The latest “Fountain Creek Chronicles” newsletter is hot off the presses

UCCS Clean the Stream Team at the 2015 Creek Week. Photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Creek Week – YOU Can Make a Difference!
QUICK – FUN AND EASY
From September 28 – October 6
1 – 2-hour commitment
Anyone can participate – All Ages, Demographics

What is approximately 40 times as heavy as a hippopotamus, is 180 times as heavy as a grand piano, and is 42 times as heavy as a car? The answer is the amount of trash, in tons, that volunteers have picked up during “Creek Week” since its inception in 2014.

“Creek Week” began as a way to encourage citizens to help remove litter and debris from our land and waters, raise awareness of watershed health and to foster a sense of community, and has grown into an annual event. It provides an opportunity for communities to give back, to enjoy the parks and trails they are cleaning and to understand their place in the Fountain Creek Watershed.

Concerned citizens from Palmer Lake, Monument, Colorado Springs, Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Pueblo and beyond will come together from September 28-October 6, to clean and protect the Fountain Creek Watershed.

Participants include individuals and groups, from towns, cities, churches, and organizations. Last year nearly 3,000 volunteers removed 24 tons of litter from Palmer Lake to Pueblo and further. Volunteer participation has grown 350 percent over its 5-year history. Now it’s your turn to get involved. Complete the online form to facilitate a Crew, or click on Public Event Registration to join in on 40+ public cleanups at: at http://www.fountaincreekweek.com . For any “Creek Week” related questions, email the Steering Committee at creekweeksoco@gmail.com.

@EPA finalizes repeal of #WOTUS rule, promises new definitions in December

A wetland along Castle Creek. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From KOAA.com (Colette Bordelon):

The 2015 rule expanded the types of waterways that can receive federal protection under the Clean Water Act. Now, WOTUS will go back to it’s form before 2015. A member of the local Sierra Club disagrees with the decision. “Would allow people to pollute much more easily, there’s no longer a permit requirement, and because of that they can carry on activities without the government oversight,” said Jim Lockhart, the Conservation Chair of the Pikes Peak Group of the Sierra Club.

Lockhart said the 2015 rule defined what waterways should be protected more specifically, and now he’s interested to see what the new definition will be. “Rescinded the rule and promised new definitions, they could have waited and created the new definitions and then let the public see them and then let the public decide,” said Lockhart.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new definition will come in December, and would mean farmers, landowners, and businesses will spend less time and money determining whether they need a federal permit.

Arizona Rivers Map via Geology.com.

From The Cronkite News (Kailey Broussard) via KOAA.com:

…while some welcomed the end of the “Waters of the United States” rule, environmental groups warned that the change would mean virtually no environmental protection for the nation’s waterways – particularly in the West.

“We know where we are going, and that is going to be a world where wetlands, especially in the arid West, get almost no protection,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity.

A 2018 report by the center estimated that more than 3,000 U.S. watersheds would lose Clean Water Act protections under the replacement plan proposed by the Trump administration. That, in turn, could accelerate the extinction of more than 75 endangered species, the report said.

Critics of the Obama-era rule – known as WOTUS – disagree, saying the full range of federal pollution regulations does more than enough to protect waterways…

In the meantime, federal officials are developing and presenting a new plan. That process has garnered more than 621,000 comments on the federal regulations website…

…Sandy Bahr, president of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, said the EPA is “not being honest” about the change’s impact. WOTUS protected arterial waterways, she said, by protecting the less-obvious waters.

“If you take a very narrow view of that and say, ‘Oh, only waters that are navigable,’ then you’re not even going to be protecting those navigable waters,” she said.

Bahr and others have pointed to the San Pedro River, a ribbon-like stream that meanders some 140 miles through southern Arizona and part of Mexico. The stream’s limited navigability means it most likely would not receive protection under the repeal.

“You can talk about these things in the abstract, but when you look at what is happening on the ground already, we’re struggling to protect rivers like the San Pedro River, which is so important ecologically and economically,” Bahr said. “Something like this rollback makes it so much more difficult to do.”

Hartl said that, except for the Colorado River, the change would mean most of Arizona would not be protected. A map included with the center’s study showed much of the Southwest losing Clean Water Act protection without WOTUS…

Meanwhile, Bahr is certain the proposed rule will be challenged.

“We need to have the most stringent requirements possible to protect what we have left because we have lost so much,” she said.

