During their monthly meeting…Lower Arkansas board members voted unanimously to join a lawsuit filed last week against Colorado Springs for discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.
Members also said they have asked Pueblo City Council and the Pueblo County commissioners to join the lawsuit, as well.
“I can’t see where Pueblo County and the city cannot step up and do the same thing,” said Anthony Nunez, a former Pueblo County commissioner who sits on the Lower Ark board…
Peter Nichols, an attorney and a Lower Ark director, told board members that intervening in the lawsuit would give them a seat at the table in any sort of trial or negotiated settlement that might occur…
Nunez said Colorado Springs needs to be held accountable and, in the nearly six years he has been on the board, he’s heard the same thing from Colorado Springs over and over again.
“We’ve met with the (Colorado Springs) City Council. I guess to put it in better terms, we meet with half of the City Council because they are always waiting for the next city council,” Nunez said.
“We have talked and talked, and I think it is time that actions be taken.”
“As long as they can keep giving us the stiff arm — put us off, put us off, put us off — they don’t feel like they have any obligation because, quite frankly, if they have a violation, they pay a small fine and that fine is far less than rectifying the entire problem,” [Melissa Esquibel] said.
The ongoing animosity surrounding a sewer line extension within the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District (TLWSD) continued Monday night when the TLWSD Board of Directors responded to 17 questions posed by local citizen Michael Eha…
The meeting covered a broad range of topics but the capacity crowd of attendees was primarily focused on issues surrounding a highly contentious sewer line extension project the District is undertaking in the Pine Beach area. Among the citizens most adamantly opposed to the Bine Beach sewer extension is Michael Eha.
Eha and other citizens impacted by the Pine Beach sewer extension have requested the Board engage with citizens in a question and answer session. The Board did not engage in a Q&A session.
Instead the Board requested Eha submit a list of questions in writing so the Board could prepare answers. The Board’s response to Eha’s written questions was scheduled as an agenda item for the evening. The Board refused to entertain additional questions from the crowd and instead responded only to those questions previously submitted by Eha. Responses were prepared ahead of time and were read aloud to the crowd by various members of the Board, TLWSD staff members and the District’s Attorney.
As the Board took up the issue Board Chairman Bill Heffron pointed out the proceedings were an, “unusual” agenda item for the Board.
“This Board has a history of asking that questions be submitted in writing,” Heffron said. “It gives us an opportunity to research and give a fully developed and through answer. That is what we are doing here tonight.”
Heffron continued by asking that additional Board responses to citizen questions no longer be scheduled as agenda items, preferring instead that such interactions occur through correspondence only and outside regularly scheduled meetings.
Heffron asked if that was the consensus of the Board to which the other Board members stated yes.
As the segment began Michael Eha raised an objection to the Board. Eha said it was his understanding that the agenda item would be a question and answer session with additional dialog between constituents and the Board and not merely an agenda item wherein constituents were not allowed to ask follow up questions.
Chairman Heffron said, “We are not accepting questions. We are responding to questions that have been posed.”
When those in attendance raised additional questions later in the meeting Chairman Heffron used his gavel liberally to bring order to the crowd.
“Are we going to entertain taking questions from the floor?” Heffron asked the other Board members.
All other Board members said they wished to press on with the Board responses and not field additional questions.
In the lead up to the meeting Monday night Michael Eha submitted a list of 17 questions for the Board. Eha submitted his questions at the request of the District, which does not typically hold any formal Q&A sessions. Additionally the Board does not respond to questions posed to the Board during the Public Comment portion of their meeting.
The responses prepared by Three Lakes for the meeting ostensibly answered the questions posed by Eha though several questions were answered through legalese that appeared to avoid the deeper substantive issues posed by the questions.
For example, one of the questions posed by Eha was, “We find the Board to be cavalier in their decision making, and would like to give them the opportunity of explaining. Exactly what are the qualifications of each board member that allows them to impose such financial hardships on residents?”
The response provided by the Board quoted the Colorado State statutes that outline the requirements for election to any special district board in the state. The Board offered no additional response to the question beyond the relevant state statutes outlining Board membership requirements.
The full list of all questions submitted by Eha, as well as the District’s responses, can be obtained through a request to the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District.
The cause of the contention in the TLWSD stems from plans the District has to install a new sewer main line in the Pine Beach area. District resident Gayle Langley, one of a handful of individuals impacted by the Pine Beach sewer extension project, outlined her concerns to the Board during the Public Comment period.
“As a constituent, and as someone who is not financially able to pay the fees you are asking me for in the time frame you are asking, I am asking you once again to find a way to make a longer term loan program,” Langley said.
“I’m still looking at 40 to 50 thousand dollars. I cannot pay that off in a four or five-year period of time. I’m asking you to find a way to make it a win win for everybody.”
Peterson Air Force Base sent water laced with toxic firefighting foam into Colorado Springs Utilities sewers as often as three times a year, the service said in an email response to Gazette questions.
