Thornton sues dozens of producers of “forever chemicals,” alleging water contamination: The lawsuit is asking that the companies pay to clean #Thornton’s contaminated surface and #groundwater — The #Denver Post #PFAS

Firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals is responsible for contamination in Fountain Valley. Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

Thornton filed a lawsuit Monday [January 30, 2023] in South Carolina District Court against dozens of companies and people that produce PFAS, or “forever chemicals”, claiming the toxic substances contaminated the city’s water supply. Not only is Thornton suing a slate of high-profile companies, like 3M, DuPont and Chemours, it’s also suing 20 unnamed “entities or persons” that might have “permitted, caused and/or contributed” to the contamination of the city’s water. For decades the companies understood that PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, do not degrade naturally and were accumulating in people’s bodies, according to the lawsuit’s complaint…

Thornton officials announced in July that its water supply exceeded the EPA’s new – sharply reduced – limits for PFAS by more than 1,000 times. The city supplies water to about 160,000 people. At the time, Thornton’s water treatment and quality manager said the source of the chemicals weren’t immediately clear but that the city had stopped using some wells from which they drew water and began treating other water sources with new chemicals to draw out the toxic substances. Now city officials believe the contamination comes from firefighting foam used across the area for training and for actual fires, the lawsuit says. Thornton hired a consultant to help understand how best to clean the contamination. Cleanup and damage is expected to haunt the city “for many years to come,” the lawsuit says. The city is looking for money from the companies for the damage done to its property and for the cost of “investigating, remediating, and monitoring” its drinking water. While Thornton appears to be the first city in Colorado to sue PFAS manufacturers, its legal action follows a similar lawsuit filed nearly a year ago by Attorney General Phil Weiser.

White House launches new push to help states remove lead pipes that carry drinking #water: Colorado received $121M last year for lead line fixes — #Colorado Newsline

Denver Water crews dug up old lead service lines from customers’ homes for years of study that led to the utility’s Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Ashley Murray):

The White House on Friday announced plans to speed up the use of infrastructure law funds to replace lead pipes in underserved communities, with a focus on Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin beginning this year.

The four states, each led by Democratic governors, will be part of what’s called the Lead Service Replacement Accelerators program in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor.

The administration characterized it as a way to “drive progress” in using the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding dedicated to removing and replacing lead lines that carry drinking water to homes and schools. Exposure to lead in drinking water, particularly in children or pregnant women, can cause lasting neurological damage.

“​​Our Lead Service Line Replacement Accelerators demonstrate our commitment to ensuring every community has access to safe, clean drinking water,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Friday. 

“By leveraging the historic investment made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are moving one step closer to achieving President Biden’s vision of 100% lead-free water systems for all.”

Help for communities

The new initiative is meant to bring “hands-on support” and technical assistance from the EPA to guide communities through the lead service line removal process. That assistance might include help completing federal grant and loan applications, or expertise in finding labor and contractors.

Up to 10 million households and 400,000 schools and child care centers have lead service lines, according to the White House.

“It should be a right of every occupant of this earth and certainly of our country to have clean water, let’s just start there. Then let us understand, because many may not be aware, sadly, that it is not a right that is guaranteed to all the occupants of our country,” said Vice President Kamala Harris at the Accelerating Lead Pipe Replacement Summit held Friday at the White House.

“In many communities, families, children, parents cannot take for granted that they will turn on a tap and that clean water will come out. And I think we would all agree there is nothing about this that should be considered a luxury or an option,” Harris said during the summit’s keynote conversation with Regan.

Invited guests who attended the summit included mayors, philanthropic organizations, advocacy groups and community leaders.

Harris sent a letter to governors across the U.S. inviting them to join a wider, overarching coalition called the Biden-Harris Get the Lead Out Partnership. 

So far it has brought together 123 municipalities, water utilities, community organizations and labor unions that have agreed to deploy federal funds to replace lead pipes, according to the vice president’s office.

Some of the communities set to participate in the new plan include:

  • East Newark and Newark, New Jersey
  • Erie County and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Edgerton, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Wausau, Wisconsin

“We have labor, nonprofits, our agencies, and the private sector, all who are here with one thing in mind, and that’s to get lead pipes out of all of our communities,” Regan said Friday [January 27, 2022].

How funds are divided

The administration budgeted $15 billion in infrastructure funds over several years for the EPA to divvy up among states for lead service line replacements. 

Another $11.7 billion was directed toward the EPA’s state revolving fund meant to support a range of water quality projects, including lead pipe replacements.

In 2022 the administration allocated a portion of the funds to states and territories to cover the next five years of lead line fixes. Colorado was allocated $121 million.

The states that received the highest allocations were California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

“Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water, but far too many communities here in Pennsylvania suffer from old and outdated lead pipes that endanger the health of our children and families,” Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said in a statement Friday about being named to the accelerator program. “My Administration is ready to work with President Biden, Vice President Harris, and our federal partners to make life-saving investments that will deliver clean drinking to families across the Commonwealth, especially in communities that have been left behind for too long.”

Allotments for 2023 are expected to be announced in the spring after the EPA publishes its latest, legally required Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs and Survey Assessment, according to the agency.

Some advocacy organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, criticized the breakdown of last year’s funds, arguing that states with the most lead pipes — like Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Ohio — were receiving fewer funds per replacement than states with fewer lead pipes.

“Every state has lead service lines, but some have significantly more than others. The highest concentration of lead service lines delivering water to homes are in the upper Midwest and Northeast states as well as Texas,” the NRDC’s Cyndi Roper wrote in July.

Risks of childhood lead poisoning not equal

Not all children and families are equally susceptible to lead exposure. The risk is greater for those who live in low-income households and in older homes where lead plumbing fixtures, pipes and lead-based paint have not been replaced or remediated.

Research as recent as 2021 continues to show that Black children and children in low-income communities consistently show higher blood lead levels than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

“It is up to communities to hold our elected officials accountable [for] implementing the infrastructure bill. It’s up to utilities to share what they need to ramp up their lead service line [replacement] programs. Most importantly, it is up to our government agencies and mayors and governors to act with a sense of urgency to prioritize removing every single lead service line,” Deanna Branch, of the Milwaukee-based Coalition for Lead Emergency, said at Friday’s White House summit.

Branch was accompanied at the podium by her 9-year-old son, Aiden, who at the age of 2 was hospitalized with lead poisoning.

No level of lead is safe for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC estimates that about a half a million children in the U.S. have elevated blood lead levels, meaning the amount of lead found during a blood test is higher than most other children.

Some of the most common sources of exposure include lead paint in older housing stock, water carried through lead pipes, soil and dust near industrial sites and imported toys or jewelry.

Children under age 6 are most at risk for lead poisoning because of their hand-to-mouth behavior and because their developing nervous systems are vulnerable to what can be permanent effects of lead exposure, including lower IQ, behavioral problems, developmental delays and learning difficulties.

Editor’s note: East Newark and Newark, New Jersey; Erie County and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Edgerton, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Wausau, Wisconsin, are part of the White House “Biden-Harris Get the Lead Out Partnership.” A previous version of this report misstated which program they were categorized under.

The Cold War Legacy Lurking in U.S. Groundwater — ProPublica

Sign in the Lisbon Valley of southeastern Utah. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the ProPublica website, by Mark Olalde, Mollie Simon and Alex Mierjeski, video by Gerardo del Valle, Liz Moughon and Mauricio Rodríguez Pons

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

In America’s rush to build the nuclear arsenal that won the Cold War, safety was sacrificed for speed.

Uranium mills that helped fuel the weapons also dumped radioactive and toxic waste into rivers like the Cheyenne in South Dakota and the Animas in Colorado. Thousands of sheep turned blue and died after foraging on land tainted by processing sites in North Dakota. And cancer wards across the West swelled with sick uranium workers.

The U.S. government bankrolled the industry, and mining companies rushed to profit, building more than 50 mills and processing sites to refine uranium ore.

But the government didn’t have a plan for the toxic byproducts of this nuclear assembly line. Some of the more than 250 million tons of toxic and radioactive detritus, known as tailings, scattered into nearby communities, some spilled into streams and some leaked into aquifers.

Congress finally created the agency that now oversees uranium mill waste cleanup in 1974 and enacted the law governing that process in 1978, but the industry would soon collapse due to falling uranium prices and rising safety concerns. Most mills closed by the mid-1980s.

When cleanup began, federal regulators first focused on the most immediate public health threat, radiation exposure. Agencies or companies completely covered waste at most mills to halt leaks of the carcinogenic gas radon and moved some waste by truck and train to impoundments specially designed to encapsulate it.

But the government has fallen down in addressing another lingering threat from the industry’s byproducts: widespread water pollution.

Moab tailings site with Spanish Valley to the south

Regulators haven’t made a full accounting of whether they properly addressed groundwater contamination. So, for the first time, ProPublica cataloged cleanup efforts at the country’s 48 uranium mills, seven related processing sites and numerous tailings piles.

At least 84% of the sites have polluted groundwater. And nearly 75% still have either no liner or only a partial liner between mill waste and the ground, leaving them susceptible to leaking pollution into groundwater. In the arid West, where most of the sites are located, climate change is drying up surface water, making underground reserves increasingly important.

ProPublica’s review of thousands of pages of government and corporate documents, accompanied by interviews with 100 people, also found that cleanup has been hampered by infighting among regulatory agencies and the frequency with which regulators grant exemptions to their own water quality standards.

The result: a long history of water pollution and sickness.

Reports by government agencies found high concentrations of cancer near a mill in Utah and elevated cancer risks from mill waste in New Mexico that can persist until cleanup is complete. Residents near those sites and others have seen so many cases of cancer and thyroid disease that they believe the mills and waste piles are to blame, although epidemiological studies to prove such a link have rarely been done.

“The government didn’t pay attention up front and make sure it was done right. They just said, ‘Go get uranium,’” said Bill Dixon, who spent decades cleaning up uranium and nuclear sites with the state of Oregon and in the private sector.

Tom Hanrahan grew up near uranium mills in Colorado and New Mexico and watched three of his three brothers contract cancer. He believes his siblings were “casualties” of the war effort.

“Somebody knew that this was a ticking atomic bomb,” Hanrahan said. “But, in military terms, this was the cost of fighting a war.”

A Flawed System

When a uranium mill shuts down, here is what’s supposed to happen: The company demolishes the buildings, decontaminates the surrounding soil and water, and encases the waste to stop it from leaking cancer-causing pollution. The company then asks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the lead agency monitoring America’s radioactive infrastructure, to approve the handoff of the property and its associated liability to the Department of Energy’s Office of Legacy Management for monitoring and maintenance.

ProPublica’s analysis found that half of the country’s former mills haven’t made it through this process and even many that did have never fully addressed pollution concerns. This is despite the federal government spending billions of dollars on cleanup, in addition to the several hundred million dollars that have been spent by companies.

Often, companies or agencies tasked with cleanup are unable to meet water quality standards, so they request exemptions to bypass them. The NRC or state agencies almost always approve these requests, allowing contaminants like uranium and selenium to be left in the groundwater. When ingested in high quantities, those elements can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, respectively.

The DOE estimates that some sites have individually polluted more than a billion gallons of water.

Bill Dam, who spent decades regulating and researching uranium mill cleanup with the NRC, at the DOE and in the private sector, said water pollution won’t be controlled until all the waste and contaminated material is moved. “The federal government’s taken a Band-Aid approach to groundwater contamination,” he said.

The pollution has disproportionately harmed Indian Country.

Six of the mills were built on reservations, and another eight mills are within 5 miles of one, some polluting aquifers used by tribes. And the country’s last conventional uranium mill still in operation — the White Mesa Mill in Utah — sits adjacent to a Ute Mountain Ute community.

So many uranium mines, mills and waste piles pockmark the Navajo Nation that the Environmental Protection Agency created a comic book superhero, Gamma Goat, to warn Diné children away from the sites.

NRC staff acknowledged that the process of cleaning up America’s uranium mills can be slow but said that the agency prioritizes thoroughness over speed, that each site’s groundwater conditions are complex and unique, and that cleanup exemptions are granted only after gathering input from regulators and the public.

“The NRC’s actions provide reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety and the environment,” David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, said in a statement to ProPublica.

“Cleanup Standards Might Suddenly Change”

For all the government’s success in demolishing mills and isolating waste aboveground, regulators failed to protect groundwater.

Between 1958 and 1962, a mill near Gunnison, Colorado, churned through 540,000 tons of ore. The process, one step in concentrating the ore into weapons-grade uranium, leaked uranium and manganese into groundwater, and in 1990, regulators found that residents had been drawing that contaminated water from 22 wells.

The DOE moved the waste and connected residents to clean water. But pollution lingered in the aquifer beneath the growing town where some residents still get their water from private wells. The DOE finally devised a plan in 2000, which the NRC later approved, settling on a strategy called “natural flushing,” essentially waiting for groundwater to dilute the contamination until it reached safe levels.

In 2015, the agency acknowledged that the plan had failed. Sediments absorb and release uranium, so waiting for contamination to be diluted doesn’t solve the problem, said Dam, the former NRC and DOE regulator.

In Wyoming, state regulators wrote to the NRC in 2006 to lambast the agency’s “inadequate” analysis of natural flushing compared to other cleanup options. “Unfortunately, the citizens of Wyoming may likely have to deal with both the consequences and the indirect costs of the NRC’s decisions for generations to come,” the state’s letter said.

ProPublica identified mills in six states — including eight former mill sites in Colorado — where regulators greenlit the strategy as part of a cleanup plan.

When neither water treatment nor nature solves the problem, federal and state regulators can simply relax their water quality standards, allowing harmful levels of pollutants to be left in aquifers.

County officials made a small area near the Gunnison mill off-limits to new wells, and the DOE suggested changing water quality standards to allow uranium concentrations as much as 475 times what naturally occurred in the area. It wouldn’t endanger human health, the agency said, because people wouldn’t come into contact with the water.

ProPublica found that regulators granted groundwater cleanup exemptions at 18 of the 28 sites where cleanup has been deemed complete and liability has been handed over to the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management. Across all former uranium mills, the NRC or state agencies granted at least 34 requests for water quality exemptions while denying as few as three.

“They’re cutting standards, so we’re getting weak cleanup that future generations may not find acceptable,” said Paul Robinson, who spent four decades researching the cleanup of the uranium industry with the Southwest Research and Information Center, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit. “These great mining companies of the world, they got away cheap.”

NRC staffers examine studies that are submitted by companies’ consultants and other agencies to show how cleanup plans will adequately address water contamination. Some companies change their approach in response to feedback from regulators, and the public can view parts of the process in open meetings. Still, the data and groundwater modeling that underpin these requests for water cleanup exemptions are often wrong.

One reason: When mining companies built the mills, they rarely sampled groundwater to determine how much contamination occurred naturally, leaving it open to debate how clean groundwater should be when the companies leave, according to Roberta Hoy, a former uranium program specialist with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. She said federal regulators also haven’t done enough to understand certain contaminants at uranium mills.

In one recent case, the NRC fined a mining company $14,500 for incomplete and inaccurate groundwater modeling data. Companies use such data to prove that pollution won’t spread in the future. Freeport-McMoRan, the corporation that owns the fined mining company, did not respond to a request for comment.

At a 2013 conference co-hosted by the NRC and a mining trade group, a presentation from two consultants compared groundwater modeling to a sorcerer peering at a crystal ball.

ProPublica identified at least seven sites where regulators granted cleanup exemptions based on incorrect groundwater modeling. At these sites, uranium, lead, nitrates, radium and other substances were found at levels higher than models had predicted and regulators had allowed.

McIntyre, the NRC spokesperson, said that groundwater models “inherently include uncertainty,” and the government typically requires sites to be monitored. “The NRC requires conservatism in the review process and groundwater monitoring to verify a model’s accuracy,” he said.

Water quality standards impose specific limits on the allowable concentration of contaminants — for example, the number of micrograms of uranium per liter of water. But ProPublica found that the NRC granted exemptions in at least five states that were so vague they didn’t even include numbers and were instead labeled as “narrative.” The agency justified this by saying the groundwater was not near towns or was naturally unfit for human consumption.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

This system worries residents of Cañon City, Colorado. Emily Tracy, who serves on the City Council, has lived a few miles from the area’s now-demolished uranium mill since the late 1970s and remembers floods and winds carrying mill waste into neighborhoods from the 15.3-million-ton pile, which is now partially covered.