@EPA finalizes repeal of #WOTUS rule

A wetland area along Homestake Creek. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Another Obama administration environmental rule is now history, as the Environmental Protection Agency on Thurday finalized its repeal of a 2015 rule expanding waterway and wetlands protections.

The 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule had support from environmentalists but faced criticism from agricultural and other interests…

Its action restores regulations that were in place prior to the 2015 rule, ending inconsistent regulations in different states as a result of various court actions on that rule. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a news release that the action Thursday “fulfills a key promise of President Trump” and sets the stage for a second EPA action, a new waters of the U.S definition “that will provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders, and developers nationwide.”

[…]

…the conservation group Western Resource Advocates said the EPA actions will significantly weaken protections for thousands of miles of waterways and millions of acres of wetlands across the West. It said the EPA’s efforts aim to remove protections for rivers and streams that flow intermittently after rain or snow, and its proposed new definition threatens Western water supplies.

It says the EPA estimates that in Colorado and Utah alone, more than 5 million people receive drinking water from public systems relying at least in part on intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams.

“This assault on the Clean Water Act makes it more important than ever for local lawmakers and water leaders to enact state-level policies that protect our rivers and our communities,” Robert Harris, a senior staff attorney for the group, said in a statement.

#PFAS: Chemical manufacturers DuPont de Nemours, Inc. and The Chemours Company announce support for policies for inclusion in National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org

From The Ann Arbor Sun Times News (Seth Kinker):

As an increasing number of communities across the country continue to grapple with contamination of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water sources, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), reacted to a breakthrough moment in this afternoon’s U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight on Government Reform (OGR) Subcommittee on Environment hearing, in which two major chemical manufacturers announced their support for policies that would clarify polluter liabilities and clean up contaminated sites.

Just one day after members from the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate returned to Washington this week to negotiate PFAS provisions to be included in theNational Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA) – and, just days after the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) warned Congressional leaders about the president’s “strong” opposition to those provisions – today, chemical manufacturers DuPont de Nemours, Inc. and The Chemours Company announced their support for policies that are currently being negotiated for inclusion in NDAA. The companies signaled their support for setting a national drinking water standard, enhancing public awareness of chemical releases and designating legacy PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund law to ensure contaminated sites are cleaned up.

“This is a breakthrough moment on PFAS solutions. It should send a clear message to the president and any member of Congress who might still have some misplaced concerns about potential regulatory burdens associated with PFAS solutions, including declaring some PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law,” Senator Carper said. “Some of the companies that would be regulated under these policies have now publicly declared their support for them – that’s consequential, and I commend them for their constructive engagement on the legislation being considered by Congress.”

[…]

The measures supported by these two companies include measures added to the Senate version of the NDAA by Senators Carper, Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) and EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), including requirements that EPA set a national primary drinking water standard for some legacy PFAS chemicals and require PFAS manufacturers to report environmental releases of PFAS as part of Toxic Release Inventory releases.

In today’s hearing, the companies also declared their support for designating some legacy PFAS as hazardous substancesunder the Superfund law. Senator Carper’s bill, the PFAS Action Act of 2019, would mandate EPA within one year of enactment declare per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, and also enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation. The legislation currently has 43 cosponsors and its companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, authored by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), was approved unanimously by the House as part of the House NDAA in July.

#ColoradoSprings is exploring solutions to blue-green algae blooms

Mechanism of operation of the SolarBee system. Graphic credit: Environmental Science & Engineering

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Henderson):

Warmer temperatures and higher nutrient levels in the water have led to more blue-green algae blooms, which are harmful to humans and potentially deadly to pets, said Erik Rodriguez a Health, Safety and Environmental specialist with the city. The daily temperature record in Colorado Springs has already been broken five times this year.

While the city struggles to find a fix, other Colorado towns have used environmentally-friendly machinery that helps aerate the water. Better circulation gives algae less chance to accumulate.

In the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir in Loveland, sit five SolarBee units — solar powered machines that float in the middle of the lake. They keep the water in the reservoir moving, disrupting the stagnant environment that blue-green algae likes, said SolarBee regional manager Dave Summerfield. Each unit costs about $40,000.

Since the units were installed two years ago, the 150-acre drinking water reservoir has been free of algae.

