#Colorado Springs: Mayor Suthers’ report card 2 years in

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

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Usually curt and to the point, Suthers on this day stretches what was scheduled as a 30-minute interview into a full hour. Perhaps he wants to bask in his achievements — persuading voters to approve a $250-million, five-year sales tax increase for roads; creating a $460-million, 20-year agreement with Pueblo County to fund the city’s drainage needs, and subduing a once-rocky relationship between Council and the mayor’s office.

But Suthers is too pragmatic to rest on his laurels for long. While he talks in endearing terms about his hometown of Colorado Springs…

What is your long game on flood control, and what role will City Council play?

First of all, it’s more than flood control. Stormwater is both flood mitigation and water quality. The federal part of this case is all about water quality. The end game is to get a stormwater program that does right by the citizens of Colorado Springs and also meets all legal muster. And right now, the outstanding legal issue is with the federal and state government — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

My goal is to hopefully reach a resolution with them and then assess whether there’s any more money involved than the intergovernmental agreement calls for. And then at some point, with the cooperation of Council, go to voters with a long-term solution to stormwater. Absent a dedicated revenue stream, that [$460 million for the agreement with Pueblo] is going to come from the general fund. That will put a lot of pressure on the general fund.

So the long-term goal, hopefully with the assistance of Council, and I don’t know how we would pull it off without Council, is to go to the voters. That would provide a funding stream for stormwater and allow us to free up some general fund money for some other obligations I see coming down the pike.

Notably, we, I think in the next five to 10 years, have to significantly increase the size of the police department, put more officers on the street…

With Donald Trump in the White House, any chance there might be a settlement or dismissal of the [EPA and CDPHE lawsuit]?

Haven’t heard that at all. We had the first court hearing last week. We recommended going to a third-party mediator, which we think that’s in our interest, and the federal government rejected that. We think we have a great case to show for all the alleged sins of the past. We’re moving forward, and I’ll stack our stormwater program and commitments up to any city in Colorado, but [the lawsuit] is going forward.

Are water managers taking flood risk seriously enough? Should we plan for dam failure?

From The High Country News (Krista Langlois):

For the past several decades, paleo-hydrologist Victor Baker of the University of Arizona [has been studying the] flood history of the Colorado Plateau. [And] he’s found that floods much larger than any in recorded history are routine occurrences [and] he feels his research is being largely ignored by agencies and public utilities with infrastructure in the path of such floods.

Oroville spillway outfall February 11, 2017 below the catastrophic failure. Photo credit @ProComKelly.
Oroville spillway outfall February 11, 2017 below the catastrophic failure. Photo credit @ProComKelly.

Earlier this month, when a spillway at the nation’s tallest dam in Oroville, California, nearly buckled under the pressure of record rainfall, the consequences of under-estimating flood risks were brought into sharp relief. Dams aren’t built to withstand every curveball nature can throw — only the weather events that engineers deem most likely to occur within the dam’s lifespan. When many Western dams were built in the mid-20th century, the best science to determine such probabilities came from historical records and stream gauges.

But that record only stretches back to the late 1800s, a timespan Baker calls “completely inadequate.” Today, technology allows scientists to reconstruct thousands of years of natural history, giving us a much clearer picture of how often super-floods occur. “The probability of rare things is best evaluated if your record is very long,” Baker explains.

By combing the Colorado River, the Green River and others in the Southwest for sediment deposits and other flood evidence and then carbon-dating the results, Baker has concluded the short-term record severely underestimates the size and frequency of large floods. On the Upper Colorado near Moab, Utah, Baker and his team estimated the average 500-year flood at roughly 246,000 cubic feet per second, more than double the 112,00 cfs that scientists had estimated drawing on the stream gage record alone. Baker’s calculations put the 100-year flood at 171,000 cfs, also much greater than the previous estimate of 96,000 cfs. In comparison, legendary flooding in 1983 and 1984 that nearly overwhelmed Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam, just downstream, peaked at just 125,000 cfs. (The dam has been bolstered since then, and today engineers say it can handle flows up to 220,000 cfs.)