Uranium and other contaminants had for decades tainted private wells that some residents used for drinking water and agriculture, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The company that operated the mill, Cotter Corp., finally connected residents to clean water by the early 1990s and completed cleanup work such as decontaminating soil after the EPA got involved. But the site remains without a final cleanup plan — which the company that now owns the site is drafting — and the state has eased water quality standards for molybdenum, a metal that uranium mining and milling releases into the environment.

“We have great concerns about what it might look like or whether cleanup standards might suddenly change before our eyes,” Tracy said.

Jim Harrington, managing director of the site’s current owner, Colorado Legacy Land, said that a final cleanup strategy has not been selected and that any proposal would need to be approved by both the EPA and the state.

Layers of Regulation

It typically takes 35 years from the day a mill shuts down until the NRC approves or estimates it will approve cleanup as being complete, ProPublica found. Two former mills aren’t expected to finish this process until 2047.

Chad Smith, a DOE spokesperson, said mills that were previously transferred to the government have polluted groundwater more than expected, so regulators are more cautious now.

The involvement of so many regulators can also slow cleanup.

Five sites were so contaminated that the EPA stepped in via its Superfund program, which aims to clean up the most polluted places in the country.

At the Homestake mill in New Mexico, where cleanup is jointly overseen by the NRC and the EPA, Larry Camper, a now-retired NRC division director, acknowledged in a 2011 meeting “that having multiple regulators for the site is not good government” and had complicated the cleanup, according to meeting minutes.

Homestake Mining Company of California did not comment on Camper’s view of the process.

Only one site where the EPA is involved in cleanup has been successfully handed off to the DOE, and even there, uranium may still persist above regulatory limits in groundwater and surface water, according to the agency. An EPA spokesperson said the agency has requested additional safety studies at that site.

“A lot of people make money in the bureaucratic system just pontificating over these things,” said William Turner, a geologist who at different times has worked for mining companies, for the U.S. Geological Survey and as the New Mexico Natural Resources Trustee.

If the waste is on tribal land, it adds another layer of government.

The federal government and the Navajo Nation have long argued over the source of some groundwater contamination at the former Navajo Mill built by Kerr-McGee Corp. in Shiprock, New Mexico, with the tribe pointing to the mill as the key source. Smith of the DOE said the department is guided by water monitoring results “to minimize opportunities for disagreement.”

Tronox, which acquired parts of Kerr-McGee, did not respond to requests for comment.

May 2022 wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

All the while, 2.5 million tons of waste sit adjacent to the San Juan River in the town of 8,000 people. Monitoring wells situated between the unlined waste pile and the river have shown nitrate levels as high as 80 times the limit set by regulators to protect human health, uranium levels 30 times the limit and selenium levels 20 times the limit.

“I can’t seem to get the federal agencies to acknowledge the positions of the Navajo Nation,” said Dariel Yazzie, who formerly managed the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Program.

At some sites, overlapping jurisdictions mean even less cleanup gets done.

Such was the case near Griffin, North Dakota, where six cows and 2,500 sheep died in 1973; their bodies emitted a blue glow in the morning light. The animals lay near kilns that once served as rudimentary uranium mills operated by Kerr-McGee. To isolate the element, piles of uranium-laden coal at the kilns were “covered with old tires, doused in diesel fuel, ignited, and left to smolder for a couple of months,” according to the North Dakota Geological Survey.

The flock is believed to have been poisoned by land contaminated with high levels of molybdenum. The danger extended beyond livestock. In a 1989 draft environmental assessment, the DOE found that “fatal cancer from exposure to residual radioactive materials” from the Griffin kilns and another site less than a mile from a town of 1,000 people called Belfield was eight times as high as it would have been if the sites had been decontaminated.

But after agreeing to work with the federal government, North Dakota did an about-face. State officials balked at a requirement to pay 10% of the cleanup cost — the federal government would cover the rest — and in 1995 asked that the sites no longer be regulated under the federal law. The DOE had already issued a report that said doing nothing “would not be consistent” with the law, but the department approved the state’s request and walked away, saying it could only clean a site if the state paid its share.

“North Dakota determined there was minimal risk to public health at that time and disturbing the grounds further would create a potential for increased public health risk,” said David Stradinger, manager of the Radiation Control Program in the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. Contaminated equipment was removed, and the state is reevaluating one of the sites, he said.

“A Problem for the Better Part of 50 Years”

While the process for cleaning up former mills is lengthy and laid out in regulations, regulators and corporations have made questionable and contradictory decisions in their handling of toxic waste and tainted water.

More than 40 million people rely on drinking water from the Colorado River, but the NRC and DOE allowed companies to leak contamination from mill waste directly into the river, arguing that the waterway quickly dilutes it.

Federal regulators relocated tailings at two former mills that processed uranium and vanadium, another heavy metal, on the banks of the Colorado River in Rifle, Colorado, because radiation levels there were deemed too high. Yet they left some waste at one former processing site in a shallow aquifer connected to the river and granted an exemption that allowed cleanup to end and uranium to continue leaking into the waterway.

The Bluewater disposal site was a uranium-ore-processing site addressed by Title II of the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA). The site transitioned to DOE in 1997 administered under the provisions of a general Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license.

For a former mill built by the Anaconda Copper Company in Bluewater, New Mexico, the NRC approved the company’s request to hand the site off to the DOE in 1997. About a decade later, the state raised concerns about uranium that had spread several miles in an aquifer that provides drinking water for more than 15,000 people.

The contamination hasn’t reached the wells used by nearby communities, and Smith, the DOE spokesperson, said the department has no plans to treat the uranium in the aquifer. It’s too late for much more cleanup, since the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management’s mission is to monitor and maintain decommissioned sites, not clean them. Flawed cleanup efforts caused problems at several former mills after they were handed off to the agency, according to a 2020 Government Accountability Office report.

“Uranium has been overplayed as a boom,” said Travis Stills, an environmental attorney in Colorado who has sued over the cleanup of old uranium infrastructure. “The boom was a firecracker, and it left a problem for the better part of 50 years now.”

“No Way in Hell We’re Going to Leave This Stuff Here”

Mining companies can’t remove every atom of uranium from groundwater, experts said, but they can do a better job of decommissioning uranium mills. With the federal government yet to take control of half the country’s former mills, regulators still have time to compel some companies to do more cleanup.

Between 1958 and 1961, the Lakeview Mining Company generated 736,000 tons of tailings at a uranium mill in southern Oregon. Like at most sites, uranium and other pollution leaked into an aquifer.

“There’s no way in hell we’re going to leave this stuff here,” Dixon, the nuclear cleanup specialist, remembered thinking. He represented the state of Oregon at the former mill, which was one of the first sites to relocate its waste to a specially engineered disposal cell.

A local advisory committee at the Lakeview site allowed residents and local politicians to offer input to federal regulators. By the end of the process, the government had paid to connect residents to a clean drinking water system and the waste was moved away from the town, where it was contained by a 2-foot-thick clay liner and covered with 3 feet of rocks, soil and vegetation. Local labor got priority for cleanup contracts, and a 170-acre solar farm now stands on the former mill site.

But relocation isn’t required. At some sites, companies and regulators saw a big price tag and either moved residents away or merely left the waste where it was.

“I recognize Lakeview is easy and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to New Mexico,” Dixon said, referring to the nation’s largest waste piles. “But it’s just so sad to see that this hasn’t been taken care of.”

Methodology

To investigate the cleanup of America’s uranium mills, ProPublica assembled a list of uranium processing and disposal sites from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s most recent “Status of the Decommissioning Program” annual reportthe WISE Uranium Project and several federal agencies’ websites. Reporters reviewed fact sheets from the NRC and the Department of Energybefore studying the history of each mill contained in thousands of pages of documents that are archived mainly in the NRC’s Agencywide Documents Access and Management System, known as ADAMS.

We solicited feedback on our findings from 10 experts who worked or work at the NRC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the Southwest Research and Information Center, the University of New Mexico and elsewhere. Additionally, we interviewed dozens of current and former regulators, residents of communities adjacent to mills, representatives of tribes, academics, politicians and activists to better understand the positive and negative impacts of the uranium industry and the bureaucracy that oversees uranium mill cleanup.

We also traveled to observe mill sites in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

Map of Abandoned Uranium Mines on the Navajo Nation. Credit: EPA

Just one meal of caught fish per year is a significant dose of #PFAS: “These fish are incredibly contaminated.”

Click the link to read the article on the Environmental Health News website (Grace van Deelen):

People who eat just one U.S. freshwater fish a year are likely to show a significant increase of a cancer-causing chemical in their bloodstream, new research warns.

An analysis of U.S. government data derived from more than 500 fish samples revealed that the majority of fish living in streams, rivers and lakes across the country are contaminated with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at levels almost 300 times higher than found in fish from other sources, including ocean and farmed fish, according to the paper published recently in the journal Environmental Research. 

Importantly, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), a type of PFAS known to be particularly harmful, was the largest contributor to total PFAS levels found in freshwater fish samples, averaging 74% of the total, according to the study.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers PFOS specifically to be a hazardous substance that “may present a substantial danger to human health” due to its links to cancer and effects on reproductive, developmental, and cardiovascular health, and warns that the chemical “may present a substantial danger to human health.” Other PFAS have also been linked to cancer, immune deficiencies, thyroid disease, and other health problems.

Great Lakes Watershed.

Freshwater fish represent an important U.S. food source, especially for people living on a low income. About 660,000 people in the U.S. eat fish they catch themselves three or more times per week.

“Consuming a single freshwater fish could measurably increase PFAS levels in your body,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and one of the authors of the paper. “These fish are incredibly contaminated.”

Many studies have shown that PFAS chemicals are pervasive in the environment and the new analysis underscores the growing understanding that humans and animals have little avenue for escaping contamination. The research paper found that fish from all 48 continental U.S. states showed PFAS contamination, and only one of the samples did not contain any detectable PFAS.

The study also found higher levels of PFAS among fish from the Great Lakes as compared to water bodies elsewhere, indicating that the Great Lakes are particularly vulnerable to contamination. According to Andrews, this could be because the water in the Great Lakes empties into the ocean much more slowly than other water bodies, aiding the accumulation of PFAS.

Heidi Pickard, a PhD candidate at Harvard University who studies PFAS in aquatic ecosystems and was not involved in the new study, said the results are likely an underestimate of the actual contamination present in fish, given the lack of ability to test for all of the thousands of PFAS chemicals and PFAS precursors — chemicals that break down to form PFAS once they enter the environment.

“We’re only starting to be able to measure and quantify [other PFAS compounds],” she said.

A ubiquitous pollutant

PFAS are also often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and bioaccumulate, persisting in the bodies of humans and animals. There are more than 4,000 man-made PFAS compounds used by a variety of industries for such things as electronics manufacturing, oil recovery, paints, fire-fighting foams, cleaning products and non-stick cookware.

According to one nationwide study, 97% of Americans have detectable levels of PFAS in their blood, and the chemical is a ubiquitous pollutant in water and soil across the country.

The Biden Administration is implementing a series of steps to try to restrict PFAS from contaminating water, air, land, and food as well as to clean up PFAS pollution and speed up research on other PFAS issues.

Related: PFAS on our shelves and in our bodies

The findings are “very concerning” to communities that frequently consume fish from local waterways, said Andrews. The general U.S. population varies greatly in their frequency of fish consumption; anglers, individuals living near water bodies, and immigrant communities coming from cultures with high fish consumption are usually considered the highest consumers.

These people are at higher risk of PFAS contamination; for example, a 2017 study found that higher consumption of fish and shellfish was associated with elevated levels of some PFAS. A 2022 study of Burmese immigrant anglers in New York State found elevated levels of PFOS in the anglers compared to the general population. Some people, said Pickard, rely on freshwater fish for subsistence and may not be able to afford substituting store-bought fish for locally caught fish.

Catching and eating fish is also a sovereign right for Indigenous tribal nations.

Regulation lacking

While the EPA recognizes that eating U.S. freshwater fish exposes fishers to PFOS, there are currently no federal fish consumption regulations to protect fishers from these or other PFAS chemicals. Only 14 of 50 states have implemented PFAS-specific fish consumption advisories, which does not reflect the full extent of the contamination problem, according to the research paper.

For example, many states in the Great Lakes region use guidelines set by the Great Lakes Consortium for Fish Consumption Advisories to determine regulations. Those guidelines are based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 drinking water standards.

Related: What are PFAS? 

In 2022, the EPA substantially lowered the drinking water standards — by about three orders of magnitude — with new interim guidelines. If fish advisories across the country were updated to reflect the EPA’s interim guidelines, nearly all fish from rivers, lakes and streams could be considered unsafe, according to the research paper.

Sean Strom, an environmental toxicologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said a lack of funding and scientific capacity among state agencies is likely hindering the creation of new consumption advisories. States that have been monitoring PFAS for longer are more able to enact public health measures in response to changing science, according to Strom.

There is growing evidence that PFAS are affecting other wildlife across the country. The results for freshwater fish, said Andrews, is “just scratching the surface” of the likely contamination by industrial chemicals happening in ecosystems worldwide.

Pickard agreed and said more research is needed to show how PFAS are impacting the lives and health of wildlife.

“We have a significant challenge in being able to assess ecological risk for all these PFAS and what that’s going to mean for species,” she said. “What are the biological effects going to be for them?”

Cleaning up the country’s water bodies is unlikely, according to Ranier Lohmann, a professor of marine chemistry who studies PFAS at the University of Rhode Island.

“There’s not an easy solution to widespread, low-level contamination,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was produced in collaboration with The New Lede. 

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Related Articles Around The Web

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

Say hello to the EPA “PFAS Analytics” website

Screenshot of EPA PFAS Analytics website interactive map for Region 8 January 11, 2023.

Click the link to access the EPA website:

This page contains location-specific information related to PFAS manufacture, release, and occurrence in the environment as well as facilities potentially handling PFAS:

EPA Requires Reporting on Releases and Other Waste Management for Nine Additional #PFAS

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

Click the link to read the release on the EPA website:

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the automatic addition of nine per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) list. 

TRI data are reported to EPA annually by facilities in certain industry sectors and federal facilities that manufacture, process, or otherwise use TRI-listed chemicals above certain quantities. The data include quantities of such chemicals that were released into the environment or otherwise managed as waste. Information collected through TRI allows communities to learn how facilities in their area are managing listed chemicals. The data collected also helps to support informed decision-making by companies, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the public. 

The addition of these PFAS supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to address the impacts of these forever chemicals, and advances EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap to confront the human health and environmental risks of PFAS. 

“Communities have a right to know how and where PFAS are being managed, released, or recycled,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff. “EPA continues to work to fill critical data gaps for these chemicals and ensure this data is publicly available.”

These nine PFAS were added to the TRI list pursuant to the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which provides the framework for the automatic addition of PFAS to TRI each year in response to certain EPA activities involving such PFAS. For TRI Reporting Year 2023 (reporting forms due by July 1, 2024), reporting is required for nine additional PFAS, bringing the total PFAS subject to TRI reporting to 189.

Addition of four PFAS no longer claimed as confidential business information

Under NDAA section 7321(e), EPA must review confidential business information (CBI) claims before adding a PFAS to the TRI list if the chemical identity is subject to a claim of protection from disclosure under 5 U.S.C. 552(a). EPA previously identified four PFAS for addition to the TRI list based on the NDAA’s provision to include certain PFAS upon the NDAA’s enactment. However, due to CBI claims related to their identities, these PFAS were not added to the TRI list at that time. The identities of these PFAS were subsequently declassified in an update to the TSCA Inventory in February 2022 because at least one manufacturer did not claim them as confidential during prior CDR reporting. Because they were no longer confidential, pursuant to the NDAA, the four chemicals were added to the TRI list:

  • Alcohols, C8-16, γ-ω-perfluoro, reaction products with 1,6-diisocyanatohexane, glycidol and stearyl alc. (2728655-42-1)
  • Acetamide, N-[3-(dimethylamino)propyl]-, 2-[(γ-ω-perfluoro-C4-20-alkyl)thio] derivs. (2738952-61-7)
  • Acetic acid, 2-[(γ-ω-perfluoro-C4-20-alkyl)thio] derivs., 2-hydroxypropyl esters (2744262-09-5)
  • Acetamide, N-(2-aminoethyl)-, 2-[(γ-ω-perfluoro-C4-20-alkyl)thio] derivs., polymers with N1,N1-dimethyl-1,3-propanediamine, epichlorohydrin and ethylenediamine, oxidized (2742694-36-4)

Addition of five PFAS with final toxicity values

The 2020 NDAA includes a provision that automatically adds PFAS to the TRI list upon the Agency’s finalization of a toxicity value. In December 2022, EPA finalized a toxicity value for Perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA), its anion, and its related salts. Pursuant to the NDAA, the following five chemicals have been added to the TRI: 

  • PFBA (375-22-4) 
  • Perfluorobutanoate (45048-62-2)
  • Ammonium perfluorobutanoate (10495-86-0) 
  • Potassium perfluorobutanoate (2966-54-3)
  • Sodium perfluorobutanoate (2218-54-4) 

As of January 1, 2023, facilities which are subject to reporting requirements for these chemicals should start tracking their activities involving these PFAS as required by Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. 