In the past, the popular method among water treatment agencies was to dump algicides such as copper sulfate into the water. But the solution wasn’t sustainable, said Summerfield.

The bacteria would slowly adapt to the sulfate, forcing maintenance to use more and more of it, racking up costs and dangerous toxin levels…

Rodriguez pointed out that several Colorado Springs lakes already have aeration features in them. Monument Valley Park ponds have a few aerators — devices that create small air bubbles to push the water around. Mary Kyer Park has a fountain in the middle that helps with circulation, he said.

Cyanobacteria, which causes the blue-green algae, thrives off nutrients in the water, specifically nitrogen and phosphorous. Nitrogen and phosphorous get into water in runoff from agriculture, fossil fuels, fertilizers, yard and pet waste, even soaps and detergents. The city’s recent warm weather and heavy thunderstorms haven’t helped, Rodriguez said.

‘Greywater’ Could Help Solve Colorado’s Water Problems. Why Aren’t We All Using It? — Colorado Public Radio

Graywater system schematic.

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Colorado was the last Western state to legalize greywater usage in 2013. Officials say that by 2050, our water supply could fall short for over one million people. Climate change makes the future of Colorado water even more uncertain.

Colorado’s Water Plan wants to close the gap and recognizes greywater as one tool to help make that happen. However, not a single state-approved greywater system has been built since it was legalized. Only Denver, Castle Rock and Pitkin County have adopted the code, known as Regulation 86, that regulates how greywater gets done in the state.

Avery Ellis isn’t happy about that. He was closely involved when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment set the rules.

“It takes a little civil disobedience and a little public support to push these laws into local adoption,” the greywater installer said.

In his yard in Longmont, there are young trees and shrubs that are watered through one of his greywater systems.

Longmont isn’t Denver or Castle Rock and it’s nowhere near Pitkin County. In addition to his water saving rebellion, Ellis teaches and helps others how to go greywater without a permit. Because so far, even in the places where it’s been adopted, no one has even applied for a greywater permit.

Not a single one.

In Colorado, only two types of greywater systems are legal. This first one is called “laundry to landscape.” The second is more complicated and costly. Wastewater from a shower or sink is collected in a storage tank and is used for the landscape or to flush toilets. There’s internal plumbing and the water needs to be filtered and treated and can’t be stored for more than 48 hours…

There’s been some interest in these water saving systems in Pitkin County, which adopted greywater in 2018, but environmental health manager Kurt Dahl thinks that “due to the complication of the regulation they didn’t see the benefit.”

[…]

The city of Castle Rock is the newest to adopt the state’s greywater rules, but only for new construction. Retrofitting an old home or building isn’t allowed. Mark Marlowe, the director of Castle Rock Water, cites cost as the contributing factor behind that decision…

That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, Marlowe said, but they don’t have the resources to allow just anyone to put in a greywater system.

And that’s why some cities and counties have chosen not to take on greywater at all. Douglas County said it would be too complicated and costly for the county to oversee. They also point to the potential for public health risks.

Boulder won’t either, at least right now. Joe Taddeucci, the city water resources manager, said they first need to study if adopting greywater is worth it. One major concern are water rights. Does the city have the OK to use greywater on lawns, instead of sending it back to the river for the next user downstream? How much water would actually be conserved? And what would it take to regulate this?

…One of the only examples of a large-scale greywater system in the state is a dorm at the University of Colorado Boulder. Williams Village North was built with plumbing that collects wastewater from showers and sinks to flush toilets. Since the city of Boulder hasn’t adopted greywater, the system operates under a research exemption.

“Testing for chlorine levels, alkaline levels. And greywater systems of this size and magnitude are still fairly new technology, and we do want to make sure that we understand it better before we implement in a new building.”

At peak use, when students are in school and the dorm is full, the system uses about 2,000 gallons of greywater a day to flush toilets. It’s an example of where some of the biggest year-round savings can happen.

Sybil Sharvelle, an associate engineering professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, has been involved in greywater research for nearly 20 years. She also advised the state on the rules and is disappointed to see all the growth and construction over the past 10 years has failed to include greywater.

Arkansas Valley Conduit update

From High Plains Public Radio (Abigail Beckman):

Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.

He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”

“Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”

Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.

But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.

And then there’s the cost.

“Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.

It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”

It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.

The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.

“[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.

Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.

But it’s still a $500 million project.

“The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”

Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…

[Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.

“We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”