The service said the practice of sending the wastewater mixed with perfluorinated compounds from the firefighting foam into sewers stopped in 2015 and said criminal investigators are looking into a discharge of 150,000 gallons of chemical-laden water from the base announced last week…
The Air Force contends its earlier discharges of contaminated wastewater were “in accordance with (utilities) guidelines,” which Colorado Springs Utilities disputes.
“I’m not aware that we have ever authorized them to discharge that firefighting foam into the system,” Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said.
The chemicals in the firefighting foam, which can’t be removed by the Utilities sewage treatment plant, flowed into Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield Aquifer. Unlike other contaminants which settle out of water into sediment, perfluorinated compounds remain in solution, increasing the likelihood of contamination stemming from a release into the sewer system.
The impact on other water users is unclear. Colorado Springs’ and Pueblo’s drinking water does not come from the creek…
Berry said the last release of contaminated water from Peterson flowed through the Las Vegas Street sewage treatment plant before the utility was told of the 150,000-gallon discharge from a holding tank on the base. That means utility workers had no way to measure the toxicity of the water.
“Once we were notified, that stuff had long moved through our system and out of service territory,” Berry said.
The Air Force said an investigation into the discharge is ongoing and involves the service’s Office of Special Investigations and experts from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last week, Peterson officials said releasing the contaminated water from a holding tank near the base fire training area required opening two valves and activating an electric switch, making it possible that the release was intentional.
The fire training area includes a collection system meant to contain the foam in a pair of holding tanks…
Berry said in the wake of the latest incident, Utilities has told the Air Force that its firefighting foam isn’t welcome in city sewers.
He called on the Air Force to release the alleged “guideline” the service cited to justify its earlier releases.
“That does not sound right to me at all,” he said.
The Air Force on Friday reiterated its contention that the service has been a good neighbor. The service has contributed $4.3 million toward filtering water for Security, Widefield and Fountain. Peterson is also replacing the foam in its firetrucks this week with a substance deemed less hazardous. The old foam is being disposed of as toxic waste.
But scrutiny is building for the Air Force, which faced fire from Pikes Peak region politicians this week after a Gazette investigation showed the service ignored decades of warnings from its own researchers in continuing to use the foam. Air Force studies dating to the 1970s determined the firefighting foam to be harmful to laboratory animals.
“We are working together with the community as a good neighbor who has a portion of our 12,000 employees in the affected area,” The Air Force said Friday.
From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):
With Mayor Pro Tem Jeffri Pruyn conducting the meeting, the La Junta City Council on Monday evening formally accepted the loan/grant of $246,000 from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to the City of La Junta Wastewater Enterprise of not to exceed $246,000. The loan is to be forgiven at its inception. It is for the purpose of dealing with the problems facing the installation of the new wastewater plant, thus enabling construction to get under way. Construction is unlikely to begin until late winter or next spring, said Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley.
The spill, which Air Force officials said they’re investigating, happened as the Air Force increasingly faces scrutiny as a source of groundwater contamination nationwide.
The surge of waste containing elevated perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — used at military airfields to douse fuel fires and linked by federal authorities to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, low birth weights and other health problems — flowed through a Colorado Springs Utilities wastewater treatment plant before crews could try to block it. Then it trickled into Fountain Creek.
“Even if we would have been able to head it off at the plant, we’re not equipped. I don’t know of any wastewater plants in the country equipped to remove PFCs,” utilities spokesman Steve Berry said. “We would not have been able to remove that chemical before it was discharged back into the environment from our effluent.”
Fountain Creek flows south toward Pueblo and into the Arkansas River.
Pueblo Board of Water Works spokesman Paul Fanning said Pueblo didn’t hear about the spill until reporters made inquiries Tuesday.
“We don’t use any groundwater or surface water from Fountain Creek. We use water from the Arkansas River taken upstream from where Fountain Creek flows in,” Fanning said. “But it is not a good thing to have those contaminants anywhere in our water. There are some reported health effects. It is in our interest to protect our public.”
The PFC-laced waste was held in a tank at a firefighter training area on the base, located at the southeastern edge of Colorado Springs. PFCs are a component in the aqueous film-forming foam used to extinguish fuel fires.
Air Force officials said in the statement that they discovered the spill Oct. 12 during an inspection. They notified Colorado Springs Utilities the next day. The tank was part of a system used to recirculate water to a firefighter training area…
In Colorado, government well test data show PFCs have contaminated groundwater throughout the Fountain Creek watershed, nearly as far south as Pueblo, at levels up to 20 times higher than that EPA health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion.
Public-water authorities in Fountain, Security and Widefield have scrambled to provide enough alternative water. Security has been purchasing millions of gallons of diverted Arkansas River water from Colorado Springs, installing new pipelines and minimizing pumping from contaminated municipal wells. Since Sept. 9, Security has not pumped any water from wells, water and sanitation district manager Roy Heald said. “This spill does not affect us immediately,” Heald said. “Our only concern would be the long-term effect on Fountain Creek and the Widefield Aquifer.”
