Moab uranium tailings pile removal update

From Aspen Public Radio (Molly Marcello):

In a park, nestled in a red rock canyon outside Moab, Utah — a short drive from a giant pile of uranium tailings — a crowd gathered for a celebration. Elected officials and community members mingled, and enjoyed refreshments.

Volunteers placed pieces of yellow cake in small paper bowls.

It was a facetious nod to the gathering’s purpose: to celebrate the removal of 10 million tons of toxic uranium tailings from the banks of the Colorado River.

“You never would have thought you would have all these people congratulating themselves in the community on moving 10 million tons,” said Sarah Fields, executive director of the nonprofit Uranium Watch. “They seem to be really dedicated to getting this done.”

[…]

Before cleanup efforts began about 10 years ago, elevated levels of uranium and ammonia were showing up in the river’s water near Moab. The contamination alarmed officials downstream in Nevada and California, and they called for the Department of Energy to step in.

Getting the pile out of the floodplain became a community rallying cry as well, Fields said.

“The (Department of Energy) pretty much from the beginning realized that if they decided to leave it in place they would be standing alone because the town, the city, most of the members of the community, the state, the EPA all said, ‘Move the pile,’” Fields said.

Workers began moving the pile in 2009. The tailings are loaded into train cars, and sent 30 miles north where they’re stored away from the river in the middle of the desert. With the 10 millionth ton moved, more than 62% of the pile is gone, which means many Moabites could see completion in their lifetimes.

Morgan County, FEMA hold meeting about changes to floodplain maps, insurance rates — The Fort Morgan Times

The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Doug Larkey):

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, an informational meeting was held to inform residents along the South Platte River of the changes in the floodplain maps used by community officials, insurance providers and mortgage lenders.

This meeting was hosted by Morgan County Floodplain Administrator Pam Cherry. It was held in the Founders Room at Morgan Community College. Also present was Diana Herrera, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 8 senior insurance specialist…

Herrera spoke some about the impacts of changes to the floodplain maps to insurance rates.

“Mainly what we’re talking about is the map changes that are coming along the South Platte River,” she said, with the goal being “to let the property owners know what their risk is and how they can protect their financial interests.

There are some changes coming, she said.

“The cost of insurance outside the special flood area is about $500 a year for $250,000 on buildings and $100,000 on contents,” Herrera said. “Inside the high-risk area, there are a number of factors, how was it built, number of floors and age among other factors.”

She also said that there are changes coming to the National Flood insurance Program and for how flood insurance and risk for flood is factored…

“We are modernizing the National Flood Insurance Program, and sometime at the end of next year we are hopeful that we will be able to do an individual risk for flood,” Herrera said…

To learn more about the NFIP and flood insurance, call 1-800-427-4661 or contact an insurance company or agent.

#NM Environmental Department: Silver Wing Mine incident did not harm Animas River water quality in New Mexico — The Farmington Daily Times

Location map for abandoned mine near Silverton. The Silver Wing is in the upper right corner of the aerial.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

The additional discharge from the Silver Wing Mine into the Animas River did not have a negative impact on water quality, according to the New Mexico Environment Department.

The Silver Wing Mine discharged a larger amount of water than usual last week, causing some discoloration in the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado.

However, the discoloration was not visible downstream, and NMED does not see any evidence of negative impacts to water quality…

NMED has been monitoring water quality data for both turbidity and pH in the Animas River in Colorado and New Mexico. According to the slides, the Silver Wing Mine has not, to date, caused potentially harmful changes in turbidity or pH in the Animas River as it flows from Colorado into New Mexico at Cedar Hill.

Sliver Wing Mine: Photo credit: San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad

Another mine spills into Animas — The Navajo Times

Location map for abandoned mine near Silverton. The Silver Wing is in the upper right corner of the aerial.

From The Navajo Times (Cindy Yurth):

Both the New Mexico Environment Department and the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management reported today that they were notified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of a wastewater spill from the Silver Wing Mine in the area of Eureka Gulch, north of Silverton, Colorado, which occurred Wednesday afternoon.

