FromThe Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Broomfield Enterprise:
Company officials say tests show contaminants did not exceed state standards for surface water
Contaminated water has been seeping into Sand Creek just up from where it meets the South Platte River near the Suncor Energy oil refinery north of Denver, and company officials on Wednesday said they were monitoring conditions and “will make any necessary repairs” to a spill containment pool behind sandbags where crews were pumping out water.
A sheen of benzene and other chemicals was detected on the surface of Sand Creek on May 7 and again on May 15, company officials said.
Sunday’s heavy rains raised water levels along the creek, leading to a breach of the containment area.
Suncor contractors have drawn water samples from Sand Creek and the South Platte, and tested these for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and methyl tertiary butyl ether, company officials said. The results showed concentrations did not exceed state standards for surface water in those waterways, officials said.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials did not respond to queries about conditions at the refinery. It is located just north of Denver in Commerce City, along the creek and the Sand Creek Greenway public bicycle path, near where the creek flows into the South Platte.
“Who is watching this?” Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said. “I’m concerned about the problems that continue to occur.”
The Narrows is one of a handful of small parks owned and operated by Larimer County in the Big Thompson Canyon, now known as the Big Thompson Parks. They opened for the season on May 15, most of them for the first time since the 2013 floods devastated the canyon.
“This is a big milestone for us,” said Chris Fleming, Big Thompson district manager for the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources.
The Big Thompson Parks start just west of Loveland with Glade Park and continue 17 miles west along U.S. 34 including Narrows, Forks and Sleepy Hollow. Over the past seven years, Larimer County worked with other land agencies to restore these parks properties to allow for river access…
The Big Thompson River is home to native trout, and forests and wildlife surround the water.
The parks are different than they used to be before the flood, but they are open.
Glade, for example, previously had a parking lot and picnic area. Now, there is a pullout and a path to the river for fishing.
Narrows is accessed by a small pull-out and features a short trail to the water’s edge.
Most of the land in the park is fenced off with signs that it has been planted by the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition as part of a restoration project. But there is access to the river, and a peaceful place to fish, to picnic without tables, to read a book or to sit and watch the birds fly and the water flow…
The Forks, which is just east of Drake, is probably the most dramatic change. A moonscape after the flood, the park now has a paved parking lot and bathroom, stairs down to the river and a rocky bank to walk along and fish. During the reconstruction of U.S. 34, the park was essentially home base for construction crews and filled with mounds of construction materials.
It no longer has picnic tables, but people can access the river and enjoy nature there.
A dam failure and a flood, in the middle of a global pandemic: it’s a worst-case scenario.
A dam failed in Michigan [May 19, 2020], forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes. The Edenville Dam, which failed, and the Sanford Dam, which was compromised, are on the Tittabawassee River, a tributary of the Saginaw River. The failures followed days of heavy rainfall and sent floodwaters into downstream communities. Residents of Edenville, Midland and Sanford were evacuated.
A dam failure and a flood, in the middle of a global pandemic: it’s a worst-case scenario. The immediate focus needs to be protecting public health and safety. Governor Whitmer encouraged people to seek shelter with friends or relatives, and to take precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
How did this happen?
Why did these particular dams fail? Was it because of heavy rains? Climate change? Faulty, aging infrastructure? Lack of action by the dam owner? Right now, we know the following:
The Edenville Dam was plagued by concerns and safety violations. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked its hydropower license in 2018 due to concerns that the dam could not withstand a significant flood. FERC flagged problems for the dam’s owner starting in 1999.
Climate change is bringing more severe and frequent flooding at a time when our nation’s infrastructure is aging and outdated.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has repeatedly given our nation’s dams a grade of D in their “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” – citing age, downstream development, dam abandonment and lack of funding for dam safety programs. More dams will fail, endangering people and property, unless we act to repair essential infrastructure and remove dams that no longer make sense. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates there are more than 2,000 high-hazard dams nationwide in deficient condition.