[…]

Does this mean dams like Oroville and Glen Canyon need to be fortified to withstand bigger storms? Officials from the Bureau of Reclamation are confident that Glen Canyon, at least, is equipped to handle even “extremely large hydrologic events.” And The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reluctant to apply paleo-hydrology research to existing infrastructure, in part because we’ve altered rivers so much that some Corps’ scientists believe ancient flood records are no longer realistic indicators of current risks.

But Baker believes it would be foolhardy to not at least create contingency plans for the possible failure of some of the West’s biggest dams. That Japanese officials were warned about Fukushima and didn’t act is “an embarrassment,” Baker adds. “We may have some similar things occurring in the United States, if we don’t seriously pay attention to this science.”

#AnimasRiver: @EPA — Cement Creek, #GoldKingMine, summer project plan

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

At the Animas River Stakeholders Group meeting in Silverton on Thursday, Superfund site project manager Rebecca Thomas told the 20 or so attendees the EPA has laid out a work plan for the summer.

Thomas said much of the work will be a continuation of last year’s activities, including collecting data and water samples, as well as looking at flow control structures at the Gold King Mine, the site of the EPA-triggered mine spill in August 2015.

The EPA also will install a pressure gauge system to monitor the bulkhead at the Mogul Mine, adjacent to the Gold King, which are both significant contributors of heavy metals into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

The EPA wants to install a ground monitoring well between the inner and outermost bulkheads at the American Tunnel, the drain for the Sunnyside Mine workings. It’s suspected the American Tunnel’s water level has reached capacity and could be responsible for increased discharges out of adjacent mines, such as the Gold King.

Thomas said crews will compile more data for the possible closure of the bulkhead at the Red & Bonita Mine, another contributor into Cement Creek. Specifically, EPA wants to better understand the water hydrology of the mine workings.

As for the EPA’s interim water-treatment plant at Gladstone that treats discharges out of the Gold King Mine, Thomas said the agency is looking at about six sites to store the mine waste.

“This is increasingly more important for us as we start to run out of room for sludge management (at Gladstone),” Thomas said.

She said there may be more than one location for the mine waste, and that the agency hopes to have that finalized by May.

Thomas added that the EPA is planning a few quick-action remediation projects at sites within the Superfund listing where there is an immediate benefit to the environment, water quality and managing adit discharges.

She said 27 of the 48 sites qualify for early-action remediation, which could include fixing mine waste ponds, remediating waste rock dumps or redirecting clean surface water away from known polluted areas.

“There’s no way we’re going to get all the work done, but the hope is to get some of the work done,” Thomas said.

The Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Forest Service – all working on the Superfund site – also listed a few projects they have planned for this year.

Most notably, the BLM has permission to undergo a pilot project with Texas-based Green Age Technologies to test a new treatment on mine wastewater that many in the stakeholders group have said holds promise for low-cost water treatment.

The BLM and Green Age will spend 21 days treating discharges out of the American Tunnel and Gold King Mine with a technology known as cavitation, which separates metal ions from water.

The EPA had promised the town of Silverton before the community supported Superfund designation that the agency would embrace new technologies for mine-waste treatment.

America’s Aging Dams Are in Need of Repair — @nytimes

Twentyone Mile Dam near Montello , Nevada broke in February 2017 and caused flooding to the Union Pacific Railroad line near Lucin, Nevada and flooded the town of Montello. Photo credit Deseret News.
Twentyone Mile Dam near Montello , Nevada broke in February 2017 and caused flooding to the Union Pacific Railroad line near Lucin, Nevada and flooded the town of Montello. Photo credit Deseret News.