According to the San Juan OEM, the spill was the result of a “burp” from the mine and is unrelated to either the Gold King Mine or the Bonita Peak Superfund site.

The source is 10 miles from the Animas River and the spill was expected to dilute by the time it reached Silverton. The spill was moving slowly and was expected to reach the San Juan River.

So far, “Data do not currently indicate any evidence of water quality impacts that could affect human health and the environment,” stated NMED in a press release, adding that the department will continue to monitor the situation.

Although the EPA has not issued a notice to close municipal drinking water supplies, the cities of Farmington and Aztec, New Mexico and the Lower Valley Water Users Association have shut off water intakes to municipal drinking water supplies “out of an abundance of caution.”

Neither the volume of the spill nor the contents of the water were known as of 4 p.m. Thursday. EPA officials were conducting tests to learn more.

Yolanda Barney, program manager for the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency’s Public Water Supply Program, said Thursday NNEPA is aware of spill and is still gathering information.

Sources in Durango, Colorado, reported Thursday the river appears normal.

Colorado abandoned mines

Basalt applies flood mitigation lessons learned in August flash flood — The Aspen Times

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Lessons learned from an Aug. 4 flash flood on the south side of Basalt Mountain educated a consortium of governments on what needed to be done to try to avoid a repeat performance.

A contractor for the town of Basalt is working at the intersection of Cedar Drive and Pinon Drive in the Hill District to better handle water spilling out of the Lake Christine burn scar…

He credited the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency, for looking at the road intersection and adapting a flood mitigation plan. The NRCS had to sign off on all work performed after the federal government awarded a $1.23 million Emergency Watershed Protection Program grant earlier in the year to Basalt, Eagle County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Basalt via Panoramio

Managing #stormwater and stream #restoration projects together — Phys.org

The City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department (OSMP) has begun a major restoration project that will improve native fish habitat in Boulder Creek and restore natural areas surrounding the creek. This ecological project also will repair damage from the 2013 floods by returning Boulder Creek to its pre-flood channel, and will include the planting of more than 11,000 native trees and shrubs. These plantings will help improve the creek’s sustainability and resiliency, and help mitigate damage to private and public property during future floods. These efforts are occurring in two areas east of Boulder. Photo credit the City of Boulder.

Click here to read the report (paywall). Here’s the abstract:

Urbanization alters the delivery of water and sediment to receiving streams, often leading to channel erosion and enlargement, which increases loading of sediment and nutrients, degrades habitat, and harms sensitive biota. Stormwater control measures (SCMs) are constructed in an attempt to mitigate some of these effects. In addition, stream restoration practices such as bank stabilization are increasingly promoted as a means of improving water quality by reducing downstream sediment and pollutant loading. Each unique combination of SCMs and stream restoration practices results in a novel hydrologic regime and set of geomorphic characteristics that interact to determine stream condition, but in practice, implementation is rarely coordinated due to funding and other constraints. In this study, we examine links between watershed-scale implementation of SCMs and stream restoration in Big Dry Creek, a suburban watershed in the Front Range of northern Colorado. We combine continuous hydrologic model simulations of watershed-scale response to SCM design scenarios with channel evolution modeling to examine interactions between stormwater management and stream restoration strategies for reducing loading of sediment and adsorbed phosphorus from channel erosion. Modeling results indicate that integrated design of SCMs and stream restoration interventions can result in synergistic reductions in pollutant loading. Not only do piecemeal and disunited approaches to stormwater management and stream restoration miss these synergistic benefits, they make restoration projects more prone to failure, wasting valuable resources for pollutant reduction. We conclude with a set of recommendations for integrated planning of SCMs and stream restoration to simultaneously achieve water quality and channel protection goals.

From Phys.org (Susan V. Fisk):

Both stormwater control and stream restoration are proven ways to reduce erosion along water channels. Often, though, each method is managed by a different urban land-management department, measuring different success values. Efforts are rarely coordinated due to funding and other constraints.