As part of EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, the Agency also proposed a rule in December 2022 to enhance PFAS reporting to TRI by eliminating an exemption that allows facilities to avoid reporting information on PFAS when those chemicals are used in small, or de minimis, concentrations. Because PFAS are used at low concentrations in many products, this rule would ensure that covered industry sectors and federal facilities that make or use TRI-listed PFAS will no longer be able to rely on the de minimis exemption to avoid disclosing their PFAS releases and other waste management quantities for these chemicals.

Learn more about the addition of these PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

Poudre School District investigating high copper levels found in new #Wellington school’s #water — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

Looking west on Cleveland Avenue in Wellington. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47841975

Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan website (Erin Odell). Here’s an excerpt:

Editor’s note: Rice Elementary School became the second Wellington school to find elevated copper levels in some of its drinking water sources over PSD’s winter break, according to a district email sent to the school’s staff and families Wednesday. The Coloradoan will continue its reporting on this development.

Poudre School District is investigating the cause of issues with Wellington Middle-High School’s drinking water after two science classes at the school found high levels of copper in it late last year. Following the class tests — which showed levels more than double the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level for copper in drinking water at two water bottle filling stations — PSD took its own water samples from around the school Dec. 22, later confirming through a third-party lab that copper levels in several fixtures and bottle filling stations exceeded the EPA’s threshold, according to a district email to the school’s staff and parents Tuesday [January 3, 2023]…

The Town of Wellington also took samples of its own around the same time, ultimately ruling out the town’s water distribution lines as the cause for the elevated copper levels, the town and PSD both said. While PSD hasn’t yet confirmed what’s causing the elevated copper levels, the general contractor who built Wellington Middle-High School believes the issue could be tied to the newly constructed building’s water softener equipment, according to the district.

EPA and Army Finalize Rule Establishing Definition of #WOTUS and Restoring Fundamental Water Protections

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

Click the link to read the release on the EPA website:

Today [December 30, 2022], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of the Army (the agencies) announced a final rule establishing a durable definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to reduce uncertainty from changing regulatory definitions, protect people’s health, and support economic opportunity. The final rule restores essential water protections that were in place prior to 2015 under the Clean Water Act for traditional navigable waters, the territorial seas, interstate waters, as well as upstream water resources that significantly affect those waters. As a result, this action will strengthen fundamental protections for waters that are sources of drinking water while supporting agriculture, local economies, and downstream communities.

“When Congress passed the Clean Water Act 50 years ago, it recognized that protecting our waters is essential to ensuring healthy communities and a thriving economy,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Following extensive stakeholder engagement, and building on what we’ve learned from previous rules, EPA is working to deliver a durable definition of WOTUS that safeguards our nation’s waters, strengthens economic opportunity, and protects people’s health while providing greater certainty for farmers, ranchers, and landowners.”

“This final rule recognizes the essential role of the nation’s water resources in communities across the nation,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael L. Connor. “The rule’s clear and supportable definition of waters of the United States will allow for more efficient and effective implementation and provide the clarity long desired by farmers, industry, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders.”

This rule establishes a durable definition of “waters of the United States” that is grounded in the authority provided by Congress in the Clean Water Act, the best available science, and extensive implementation experience stewarding the nation’s waters. The rule returns to a reasonable and familiar framework founded on the pre-2015 definition with updates to reflect existing Supreme Court decisions, the latest science, and the agencies’ technical expertise. It establishes limits that appropriately draw the boundary of waters subject to federal protection.

The final rule restores fundamental protections so that the nation will be closer to achieving Congress’ goal in the Clean Water Act that American waters be fishable and swimmable, and above all, protective of public health. It will also ensure that the nation’s waters support recreation, wildlife, and agricultural activity, which is fundamental to the American economy. The final rule will cover those waters that Congress fundamentally sought to protect in the Clean Water Act—traditional navigable waters, the territorial seas, interstate waters, as well as upstream water resources that significantly affect those waters.

More information, including a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice and fact sheets, is available at EPA’s “Waters of the United States” website.

Accompanying the issuance of the final rule, the agencies are also releasing several resources to support clear and effective implementation in communities across America. Today, a summary of 10 regional roundtables was released that synthesizes key actions the agencies will take to enhance and improve implementation of “waters of the United States.” These actions were recommendations provided during the 10 regional roundtables where the agencies heard directly from communities on what is working well from an implementation perspective and where there are opportunities for improvement. The roundtables focused on the geographic similarities and differences across regions and provided site specific feedback about the way the scope of “waters of the United States” has been implemented by the agencies.

Today, the agencies are also taking action to improve federal coordination in the ongoing implementation of “waters of the United States.” First, EPA and Army are issuing a joint coordination memo to ensure the accuracy and consistency of jurisdictional determinations under this final rule. Second, the agencies are issuing a memo with U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide clarity on the agencies’ programs under the Clean Water Act and Food Security Act.

Background
On June 9, 2021, EPA and the Department of the Army announced their intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” to better protect our nation’s vital water resources that support public health, environmental protection, agricultural activity, and economic growth. On Nov. 18, 2021, the agencies announced the signing of a proposed rule revising the definition of “waters of the United States.”

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants from a point source into “navigable waters” unless otherwise authorized under the Act. “Navigable waters” are defined in the Act as “the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.” Thus, “waters of the United States” is a threshold term establishing the geographic scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The term “waters of the United States” is not defined by the Act but has been defined by the agencies in regulations since the 1970s and jointly implemented in the agencies’ respective programmatic activities

Interview: Giving Rivers the “Freedom Space” to Heal Themselves and Protect Against #ClimateChange: Investments in natural infrastructure improve river health and help us become more climate #resilient — The Walton Family Foundation #ActOnClimate

Click the link to read the article on The Walton Family Foundation website (Sheldon Alberts):

Time has not been kind to our rivers. For centuries, humans have diminished, degraded and simplified rivers around the world, creating unhealthy waterways that have lost ecological value.

The good news is that our collective understanding of how to restore rivers is improving, with a greater focus on using natural systems to meet society’s needs while also protecting the environment. With nature-based management, we have an opportunity to rebuild rivers with the space and freedom they need to thrive. In turn, these healthier rivers lead to healthier communities and a healthier planet.

I spoke with Peter Skidmore, senior program officer with the foundation’s Colorado River initiative, about how restoring river health through natural processes can help us in the battle against climate change. He is the co-author of a recent article in the journal Anthropocene exploring the issue.

Can you describe some of the ways that rivers have been degraded over the past several hundred years?

As a society, we have relegated rivers and streams to constrained channels. These simplified and stabilized channels have lost a lot of their freedom, complexity and biodiversity. Starting in the 19th century, the extermination of beavers fundamentally changed the character of streams as dams were removed and riparian wetlands disappeared. With development in their valley bottoms, rivers have also lost the space to run free, flood, erode and deposit soil. The construction of dams and diversions have further constricted river flows.

What are we learning about emerging opportunities to restore the health of rivers so they can provide critical ecosystem services?

There has been a lot of hard work done to restore river health over the past few decades, but we’ve fallen short in addressing the challenge at a scale to have lasting impact. Over this time, we learned a lot about the potential of “natural infrastructure” to better manage rivers and restore their health through dynamic, natural processes. That can mean removing constraints wherever possible – setting levees back, concentrating infrastructure at a few pinch points, reconnecting rivers to their floodplains and renewing native vegetation.

Peter Skidmore is a senior program officer in the Environment Program focusing on the Colorado River initiative. Photo credit: Walton Family Foundation

Is there an example of how natural infrastructure can restore river health and improve climate resiliency?

One way is by promoting the return of beavers and beaver-related wetlands that reintroduce much-needed complexity into river systems. Messy rivers and streams – with features like braided and irregular channels, wetlands, eroding banks and gravel bars – are more diverse, dynamic and healthy. A success story is Bridge Creek, in Oregon, where the installation of beaver-inspired natural dams led to the expansion of beaver activity. These structures create a virtuous cycle of restoration that slows down water flow, revives mountain meadows and recreate stream meanders and wetlands that are ultimately maintained forever by beavers. They help maintain and retain groundwater, provide natural firebreaks and refuge for wildlife, and can alleviate the sedimentation impacts of post-fire flooding. Since 2005, Bridge Creek has had a dramatic increase in aquatic habitat and native fish populations. In addition to those fish and wildlife benefits, scientists are also finding that this kind of low-cost, low-tech restoration helps with carbon sequestration, nutrient capture and moderation of stream flow and temperature – critical ecosystems services in the face of drought and climate change.

A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Beaver dams serve as inspiration for restoration projects that re-establish small, leaky and temporary dams in degraded stream systems. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

What potential does this kind of restoration have to increase climate resiliency if done on large scale?

River ecosystems have a tremendous capacity for passive restoration if given the freedom space for dynamic interactions between the channel and the floodplain. They can literally heal themselves, often more quickly and effectively than we can. Just like humans need exercise to stay healthy, rivers also need that exercise. They need the space to move around. That’s important because, right now, ongoing development is exacerbating the impacts of a warming climate and straining the capacity of aging, expensive gray infrastructure to provide water security and protection from floods and drought. Natural infrastructure holds the potential to be a cost-effective and self-sustaining way to improve environmental health. It can be a critical component in a mix of solutions to the social and ecological challenges posed by climate change.

The good news is that if we give the incised streams some room, they can be restored to their healthy state and bring us the fire protection and water storage benefits that we really need. Graphic credit: SLO Beaver Brigade: http://www.slobeaverbrigade.com/2021/06/01/something-to-chew-on/

How is the foundation supporting natural infrastructure in the Colorado River basin?  

The foundation’s five-year Environment program strategy increases our efforts to improve river and watershed health by working to improve public policy so it promotes nature-based solutions, and leveraging funding to implement them on a larger scale. We’re working with partners to test and increase the use of nature-based solutions that improve water security for farms and cities and also provide environmental benefits. We’re investing in beaver-related restoration that re-establishes wetlands and begins to restore degraded stream systems. And we’ve initiated an effort to identify and map changes in vegetated wetlands and beaver ponds throughout the basin as a way to measure progress and assess the potential of this work to provide system-wide benefit for the Colorado River.

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Preventing Algal Blooms with a “Pinch of Sugar” — Environmental Protection Agency

Algal blooms. Photo credit: EPA

Click the link to read the article on the Environmental Protection Agency website:

Have you ever walked or driven by a lake covered with a thick scum that looks like pea soup? This could be caused by blue-green algae, a cyanobacteria (“cyan” means “blue-green”) that is frequently found in freshwater ponds and lakes. Cyanobacteria are often confused with green algae because both can produce dense mats that may smell bad and hamper activities like swimming and fishing. However, unlike most green algae, blue-green algae can produce cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs). The highly potent toxins they make, called cyanotoxins, can harm people, animals, aquatic ecosystems, the economy, drinking water supplies, property values, and recreational activities. 

For over a century, copper-based algaecides have been a popular way to control and eradicate all kinds of algae. However, the copper can harm fish and other aquatic species. These algaecides can also cause the cyanobacteria algae cells to burst, creating even higher levels of cyanotoxins in the surrounding water.  

EPA researchers wanted to look at alternative ways to inhibit the development of cyanoHABs. CyanoHABs occur because of excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous compounds in water, which mainly come from fertilizers and other human activities. All microorganisms need nitrogen and phosphorous compounds to survive and grow. However, because cyanobacteria make their own food through photosynthesis, they can out-compete other microorganisms, like proteobacteria, for access to the nitrogen and phosphorous compounds. As a result, cyanobacteria numbers can increase rapidly, causing an algal bloom.   

The most common fresh-water cyanobacterium in U.S. waters are Microcystis, which produce the toxin microcystin. Therefore, the study focused on how to reduce Microcystis numbers and microcystin toxin levels. EPA researchers wanted to find out if adding a food source (glucose) would allow other bacteria to better compete with the cyanobacteria and prevent or reduce the development of cyanoHABs.  

After two weeks incubation. The flask on the left shows lake water with no glucose added (the control) and the flask on the right shows the water treated with glucose. Photo credit: EPA

It’s All in the Timing

EPA scientist Dr. Jingrang Lu’s research team had previously shown that Microcystis toxin genes and nutrient utilization genes could be measured before the microcystin toxin itself was detectable in the water. Dr. Lu explains, “These genes can provide a one-week advanced notice of a coming bloom, making it a key time for prophylactic, or preventive, action.”    

The researchers collected weekly water samples from an Ohio lake during the 2021 bloom season. Early in the summer they measured low levels of both cyanobacteria and proteobacteria in the lake water. Later in June, the warning signs indicated a coming cyanoHAB and researchers were prompted to begin the experiment. 

In the controlled environment of the laboratory, scientists filled two sets of flasks with lake water. Glucose was then added to some flasks while nothing was added to the control flasks. After two weeks of incubation, researchers measured the amount of microcystin toxin in each flask. The lake water treated with glucose had 80 to 90 percent less microcystin compared to the control flasks.  

Researchers also quantified the number of Microcystis cells in the glucose treated and control flasks. Almost no Microcystis cells were detected in the glucose treated flasks, while the number of proteobacteria increased.     

Next Steps 

Although the glucose inhibited the cyanoHABs development in the laboratory, scientists would like to test this approach in lakes. There are other considerations as well. For example, although proteobacteria and other bacteria are less toxic than cyanobacteria, their growth may potentially produce other problems. As EPA scientist Dr. Steve Vesper notes, “The long-term solution to cyanoHABs is to reduce the quantity of nitrogen and phosphorous compounds entering rivers and lakes. The use of glucose is only a stop-gap measure on the way to finding a permanent solution to the problem of cyanoHABs.” 

Learn More: 

What You Need to Know About Sackett v. EPA: The upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case is nothing less than a judgment on the Clean Water Act itself — The Natural Resources Defense Council #WOTUS

The area around the Sacketts’ property, located near Priest Lake in Idaho PacificLegalFoundation/flickr, CC BY 4.0

Click the link to read the release on the Natural Resources Defense Council (Jeff Turrentine):

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call it the most important water-related U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) case to come along in a generation. Indeed, the outcome of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the first case to be heard in the court’s 2022–2023 term, will determine the future efficacy of the Clean Water Act by deciding whether wetlands are—or aren’t—deserving of federal protection.

Given the close relationship between wetlands and the larger system of streams, rivers, and tributaries to which they belong, the court’s ruling is certain to have a profound impact on the health and quality of all of America’s waterways. Here’s why.

The background of the Supreme Court’s clean water case

Michael and Chantell Sackett, who ran an excavation company, sought to develop property a few hundred feet from Priest Lake, a popular vacation site in the Idaho Panhandle, with plans to build a home there. To prepare the lot for construction, the Sacketts began to fill it with gravel. In 2007, the EPA halted the work after determining that the Sacketts’ lot contained a federally protected wetland. Under the authority granted to it by the Clean Water Act, the agency ordered the couple to remove the gravel and cease any further construction. The Sacketts sued in 2008, and the case wound its way through the federal court system for the next 14 years. Now, before the Supreme Court, their lawyers will argue, among other things, that the wetland the Sacketts filled is not, jurisdictionally speaking, a “water of the United States,” and thus not subject to EPA regulation. 

What are the “waters of the United States”?

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has played an essential role in protecting the country’s diverse array of aquatic environments from pollution and keeping them safe for fishing, swimming, and wildlife (not to mention as sources of drinking water for millions of people). And for roughly that same amount of time, the act has also been the target of polluters and developers who would like to limit its regulatory scope. One way they’ve attempted to do so? By focusing on a particular—and pivotal—bit of language found in the law, five simple words that carry enormous legal weight: “waters of the United States” (or WOTUS, for short).

Aerial view of wetlands and tundra typical of the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska. Utilizing the Clean Water Act, the EPA is currently in the process of vetoing the Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, which would pose a critical threat to the area’s wetlands. Photo credit: EPA

Numerous pollution control programs in the Clean Water Act apply only to WOTUS, and for most people, defining the term is a pretty straightforward matter: The phrase refers to—or at least seems like it would be referring to—the many different bodies of water to be found within the geographical borders of our nation. And according to Jon Devine, the director of NRDC’s federal water policy team, that’s pretty much the correct way to define it.

