Graduate watershed seminar discusses water quality regulations — @ColoradoStateU

The Poudre River is one of the sources of water used in the city of Fort Collins (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Trowbridge):

Watershed science majors listened to and discussed water quality control and clean water regulations for an interdisciplinary water resources seminar class Monday evening.

Patrick J. Pfalzgraff, the director of the Water Quality Control Division of the Local Public Health and Environment Resources Department, spoke to watershed sciences majors for a GRAD 592 interdisciplinary water resources seminar class, which are open to the public. Pfalzgraff works with regulations of water quality control in terms of clean water and drinking water.

According to the syllabus, the purpose of this course is “to prepare students in water resources by increasing their understanding of how water is actually managed in Colorado.” The seminar class brings in professionals in the water resources industry to speak about their work in the field.

The Water Quality Control Division issues regulations on water treatment, pollution control, and does some water tests, with regulation standards finalized by state politicians.

“Almost all of the decisions we make are based on some form of data, whether that is science data or weather data, we pull the data from these sources to determine the stream or lake health,” Pfalzgraff said.

The division also aides smaller communities with meeting water regulation standards by providing funds or services if the communities do not have access to them.

“A lot of small towns don’t have a lot of revenue because they don’t have a big population or industry, and they may or may not have the resources or revenue in order to do necessary upgrades,” Pfalzgraff said. “That’s where we can step in and get them back on their feet.”

Patrick J Pfalzgraff, the Director of the Water Quality Control Division of the Local Public Health and Environment Resources Department (Julia Trowbridge | Collegian)

Clean water, like the water in the Poudre River, have to pass regulations regarding pollution levels. A common pollution level issue is the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous in water levels, which can either come from human pollution or agricultural pollution.

High concentrations of these elements in water, called nutrient loadings, can make the crops have excessive amounts of these elements, and the crops might not pass regulation standards for consumption.

“We try to maintain that environmental balance with how pollutants are discharged throughout the state,” Pfalzgraff said.

Clean water and clean drinking water are completely different standards. Drinking water is regulated through chemically treating clean water to insure that the water is safe and clean to distribute out to the public to prevent things like waterborne diseases being distributed in the drinking water.

“In Puerto Rico, there are waterborne diseases,” Pfalzgraff said. “That’s not an issue in Colorado. We haven’t had a wate borne disease in the last five years.”

The study of watershed sciences and the design of water flow is especially important in Colorado. According to Pfalzgraff, the population of Colorado is predicted to double by 2050, which creates a strong need in water quality regulation and the delegation of water resources.

“There are a lot of uses on what are already stressed resources,” Pfalzgraff said.

Stressed resources has been brought up by groups like Save the Poudre, who advocate that diversion plans made by the Northern Integrated Supply Project would drain even more water from the already depleted river. The river also has to pass a minimum water flow, which could cause problems with these diversion plans.

Regardless, the growing population of Colorado needs to access water, whether it is by the proposed plan or another alternative.

Cache la Poudre River from South Trail via Wikimedia Foundation.

Sneffels Creek water quality concerns delaying Ouray County mine

Mount Sneffels

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

Ouray Silver Mines wants to reopen a mine that produces silver, gold, lead and copper and would bring 152 jobs to Ouray County, along with, its proponents say, a 10 to 20 percent boost to the county’s tax base.

But that mine is on hold, due to issues with water quality at a nearby creek tied to the mine that the mine owners say they have worked on for 18 months without any concerns raised by CDPHE until now.

Sneffels Creek, the surface water source near the mine, is about halfway between Ouray and Telluride, as the crow flies. The creek has a long history with mining, going back 140 years.

The mine dates back to 1876 and ran until its mill burned down in 1912. During its early operations, the mine produced 25 million ounces of silver.

Sneffels Creek joins up with another creek and then into Canyon Creek downstream, and then into the Uncompahgre River. Briana Greer, an environmental consultant with Ouray Silver Mines, said when the water originating in Sneffels Creek reaches the Uncompahgre, water quality in that river improves by 50 percent. It’s better water quality than area drinking water, she told the committee.

The idea of starting the mine back up for its silver, gold, zinc and copper began in the 1980s. The mine passed through numerous hands until 2014, when Fortune Minerals of Canada bought it hoping to mine its silver veins. But the company couldn’t sustain production and defaulted on its loans. The chief investor, Lascaux Resource Capital of New York, took over the mine and renamed it Ouray Silver Mines.

Mine CEO Brian Briggs told the General Assembly’s interim Water Resources Review Committee Wednesday that the company has invested $70.5 million to get the mine up and running, and it will take another $36 million to get up to full production. The payoff? Fourteen million ounces of silver, which costs $7.89 per ounce to mine and can bring in about $17 per ounce on the market. The mine also has rich veins of gold, lead and zinc, and the company expects a net a profit of around $76 million, along with 152 well-paying jobs for experienced miners, according to Briggs.