From The New York Times (Troy Griggs, Gregor Aisch and Sarah Almukhtar):

Nearly 2,000 state-regulated high-hazard dams in the United States were listed as being in need of repair in 2015, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. A dam is considered “high hazard” based on the potential for the loss of life as a result of failure.

By 2020, 70 percent of the dams in the United States will be more than 50 years old, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“It’s not like an expiration date for your milk, but the components that make up that dam do have a lifespan.” said Mark Ogden, a project manager with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials…

Two weeks ago, heavy rains caused the Twentyone Mile Dam in Nevada to burst, resulting in flooding, damaged property and closed roads throughout the region.

The earthen dam, built in the early 1900s and less than 50 feet tall, is one of more than 60,000 “low hazard” dams, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Typically, failure of a low hazard dam would cause property damage, but it would most likely not kill anyone.

In 2016, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimated that it would cost $60 billion to rehabilitate all the dams that needed to be brought up to safe condition, with nearly $20 billion of that sum going toward repair of dams with a high potential for hazard.

In 2015, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, introduced the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act, an amendment to the National Dam Safety Program Act, to provide grant assistance to rehabilitate publicly owned dams that fail to meet minimum safety standards.

The bill is still pending, but it would not apply to a majority of the dams in the United States because more than half of them are privately owned. Oroville Dam is owned by the State of California, but the Twentyone Mile Dam is owned by Winecup Gamble Ranch, a cattle operation in northeastern Nevada.

While most legislation involves inspection and rehabilitation, hazardous dams that have outlived their usefulness can also be removed.

Denver: Councillor Espinoza hopes to join “Ditch the Ditch” lawsuit

Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin) Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).
Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin)
Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).

From The Denver Post (Jon Murray):

Rafael Espinoza opposed a series of big flood-control projects planned by Denver city officials as a city councilman — by voting last June against steep increases to storm drainage and sewer fees that are helping to pay for the work.

Now Espinoza has found a new way to voice his misgivings about one of the controversial projects. He was one of several residents who asked a judge’s permission late Tuesday to be added as plaintiffs to an ongoing lawsuit challenging the city’s plan to reshape much of City Park Golf Course. The city wants to create a storm water detention area on the course’s western portion that would fill up during heavy storms but remain part of the course.

Essentially, the councilman wants to sue his own city over the project — if a judge lets him.

“I voted against this (fee) increase because it missed the opportunity to not only address the stormwater drainage problems of District 1, but of the entire city,” Espinoza said in a statement Tuesday. “Instead, this project misappropriates the use of the public good to focus on a flood plain that directly eases the development of the I-70 Ditch at the expense of a more comprehensive citywide solution.”

A motion filed late Tuesday by attorney Aaron Goldhamer, who has pressed the lawsuit since last year, says a city attorney has indicated to him that the city plans to oppose only the addition of Espinoza as a plaintiff. The two sides disagree on whether a legal concept called “government deliberative privilege” prevents a sitting councilman from joining such a lawsuit, the filing indicates.

Espinoza and many critics of the city’s Platte to Park Hill storm water projects — estimated to cost $267 million to $298 million — have based their opposition in part on the link to the state’s $1.2 billion Interstate 70 plan.

How safe are Denver Water’s dams? – News on TAP

Dam safety team conducts annual inspections, manages upgrades and trains for emergencies to keep facilities secure.

Source: How safe are Denver Water’s dams? – News on TAP

#Colorado Springs responds to @EPA/CDPHE lawsuit

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

The city’s denial is its first response in court to a lawsuit that claims discharges of pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries violate the laws. The discharges are from Colorado Springs’ stormwater system…

Colorado Springs asserted in Monday’s filing that it “has at all times been in compliance” with permits issued by the state agency to govern the discharges and the stormwater system.

The city contends it should not be subjected to court orders or monetary penalties that the environmental agencies want a judge to impose.

Colorado Springs also contends that allegations in the lawsuit misrepresent the facts of issues in dispute.

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