“Congress intended the phrase to be interpreted very broadly,” says Devine. When lawmakers were drafting the Clean Water Act half a century ago, he says, they envisioned its protections as extending to all the various bodies of water that make up a watershed, many of which people use for recreation, fishing, and drinking-water supply. And while those lawmakers may not have been hydrologists, they nevertheless understood the fundamental interrelatedness of these different bodies of water. “So the very earliest regulations set forth by the EPA were inclusive,” Devine notes. As a jurisdictional matter, WOTUS comprised “all the relevant parts of an aquatic ecosystem, including streams, wetlands, and small ponds—things that aren’t necessarily connected to the tributary system on the surface, but that still bear all kinds of ecological relationships to that system and to one another.”

Still, given the restrictions on how people could interact with these protected waters, interested parties were inclined to litigate the meaning of the term over the decades. “There were always fights about it,” Devine says. “A developer who wanted to bulldoze a wetland, or a polluter who was being prosecuted for dumping into a small stream, would question whether that particular feature should really be considered a water of the United States.” But, as Devine notes, “they largely lost.” And as a result, the more inclusive definition prevailed—or at least it did until the early 2000s, when cracks in that foundation began to develop.

SCOTUS on WOTUS

The most significant development on this front took the form of two separate opinions authored by Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy in a 2006 case, Rapanos v. United States. Like Sackett v. EPA, it also involved filling wetlands without a permit to do so. In their individual opinions, Scalia and Kennedy outlined two contrasting ways of identifying which waters merited protection under the Clean Water Act. For Scalia, those that qualified had to be either so-called navigable waters (think rivers, lakes, basically anything that can accommodate a boat), regularly flowing tributaries to those waters, or wetlands—so long as those wetlands had a continuous surface connection to a body of water that already enjoyed federal protection.

The Wood River Wetland in southern Oregon is home to an array of biodiverse vegetation and is a freshwater ecoregion. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management

Kennedy saw things differently. He maintained that the connection between wetlands and other bodies of water didn’t necessarily have to be visible—i.e., continuous, and on the surface—but could be measured in other ways. For Kennedy, the far more important question was: Does a given wetland share a significant nexus with another protected body of water? Or (in somewhat plainer English), would polluting or destroying certain wetlands affect the physical, chemical, or biological health of the second body of water? If the answer was yes, Kennedy believed, then both deserved the same level of protection, regardless of whether a boat could easily journey between them.

Although the lower courts consistently ruled that wetlands satisfying Kennedy’s test must be protected (consistent with the views of both the Bush and Obama administrations), polluting industries kept arguing that Scalia’s view should govern. The Trump administration adopted a definition based on the Scalia approach, but it was quickly struck down in court. Which brings us to 2022, and to Sackett—and to the dangerous possibility of a Supreme Court ruling that will adopt a radically narrow view.

The stakes for our wetlands—and water

Wetlands are hugely important. In the words of the EPA, they “are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rainforests and coral reefs.” By regulating water flow, they can dramatically lessen the impact of both floods and droughts. They provide habitat for all manner of fish, birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. And they do all of these things while storing massive amounts of carbon in their abundant vegetation—making safeguarding wetlands a valuable natural climate solution.

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

In a better world, perhaps, those reasons would be enough to ensure that wetlands receive the maximum level of federal protection, but the main question before the Supreme Court right now is: When wetlands are intrinsically connected to other indisputably protected waters, does the Clean Water Act prevent their unregulated pollution and destruction? If not, then the Sacketts’ efforts to get rid of the one on their property wouldn’t need a federal permit, and developers and polluters can celebrate. But if wetlands that are intrinsically connected to other waters are protected, then destroying or polluting them is tantamount to destroying or polluting a lake or a river: an indisputable violation of the Clean Water Act.

For Devine, the answer is clear—so clear that he and his colleagues at NRDC and the Southern Environmental Law Center  felt compelled to file a friend-of-the-court brief on the matter, in support of the EPA, that was entered into the court’s docket earlier this year. In that document, Devine says, more than 100 conservation and community organizations argue that “based on the history of the Clean Water Act, and on prior Supreme Court cases, the law—at the very leastprotects the kinds of things found on the Sacketts’ property.” Not only is the wetland in question spitting distance from a huge lake that’s also a popular recreational spot, but this particular wetland is also part of a larger complex of wetlands through which water flows, underground, to the lake. And like nearly all other wetlands, it provides all kinds of water purification, water regulation, and wildlife habitat. “The law should protect these wetlands that, the science shows, have such an important effect on downstream waters,” Devine says.

Water flows in all sorts of ways: aboveground; belowground; rapidly, down rivers and streams; and also slowly, through the cleansing filters of the reeds, soils, and grasses that make up a wetland. “The notion that the law can’t protect a body of water, simply because there’s a road between it and another body of water that’s unquestionably protected, is absurd and unscientific,” says Devine. “And it would defeat the purpose of the Clean Water Act.”

Groundwater movement via the USGS

3M Ending #PFAS Manufacturing Paves Way for Chemical Market Shift — Natural Resources Defense Council

The Meeker Island Lock and Dam was the first lock and dam on the Mississippi River in 1902. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=179965

Click the link to read the release on the Natural Resources Defense Council website (Melodie Mendez):

Leading chemical manufacturer 3M announced it will exit per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) manufacturing and work to discontinue the use of the “forever chemical” across its product portfolio by the end of 2025. 3M’s decision signals a significant market shift away from the chemical industries’ reliance on PFAS for nonessential products, and an opportunity to end PFAS contamination at its source.  

PFAS are toxic chemicals used in an array of products, from cookware and clothing to paint and firefighting foam. They have been linked to numerous health risks in people, including cancers, liver disease, and much more. PFAS have contaminated the drinking water of an estimated 200 million Americans.

The following is a statement from Sujatha Bergen, Director of Health Campaigns at NRDC:

“This announcement signals significant market and regulatory push-back on the production of these harmful chemicals, and an opportunity for other manufacturers to follow suit.

“Polluters must be held accountable for cleaning up their messes. 3M has been accused of contaminating local communities and water supplies for decades and today’s announcement should not excuse them from addressing these injustices.

“We can and must create a future without PFAS. Market shifts like this are crucial and must be accompanied by federal and state-level policy changes to protect the public from further harm.” 

Additional Resources:

Groundwater movement via the USGS

Uinta Basin Railway opposition unites Colorado towns, Utah backcountry residents: Railroad through a roadless area subject to recent legal challenge, community protest — @AspenJournalism #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver 

Darrell Fordham points toward a tunnel entrance for the proposed Uinta Basin Railway that would run near a mountain retreat property he owns in Argyle Canyon, Utah. U.S. Highway 191 is on the left in the photo. CREDIT: AMY HADDEN MARSH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Amy Hadden Marsh):

Darrell Fordham is heartbroken. It took years for the resident of Lehi, Utah, to purchase 20 acres above Utah’s Argyle Canyon and build a cabin for family retreats. “I’ve sunk about $150,000 into that property,” he told Aspen Journalism. “We bought it back in 2006 just as a place to raise our kids. Get ’em out of the city, get ’em unplugged and off the cellphones.” 

The cabin is at about 6,000 feet at the edge of the Ashley National Forest on the West Tavaputs Plateau, surrounded by aspens and conifers in a small, tightknit, off-the-grid community known as Argyle Canyon Estates. “Being off-grid and about 3 1/2 miles off the pavement, the quiet is the whole appeal of that property,“ said Fordham. But that quiet is in jeopardy due to the proposed Uinta Basin Railway (UBR). 

The UBR is not yet under construction but received necessary approvals from the Federal Surface Transportation Board (FSTB) in December 2021 and the U.S. Forest Service in July 2022. The 88-mile-long railroad would connect the fracked-oil fields in northeast Utah’s Uinta Basin to the national rail network. The crude would then be transported in heated tanker cars through Colorado on its way to Gulf Coast refineries. 

Fordham began organizing his neighbors against the UBR in 2019 when it looked like two potential alignments — the Indian Canyon route and the Wells Draw route — would run through local properties and uncomfortably close to his community. As the Argyle Wilderness Preservation Alliance, the community wrote letters against the UBR in July 2020, shortly after the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC), a quasi-governmental board created in 2014, applied for approval from the FTSB. Fordham said the group hired a lawyer that year and filed lawsuits in Utah district court but to no avail. 

In 2014-15, 26 potential UBR routes were identified in Utah Department of Transportation feasibility studies, but none passed the initial screening process. Five years later, the SCIC added the Indian Canyon, Wells Draw and Craig routes as alternatives. The Craig and Wells Draw routes were eventually scrapped. The Indian Canyon route morphed into the preferred 88-mile Whitmore Park route, named for a large valley south of the Tavaputs Plateau. 

According to maps provided by Fordham, the Whitmore Park route would still pass 2,550 feet from his property line. He said it feels as if his concerns have fallen upon deaf ears. “I think it’s communities like ours that are impacted by things like this because we’re just common people,” he said. “We don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the government and the big oil companies, so they know they can just run it right over the top of us and there’s really nothing we can do about it.” 

Overview of Argyle Canyon area that would be impacted by the proposed Uinta Basin Railway. CREDIT: PHOTO COURTESY OF ECOFLIGHT

FSTB legal appeals in the works

In February, environmental groups and Eagle County filed separate appeals in response to the FSTB’s decision last December to approve the UBR. (The two cases have since been consolidated.) At issue are the approval decision and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s September 2021 biological assessment, upon which the FSTB relied to make its decision.

Most Uinta Basin oil is trucked to refineries in Salt Lake City, but production is capped at 80,000 to 90,000 barrels per day due to air pollution restrictions on the Wasatch Front. By connecting the Uinta Basin fracked-oil fields to the national rail line at Kyune, Utah, the UBR promises to quadruple production by bringing Uinta Basin crude — which must be heated for transportation purposes so that it doesn’t solidify — to the global market.

But increased oil production means increased air pollution in the Uinta Basin. Ted Zukoski, CBD attorney, told Aspen Journalism that air pollution in the basin is already listed as marginal. “This means it’s on the edge of becoming a nonattainment area because of wind inversions that trap pollution from drilling in the basin and lead to very unhealthy air quality.” 

A 2013 study by state and federal agencies revealed federal ground-level ozone standards violations in the basin due to oil and gas production. In 2016, the state of Utah recommended nonattainment designations for National Ambient Air Quality Standards in five Utah counties, including Duchesne and Uintah, both in the Uinta Basin. A lag in oil and natural gas production lowered methane levels from 2015 to 2020. But methane leaks in production infrastructure effectively canceled out those gains. As of October, the Uinta Basin remains in nonattainment status.

Zukoski said the FSTB ignored the air pollution impacts and the downstream impacts of greenhouse gases released from consumers burning gasoline refined from Uinta Basin crude. “It could lead to as much as 53 million tons of additional CO2 going into the atmosphere,” he said. “The Forest Service knows how bad climate change is, so it’s hypocritical for this agency to support this project.”

Eagle County argues that the FSTB failed to look at the cumulative impacts of increased rail traffic on the Union Pacific line, which passes through the county, and possible impacts should Colorado’s Tennessee Pass railway be reactivated. County officials added that the scope of the FSTB’s environmental analysis was too narrow, focusing only on the 88 miles of the UBR in Utah. 

A man holds a picket sign that reads “Stop the Uinta Oil Train Wreck” in Glenwood Springs on Saturday, Dec. 10. CREDIT: RAY K. ERKU/GLENWOOD SPRINGS POST INDEPENDENT

Colorado officials join the legal fray 

In late October, the city of Glenwood Springs and the towns of Minturn, Avon, Red Cliff and Vail filed an amicus brief in support of Eagle County and the FSTB appeal. Karl Hanlon is an attorney with Karp, Neu, Hanlon, a Colorado firm that works with the cities of Glenwood Springs, Minturn and Red Cliff. 

“What’s being proposed is 18 miles a day of train cars on the main [Union Pacific] line going through the city of Glenwood Springs and passing alongside the Colorado River through Garfield, Eagle and Grand counties,” he told Aspen Journalism. “The risks are tremendous with regard to the potential for an accident, the socio-economic impacts and the environment.”

Hanlon added that the FSTB did not consider whether running up to 185,000 heated tanker cars full of waxy crude alongside Interstate 70 is a good idea, particularly through Glenwood Canyon. The 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire shut down I-70 through the canyon for two weeks. Rockslides and mudslides from heavy rains the following summer closed the canyon again, resulting in lengthy detours for commercial trucks and other traffic, and decimating the Glenwood Springs economy at the height of tourist season.

“One major incident in Glenwood Canyon ends the livelihood of Glenwood Springs,” said Hanlon. “Not only is it a huge environmental disaster that is almost impossible to clean up, it will be the death knell for the community.” 

He said the FSTB’s decision ignored Coloradans. “Frankly, the board just kind of thumbed their nose at all these communities,” he said. “FSTB focused on the 88 miles of new line in Utah and did their entire analysis there.” 

Routt, Boulder, Chaffee, Lake and Pitkin counties, near the Union Pacific line, also signed on to the amicus brief. Routt County Manager Jay Harrington told Aspen Journalism that U.S. Highway 40 is the main northern traffic detour when I-70 is closed. “A rail accident does not have to occur close to Routt County to cause problems,” he said. “Every time I-70 [in the Glenwood Canyon ] is closed, traffic is rerouted right through here.” 

The amicus brief references climate change impacts, wildfire risks from heated train cars, and the domino effect of an oil spill on downstream Colorado River users. Hanlon said the FSTB should start over and revisit the indirect impacts, including communities outside Colorado. “That waxy crude has to go a long way to get to a refinery,” he said. “There are communities all across the [country] going down towards the Gulf Coast that are facing similar impacts from this.”   

Dirt track to the right leads to a borehole site for a tunnel under the Ashley National Forest roadless area, part of the Uinta Basin Railway proposal which U.S. Forest Service officials approved in July. CREDIT: AMY HADDEN MARSH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

USFS: A railroad is not a road

The Forest Service greenlighted a 12-mile stretch of the Whitmore Park route in July that would cut through an inventoried roadless area (IRA) in the Ashley National Forest. Prior to the approval, CBD and other conservation groups sent a letter to national Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, urging him to reject the Ashley National Forest’s application. But Moore refused, stating in a November 2021 response letter, “By definition, a railway does not constitute a road under the Roadless Rule.” 

Then, in July, Ashley National Forest Supervisor Susan Eickhoff approved that 12-mile portion of the UBR. Two months later, CBD, Living Rivers, Sierra Club and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment filed suit. Zukoski said the argument is more than whether a railroad is a road; it’s also about the UBR’s effect on the general intent and purpose of a roadless area. “We raised many issues, including a failure of the Forest Service to consider the impact on roadless values,” he said.

The 2001 Roadless Rule established wilderness attributes and values to define an IRA, such as remoteness, quiet and solitude within the natural world. But, Zukowski said, roadless areas offer more than solace for humans. “The Forest Service understood that these areas had a particular and special value because of their protection of storehouses of biodiversity,” he said. 

This map, included in U.S. Forest Service documents evaluating the Uinta Basin Railway proposal, shows the 88-mile length of the route. Tunnels are shown in yellow. CREDIT: COURTESY IMAGE

The UBR track, with a right-of-way between 100 and 200 feet wide, would run mostly parallel to U.S. Highway 191, cutting through private property and agricultural fields in Indian Canyon before slicing through the Ashley National Forest. The railroad’s footprint would alter an estimated 167 acres within the IRA, with an additional 235 acres affected in the construction process but planned for reclamation. Three tunnels on Forest Service land, including two spiral tunnels and a portion of a 3-mile-long straight tunnel, would have a total length of 2.6 miles.

In a January interview for ChannelV6.com, a local broadcaster in northeast Utah, Kyle Robe, deputy project manager for Rio Grand Pacific, discussed the spiral tunnels planned for Indian Canyon and the 3-mile-long straight tunnel. “[We will] drill holes into the face of the rock and high-pressure grout those holes,” he said. Then come massive machines called “roadheaders.” “They’ve got a big arm and big rotors on the end with teeth on them [that] chip away at that rock,” said Robe. “We’ll get about 25 feet a day on each end of rock that we’ll tear out of the mountain.” Robe did not respond to interview requests from Aspen Journalism. A spokesperson for the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition also declined to comment, citing pending litigation. 

