunteer-driven 501c3 educational organization, building a Pagosa-scale botanic park within Centennial Park on the San Juan River Walk. Its mission is “to educate the community in sustainable agricultural practices by producing food year-round using local renewable energy.” Demonstrating the value of Pagosa’s geothermal resource remains an organizational priority.

    The October 2017 Smart Growth America Report listed the GGP as an important amenity for the community. Both the Archuleta County Community Economic Development Action Plan and Downtown Colorado Inc. identified the GGP as a priority for downtown economic revitalization. With the Education Dome completed in 2016, the GGP began fulfilling its mission in 2017.

    In GGP’s first year of operations, the Education Dome and Amphitheater became busy gathering places. GGP hosted its 5th Colorado Environmental Film Festival Caravan in downtown Pagosa. Five Lifelong Learning Workshops explored various environmental issues and celebrated the biodiversity of the San Juan River Walk. Two well-attended special events included the first San Juan Sounds live concert and the 2nd Colorfest Breakfast with Balloons. Pagosa’s youth began horticultural activities and GGP’s volunteers nurtured an abundant garden for the community.

    2018 promises more classes, educational workshops and special events in Centennial Park. Children from 4-H, public and charter school classrooms, and home schools are already learning each week in the Education Dome. The 6th Environmental Film Festival is planned for mid-April. Lifelong Learning Workshops will include in-depth education about the wise use of Colorado’s water. Live music and performance are planned for the GGP Amphitheater, as well as the 3rd Colorfest Breakfast with Balloons.

    The Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership operates through a professional Board of Directors, numerous volunteers, five strategic committees and an enthusiastic membership base. GGP committees include (1) Soil, Seeds and Water; (2) Site; (3) Fundraising and Special Events; (4) Landscaping; and (5) Programming. An informational question and answer session for the community is planned for January 2018.

    Learn more at the GGP website at pagosagreen.org.

    Sally High is the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership Board President.

    The San Juan Basin Public Health Board of Health adopts new 2018 regulations governing on-site wastewater treatment systems

    Septic system

    From The Pagosa Sun (Claire Ninde):

    On Thursday, Nov. 16, the San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) Board of Health adopted new regu- lations governing on-site wastewa- ter treatment systems (OWTS) in Archuleta, La Plata and San Juan counties following a long stake- holder outreach process. These regulations will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

    On June 30, new statewide regu- lations went into effect for OWTS in Colorado. These regulations required all local public health agencies in the state, including SJBPH, to revise their local OWTS regulations to meet or exceed the minimum statewide standard. SJBPH conducted outreach beginning in the fall of 2016 with wastewater industry professionals, county planning commissioners, state regulators, the real estate community and many others to write a regulation that protects public health and water quality while providing certainty to the industry and to homeowners.

    The 2018 regulations include three major changes toward these goals:

    • Direct adoption of statewide design and construction standards to reduce confusion and provide consistency with neighboring counties;

    • Allowing more design options, including smaller active treatment systems, which may reduce costs for some homeowners and allow for septic systems to be more easily installed on dif cult sites;

    • Beginning in 2019, requiring that most properties served by an OWTS be inspected prior to sale, to identify and quickly repair fail- ing or hazardous systems, and to protect buyers from unforeseen and costly repairs. This require- ment is delayed to allow more time for property owners, real estate professionals and the wastewater industry to prepare for the new requirements.

    Farmington: #GoldKingMine advisory group meeting Monday, November 27, 2017 #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

    From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

    The New Mexico Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee will meet Monday evening in Farmington.

    According to the New Mexico Environment Department, the committee includes 11 citizen volunteers from northern New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation, and works with New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team to monitor and understand the long-term impacts of the 2015 Gold King Mine accident…

    Monday’s meeting will include a presentation on the area’s hydrogeology and geochemistry and provide an opportunity for public comment.

    In May, the team released a long-term monitoring plan for the Animas River.

    In addition to monitoring the impacts of the Gold King Mine spill, the work scientists are doing will help people understand how waste runoff from other mines affects surface and groundwater resources in the area. The work will also help identify how any future releases from abandoned mines might affect the Animas watershed.

    To read the plan click here. You can also find an associated, peer-reviewed study from the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources here.

    Monday’s meeting will begin at 5:30 and be held in the SUNS Room at San Juan Community College in Farmington. For more information: http://www.NMEDriverwatersafety.org or http://NMENV-Outreach@state.nm.us

    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

    Long Hollow Reservoir late season augmentation water working as planned

    Long Hollow location map via The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    In the 1960s, irrigators in southwestern La Plata County had their dreams dashed when plans for a major transmountain diversion, which would have taken water from the Animas River into the low-flow La Plata River, were quashed.

    The water project – called the Animas-La Plata Project – was considered the last major water storage effort in the American West. Then in 1990, the project was downsized again, removing plans for irrigation out of Lake Nighthorse.

    “That’s when we started thinking seriously about this,” said Brice Lee, president of the La Plata Water Conservancy District.