A fifth-generation Ouray native, Briggs has several decades experience in mining, called Ouray “a very, very good mine, the best I’ve every worked on for economic results.”

Ouray County could benefit more than just how the mine will improve its tax base. Briggs explained that Ouray has no gravel pits or other sources for road base. So mine tailings and waste rock, which metallurgical tests show are “benign,” are ground up by the company and provided to the county for road base.

Starting up an old mine has not been without its problems. According to a chart from the company, lead, zinc and cadmium discharges briefly exceeded state standards in 2014, leading to a violation notice last year from CDPHE. Lead discharges exceeded the standards again this past summer due to the failure of a lining in a mine tunnel that is being replaced.

Then there’s the water quality issue, and that’s delaying the mine’s startup.

The mine’s previous owner had a permit to discharge water to Sneffels Creek. The new owners set up a passive water system that could discharge either to surface or to groundwater (underground) water sources.

Briggs explained to the committee that the passive system is not only one for today’s mining but for 50 or 60 years from now. Briggs said the system, which has been piloted in Wyoming, for example, should prevent the kinds of problems that happened at the old Gold King Mine near Durango two years ago, when contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally released more than a million gallons of toxic mine waste into the Animas River.

In the mine’s passive system, used mining water is passed through a clay liner that contains fabric with peat moss to absorb metals and then a layer of topsoil. “It makes a tremendous impact on the three metals we’re concerned about: cadmium, lead and zinc,” Briggs said.

The hangup has been just who’s in charge of making sure the system is in compliance at the CDPHE. Briggs said the mine had provided quarterly updates, explaining the passive system, to CDPHE’s enforcement division. In November 2016, the mine owners applied for a termination of its surface water discharge permit, believing it was no longer necessary since the passive system was discharging its water into underground water sources.

In July, CDPHE denied the request, stating the surface water interacts with groundwater sources. “We can’t confirm” whether that’s true, Briggs said.

That left the owners in a pickle – tear up the previous system? Install a new one? “If they want us to discharge into surface water we’ll do that,” Briggs said. But he also appeared to be frustrated that after 18 months of telling CDPHE what they were doing that the agency came back and said that system doesn’t work.

Installing another system will take another year, Briggs said.

The story from CDPHE is a tad different. In a September 3 letter to Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, CDPHE’s Karin McGowan said the mine had an active permit for a surface water discharge. “They are not waiting for a new permit, but may be frustrated because they have not been able to successfully modify their permit because they have not provided the necessary information needed to execute a modification. We are currently working with them to get the necessary information needed,” McGowan wrote.

McGowan further added that the mine changed its manner of discharge, from surface to groundwater, without notifying the division.

The September, 2016 notice of violation was for discharging to a new location without a permit, effluent violations, and administrative violations, McGowan pointed out. “The facility has consistently failed whole effluent toxicity testing permit requirements,” she wrote. The 2016 notice pertains to a 2014 discharge, when the mine was owned by Fortune Minerals, in which water contaminated with lead, cadmium and zinc was dumped at a rate of 400 gallons per minute into Sneffels Creek for about 18 hours.

Briggs told the committee CDPHE has never even visited the site, despite numerous requests by the mine owners…

In a statement, CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley told Colorado Politics that most enforcement is completed through evaluations of self-reported data. “Resource limitations makes it impossible to visit every site on an annual basis and hence permittees are put on a schedule for inspection,” he said.

Water Line: A Creative Exchange August 4 – October 21, 2017

Images: Natascha Seideneck, Uncanny Territory, 2017; Cannupa Hanska Luger, We Have Agency VII, 2016; Anna McKee, WAIS Reliquary: 68,000 Years (detail), 2016, image by Joe Rudko.

I had the time today to tour Water Line: A Creative Exchange at the Metropolitan State University of Denver Center for Visual Art. Make some time to go see the artwork if you haven’t already. The exhibit closes next Saturday.

Colorado College professor proposes to study Widefield aquifer pollution effects

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From KOAA.com (Lena Howland):

Dr. John Adgate, the professor leading the potential study, told dozens of concerned homeowners at the meeting here on Thursday that he wants to know what the health effects are from the firefighting foam that’s said to have caused the widespread contamination across the area.

He has submitted a fast track proposal seeking the funding for this study from the National Institutes of Health back in August and says he hopes to hear back within the next few months, with the goal of starting the study next summer.

Adgate says he would be looking for a pool of 200 volunteers spread out from all three affected water districts.

Their blood would each be tested once and 50 of them would be tested again the following year.

This is to find out the levels of these compounds found in their blood and to see if these levels are going up and down over time.