Track construction also means carving out miles of cuts, siding track and embankment fill, and placing culverts and other infrastructure, including five bridges. Temporary work areas, including camps to house workers, could be up to 1,000 feet wide. Once completed, up to 10 trains per day would rumble through the IRA, each hauling up to 100 tanker cars of crude.    

Darrell Fordham stands near a tunnel entrance for the proposed Uinta Basin Railway, which would pass near his family’s mountain retreat in Argyle Canyon, Utah. CREDIT: AMY HADDEN MARSH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

CBD attorney Wendy Park pointed to a bigger, overarching issue. Under [President Joe] Biden’s 2021 executive order, combating climate change is something that all federal agencies should be doing everything in their power to address,” she told Aspen Journalism. In his 2021 letter to CBD, Moore cherry-picked components of the executive order to support the touted economic benefits of the project, stating that the UBR would support Biden’s policy to build a sustainable economy. But Biden’s order states that the United States will develop a finance plan to promote “the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.” 

Eickhoff, of the Ashley National Forest, also amended the 1986 Ashley National Forest Land Resource Management Plan (LRMP) to allow for the UBR corridor through the IRA. The LRMP calls for maintaining the area’s scenic values. But Eickhoff’s amendment exempts the UBR right of way. 

The SCIC must meet conditions of the Forest Service approval, including federal and LRMP mitigation measures, before track construction can begin. But despite approving the UBR last summer, the Forest Service has yet to issue the actual permit. 

The agency could still change course, which is what activists in Utah, Colorado and points east are hoping for. Protests last week in Boulder, Denver, Salt Lake City and Glenwood Springs called on U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to revoke the permit. “It’s worthwhile to continue to put pressure on the Biden administration and Secretary Vilsack because this project is a carbon bomb,” said CBD campaigner Deeda Seed. “This is a poster child for the harm from climate change.”

This story ran in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on Dec. 13.

Federal funding providing a big boost to lead service line replacements: Infusion of additional $76 million means thousands more service lines slated for replacement — News on Tap

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor):

Three years after it started, Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program is getting a big boost from more than $76 million in federal funding. 

The funding will help fast-track the program, replacing thousands more old, customer-owned lead service lines in the next few years than had been originally anticipated. 

The state approved allocation of funds to Denver Water in October, and the Denver Board of Water Commissioners formally accepted the funds Dec. 7. 

The money will be spent in 2023 through 2025 and is expected to replace up to 7,600 lead service lines, shortening the 15-year program by 1.5 years. Thanks to the new funding, between 3,000 and 5,000 additional lines will be replaced in 2023 — on top of the nearly 5,000 lines already planned for replacement next year.

Since the program started in January 2020, Denver Water has replaced more than 15,000 lead service lines. The lead lines are replaced with lead-free, copper lines at no direct cost to the customer.

The addition of $76 million in federal funding for the Lead Reduction Program will fast-track the replacement of up to 7,600 old lead service lines. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“This infusion of federal money means we will be able to replace thousands more customer-owned lead service lines at a faster pace than we had originally planned, and ultimately shorten the length of the biggest public health initiative in Denver Water’s history. This groundbreaking program is supported by all our customers across our service area,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager. 

“Removing these lines is the most effective way to eliminate this source of lead exposure, and we are committed to this program until every lead service line has been removed. We’re grateful for the opportunity provided by this funding.” 

The water Denver Water delivers to customers is lead-free, but lead can get into the water as it passes through a customer’s internal plumbing or water service line that contains lead. The service line is the small pipe that connects to Denver Water’s pipe in the street and carries water to the customer’s home. Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters the body, whether from drinking water or other sources

Denver Water’s groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program aims to replace nearly 5,000 customer-owned lead service lines every year. When the program started, Denver Water estimated there were between 64,000 and 84,000 lead service lines in its service area and expected it would take 15 years to remove them all. 

The addition of federal money will help Denver Water exceed its annual target in 2023 by an extra 3,000 to 5,000 lines. For every 4,500 additional lead service lines replaced using the federal funding, the overall length of the program will be one year shorter.

Replacement work will take place in parts of many neighborhoods across Denver in 2023, including Baker, Globeville, Sunnyside, Barnum West, Athmar Park and Capitol Hill. 

An initial map of the 2023 replacement work areas is available at denverwater.org/Pipes. The replacement work prioritizes areas with vulnerable, at-risk populations and disproportionately impacted communities while also taking into account planned construction activities, schools and child care centers.

Lead was a commonly used material for water service lines across the U.S. through the mid-1900s and is frequently found in Denver homes built before 1951.

The replacement work is done by contractors through the Lead Reduction Program and by Denver Water crews, who replace any lead service line found during scheduled pipe replacements or during repair work on a broken water main. 

In total, Denver Water was approved for $76,123,628 from the Colorado Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which will receive money from the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021. The funding Denver Water received is a low-interest loan that the utility will repay, with $40 million of the loan’s principle forgiven immediately as allowed by the legislation.

The $76 million in federal funding Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program received comes from the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden signed in November 2021. Photo credit: White House.

The state will receive federal funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to address lead in drinking water every year for five years, beginning in 2022. Denver Water intends to apply for funds in the future and, if approved, will be able to accelerate the replacement program even more.

The EPA also has approved a continuation of the Lead Reduction Program, via a variance from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, following a review of the progress made in its first three years. 

“Denver Water’s approach to tackling lead in drinking water has been remarkable and an example for other communities across the country,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker, in an announcement.

“Thanks to new funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law the utility’s customers can expect an even faster lead service line replacement schedule delivering health protections for children and adults across the Denver area.”

Customers enrolled in the Lead Reduction Program receive water pitchers and filters to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead service line is replaced. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Lochhead thanked EPA and Denver Water’s community partners for working with the utility to ensure the successful implementation of the program. 

“Denver Water’s first priority is sustaining our communities by protecting the health of our customers,” Lochhead said. 

In addition to the installation of a new, lead-free, copper water service line at no direct cost, customers enrolled in the program also receive water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead.

Filtered water should be used for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after the lead service line is replaced. The utility also has changed the water chemistry, raising the pH of the water it delivers, to better protect customers from the risk of lead. 

This has been a huge effort involving many areas of Denver Water, and we couldn’t have done it without the support we’ve received from our customers,” said Alexis Woodrow, who manages the Lead Reduction Program for Denver Water.

“Our customers enrolled in the program allow us into their homes to replace their old lead service lines, and they are patient with all the construction work that accompanies the replacement process. We’re also excited that in a recent survey, 83% of customers said that they use the filters we provide to filter water for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula.” 

With the federal funding, the work surrounding the replacement process will touch more homes and neighborhoods in 2023. 

“We’re grateful for all the support we’ve received for this program, from our customers to our community partners and our elected officials,” Woodrow said. 

“We’re all working to protect our customers now and for generations to come.” 

Opposition to CAFOs Mounts Across the Nation: Toxic manure discharges from large livestock operations is major source of water pollution — Circle of Blue

Beef cattle on a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle. Photo credit: Wikimedia

Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Keith Schneider):

For decades, Americans mostly turned a blind eye to the industrial-scale livestock production operations that churn out cheap supplies of meat and dairy for the masses. Occasional opposition to local pollution problems and the casual animal cruelty that characterize conventional US dairy, hog, and poultry production did little to alter practices that are embedded in the rural landscape.

That may be changing. A wave of frontline resistance is now breaking across the Upper Midwest and around the country as organized campaigns aimed at regulating concentrated animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs, are being felt at every level of government, and in state and federal courts.

Opposition to large livestock operations is more intense than at any time in recent memory, say environmental advocates.

“It’s been building and building,” said Rob Michaels, an attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), a Chicago-based legal group, who is working to limit CAFO manure discharges in Ohio and Michigan. “It’s now being raised as a political issue. As a legal issue. As a legislative issue.”

On October 19, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued a ruling that lends legal muscle to a five-year old petition that Food & Water Watch and 36 allies filed to compel the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update CAFO permitting regulations. The Trump and Biden administrations ignored the 2017 petition. The Court of Appeals said the plaintiff’s petition “raises issues that warrant an answer” from the agency. A Food and Water Watch attorney said the Justice Department has been in touch to schedule a negotiating meeting.

A week later, on October 26, Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law group, and 50 allied non-profit and citizen organizations from around the US filed a separate petition calling on the EPA to initiate new rule-making that would require the largest CAFOs, which are significant sources of water pollution, to apply for wastewater discharge permits under the Clean Water Act. The petition asserts that because every CAFO discharges polluting wastes EPA has the authority and duty to require them to operate under wastewater permits.

Calls for moratoriums on new CAFO construction also are being heard by legislatures in Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Counties in South Dakota and Arkansas have issued local moratoriums. The Missouri Supreme Court is set to decide, perhaps before the year ends, whether counties can regulate CAFO development through local public health ordinances.

At least five Wisconsin counties and three towns have enacted temporary moratoriums, and one county is considering imposing a local ordinance next year. Last year the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the authority of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to restrict large livestock farms to protect the state’s water, a rebuke to a 2011 state law that limited the DNR’s authority to regulate CAFOs.

Dairy cattle Morgan County. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

Water worries

The EPA has identified more than 21,000 large CAFOs across the country but just 6,266 of those operate with wastewater discharge permits under the Clean Water Act designed to control and restrict pollutants discharged into waterways, according to EPA figures.

“EPA is weak on regulations on CAFOs,” said Emily Miller, a Food & Water Watch attorney. “Only a fraction have permits and the permits that do exist are just simply ineffective.”

An EPA spokesman said the agency would not comment on either petition. The American Farm Bureau Federation declined to be interviewed for this article.

The National Milk Producers Federation, though, issued this statement in response to the environmentalists’ petitions. “Regulation of CAFOs require a responsible approach, which sometimes isn’t the case among environmental activists who seek to use regulations to reduce the availability of animal protein products for consumers,” said Jamie Jonker, the group’ chief science officer.”

The restiveness about CAFO operations and expansion in the American countryside is due to the same kinds of disruptions occurring in states like Wisconsin, where 340 large livestock operations have been constructed, most of them big milk and hog production facilities. They collectively house hundreds of thousands of animals.

Wisconsin CAFOS pour billions of gallons of untreated liquified manure every year, and millions of tons of solid manure on hundreds of thousands of farm acres. A study for the Wisconsin Legislature made public in October found that the number of private wells contaminated with nitrates or E.coli, the intestinal bacteria, was expanding steadily and identified the source as agricultural discharges.

CAFOs, though, are the only industrial polluting facilities not required to treat their wastes. The federal waiver for treating CAFO wastes dramatically reduces pollution control and operating costs. It is a primary reason the American livestock sector has rapidly changed from numerous small farms that manage livestock on outdoor pastures and barnyards to many fewer industrial-scale operations where animals spend their entire lives indoors.

And because CAFOs operate on efficiencies of scale, they have played an outsize role in keeping commodity prices low and contributed to the closure of small farms in America.

As CAFOs gained influence, for example, Wisconsin in November counted 6,172 dairy farms, down from 11,260 a decade earlier, according to state figures. A study by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that from 2011 to 2020 Wisconsin led the nation in farm bankruptcies.

Though the Biden administration dispatched the EPA administrator and several aides to Cleveland earlier this year to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the 1972 statute has not come close to achieving its “fishable and swimmable” goal for American surface waters. The problem is unregulated nutrient discharges from agriculture. In 2016, the EPA identified phosphorus and nitrogen discharges from U.S. farmland as “the single greatest challenge to our nation’s water quality.”

Harmful algal blooms caused by phosphorus discharges from CAFOs now contaminate many of America’s iconic waters, among them Chesapeake Bay, Lake Okeechobee, Lake Champlain, California’s Clear Lake, and Lake Erie. “Somewhere between 88 percent and 94 percent of the problem is caused by these CAFOs, these megafarms and their nutrient nonpoint source runoff. Everyone knows it,” said Wade Kapszukiewicz, the mayor of Toledo, Ohio, which was forced in 2014 to shut down its drinking water plant for three days because of bloom-generated toxins. Half a million residents lost their drinking water supply.

CAFO nutrient discharge is worse in the Corn Belt states: the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas. The EPA counted 9,332 concentrated livestock and poultry operations across the Corn Belt in 2021. It is not known how much manure they all produce each year, but it’s prodigious. For comparison the 291 CAFOs in Michigan generate 4 billion gallons of untreated raw liquid manure annually, and millions of tons of solid manure, according to the state environment department.

In Iowa, where almost 4,000 CAFOs operate, nearly every mile of streams and acre of surface water is impaired by nutrients or E.coli. Just 167 Iowa CAFOs have wastewater discharge permits, according to the E.P.A.

The Biden Administration and CAFO opponents know full well that changing the regulatory rules of the CAFO game will be a fierce struggle. Environmentalists, small farm advocates, and E.P.A. administrators under previous administrations, Democratic and Republican, have tried to cross this same ground before and been turned back in federal courts by politically powerful farm groups led by the American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies in the various state and national dairy, pork, poultry, and beef associations.

In 2003, in response to a lawsuit brought by Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen, the EPA issued a new rule that obligated CAFOs to apply for discharge permit unless they could demonstrate that they had “no potential to discharge” damaging nutrients. That rule was challenged by livestock operators, who in 2005 convinced the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to strike it down.

The E.P.A. tried again with a new rule in 2008 that limited the permitting obligation to CAFOs that “propose to discharge” wastes. But in 2011, in a case brought by the National Pork Producers Council and other farm groups, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck that rule down, too. In both cases plaintiffs argued the law didn’t give the agency authority to regulate “potential” or “proposed” sources of pollution.

With their petitions and grassroots campaigns, activist legal and non-profit groups are pressing E.P.A. to try again. They assert that every CAFO operating in the United States is a source of “actual” wastewater discharges that require much more effective regulation. “The E.P.A. under its current leadership acknowledges that what we’ve asked for needs to happen,” said Amy van Saun, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, which is a party to the 2017 petition. “I don’t think they have any legal way to say no.”

A version of this article was published by The New Lede on November 17, 2022.

EPA expects to finish residential cleanup of #Colorado Smelter Superfund Site by spring 2024 — The #Pueblo Chieftain

Colorado Smelter Site and Area Neigborhoods. Credit: EPA

Click the link to read the article on The Pueblo Chietain website (James Bartolo). Here’s an excerpt:

With soil sampling 98% complete at the Colorado Smelter Superfund Site, the Environmental Protection Agency seeks to finish its residential cleanup by spring 2024, if not sooner.

Since 2015, the EPA has conducted outdoor soil and indoor dust samplings of lead and arsenic levels at residences near the former Colorado Smelter. When samples taken from residences show harmful levels of contaminants, the properties are then earmarked for EPA cleanup.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA’s progress on dust sampling has trailed behind its soil sampling efforts. The agency has sampled dust at 73% of the properties it’s targeted in Pueblo’s Bessemer, Eilers and Grove neighborhoods.

As of Oct. 28, about 44% of the 1,833 properties that have received soil sampling have required cleanup, according to the EPA, as have about 36% of the 1,361 dust-sampled properties.

Evidence of #PFAS in sanitary and incontinence pads: The findings come on the heels of other testing that found the forever chemicals in some popular tampons — Environmental Health News

Credit: Timothy Takemoto/flickr

Click the link to read the article on the Environmental Health News website:

Twenty-two sanitary pads, panty liners and incontinence pads have detectable levels of fluorine, an indicator of the group of chemicals known as PFAS, according to a new report from Mamavation.

Partnering with EHN.org, the environmental wellness blog and community had 46 pads products tested by a U.S.-Environmental-Protection-Agency-certified lab and found levels of fluorine ranging from 11 parts per million, or ppm, to 154 ppm in 22 of the brands, including 13 advertised as “organic,” “natural,” “non-toxic,” “sustainable” or using “no harmful chemicals.”

Fluorine is a strong indicator of “forever chemicals”— which have been linked to everything from cancer to birth defects to lower vaccine effectiveness.

EHN.org partially funded the testing and Pete Myers, chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, which publishes Environmental Health News, reviewed the findings. The report comes just a month after Mamavation found PFAS evidence in popular tampon brands. A past investigation also looked at PFAS indicators in period underwear and found 11 of 17 tested pairs had detectable levels of fluorine.

But it’s not just feminine care products — earlier this year an EHN.org investigation on PFAS found the chemicals in foods, sports clothes, makeup and other products.

While the health impacts of PFAS exposure via skin contact are still somewhat unclear, Linda S. Birnbaum, scientist emeritus and former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, told Mamavation “Dermal exposure to PFAS from your menstrual products can be a big problem. Because vaginal skin is so vascular, we can anticipate the internal exposure could be a bit worse. This is a category of products that should NOT have any detectable fluorine.”

