#CDPHE is considering limits for PFCs

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado health officials grappling with groundwater contamination from firefighting foam — containing a toxic chemical the federal government allows — have proposed to set a state limit to prevent more problems.

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment limit for the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) also could give leverage in compelling cleanup by the Air Force, which has confirmed high levels of PFCs spreading from a military air base east of Colorado Springs. More than 65,000 residents who relied on the underground Widefield Aquifer as a water source have had to find alternative supplies or install new water-cleaning systems as a plume of PFCs contamination moves south through the Fountain Valley watershed.

“We need to be able to have not just a carrot, but a stick,” CDPHE environmental toxicologist Kristy Richardson said last week, discussing the effort to set a state limit.

The proposed maximum allowable level of 70 parts per trillion in groundwater — matching a health advisory level the Environmental Protection Agency declared in May 2016 for two types of PFCs — wouldn’t be finalized until April, Richardson said. A boundary has yet to be drawn for where the limit would apply.

But such regulatory action could help state officials navigate a complex environmental problem. Other states have set PFC limits as scientists raise concerns about PFCs, which have been linked to health harm, including low birth weights and kidney and testicular cancers. Few public health studies have been done, even though people south of Colorado Springs apparently have ingested PFCs for years in public drinking water.

An Air Force investigation confirmed contamination of groundwater by PFCs used in the aqueous film-forming foam that fire departments widely use to put out fuel fires, such as those caused by airplane crashes. PFCs also are found widely in consumer products, including stain-proof carpet, microwave popcorn bags and grease-resistant fast-food wrappers.

The chemical properties that make make PFCs useful keep them from breaking down once spilled, especially in water. Scientists say people and wildlife worldwide have been exposed at low levels.

At the Peterson Air Force Base, PFCs contamination of groundwater has been measured at levels up to 88,000 ppt with soil contamination levels as high as 240,000 ppt. And Richardson said PFC levels in groundwater south of Colorado Springs — communities including Security, Widefield, Fountain, Stratmoor Hills, Garden Valley and the Security Mobile Home Park — were measured at a median level of 120 ppt — well above the EPA health advisory limit.

Richardson favored a broad area for the groundwater limit — “so that maybe we can begin to look at other sources. … My biggest concern is the extent” of the plume, she said.

#Colorado sues U.S. Army/USFWS over Rocky Mountain Arsenal clean up

Rocky Mountain Arsenal back in the day

From CBS Denver:

The arsenal stopped production of chemical weapons and pesticides in the early 80s. Cleanup was finished seven years ago and now much of the area has been turned into a wildlife refuge but many toxic compounds remain.

Colorado says the potential for trouble is still there unless the property has proper control.

“It was referred to as one of the most contaminated pieces of property on the planet,” said Colorado Department of Health and Environment spokesman Doug Knappe.

Knappe manages the hazardous waste program for the state health department.

Now, the agency he works for is suing the U.S. Army, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Shell Oil. The lawsuit claims that an area called “Basin F” still poses a potential threat, “all of these constitute threats to human health and environment.”

He says the state needs proper management of the site.

“We don’t have control of that and we therefore can’t ensure for the protection of humans, health and environment,” said Knappe.

Much of the hazardous waste remains in landfills or contained under covers. The state says even though some ground water remains contaminated, it is treated.

@EPA delays coal plant wastewater rule #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

Diagram of a typical steam-cycle coal power plant (proceeding from left to right). Graphic credit: Wikipedia.

From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The rule requires steam electric power plants to control the amount of coal ash-contaminated wastewater flushed from their plants.

The water contains toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury, and while it’s pumped to holding ponds it often ends up in rivers and lakes. The rule sets the first specific limits on those toxins.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says postponing the rule for two years would give utilities relief from deadlines to upgrade pollution-control equipment while the agency revisits the requirements.

Environmental groups sued over an earlier effort to postpone the rule. They say they’ll challenge this move as well.

@WaterLawReview: Diving into the legal issues behind giving standing to water bodies, both here in the U.S. and abroad

Ganges River watershed via Wikipedia.

Click here to go to Water Law Review website to read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt (Michael Larrack):

Rights of Water Sources in the U.S.

The idea of granting legal rights to inanimate objects, specifically natural resources, is not alien to the United States. There are advantages to granting a water source specific rights, discussed at length by Cristopher Stone, Professor of Law at the University of Southern California, in a 1972 journal article. Stone argued giving an entity like a river judicial standing, or a right to sue for a perceived harm, would allow for greater justice for ecological harms. For example, if a polluter dumps in a river, the only current avenue for recovery is for those non-river entities harmed by the pollution to sue. If pollution doesn’t significantly bother a downstream user, or that user is a polluter itself, that individual may not ever bring a suit and the harm would go unchecked. A river could sue for the entirety of harms suffered.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Douglas agreed with Stone, in a dissenting opinion also authored in 1972, Sierra Club v. Morton. His dissent cited public concern for nature and ecology, and called for those with a meaningful relation to water to be able to speak for it. He used the analogy of ships and corporations, both of which have legal personality that grants them rights in litigation. While stirring, this view has failed to gain traction in the following decades.