He says the compounds coming from the firefighting foam haven’t been studied enough to prove certain health effects, which is why he hopes his study will lead to more definitive answers.

More science needed to assess the safe treatment of oil and gas operations produced water #KeepItInTheGround

Oil and gas evaporation pond

From The Greeley Tribune (Nikki Work):

The U.S. produces about 900 billion gallons of wastewater per year from oil and gas development, such as hydraulic fracturing. Some of the reuses proposed for this water include irrigation or discharging into surface water, but the chemical content and potential health implications of this water are still largely question marks to the scientific community. Currently, this wastewater is disposed of, either through evaporation, into pits or through underground injection.

But according to recent research out of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, the question at this point isn’t even about what is in the water or if it is safe. It’s about coming up with the methods necessary for science to even tackle those questions.

Karl Oetjen, Mines doctoral candidate and one of the lead authors on the paper, published in August in “Trends in Environmental Analytical Chemistry,” said there’s no adequate way to measure the chemical makeup of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. All of the current methods used to test the quality of water — such as surface water, ground water and even wastewater from other sources — don’t take into account the high saline content of the water or the numerous chemicals in it. These methods weren’t intended to test water so complex, he said. And since there’s a high level of variability in the water resurfacing from each well, it’s difficult for researchers to even pinpoint what they should be testing.

“If you’re worried about introducing this water to places where it could interact with the environment or human health, it’s impossible to say if it’s dangerous or not dangerous because we simply don’t know,” Oetjen said.

He describes the process of looking for certain contaminants in surface water as looking for a needle in a haystack. But when you’re looking for contaminants in oil and gas wastewater, you’re looking for a needle somewhere in a million haystacks.

The importance of riparian habitat

Here’s a guest column from Pete Wadden that’s running in The Vail Daily:

One of the few things that almost all people can agree on is the calming effect of flowing water. Waterfront property is highly sought after and, as a result, is typically sold at a premium. People often landscape their waterfront property to create an unobstructed view of the river or creek in their backyard.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

In many places in Colorado, our desire for easy access to the water is having unintended consequences. It may not be surprising to most readers that there is a web of interaction between waterways and the ecosystems that surround them. Riparian corridors, the swaths of water-loving plants that grow along creeks or rivers, protect those waterways from pollution and erosion and provide shade, nutrients and habitat for aquatic animals. When riparian buffers disappear, rivers and creeks suffer.

In the town of Vail, the loss of riparian habitat has had a measurable impact on Gore Creek and several of its tributaries. In 2012, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment listed Gore Creek for failing to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards for aquatic life. Other rivers and creeks in Eagle County and across Colorado are beginning to show a similar pattern of decline.

NATURAL FILTRATION SYSTEM

As wetlands and forests are replaced with pavement and turf lawns, services provided by those natural ecosystems are lost. Pavement directs rain and snowmelt into storm drains that flow directly into the creek. The shallow roots of turf lawns do not filter pollution from groundwater the way the roots of willows and other native shrubs do.

The town of Vail sees the impaired health of Gore Creek as a serious issue and has undertaken several programs to try to reverse the creek’s declining water quality. In 2017, the town completed several major riparian restoration projects along Gore Creek. The goal of those projects was to restore native vegetation along creek banks in order to better filter runoff and prevent erosion while maintaining access to the creek for anglers and other users.

PROJECT RE-WILD

The causes of Gore Creek’s recent decline are diverse and widespread. As such, this is not a problem that the town can solve on its own. In order to encourage private property owners to restore riparian habitat on their land, the town of Vail has unveiled Project Re-Wild, a public-private cost-share to assist private property owners with the design of riparian restoration projects. Interested property owners along Gore Creek or its tributaries can learn more about this exciting opportunity under “Programs” at lovevail.org or by calling me at 970-479-2144.

Aquatic health is an issue that impacts the whole community, and the responsibility for maintaining our rivers and creek lies with all of us. Please consider joining the town of Vail in its efforts to Restore the Gore.

Pete Wadden is the town of Vail watershed education coordinator. Contact him at pwadden@vailgov.com, or visit lovevail.org to read more about the town of Vail’s environmental and sustainability efforts.

#ColoradoSprings sales tax revenue up, stormwater infrastructure could benefit

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (J. Adrian Stanley ):

The budget proposal assumes the stormwater fee measure on the Nov. 7 ballot will not pass, but Suthers is prepared to submit an amendment to City Council if it does.

A big chunk of the anticipated increase in revenue is from sales tax collection increases. At times, the city has needed to refund sales tax collections that grew quickly, due to revenue growth limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. But this year, and in 2018, the city will be able to keep $6 million per year in revenue overage thanks to a measure approved by voters in April. That money is dedicated to stormwater projects. (The city is aggressively dealing with drainage issues, in part, because it’s being sued by the federal government for violation of the Clean Water Act.)