Why is fluorine in sanitary products? 

It’s not clear how fluorine ends up in sanitary products. However, it’s possibly from trying to achieve moisture-wicking fabric, as PFAS are stain- and water-resistant. Or the contamination could be unintended via lubricants used in production, or manufacturers omitting data on — or simply not knowing — the raw materials.

Read more about how products are often unintentionally contaminated with PFAS.

What brands had contamination? 

Below are the 22 brands that had detectable fluorine.

  • Always No Feel Protection Thin Liners — 21 ppm
  • Always Discreet 360 Form Fit Maximum Underwear — 15 ppm
  • Always Anti-Bunch Xtra Protection Liners — 15 ppm
  • Amazon Basics Daily Pantiliners Long Length — 12 ppm
  • Attn: Grace Absorbency Liners — 19 ppm
  • Carefree Acti-Fresh Unscented Daily Liners — 17 ppm
  • Claene Organic Cotton Cover Liners — 22 ppm
  • Cora The Got-You-Covered Liner Organic Cotton Topsheet — 30 ppm
  • Equate (Walmart) Options Liners — 21 ppm
  • Honey Pot 100% Organic Cotton Cover Everyday Liners — 38 ppm
  • Incognito by Prevail Liners — 51 ppm
  • LastPad Reusable Menstruation Pad by LastObject — 17 ppm
  • Maxim Hygiene Organic Cotton Ultra Thin Contour Pads — 27 ppm
  • Medline ContourPlus Bladder Control Incontinence Pads — 11 ppm
  • My Box Shop 100% US Organic Top Sheet Panty Liner — 11 ppm
  • NatraTouch Natural Bamboo Charcoal Panty Liners — 20 ppm
  • NIIS GIRL Bamboo Charcoal Luxury Black Pads — 19 ppm
  • Rael Organic Cotton Cover Panty Liners — 15 ppm
  • Sofy 100% Organic Cotton Cover Pads — 154 ppm
  • Veeda Natural Cotton Liners — 11 ppm
  • Wise Leak-Proof Everyday Pads for Bladder Protection — 13 pp
  • Wombilee Organic Cotton Surface with Wings Biodegradable Pads — 13 ppm

See the full report at Mamavation to see brands that tested clean.

The testing is part of an ongoing effort by Mamavation and EHN.org to identify PFAS in common consumer products. Follow our PFAS testing project with Mamavationat the series landing page.

Want to know more about PFAS? Check out our comprehensive guide.

#NewMexico: #GoldKingMine spill settlement fund draws 17 proposals totaling $28 million — The Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

Click the link to read the article on The Farmington Daily Times website (Mike Easterling). Here’s an excerpt:

New Mexico officials received 17 proposals totaling more than $28 million for the $10 million in Gold King Mine spill settlement money between the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that has been set aside for restoration projects. The deadline for submitting proposals for the settlement money was Oct. 28, a date that was extended from its original deadline of Sept. 30 by the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee, the state agency that is coordinating the process. Maggie Hart Stebbins, the New Mexico natural resources trustee, said her agency has begun the process of vetting the proposals and will be analyzing them to determine if additional information is needed from any of the entities seeking the funding…

The $10 million is part of a $32 million settlement the state reached with the EPA earlier this year to compensate New Mexico for damages related to the August 2015 incident, during which millions of gallons of toxic waste were released from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, eventually winding up in the Animas and San Juan rivers. A total of $18.1 million from that settlement was designated for response costs, while $3.5 million was set aside for water quality and cleanup activities through Clean Water Act and Superfund grants. The remaining $10 million has been earmarked for restoration of injured natural resources, much of which state officials said would be used to fund outdoor recreation opportunities in northwest New Mexico…

The list of proposals includes several projects submitted by government entities in San Juan County, as well as those associated with the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico. San Juan County submitted three proposals, while the City of Aztec submitted two, and the cities of Bloomfield and Farmington submitted one each. New Mexico State Parks led the way with four proposals, while the New Mexico Tourism Department submitted one.

New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

The Cold War Legacy Lurking in U.S. #Groundwater — ProPublica

Uranium and vanadium radioactive warning sign. Photo credit: Jonathan P Thompson

Click the link to read the article on the PropPublica website Mark Olalde, Mollie Simon and Alex Mierjeski, video by Gerardo del Valle, Liz Moughon and Mauricio Rodríguez Pons

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

In America’s rush to build the nuclear arsenal that won the Cold War, safety was sacrificed for speed.

Uranium mills that helped fuel the weapons also dumped radioactive and toxic waste into rivers like the Cheyenne in South Dakota and the Animas in Colorado. Thousands of sheep turned blue and died after foraging on land tainted by processing sites in North Dakota. And cancer wards across the West swelled with sick uranium workers.

The U.S. government bankrolled the industry, and mining companies rushed to profit, building more than 50 mills and processing sites to refine uranium ore.

But the government didn’t have a plan for the toxic byproducts of this nuclear assembly line. Some of the more than 250 million tons of toxic and radioactive detritus, known as tailings, scattered into nearby communities, some spilled into streams and some leaked into aquifers.

Congress finally created the agency that now oversees uranium mill waste cleanup in 1974 and enacted the law governing that process in 1978, but the industry would soon collapse due to falling uranium prices and rising safety concerns. Most mills closed by the mid-1980s.

When cleanup began, federal regulators first focused on the most immediate public health threat, radiation exposure. Agencies or companies completely covered waste at most mills to halt leaks of the carcinogenic gas radon and moved some waste by truck and train to impoundments specially designed to encapsulate it.

But the government has fallen down in addressing another lingering threat from the industry’s byproducts: widespread water pollution.

Creating a balance of water that’s taken from aquifers and water that replenishes aquifers is an important aspect of making sure water will be available when it’s needed. Image from “Getting down to facts: A Visual Guide to Water in the Pinal Active Management Area,” courtesy of Ashley Hullinger and the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center

Regulators haven’t made a full accounting of whether they properly addressed groundwater contamination. So, for the first time, ProPublica cataloged cleanup efforts at the country’s 48 uranium mills, seven related processing sites and numerous tailings piles.

At least 84% of the sites have polluted groundwater. And nearly 75% still have either no liner or only a partial liner between mill waste and the ground, leaving them susceptible to leaking pollution into groundwater. In the arid West, where most of the sites are located, climate change is drying up surface water, making underground reserves increasingly important.

ProPublica’s review of thousands of pages of government and corporate documents, accompanied by interviews with 100 people, also found that cleanup has been hampered by infighting among regulatory agencies and the frequency with which regulators grant exemptions to their own water quality standards.

The result: a long history of water pollution and sickness.

Reports by government agencies found high concentrations of cancer near a mill in Utah and elevated cancer risks from mill waste in New Mexico that can persist until cleanup is complete. Residents near those sites and others have seen so many cases of cancer and thyroid disease that they believe the mills and waste piles are to blame, although epidemiological studies to prove such a link have rarely been done.

“The government didn’t pay attention up front and make sure it was done right. They just said, ‘Go get uranium,’” said Bill Dixon, who spent decades cleaning up uranium and nuclear sites with the state of Oregon and in the private sector.

Tom Hanrahan grew up near uranium mills in Colorado and New Mexico and watched three of his three brothers contract cancer. He believes his siblings were “casualties” of the war effort.

“Somebody knew that this was a ticking atomic bomb,” Hanrahan said. “But, in military terms, this was the cost of fighting a war.”

A Flawed System

When a uranium mill shuts down, here is what’s supposed to happen: The company demolishes the buildings, decontaminates the surrounding soil and water, and encases the waste to stop it from leaking cancer-causing pollution. The company then asks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the lead agency monitoring America’s radioactive infrastructure, to approve the handoff of the property and its associated liability to the Department of Energy’s Office of Legacy Management for monitoring and maintenance.

ProPublica’s analysis found that half of the country’s former mills haven’t made it through this process and even many that did have never fully addressed pollution concerns. This is despite the federal government spending billions of dollars on cleanup, in addition to the several hundred million dollars that have been spent by companies.

Often, companies or agencies tasked with cleanup are unable to meet water quality standards, so they request exemptions to bypass them. The NRC or state agencies almost always approve these requests, allowing contaminants like uranium and selenium to be left in the groundwater. When ingested in high quantities, those elements can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, respectively.

The DOE estimates that some sites have individually polluted more than a billion gallons of water.

Bill Dam, who spent decades regulating and researching uranium mill cleanup with the NRC, at the DOE and in the private sector, said water pollution won’t be controlled until all the waste and contaminated material is moved. “The federal government’s taken a Band-Aid approach to groundwater contamination,” he said.

White Mesa Mill. Photo credit: Energy Fuels

The pollution has disproportionately harmed Indian Country.

Six of the mills were built on reservations, and another eight mills are within 5 miles of one, some polluting aquifers used by tribes. And the country’s last conventional uranium mill still in operation — the White Mesa Mill in Utah — sits adjacent to a Ute Mountain Ute community.

So many uranium mines, mills and waste piles pockmark the Navajo Nation that the Environmental Protection Agency created a comic book superhero, Gamma Goat, to warn Diné children away from the sites.

NRC staff acknowledged that the process of cleaning up America’s uranium mills can be slow but said that the agency prioritizes thoroughness over speed, that each site’s groundwater conditions are complex and unique, and that cleanup exemptions are granted only after gathering input from regulators and the public.

“The NRC’s actions provide reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety and the environment,” David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, said in a statement to ProPublica.

“Cleanup Standards Might Suddenly Change”

For all the government’s success in demolishing mills and isolating waste aboveground, regulators failed to protect groundwater.

Between 1958 and 1962, a mill near Gunnison, Colorado, churned through 540,000 tons of ore. The process, one step in concentrating the ore into weapons-grade uranium, leaked uranium and manganese into groundwater, and in 1990, regulators found that residents had been drawing that contaminated water from 22 wells.

The DOE moved the waste and connected residents to clean water. But pollution lingered in the aquifer beneath the growing town where some residents still get their water from private wells. The DOE finally devised a plan in 2000, which the NRC later approved, settling on a strategy called “natural flushing,” essentially waiting for groundwater to dilute the contamination until it reached safe levels.

In 2015, the agency acknowledged that the plan had failed. Sediments absorb and release uranium, so waiting for contamination to be diluted doesn’t solve the problem, said Dam, the former NRC and DOE regulator.

In Wyoming, state regulators wrote to the NRC in 2006 to lambast the agency’s “inadequate” analysis of natural flushing compared to other cleanup options. “Unfortunately, the citizens of Wyoming may likely have to deal with both the consequences and the indirect costs of the NRC’s decisions for generations to come,” the state’s letter said.

ProPublica identified mills in six states — including eight former mill sites in Colorado — where regulators greenlit the strategy as part of a cleanup plan.

When neither water treatment nor nature solves the problem, federal and state regulators can simply relax their water quality standards, allowing harmful levels of pollutants to be left in aquifers.

County officials made a small area near the Gunnison mill off-limits to new wells, and the DOE suggested changing water quality standards to allow uranium concentrations as much as 475 times what naturally occurred in the area. It wouldn’t endanger human health, the agency said, because people wouldn’t come into contact with the water.

ProPublica found that regulators granted groundwater cleanup exemptions at 18 of the 28 sites where cleanup has been deemed complete and liability has been handed over to the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management. Across all former uranium mills, the NRC or state agencies granted at least 34 requests for water quality exemptions while denying as few as three.

“They’re cutting standards, so we’re getting weak cleanup that future generations may not find acceptable,” said Paul Robinson, who spent four decades researching the cleanup of the uranium industry with the Southwest Research and Information Center, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit. “These great mining companies of the world, they got away cheap.”

NRC staffers examine studies that are submitted by companies’ consultants and other agencies to show how cleanup plans will adequately address water contamination. Some companies change their approach in response to feedback from regulators, and the public can view parts of the process in open meetings. Still, the data and groundwater modeling that underpin these requests for water cleanup exemptions are often wrong.

One reason: When mining companies built the mills, they rarely sampled groundwater to determine how much contamination occurred naturally, leaving it open to debate how clean groundwater should be when the companies leave, according to Roberta Hoy, a former uranium program specialist with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. She said federal regulators also haven’t done enough to understand certain contaminants at uranium mills.

In one recent case, the NRC fined a mining company $14,500 for incomplete and inaccurate groundwater modeling data. Companies use such data to prove that pollution won’t spread in the future. Freeport-McMoRan, the corporation that owns the fined mining company, did not respond to a request for comment.

At a 2013 conference co-hosted by the NRC and a mining trade group, a presentation from two consultants compared groundwater modeling to a sorcerer peering at a crystal ball.

ProPublica identified at least seven sites where regulators granted cleanup exemptions based on incorrect groundwater modeling. At these sites, uranium, lead, nitrates, radium and other substances were found at levels higher than models had predicted and regulators had allowed.

McIntyre, the NRC spokesperson, said that groundwater models “inherently include uncertainty,” and the government typically requires sites to be monitored. “The NRC requires conservatism in the review process and groundwater monitoring to verify a model’s accuracy,” he said.

Water quality standards impose specific limits on the allowable concentration of contaminants — for example, the number of micrograms of uranium per liter of water. But ProPublica found that the NRC granted exemptions in at least five states that were so vague they didn’t even include numbers and were instead labeled as “narrative.” The agency justified this by saying the groundwater was not near towns or was naturally unfit for human consumption.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

This system worries residents of Cañon City, Colorado. Emily Tracy, who serves on the City Council, has lived a few miles from the area’s now-demolished uranium mill since the late 1970s and remembers floods and winds carrying mill waste into neighborhoods from the 15.3-million-ton pile, which is now partially covered.

Uranium and other contaminants had for decades tainted private wells that some residents used for drinking water and agriculture, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The company that operated the mill, Cotter Corp., finally connected residents to clean water by the early 1990s and completed cleanup work such as decontaminating soil after the EPA got involved. But the site remains without a final cleanup plan — which the company that now owns the site is drafting — and the state has eased water quality standards for molybdenum, a metal that uranium mining and milling releases into the environment.

“We have great concerns about what it might look like or whether cleanup standards might suddenly change before our eyes,” Tracy said.

Jim Harrington, managing director of the site’s current owner, Colorado Legacy Land, said that a final cleanup strategy has not been selected and that any proposal would need to be approved by both the EPA and the state.

Layers of Regulation

It typically takes 35 years from the day a mill shuts down until the NRC approves or estimates it will approve cleanup as being complete, ProPublica found. Two former mills aren’t expected to finish this process until 2047.

Chad Smith, a DOE spokesperson, said mills that were previously transferred to the government have polluted groundwater more than expected, so regulators are more cautious now.

The involvement of so many regulators can also slow cleanup.

Five sites were so contaminated that the EPA stepped in via its Superfund program, which aims to clean up the most polluted places in the country.

Homestake Mill Milan, New Mexico Zeolite cell construction. Photo credit: EPA

At the Homestake mill in New Mexico, where cleanup is jointly overseen by the NRC and the EPA, Larry Camper, a now-retired NRC division director, acknowledged in a 2011 meeting “that having multiple regulators for the site is not good government” and had complicated the cleanup, according to meeting minutes.

Homestake Mining Company of California did not comment on Camper’s view of the process.

Only one site where the EPA is involved in cleanup has been successfully handed off to the DOE, and even there, uranium may still persist above regulatory limits in groundwater and surface water, according to the agency. An EPA spokesperson said the agency has requested additional safety studies at that site.

“A lot of people make money in the bureaucratic system just pontificating over these things,” said William Turner, a geologist who at different times has worked for mining companies, for the U.S. Geological Survey and as the New Mexico Natural Resources Trustee.

If the waste is on tribal land, it adds another layer of government.

The federal government and the Navajo Nation have long argued over the source of some groundwater contamination at the former Navajo Mill built by Kerr-McGee Corp. in Shiprock, New Mexico, with the tribe pointing to the mill as the key source. Smith of the DOE said the department is guided by water monitoring results “to minimize opportunities for disagreement.”

Tronox, which acquired parts of Kerr-McGee, did not respond to requests for comment.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

All the while, 2.5 million tons of waste sit adjacent to the San Juan River in the town of 8,000 people. Monitoring wells situated between the unlined waste pile and the river have shown nitrate levels as high as 80 times the limit set by regulators to protect human health, uranium levels 30 times the limit and selenium levels 20 times the limit.

“I can’t seem to get the federal agencies to acknowledge the positions of the Navajo Nation,” said Dariel Yazzie, who formerly managed the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Program.

At some sites, overlapping jurisdictions mean even less cleanup gets done.