Some parents south of Colorado Springs began paying for bottled water — to be safe. A contractor delivers emergency bottled water to at least 77 households.
The Air Force has contributed $4.3 million to help communities deal with the contamination.
Colorado Springs utilities crews will work with the military “to keep PFCs out of our system. That is the goal,” Berry said. “How do we protect our customers and our system from this chemical? That is the focus. It goes beyond the Air Force. It is any industrial process that may use that chemical.”
El Paso County Public Health “takes this discharge seriously and will coordinate with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment to collect water samples along Fountain Creek, if warranted,” spokeswoman Danielle Oller said.
CDPHE has been informed, agency spokesman Mark Salley said, adding: “It is under investigation by the Air Force, and the department is waiting for information. … The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing PFC contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide.”
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):
The release last week posed no threat to Colorado Springs drinking water.
The base said the release was discovered Oct. 12. The cause hasn’t been determined, but Fred Brooks, Peterson’s environmental chief, said the holding tank was designed to be difficult to discharge.
“It’s not a direct connection,” Brooks said. “This tank would have to have numerous valves switched to actually discharge.”
Was it intentional?
“That’s a possibility,” Brooks said…
An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of the discharge, said Col. Doug Schiess, who commands Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, in the statement.
Colorado Springs Utilities said the chemical-laden water passed through the utility’s Las Vegas Street sewage treatment plant and was released into Fountain Creek. The plant does not have the capacity to remove the chemical.
“There was no risk to the drinking water,” said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman. “This did not impact the drinking water, the finished water system, in any way. It went directly into the wastewater system.”
While Peterson notified Colorado Springs, base officials didn’t warn others downstream. Brooks said the base isn’t required to issue a wider notification, noting that the chemical is “unregulated” – a term used for substances that haven’t drawn enforceable drinking water standards…
Peterson had scheduled a public firefighting demonstration on Oct. 12, the day the discharge was discovered. The fire training exercise was canceled, with a spokesman at the base blaming the delay on a “bad valve”
Brooks, the base environmental officer, said two mechanical valves and an electric one must be switched to allow water to flow out of the tank, which held the outflow from fire training exercises dating back as far as 2013.
He said the water wasn’t tested for levels of the firefighting chemical.
A second tank on the base holding fire training residue wasn’t discharged.
The Air Force banned use of the foam outside fire emergencies last year and last month announced a plan to replace the product at all of its bases around the globe. Brooks said the foam at Peterson will be replaced in about two weeks.
The water contamination in Security, Widefield and Fountain has drawn a pair of lawsuits against the manufacturers of the firefighting foam alleging they sold it to the Air Force despite its toxic risks.
Although downstream, no drinking water supplied to Pueblo residents by the Pueblo Board of Water Works comes from Fountain Creek, said Paul Fanning, the agency’s spokesman. The Pueblo Reservoir does not pull from Fountain Creek.
The Widefield Water and Sanitation District is the only water system immediately downstream of the treatment plant now using the Widefield Aquifer, which leaches water from Fountain Creek, where the chemicals flowed.
Widefield officials have previously said they plan to shut off their wells by sometime in October.
Other communities have shut off their wells to the tainted aquifer.
All the water flowing to homes supplied by the Security and Fountain water systems now comes from the Pueblo Reservoir – meaning that last week’s spill should not affect those communities.
“The long-term effects would be concerning,” said Roy Heald, Security water district’s general manager. “But short-term immediate effects – there wouldn’t be any for us.”
The EPA said it wasn’t involved with the spill.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gave the Air Force a vote of confidence despite the chemical discharge.
“The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing (perfluorinated compound) contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide,” the state agency said.
The city plans to take out a $62 million loan this month to pay for a sewage-treatment plant remodel in Santa Rita Park.
Work at the plant is expected to start in May, and it will require about two years, said consultant Bob Bolton, a vice president with Dewberry.
Work on aeration basins will be accelerated to meet the February 2018 deadline to remove more nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and ammonia from water the plant puts back in the river, he said.
Design work has been ongoing all summer, and a team of consultants on Tuesday presented drawings and site plans to the Durango City Council.
The actual construction of the plant is expected to cost about $53.8 million, Bolton said. The additional money the city will borrow is needed to cover related costs, such as design, said Mary Beth Miles, assistant to the city manager.
Voters approved a $68 million bond question to use for the plant and other improvements. This will give the city a little flexibility in case the bids come in higher than expected, Miles said.
At public and stakeholder meetings, odors at the plant have come up as a major concern, Bolton said.
“We’re going to contain it and take care of it,” he said.
Air coming into the buildings will be ionized to help purify it to make it more tolerable for employees, and air coming out of the building will be filtered.
“You won’t know that it’s a wastewater plant,” Bolton said.
As part of the design process, the consultants factored in the Animas River Trail and Santa Rita Park, and they plan to use landscaping to help buffer some of the plant. In addition, the consultants are planning to use stone, metal and concrete on the outside of the buildings to make them more muted.