The dam failure in Michigan isn’t the first “wake up call” when it comes to the need to address aging infrastructure. Dozens of dams failed in the Carolinas five years ago; thousands of residents were evacuated due to the partial failure of nation’s tallest dam, Oroville Dam on the Feather River, three years ago; and last year the Spencer Dam failed in Nebraska forcing evacuations. These disasters aren’t specific to one region, they are impacting communities nationwide.
While we’re still learning about the specifics of this disaster which is still unfolding in Michigan, the following three actions are necessary to protect communities in the future:
Increase, don’t decrease, public safety and environmental safeguards – The safety of federally licensed hydropower dams is overseen by FERC. While FERC revoked the dam’s license in 2018 due to safety concerns, that clearly was not enough to prevent this week’s catastrophe. Moreover, on the same day the dams failed, President Trump signed a new executive order to roll back more regulations under the guise of restarting the economy. Further gutting the regulations that safeguard human lives and safety and protect the environment is the wrong way to produce a sustainable economic recovery.
Strengthen evaluation and enforcement – Michigan has a working dam safety program. Even so, state dam safety offices are historically underfunded with a limited number of staff responsible for inspecting thousands of dams. We must improve these efforts by making it the responsibility of dam owners to inspect and maintain their dams; requiring more frequent, detailed inspections of deficient dams and increasing penalties for unsafe dams and violations; and, requiring dam owners to ensure that funds are available to repair or remove dams in the event they can’t or won’t meet safety standards. As communities continue to grow and development expands, many dams may also be misclassified as infrastructure and development increases downstream.
Increase funding for dam removal and water infrastructure – Dam removal can be the best way to address a dam that poses a safety risk. There are tens of thousands of dams across the country that no longer serve the purpose they were built to provide and whose removal could eliminate the cost and liability associated with owning a dam. Unless they are well maintained, their condition only gets worse every year. The most cost-effective and permanent way to deal with obsolete, unsafe dams is to remove them.
Healthy rivers are the lifeblood of our communities and our environment, and we depend on essential infrastructure to provide water, power and other services. It’s time to prioritize river protection, and investment in smart infrastructure. Our communities, our economy and our lives depend on it.
FromInside Climate News (James Bruggers, David Hasemyer and Bob Berwyn):
The flooding disaster in Michigan this week emphasized, in stark reality, the warnings by scientists that climate change is causing heavier and more frequent rainstorms in many parts of the country, including the upper Midwest.
Old dams are at risk of failing under the pressure of torrential rains. And in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s failure of two dams about 150 miles northwest of Detroit, about eight inches of rain fell in the watersheds that drain into the Tittabawassee River.
First the 1920s-vintage Edenville dam broke, sending water rushing down the river to Sanford Lake. That deluge overtopped and breached the Sanford Lake dam, officials said, prompting the evacuation of 11,000 people, the flooding of the city of Midland and the inundation of its sprawling Dow Chemical Company complex.
At the Dow plant, the water flooded a containment pond, prompting environmentalists to fear that a toxic brew could spill into the river. That could set back years of downriver cleanup of the pollution from more than a century of chemical production at Dow’s chemical manufacturing plant, they said.
In a statement on its Twitter feed, the company said the flooding at the plant posed no threat to the community. “The material from the brine pond does not create any risk to residents or the environment,” the statement said.
Scientists, environmental advocates, and dam safety experts said that the heavy rains were an example of the extreme weather that scientists have linked to climate change.
“We are seeing more rain, and more precipitation in general,” said Richard B. Rood, a professor of meteorology at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. “The other thing we have been seeing is individual events that are more extreme and more precipitation in general.”
He added, “That is especially true the last half-decade and is a trend that has been emerging for the last 50 years.”
Here’s the release from the USGS. Click through for all the links and a great animation of one reach of the stream below the dam failures:
U.S. Geological Survey field crews are measuring record flooding on the Tittabawassee River in Midland, Michigan, following a heavy rainfall event.
The USGS Tittabawassee River in Midland streamgage measured record water levels, called river stage, at about 35 feet on Wednesday. This level is the highest ever recorded during the streamgage’s 84 years of record, and exceeds the previous highest stage by about two feet. Water levels are beginning to recede as of this morning, and two two-person USGS crews are measuring streamflow in Grayling and Lansing. They also installed a rapid-deployment gage to provide backup to the permanent streamgage at the Midland site.