Such was the case near Griffin, North Dakota, where six cows and 2,500 sheep died in 1973; their bodies emitted a blue glow in the morning light. The animals lay near kilns that once served as rudimentary uranium mills operated by Kerr-McGee. To isolate the element, piles of uranium-laden coal at the kilns were “covered with old tires, doused in diesel fuel, ignited, and left to smolder for a couple of months,” according to the North Dakota Geological Survey.

The flock is believed to have been poisoned by land contaminated with high levels of molybdenum. The danger extended beyond livestock. In a 1989 draft environmental assessment, the DOE found that “fatal cancer from exposure to residual radioactive materials” from the Griffin kilns and another site less than a mile from a town of 1,000 people called Belfield was eight times as high as it would have been if the sites had been decontaminated.

But after agreeing to work with the federal government, North Dakota did an about-face. State officials balked at a requirement to pay 10% of the cleanup cost — the federal government would cover the rest — and in 1995 asked that the sites no longer be regulated under the federal law. The DOE had already issued a report that said doing nothing “would not be consistent” with the law, but the department approved the state’s request and walked away, saying it could only clean a site if the state paid its share.

“North Dakota determined there was minimal risk to public health at that time and disturbing the grounds further would create a potential for increased public health risk,” said David Stradinger, manager of the Radiation Control Program in the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. Contaminated equipment was removed, and the state is reevaluating one of the sites, he said.

“A Problem for the Better Part of 50 Years”

While the process for cleaning up former mills is lengthy and laid out in regulations, regulators and corporations have made questionable and contradictory decisions in their handling of toxic waste and tainted water.

More than 40 million people rely on drinking water from the Colorado River, but the NRC and DOE allowed companies to leak contamination from mill waste directly into the river, arguing that the waterway quickly dilutes it.

Federal regulators relocated tailings at two former mills that processed uranium and vanadium, another heavy metal, on the banks of the Colorado River in Rifle, Colorado, because radiation levels there were deemed too high. Yet they left some waste at one former processing site in a shallow aquifer connected to the river and granted an exemption that allowed cleanup to end and uranium to continue leaking into the waterway.

For a former mill built by the Anaconda Copper Company in Bluewater, New Mexico, the NRC approved the company’s request to hand the site off to the DOE in 1997. About a decade later, the state raised concerns about uranium that had spread several miles in an aquifer that provides drinking water for more than 15,000 people.

The contamination hasn’t reached the wells used by nearby communities, and Smith, the DOE spokesperson, said the department has no plans to treat the uranium in the aquifer. It’s too late for much more cleanup, since the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management’s mission is to monitor and maintain decommissioned sites, not clean them. Flawed cleanup efforts caused problems at several former mills after they were handed off to the agency, according to a 2020 Government Accountability Office report.

“Uranium has been overplayed as a boom,” said Travis Stills, an environmental attorney in Colorado who has sued over the cleanup of old uranium infrastructure. “The boom was a firecracker, and it left a problem for the better part of 50 years now.”

“No Way in Hell We’re Going to Leave This Stuff Here”

Mining companies can’t remove every atom of uranium from groundwater, experts said, but they can do a better job of decommissioning uranium mills. With the federal government yet to take control of half the country’s former mills, regulators still have time to compel some companies to do more cleanup.

Between 1958 and 1961, the Lakeview Mining Company generated 736,000 tons of tailings at a uranium mill in southern Oregon. Like at most sites, uranium and other pollution leaked into an aquifer.

“There’s no way in hell we’re going to leave this stuff here,” Dixon, the nuclear cleanup specialist, remembered thinking. He represented the state of Oregon at the former mill, which was one of the first sites to relocate its waste to a specially engineered disposal cell.

A local advisory committee at the Lakeview site allowed residents and local politicians to offer input to federal regulators. By the end of the process, the government had paid to connect residents to a clean drinking water system and the waste was moved away from the town, where it was contained by a 2-foot-thick clay liner and covered with 3 feet of rocks, soil and vegetation. Local labor got priority for cleanup contracts, and a 170-acre solar farm now stands on the former mill site.

But relocation isn’t required. At some sites, companies and regulators saw a big price tag and either moved residents away or merely left the waste where it was.

“I recognize Lakeview is easy and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to New Mexico,” Dixon said, referring to the nation’s largest waste piles. “But it’s just so sad to see that this hasn’t been taken care of.”

Methodology

To investigate the cleanup of America’s uranium mills, ProPublica assembled a list of uranium processing and disposal sites from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s most recent “Status of the Decommissioning Program” annual reportthe WISE Uranium Project and several federal agencies’ websites. Reporters reviewed fact sheets from the NRC and the Department of Energy before studying the history of each mill contained in thousands of pages of documents that are archived mainly in the NRC’s Agencywide Documents Access and Management System, known as ADAMS.

We solicited feedback on our findings from 10 experts who worked or work at the NRC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the Southwest Research and Information Center, the University of New Mexico and elsewhere. Additionally, we interviewed dozens of current and former regulators, residents of communities adjacent to mills, representatives of tribes, academics, politicians and activists to better understand the positive and negative impacts of the uranium industry and the bureaucracy that oversees uranium mill cleanup.

We also traveled to observe mill sites in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

Bioreactors Form a Last Line of Defense against Nitrate Runoff — NRCS

Illustration of how a denitrifying bioreactor fits in with drainage water management. Credit: NRCS

Click the link to read the article on the NRCS website (Kari Cohen):

Walk to the edge of certain crop fields in Iowa and look down. You might not notice anything unusual, but just beneath the surface hordes of woodchip-dwelling microorganisms are busy removing excess nitrates from water before it leaves the field. By filtering nitrates, this organic gauntlet safeguards local streams and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.

Hungry microorganisms and woodchips are the key components of denitrifying bioreactors, a conservation practice that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) made eligible for financial assistance last year with the publication of a Denitrifying Bioreactor conservation practice standard. Progressive farmers in the Midwest have been experimenting with bioreactors for about a decade, and NRCS has piloted the practice in a handful of states including Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois.

“We’re really excited about the potential to spread this technology across the Mississippi River Basin,” said Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, deputy chief for science and technology at NRCS. “When paired with nutrient management, cover crops and no-till practices, denitrifying bioreactors are a fantastic line of defense for subsurface nitrates.”

Water control structures (in the large white circles) route water running through tile lines into the denitrifying bioreactor, which lies underground at the edge of a field. Image by John Peterson via the NRCS

A bioreactor is basically a buried trench filled with a carbon source – usually wood chips – installed at the edge of a field. Tile drains from the field carry excess water from the plant root zone, and divert a portion of the drainage water into the bioreactor. Microorganisms on the wood chips consume the nitrates in the water and expel it as nitrogen gas. Performance varies based on size, location, and a variety of other factors, but the average bioreactor can be expected to remove 35-50 percent of nitrates from the water flowing through it. Bioreactors have no adverse effects on crop production and do not restrict drainage.

In 2011, the Iowa Soybean Association was awarded a Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS to increase farmer awareness and accelerate implementation of denitrifying bioreactors. Project leaders monitored and analyzed the performance of new and existing bioreactors, and explored ways to limit buildup of harmful contaminants in the woodchip pile.

“One thing we learned is that it’s important not to build bioreactors too large,” said Keegan Kult, environmental projects manager with the Iowa Soybeans Association. “If they’re too large, it becomes hard to control the flow of water through the bioreactor.”

The project also provided outreach and training to NRCS field staff and drainage contractors to build confidence and familiarity with the new practice. Kult said that the Iowa Soybean Association has been involved in the installation of 22 bioreactors in Iowa, and estimates that there are probably another 10-15 beyond that.

Installation costs of a bioreactor vary, but the average model costs $8,000-$12,000. NRCS, through the new conservation practice standard, may provide partial financial assistance for the cost of implementation. Nabbing Nitrates Before Water Leaves the Farm: Bioreactors, a short video by the Missouri & Mississippi Divide Resource Conservation and Development with support from NRCS, provides a nice overview of a bioreactor from start to finish.

NRCS promotes coordinated conservation practices that help producers avoid loss, and control and trap nutrients and sediment at the edge of farm fields. Denitrifying bioreactors hold great promise as a nutrient trap, reducing the flow of excess nitrates into local bodies of water, a significant water quality concern throughout the Mississippi River Basin.

Due to their potential for capturing nitrates, bioreactors are gaining popularity. Bioreactors are still a relatively new technology, however, and continued research and testing will lead to further refinement and performance improvement in the future.

Installation of a denitrifying bioreactor. Nitrates beware. Photograph by Jason Johnson, NRCS Iowa.

Imperial Irrigation District approves possible $250 million #SaltonSea deal with feds, state — The Palm Springs Desert Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

The New River, a contaminated waterway that flows north from Mexico, spills into the Salton Sea in southwestern California’s Imperial Valley. (Image: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Click the link to read the article on the Palm Springs Desert Sun website (Janet Wilson). Here’s an excerpt:

Southern California’s powerful Imperial Irrigation District voted late Tuesday [November 22, 2022] 3-2 to ink an agreement with federal and state officials that could yield as much as $250 million for Salton Sea restoration projects in exchange for not using another 250,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water. An acre-foot is enough to supply about two households. The vote came despite livid objections from Imperial County farmers and environmental groups, who questioned why such a major agreement was being voted on just 24 hours after it was made public, and four days before two newly elected board members are slated to be sworn in to the five-member panel, replacing outgoing president Jim Hanks and outgoing director Norma Galindo, two of the three backers of the agreement on Tuesday…

“Most of us heard about this four-way deal for the first time through the news media Monday afternoon …. The omission of public input borders on a violation of human rights when dealing with something essential to living like water,” said Jose Flores, research and advocacy specialist at Comite Civico del Valle, a nonprofit community advocacy group, who denounced it as a “half-baked deal.”

[…]

But director JB Hamby, agreeing with a majority of the board and the district’s general manager and water director said, “there is no down side” to the agreement with the U.S. Department of Interior, the California Natural Resources Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District because while it does not bind the district to cuts, it guarantees critical federal support if cuts are implemented. The agreement also would release IID from liability for wind-borne pesticides and other toxics contained in exposed lake bed, and loss of habitat for endangered birds and other species. Instead the state of California would absorb that risk. In exchange, IID agreed to guarantee state contractors long-sought access to its lands to construct restoration projects, and to provide up to 100,000 acre-feet from New River supply, not Colorado River supply. Outgoing president Hanks said the agreement guarantees up-front for the first time in decades of cuts that federal and state officials will pay for impacts to the Salton Sea from reduced Colorado River supply. The sea is dependent on runoff from Colorado River water provided to farms along its shores for its continued existence. Since 2003, a series of agreements have diverted large amounts from the farms and the lake to urban areas.

Reclamation selects nine projects to receive $1.69 million to test innovative and new #water treatment technologies: Technologies may increase access to water that was not previously usable

Excess nitrogen and phosphorus in waterbodies, known as nutrient pollution, is a growing problem in Utah and across the country. Nutrients are linked to cyanobacterial growth, including harmful algal blooms, and can lower dissolved-oxygen levels in waterbodies, adversely affecting aquatic life. This pollution comes from a variety of sources, including wastewater treatment plants, nonpoint source pollution from agricultural operations, and residential and municipal stormwater runoff. Nutrient pollution poses a significant threat to Utah’s economic growth and quality of life, leading to substantial costs to the state and taxpayers if left unaddressed.

Click the link to read the article on the Reclamation website (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation is providing $1.69 million to nine projects that offer innovative and novel water treatment technologies that may make previously unusable water available. The funding is being provided for the recipients to conduct pilot testing on their proposed technology.

“Reclamation has been supporting utilizing new and novel technologies for water resource development for 120 years,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “Water treatment technology is evolving rapidly, and these projects can improve and expand the accessibility to previously unusable water, especially for communities with some of the most urgent water needs.”

The projects were selected through a unique, two-stage process. For the first stage, a project description was submitted summarizing a research idea. Reviewers evaluated these ideas against the provided criteria. Those projects selected from the first stage then pitched their idea to a panel of experts through a live presentation and answered the same experts’ questions.

The selected projects are:

Carollo Engineers, Inc.: Pilot Testing of a Novel Energy Efficient Configuration for Carbon Diversion and CEC Removal, $200,000

Carollo Engineers, Inc.: An Innovative Ion Exchange-Based Advanced Treatment (XBAT) Approach for Direct and Indirect Potable Reuse, $199,989

Enspired Solutions LLC: Reductive Defluorination PFAS Destruction Field-scale Pilot Test, $200,000

Hazen and Sawyer: Improving RO Recovery through Optimization of Flux and Pump Usage with Real-Time Sensor Connectivity, Data-driven Modeling, and Automation, $197,294

Hazen and Sawyer: Pilot Scale PFAS Destruction in Membrane Concentrate via Electrochemical Oxidation, $196,916

Orange County Water District: In-Situ Gravity Driven Removal of PFAS During Groundwater Recharge to Protect Drinking Water, $199,430

South Platte Renew: Retrofitting Existing Infrastructure for Sidestream Biological Phosphorus Treatment to Reduce Coagulant Costs and Discharged Salts Associated with Chemical Phosphorus Removal, $100,000

Southern Nevada Water Authority: Assessment of Innovative Dissolved Air Flotation Approaches for Conventional Water Treatment, $200,000

The Research Foundation for The State University of New York – Stony Brook University: Enhancing the Removal of Hydrophilic Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) by Granular Activated Carbon using Hydrophobic Ion-pairing as Pre-treatment, $199,601

Learn more about Reclamation’s Desalination and Water Purification Research Program and how it expands access to water by visiting www.usbr.gov/research/dwpr.

Inflation Reduction Act Funds Landmark Agreements to Accelerate #SaltonSea Restoration — The U.S. Department of Interior #ColoradoRiver #COriver #CRWUA2022

Birds gather at the Salton Sea and important stop on the Pacific Flyway. Photo credit: The Revelator

Click the link to read the release on the DOI website:

The Department of the Interior today announced a historic agreement funded by the Inflation Reduction Act that will mitigate impacts from the worsening drought crisis impacting the Salton Sea in Southern California.

Established by Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau and leaders from the California Natural Resources Agency, Imperial Irrigation District (IID) and Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), the agreement will accelerate implementation of dust suppression and aquatic restoration efforts at the Salton Sea in Southern California. The agreement, which is set for consideration by the IID board of directors at its meeting tomorrow, will expedite implementation of the state’s 10-year plan and enable urgent water conservation needed to protect Colorado River reservoir storage volumes amid persistent climate change-driven drought conditions.

“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to bringing every resource to bear to help manage the drought crisis and provide a sustainable water system for families, businesses and our vast and fragile ecosystems. This landmark agreement represents a key step in our collective efforts to address the challenges the Colorado River Basin is facing due to worsening drought and climate change impacts,” said Deputy Secretary Beaudreau. “Historic investments from the Inflation Reduction Act will help to support the Imperial and Coachella Valley and the environment around the Salton Sea, as well as support California’s efforts to voluntarily save 400,000 acre-feet a year to protect critical elevations at Lake Mead.”

The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, is receding due to the drought crisis gripping the West and resulting necessary conservation actions in the Imperial Valley that have reduced inflows to the Sea. Exposed lakebed is contributing to harmful dust emissions to the surrounding environment and reducing important environmental habitat for wildlife.

Under the agreement, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation will provide $22 million in new funding through the Inflation Reduction Act in fiscal year 2023 to implement projects at the Sea, support staffing at the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe, and conduct scientific research and management that contributes to project implementation.

Subject to the implementation of voluntary conservation actions proposed by IID and CVWD, Reclamation will also provide an additional $228 million over the next four years to expedite existing projects and bolster staffing capacity at the water agencies to help deliver new projects. This is in support of California’s commitment to voluntarily conserve 400,000 acre-feet annually, starting in 2023. This $250 million investment from the Inflation Reduction Act will complement the $583 million in state funding committed to date.

“This agreement is a huge step forward,” said California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot. “It builds our momentum delivering projects at the Sea to protect communities and the environment and ensures that California’s leadership conserving Colorado River water supplies doesn’t come at the expense of local residents.”

Under the agreement, the California Natural Resources Agency commits to accelerating project delivery through permit streamlining and use of its full contracting authority. It also commits to continue pursuing additional funding for projects to build on state funding already committed to Salton Sea Management Program implementation.

The Interior Department, IID and CVWD have agreed to establish programmatic land access agreements to enable state agencies to implement projects. In addition, the two water agencies will provide available future water supplies for new projects. This will enable California water agencies to commit to voluntarily reduce their water usage each year beginning in 2023 through 2026 to protect critical elevations in Lake Mead.