Rod Lammers and his colleagues at the University of Georgia looked at some computerized models to see if coordinating these land management practices with common goals might have a greater positive impact on erosion. The good news? It does.

First, let’s take a look at why stormwater management systems are necessary. In nature, precipitation falls onto forests, prairies and other soil-based areas. The water is soaked into the soil, down into the water table, and out into water bodies. Eventually, through evaporation, that water gets back into the atmosphere—until the next precipitation event.

In cities, though, pavement, rooftops, and other structures break the water cycle. City managers and engineers develop stormwater management systems to collect and move water in long tunnels, under buildings, and out to waterways. The more impermeable structures and the larger the area, the more complex the system must be…

Because this stormwater hasn’t been able to take advantage of soils’ natural ability to clean water, the water can be filled with sediment, and undesirable nutrients. These can take a toll on the stream habitats and harm sensitive ecosystems downstream. In addition, the larger runoff volumes and higher and more frequent peak flows can lead to stream bank erosion. The UGA study only looked at sediments and nutrients coming from the soil eroded in the channels.

Lammers and his team looked at newer stormwater management approaches, called green infrastructure. These types of structures attempt to allow more water to soak into the soil like a natural system. “We are essentially trying to ‘restore’ the city to a more natural water cycle,” says Lammers.

Each combination of stormwater controls and restoration projects results in its own improvements. However, “piecemeal approaches to stormwater management and stream restoration miss synergistic benefits,” says Lammers. “They make restoration projects more prone to failure, wasting valuable resources for pollutant reduction.”

Stormwater management programs often focus on peak flow rates of large, less frequent storms. They also attempt to removed suspended solids, as well and nitrogen and phosphorus.

Lammers’ team developed computerized models to predict the effects of three different stream restoration scenarios and three different stormwater treatment scenarios. Thus, there were scenarios with a combination of restoration and treatment techniques. Such an “experiment” in the field would take a long time and involve a lot of expense.

“Computer modeling is a powerful tool. We can test the relative success of different management approaches, over years or even decades,” says Lammers. “These results can then be used by agencies to help with their planning. Of course, modeling has its limitations. Monitoring the actual performance of stormwater practices and stream restoration is essential. They also have to adapt management approaches based on observed successes and failures.”

“Our results suggest that watershed-scale implementation of stormwater controls that reduce runoff volume is essential,” says Lammers. “The controls need to address a spectrum of storm sizes. This is a more effective approach for reducing channel erosion than stream restoration. Aggressive, early implementation may have resulted in even less pollution by avoiding erosion early on. Much like investing early in life leads to greater financial returns, early implementation of stormwater controls and restoration can result in greater water quality and channel stability benefits.”

“Stream restoration can complement effective stormwater treatment to reduce erosion and pollutant loading,” says Lammers. “However, these approaches should be coordinated to achieve the best results. In addition, stormwater controls have a much greater potential to reduce stream erosion than channel restoration. Cities need to address the root cause of erosion—the altered urban water cycle. That is more effective than only treating the symptoms by stabilizing the channel itself.”

Since this study was done in Colorado, future research could be done to apply similar approaches in different climates. Different rainfall patterns might result in different effectiveness of stormwater controls. Also, looking at different restoration strategies, like floodplain reconnection to reduce the velocity and erosive power of floods, would be interesting. Similarly, it would be useful to compare different stormwater control strategies, to see which perform best in different scenarios.

Delinquent stormwater accounts might be headed for tax liens — The #ColoradoSprings Independent

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Those who’ve thumbed their noses at Colorado Springs’ bills for stormwater controls could see a tax lien slapped on their property within a month or so.

The list headed for tax lien includes 110 non-residential tracts. No residential billings have yet exceeded the $200 threshold the city set for tax lien procedures.

City stormwater manager Rich Mulledy says he expects several commercial accounts to be made current within weeks, voiding a need to certify tax liens on those…

A tax lien means the bill will be attached to the annual property tax bill for payment to assure the city gets its money.

Mulledy notes the number of delinquent accounts represents less than 1 percent of all billings.