    Irrigators on the western side of the county have historically had to rely on the La Plata River, a generous moniker for a relatively low-flow waterway that is reduced to a trickle, and even dries up, after a short spring runoff.

    Yet despite the lack of natural flows, the water has been terribly over-appropriated.

    In the 1920s, Congress approved a water compact that requires the state of Colorado to deliver one-half of the daily flow of the La Plata River, measured at Hesperus, to the New Mexico state line for the use of irrigators to the south.

    However, Colorado, which must live up to those terms from Feb. 1 to Dec. 1, has not always made good on that requirement for a number of reasons, including drought and water demands.

    As a result, Long Hollow Dam was concocted in the 1990s, with construction starting in 2012. It cost nearly $23 million. Funds set aside from the Animas-La Plata Project paid for the 151-foot-high, 800-foot-wide dam.

    The reservoir, located along Colorado Highway 140, has a capacity of nearly 5,400 acre-feet – small change when you consider Vallecito Reservoir has a capacity of 125,000 acre-feet and Lake Nighthorse, also relatively new, has a capacity of 123,541 acre-feet.

    Still, the stored water in Long Hollow Dam functions as a win-win water exchange.

    About 100 to 150 irrigators in southwestern La Plata County can draw and divert water out of the La Plata River farther north of Long Hollow Dam.

    Then, to meet the terms of the compact, water is released from the Long Hollow Dam into the La Plata River, which takes water from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw, tiny tributaries of the La Plata River that drain 43 square miles east of Colorado Highway 140.

    Lee said thanks to strong winter snowfall and spring rains, Long Hollow Dam was able send 2,000 acre-feet to New Mexico this year. That means irrigators in southwestern La Plata County were able to use an additional 2,000 acre-feet out of the La Plata River.

    “We’re pretty pleased,” he said. “We had a good year.”

    The uptick in available water has had a predictably positive affect for ranchers and farmers, extending the growing season anywhere from 10 to 14 days – a vital extension in an industry that runs on margins.

    “This is helping families that were drying up and getting discouraged,” said Ron Crawford, a fourth-generation La Plata County resident who is in charge of dam maintenance.

    Taylor, whose father, Bobby, sold the land for the dam, said he was able to produce 30 to 40 percent more hay and grain than in years past because of the water Long Hollow Dam freed up.

    The November 2017 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

    Credit The Pagosa Daily Post.

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    San Juan Water Conservancy District Proposed Mill Levy a No-Go

    San Juan Water Conservancy District was disappointed in the results of the Tuesday election. SJWCD put forth a proposed mill levy (Ballot Measure 5A) to help fund the proposed San Juan Headwaters Project (previously known as Dry Gulch) raw water storage project. The measure did not pass.

    The District needed to pass this measure as a means to pay debt servicing on a $2 Million loan secured from the Colorado Water Conservation Board this past May. The loan is contingent on securing a revenue source sufficient to pay the loan back.

    The District knew, and this election confirmed, passage of a tax increase was an uphill effort. “The strategy we embarked on for this past election was educational. We truly felt that if we could inform voters that the failed effort to build a 35,000 acre foot reservoir that would cost $400 Million is not the same project now being proposed, which is an 11,000 acre foot reservoir costing $70 Million. Obviously, our education effort fell short,” stated Rod Proffitt, SJWCD President.

    “Since we have few options to improve our revenues, it is highly likely we will again propose a mill levy increase this coming year,” added Proffitt. In the meantime, the District is heavily involved in local efforts to implement the objectives of the Colorado Water Plan.

    Archuleta County voters turn down Ballot Issue 5A — San Juan Headwaters Project

    Credit The Pagosa Daily Post.

    From The Pagosa Sun (Randi Pierce):

    Ballot Issue 5A, the San Juan Water Conservancy District’s (SJWCD) request for an increase to 1 mill to help with the land acquisition for and support the San Juan River Headwaters Project reservoir, was soundly defeated Tuesday, with 75.44 percent of voters against the measure (2,697 votes).

    A total of 878 voters, or 24.56 per- cent, were in favor of the measure.

    SJWCD board chair Rod Proffitt indicated Wednesday morning the district knew it would be an uphill battle and will now obtain feedback on the loss at the polls and “proceed accordingly.”

    “The District was disappointed in the results, but we knew even when we negotiated the terms of the $2 Million loan with CWCB [the Colo- rado Water Conservation Board] that it would be a difficult challenge we might have to put in front of the vot- ers more than once,” Proffitt wrote in an email to SUN staff.

    Proffitt added, “The facts have not changed. In fact, the need for this water storage project is becoming more apparent. CWCB and PAWSD agree this community may face a serious demand supply gap as early as 2024. The Growing Water Smart Group that formed this past summer and committed to endorsing a 3 Mile Plan and a Watershed Management Plan as good ways to integrated better land use Planning and wise water conservation also determined the best, most important thing we can do is arrive at a set of data and popula- tions projections we can agree on by consensus, and then use for planning purposes by the various entities responsible for infrastruc- ture needs is (sic) the community.”