A likely cause for this is that it could be politically unpopular. The Blaze, a conservative U.S. news source, pushed back against the New Zealand law. Ironically, it attacks the law for one of the same reasons Stone argued natural resources should have standing. The Blaze article is concerned with giving rights to non-living entities, when New Zealand does not recognize rights for unborn children because it does not ban abortion. As Stone himself recognized, there is difficulty in getting Americans to accept an inanimate object has standing. As an example, he cites the backlash from corporate personhood, a debate that still goes on. And at a more technical level, water as a commercial commodity with multitudes of competing interests and disagreement over what constitutes “public interest” and “beneficial use” in the American West’s established prior appropriation system complicates matters.

COGCC fines Encana for spill near Parachute

Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission imposed the penalty for a leak discovered in June 2016 on the 320-acre Bishop Ranch. It is part of a consent agreement that clears Encana and Hunter Ridge from further state penalties for degrading water quality.

Encana spokesman Doug Hock on Monday couldn’t say how much liquid leaked but stated company crews “eliminated the source of the release within hours of discovery” and that “the impacts have been contained.”

COGCC officials did not respond to queries about whether the leak has been stopped or continues to threaten health and safety.

The hydrocarbons degraded a ranch where land managers count on pristine conditions to sustain deer and elk, essential for Colorado’s increasingly lucrative business of recreation.

Bishop Ranch operators filed a civil lawsuit July 18 against Encana in Rio Blanco County claiming the pipeline leaked huge amounts of hydrocarbons that continue to contaminate springs, streams, underground water, vegetation and soil. The lawsuit alleges the environmental damage ruined a planned $5 million sale of the ranch.

The court case hasn’t been resolved. Encana has sold off its Colorado oil and gas assets. Denver-based Caerus Oil and Gas took over wells in northwestern Colorado in June.

Bishop Ranch owner Mike Bishop on Monday scoffed at the COGCC penalty, calling it pathetic and highly unlikely to deter future violations of state environmental rules…

Bishop Ranch attorneys acknowledged an effort by Encana to contain and filter contaminated water and move it into a cattle pond on contaminated land nearby that the company purchased.

“It has been 58 weeks since the spill was discovered. Encana continues to recover condensate from the contaminated springs at a rate of about 2 barrels (84 gallons) every day,” attorney Mark Mason said. “This environmental nightmare does not end with the payment of a nominal fine by a company that has now essentially left the state. Mr. Bishop … will not let them quietly sweep this one under the rug.”

Last year, COGCC officials notified Encana subsidiary Hunter Ridge that they were considering penalties for a failure to manage waste in northwestern Colorado in a way that protects water, among other violations.

A state document provided to the Denver Post Monday says that as of Aug. 1, Hunter Ridge had spent $2.7 million and recovered 1,195 barrels, or 50,190 gallons, of condensate from the release that contaminated Bishop Ranch and is continuing “to pursue the necessary remediation work.”

State documents didn’t include any estimate of how much liquid leaked from Hunter Ridge’s underground pipeline.

@NatGeo: Why the US Clean Water Rule Needs to Stay in Place #WOTUS #CleanWaterRules @EPA

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

Floodplains, tributaries, wetlands, lakes, ponds, rivers and groundwater form an interconnected whole that helps ensure clean, safe, reliable water supplies. A well-functioning water cycle naturally moderates both floods and droughts, reducing societal risks from both.

The Trump administration’s proposal to rescind the Obama-era Clean Water Rule would further break the natural water cycle just at the time we need to double-down on repairing it…

The motivation for the Clean Water Rule arose from Supreme Court decisions, in particular the 2006 case of Rapanos v. United States, that sowed consideration confusion about which waters came under the jurisdiction of the federal Clean Water Act, and which did not.

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) were spending considerable time and tax dollars determining whether or not a particular stream or wetland was protected under the Act. Just between 2008 and 2015, the agencies had to make some 100,000 case-by-case determinations, causing backlogs and delays.

The 2015 rule, also known as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, clarified the definition and expanded protection to headwater streams and some 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of wetlands. An EPA-Corps economic analysis of the rule published in May of that year found that while the additional water protections would have negative economic impacts on certain industries and farm enterprises, the benefits to society from cleaner and more secure water supplies exceeded those costs.

In June 2017, as the Trump administration moved to rescind the rule, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt ordered agency staff to redo the economic analysis and omit the half billion dollars of benefits associated with wetland protection, according to reporting by the New York Times.

Scientists are speaking out against the repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

A letter already signed by more than 320 scientists (including me) from academia, state agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector notes that more than 1,200 peer-reviewed publications clearly establish “the vital importance” of wetlands and headwater streams “to clean water and the health of the nation’s rivers.”

In an amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court) brief to the Supreme Court in the Rapanos case, ten scientists (including me) argued that “when it comes to the connection of tributaries, streams, and wetlands to navigable waters and interstate commerce, there is no ecological ambiguity….[I]f the Clean Water Act does not protect these resources, then it does not protect navigable waters from pollution, and it cannot achieve its goals.”

Aurora warns some homeowners about the possibility of lead exposure

Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From TheDenverChannel.com (Sally Mamdooh):

The homes are concentered near East 26th Avenue and North Peoria Street and East 11th Avenue and North Yosemite Street, the original part of the city.

The city has now sent more than 600 letters to Aurora residents notifying them of the issue and asking to check the plumbing for free.

So far, the city has tested 24 homes, and only one of the tests came back positive for lead…

The city will pay for a replacement line if a homeowner qualifies. Click here to learn about the steps you need to follow.