Strong storms passed through parts of the Midwest starting last Thursday, causing minor-to-major flooding in some lower Michigan locations. On Tuesday, May 19, two large dams on the Tittabawssee River failed in succession, causing two lakes upstream of Midland to drain. The USGS crews will continue to monitor water levels and streamflow as flooding continues.
Elsewhere in Michigan, the USGS Rifle River streamgage near Sterling crested on Tuesday with a record streamflow of 7,460 cubic feet per second. There are currently four additional single-person crews measuring streams throughout lower Michigan, and they will continue to monitor flooding for at least another day.
Information collected by the USGS during flooding is critical for resource managers and emergency responders to help protect life and property. The USGS coordinates efforts with the National Weather Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and many local and state partners.
There are about 200 streamgages in Michigan that measure water levels, streamflow and rainfall. When flooding occurs, USGS crews make numerous streamflow measurements to verify the data USGS provides to federal, tribal, state and local agencies, as well as to the public.
For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.
Access current flood and high flow conditions across the country by visiting the USGS WaterWatch website. Receive instant, customized updates about water conditions in your area via text message or email by signing up for USGS WaterAlert. See where floodwaters go by following a stream trace at Streamer. View water data on your mobile device. Learn how a USGS streamgage works.
Addressing flood risk after an area has already developed is complicated, expensive, and messy in every way you can imagine. This video will recap a challenging flood mitigation project that was 20 years in the making and contrast it with the Mile High Flood District’s modern approach to urban stream design – an approach we call High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams (HFLMS)
Stormwater and flood management utility capital projects are funded primarily by monthly user charges, with costs spread out using 20-year revenue bonds. The annual debt service payments associated with such bonds are factored into utility rates through the annual budget process. So, those of us living in Boulder pay for all of these projects on our water utility bills.
Examine your own bill to see your fixed monthly charge on the line “Stormwater/Flood.” The fee is used to support flood infrastructure, regulatory compliance, water quality monitoring and hazard programs. These fees have increased by 135% since 2013, and Boulder leads the area for the highest stormwater and flood rates, not surprisingly, since Boulder is the Colorado city most at risk for flash floods.
City staff presented details to the Water Resources Advisory Board on the preferred option, Variant 1, 100-year flood protection, which was found to have the least environmental impacts, the lowest cost, and the greatest probability of permitting feasibility through the various regulatory agencies. The cost of this version is projected to be $66 million. Other alternatives, a 200-year and a 500-year, are estimated at $93 million and $96 million, minimally a $27 million difference…
…three of the WRAB board members…and voted, with two other members dissenting, to accept the city’s preferred plan, suggesting that Council move forward into more detailed planning and engineering analysis. WRAB member Ted Rose said that “this is about acting, actually moving forward to protect our fellow citizens.” Board Chair Kirk Vincent and member Trisha Oeth, brought up equity concerns of differing flood protection levels across the community, the huge backlog in aging infrastructure, and the inability of many customers — renters, churches or schools — to afford rates that could double…
Planning Board is scheduled to review the plan next week, followed by the Open Space Board of Trustees and, finally, City Council, in June.
These days the Arkansas River doesn’t seem threatening as it ripples past Pueblo’s historic district. But in early June of 1921, it was a very different story. That’s when days of heavy rains combined with mountain snowmelt to catastrophic results…
Locomotives and train cars were responsible for a lot of damage; more than 1,200 were washed away, smashing through buildings. There were fires and vast amounts of mud. Telephone lines were out, leaving Pueblo cut off from the rest of the world. And the city was littered with the corpses of livestock, adding to public health concerns.
When the floodwaters receded, Puebloans got to work to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The engineers literally moved the Arkansas River about a half-mile to the southwest and built a massive levee to protect the city.
The former river channel through downtown languished for decades, becoming an eyesore for the city…
More than fifty years after the flood, a group of locals started working to change that, with the goal of making the old riverbed into a new attraction, something to help draw people downtown. Residents inspired by San Antonio’s River Walk worked with the conservancy district that controlled the river on an effort that took decades and resulted in the HARP, the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.