The Colorado River provides water to two countries, seven western states, 30 Tribal Nations and 40 million residents. It is currently experiencing the longest and worst drought on record, driven by hotter temperatures under climate change. Efforts continue in California and across the Colorado River Basin to find ways to stabilize water storage volumes in Lakes Powell and Mead. Reclamation and water agencies are working closely to take extraordinary actions to protect the Colorado River System.

Southern California water agencies have agreed on a deal to cut back on the amount of water they use for the Colorado River, some of which is used to grow crops in the Imperial Valley. Ted Wood/The Water Desk

Click the link to read “Drying California lake to get $250M in US drought funding” on the Associated Press website (Kathleen Ronayne). Here’s an excerpt:

The future of the Salton Sea, and who is financially responsible for it, has been a key issue in discussions over how to prevent a crisis in the Colorado River. The lake was formed in 1905 when the river overflowed, creating a resort destination that slowly morphed into an environmental disaster as water levels receded, exposing residents to harmful dust and reducing wildlife habitat. The lake is largely fed by runoff from farms in California’s Imperial Valley, who use Colorado River water to grow many of the nation’s winter vegetables as well as feed crops like alfalfa. As the farmers reduce their water use, less flows into the lake. California said it would only reduce its reliance on the over-tapped river if the federal government put up money to mitigate the effects of less water flowing into the sea. The deal announced Monday needs approval from the Imperial Irrigation District, the largest user of Colorado River water. The water entity’s board will take it up on Tuesday. Both the district’s general manager and board member JB Hamby applauded the deal Monday.

“The collaboration happening at the Salton Sea between water agencies and state, federal, and tribal governments is a blueprint for effective cooperation that the Colorado River Basin sorely needs,” Hamby said in a statement.

The $250 million will come out of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which set aside $4 billion to stave off the worst effects of drought across the U.S. West. Most of the money is contingent on the Imperial Irrigation District and Coachella Valley Water District making good on their commitments to reduce their own use of river water. Both submitted proposals to cut back their usage for payment as part of a new federal program.

The Salton Sea is a major nesting, wintering and stopover site for about 400 bird species (Source: California Department of Water Resources)

Click the link to read “U.S. government pledges $250 million to help ailing Salton Sea” on The Los Angeles Times website (Ian James). Here’s an excerpt:

This year, federal officials demanded large-scale water cutbacks throughout the Southwest to try to prevent the Colorado River’s reservoirs from dropping to dangerously-low levels. Four major California water districts have proposed to reduce water use by up to 400,000 acre-feet per year for the next four years, about 9% of the state’s total water allotment.

The Imperial Irrigation District has pledged to take on the largest share of California’s reductions, up to 250,000 acre-feet of water per year.

“From the outset, IID made it clear that taking action to protect the Colorado River system would have significant impacts on the Salton Sea, and that IID’s participation was conditioned on real efforts and dollars to protect public health and wildlife around the sea,” Hamby said.

He said the federal government’s new commitment “makes it much easier and simpler for us to make large contributions toward the Colorado River system.”

The infusion of federal money is the central feature of an agreement among the federal government, the Imperial Irrigation District, the California Natural Resources Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District. The Interior Department announced the plan on Monday, and the Imperial Irrigation District’s board narrowly endorsed the agreement in a 3-2 vote at a meeting Tuesday. The debate was contentious, with some farmers, community advocates and local officials saying they didn’t think the agreement was a good deal for the Imperial Valley, or that the community should have more time to weigh in.

Luis Olmedo, executive director of the nonprofit group Comite Civico del Valle, said his organization opposed what he called a “hastily announced, half-baked deal.” He said in a statement, which a colleague read at the meeting in El Centro, that the board was deciding with little public scrutiny.

Where did the #PFAS in your blood come from? These computer models offer clues — Environmental Health News

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

Click the link to read the article on the Environmental Health News website (Marlowe Starling):

New research could help pinpoint “forever chemicals” exposure — giving communities a roadmap for cleanup and individuals direction on what to avoid.

Downstream of a Chemours fluorochemical manufacturing plant on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, people living in Brunswick and New Hanover counties suffer from higher-than-normal rates of brain tumors, breast cancers and other forms of rare — and accelerated — diseases.

Residents now know this isn’t a coincidence. It’s from years of PFAS contamination from Chemours.

It wasn’t easy to make the connection. More than a decade of water testing and lawsuits identified the link between aggressive cancers and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS – a class of more than 9,000 toxic and persistent man-made compounds known informally as “forever chemicals.” They’re commonly found in nonstick cookware, water-resistant clothing, firefighting foam, cosmetics, food packaging and recently in school uniforms and insecticides.

The difficulty of tracing these chemicals to a specific source is that Americans — 97% of us, by one estimate — are exposed to potentially thousands of PFAS.

New research published in Science of the Total Environment now finds that tracing models can identify sources of PFAS contamination from people’s blood samples. Instead of using environmental measures of PFAS as a proxy for how people are exposed, the methods use blood samples as a more direct way to map people’s exposure.

“If this works, it would allow us to identify, without any prior knowledge, what people are being exposed to and how they’re being exposed to it,” Dylan Wallis, a lead author of the paper and toxicologist formerly at North Carolina State University, told EHN.

The research, while not yet perfect, marks the beginning of what could become a wide-scale method of determining where the PFAS in our blood came from—such as our food, drinking water or use of nonstick cookware—and how much of it came from each source. But its effectiveness hinges on the need to collect more comprehensive data on where PFAS occurs in people’s bodies, the environment and sources. If scientists can collect this data, then these methods would be able to draw a roadmap for people’s exposure, allowing us to pinpoint problem areas, avoid contamination and implement regulatory changes.

PFAS in blood samples

For this tracing method to work, scientists need an idea of which compounds exist in air, water, food and everyday products in a determined community. First, they have to know where to look for PFAS. This study used data from previous research to identify the types of PFAS in drinking water. Then, they test blood samples for which PFAS are in people’s bodies—although using blood alone gives us only part of the contamination picture, Carla Ng, a chemical and biological engineer at University of Pittsburgh, told EHN. Once they match PFAS proportions in blood to what’s in their drinking water, as in this study, they can gain clues to which sources contributed the chemicals showing up in people’s blood.

“You start to build this picture of what are the inputs, what’s the material they’re getting their exposure from, and then what’s in their blood,” Ng, who was not involved in the study, explained.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

The new study analyzed blood samples taken in 2018 and 2020 from residents in Wilmington, North Carolina, and three towns in El Paso County, Colorado. Both communities are near well-known PFAS polluters: the Chemours facility in North Carolina, which manufactures fluoropolymers for nonstick and waterproof products, and the Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado, which uses PFAS-containing firefighting foam, also called AFFFs.

Related: PFAS on our shelves and in our bodies

The team used computer models to identify 20 PFAS compounds from residents’ blood samples and then grouped them in categories representing different sources. Some are easy to identify because manufacturers often use a specific type of PFAS. For example, the compounds found in firefighting foam have a unique signature, like a fingerprint, making Peterson Space Force Base the obvious culprit. But more diffuse sources of PFAS, such as those in dust or food, are harder to pin down because scientists aren’t sure which PFAS are in them or where they come from.

In North Carolina and Colorado, the sources were more obvious, allowing the research team to test models’ ability to identify sources. However, to conduct similar research on a national scale is not so simple. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has tested levels of PFAS in blood samples nationwide since 1999, but it only tests for a specific list of PFAS, which could overlook the full spectrum of compounds.

Drinking water in both locations in the study shows high levels of fluoroethers and fluoropolymers, many of which are “legacy” PFAS, meaning they have been phased out of production for at least a decade but are still found in drinking water. Because the chemical bonds are so strong, they persist in the environment for years, which is why they show up in blood samples long after companies have stopped using or manufacturing them. Long-chain PFAS like PFOA and PFOS, which are the most-studied compounds with a longer structure of carbon-fluorine bonds, are harder to break down, and they bond to proteins in the blood more easily than short-chain compounds.

“These last a really long time,” Wallis said of long-chain PFAS, which were recorded at levels several times higher than national averages. “If you were drinking a really high level of it 40 years ago, you would still have really high levels of it 40 years later.”

A pollution snapshot

Wallis said they were surprised the models worked because they have never been used for PFAS before. They were built to trace other contaminants in the environment, like particles in air pollution, rather than in people.

Tracing PFAS is more challenging than tracing air pollution for several reasons, Xindi Hu, a lead data scientist at the research organization Mathematica, told EHN. Hu conducted earlier research using a different type of computer analysis of blood samples to identify the main sources of PFAS contamination in the Faroe Islands.

Many PFAS lack distinct chemical fingerprints to tell researchers exactly where a particular compound came from, Hu said. But in the study led by Wallis, the chemical fingerprints from the Space Force base in Colorado and fluorochemical facility in North Carolina are well-known.

“When you take a blood sample, it’s really just a snapshot,” she said. “So how do you translate this snapshot of concentration back to the course of the entire exposure history?”

That’s partly why the new paper’s authors conducted this study: The more compounds that are correctly linked to a source, the better these models will work, Wallis said. In essence, they need a better database of PFAS compounds so the models know how to connect the dots.

PFAS also react differently in the human body than in the environment, and scientists still don’t fully understand how we metabolize different compounds. Shorter-chain PFAS, for example, are more likely to appear in urine samples than in blood because they are water-soluble, said Pittsburgh’s Ng, who studies how PFAS react in humans and wildlife.

“If you’re doing everything on the basis of blood levels, it may not tell you everything you need to know about exposure and potential toxicity,” she said, adding that PFAS could also accumulate in the liver, brain, lungs and other locations where it’s difficult to take samples.

Worse, more modern PFAS with carbon-hydrogen bonds can actually transform into other types of compounds as the body metabolizes them, which could give a false impression of what people are exposed to.

“The key to identifying a good tracer is a molecule that doesn’t transform,” Ng said. Some PFAS are great tracers, she added, but “the more transformable your PFAS is in general, the poorer the tracer is going to be.”

That’s why newer PFAS compounds like GenX were not detected in blood samples or used as tracers in the recent study.

“These models aren’t going to account for everything,” Wallis said. “No model is.”

Stopping the contamination 

Wallis and their co-authors said they hope the models can become more accurate for less exposed communities in the future. With more data, it would be easier to suggest what to avoid instead of guessing where PFAS exposures come from, Wallis said, adding that it could lead to more protective regulations.

Although these models can vaguely help identify where compounds might come from in a particular community, it’s not a definitive solution, Alissa Cordner, an environmental sociologist and co-director of the PFAS Project Lab who was not involved in the recent study, told EHN. Even if there’s no immediate application of these methods, identifying where PFAS are is the first step.

“Everybody can point their fingers at other possible sources of contamination,” Cordner said. “The best way to address this is not to try to, after the fact, link people’s exposure to a contamination source. It’s to stop the contamination.”

From Your Site Articles

San Juan Basin Public Health offering free well testing for #PFAS chemicals — The #PagosaSprings Sun

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

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Megan Graham). Here’s an excerpt:

San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) has received a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to address contaminants in drinking water. The funding will be used to provide free testing for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which is a broad group of manmade chemicals in industry and consumer products sometimes known as “forever chemicals” because they do not easily break down in the environment or the human body…

La Plata County and Archuleta County residents can now have their private wells sampled and tested for PFAS chemicals at no cost. The program is targeting areas in the counties close to fa- cilities where PFAS chemicals are known to be used or stored, but all well owners in both counties are encouraged to have their wells tested. Facilities that may have stored or used PFAS chemicals in- clude airports, landfills and some fire stations. If you receive water from a municipality, water district or shared delivery system, contact your water provider for PFAS infor- mation. Several local public water providers have already tested their systems for PFAS contamination. SJBPH Environmental Health staff will be available to discuss test results, which will be processed by a certified independent labora- tory and can take up to 45 days to receive. Staff will assist well owners with determining next steps based on the test results. To have your well water tested, please contact us at eh@sjbpublichealth.org or (970) 335-2060…

There are several education events planned to help share in- formation on PFAS chemicals and testing options. Join us from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Durango Public Library, 1900 E. Third Ave., Durango. Additional education events in Archuleta and La Plata counties will be an- nounced in the weeks to come.

Hard #water: In these metro neighborhoods, few drink the tap water. Can trust in safe water make a comeback? — @WaterEdCO

Sunset in Commerce City, a fast-growing industrialized suburb just north of Denver. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Click the link to read the article on the Fresh Water News website (Jerd Smith):

In the halls of the Colorado State Capitol drinking fountains are in easy reach, and grabbing a quick drink of cool, clear, odorless water is an automatic act.

But just minutes away, in dozens of industrialized neighborhoods in North Denver, Commerce City and unincorporated Adams County, many homeowners and apartment dwellers never drink their tap water.

Tens of thousands of people in this area have been exposed to contaminated water over the years. Convincing them finally that their water is now safe to drink is a tough sell.

In a Commerce City bungalow on Kearney Drive, Armando Guardiola and his family are sitting in a small kitchen, eating posole from brightly colored bowls. The water served for this meal did not come from their tap. Instead, it came from a large, pale blue five-gallon jug perched on the edge of the sink.

It has been this way since Guardiola, a retired railway worker, and his parents moved into this bungalow in 1982.

Maria Guardiola cleans up after dinner. In her and her husband’s bungalow in Commerce City, the pale blue water jugs supply the family with drinking water. They don’t drink tap water. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Their tap water, he says, as his brother and sister interpret, is full of minerals that leave a residue everywhere. Sometimes it has an odor or a strange taste. The family’s water comes from the South Adams Water and Sanitation District and meets all the state standards for water quality and safety. But this is no comfort to the people who live here.

“They used to say, don’t drink the water,” Guardiola said. “Then, they came out about 15 years ago and said it was better. But we don’t trust this. A lot of people here have skin rashes. They have lost their hair. It has been a continuous problem.”

Two water bills

Parts of north Denver, south Adams County, and Commerce City have a legacy of water contamination that dates back more than half a century and is tied to aging lead service lines, in Denver, and various industrial activities farther north.

Wave after wave of pollutants have been discovered in this area, from contaminants that leaked from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in the 1980s, to contamination from the local oil refinery whose lights dot the skyline at dawn and dusk.

Now, so-called forever chemicals, also known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been discovered in the groundwater in Commerce City and have been linked to firefighting foam used up until 2018 at the nearby Denver Fire Training Academy, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The City of Denver disputes that finding. It declined an interview request, citing potential litigation.

The South Adams Water and Sanitation District (SAWSD) says it must spend $45 million to $70 million to build a new treatment plant to remove this PFAS from its raw water.

Will it ever end, residents ask. They can’t answer that question.

Instead, many opt to pay two water bills: one at the local water filling station, where they often spend $10 to $50 a week to buy water for drinking and cooking, for watering plants and caring for their pets. This is in addition to their monthly water and sewer bills from the local utility, in this case the South Adams Water and Sanitation District. Utility costs vary depending on location and water use.

One of several commercial water stations in Commerce City and unincorporated Adams County where residents fill jugs with water for drinking and cooking because they don’t trust the tap water. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Sacrifice zones

Armando’s brother Beto says there is little hope in the community that their tap water will ever be drinkable.

“To go back to the tap water we think is risky,” Beto said. “We’ve been told it’s good. We’ve been told it’s bad. We hope what happened in Jackson, Mississippi, doesn’t happen here,” referring to the decades-long problems with Jackson’s water system that finally collapsed earlier this year after it was inundated by flood waters.

Patricia Ferrero heads Protégete, an environmental justice initiative housed within Conservation Colorado.

“Honestly it all comes down to trust” Ferrero said. “I don’t know if there is one thing that would re-establish trust with these communities. Industry is so close to home. There is too much evidence that it is a sacrifice zone.”

Cultivando, another environmental justice group which is focused on Commerce City, recently launched a tap water testing program funded by the University of Denver. It has signed up 30 homeowners in the area, who have agreed to allow specially trained community members to come into their homes and gather water samples to have them privately tested. These residents get their water from various sources, including some from privately owned wells.

Residents from Commerce City and Adams County gather at Our Lady Mother of the Church in October to learn about private water testing being offered for free by environmental justice group Cultivando and funded by the University of Denver. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Once results are in, the activists will consider what next steps need to be taken. This could mean pushing for better water treatment or new indoor piping, or, if results confirm that the water is, in fact, safe to drink, looking at how they can work alongside the state health department and water providers to reassure residents on this point. In this way, the community organizers hope to begin rebuilding trust in the local water along with the government agencies and water utilities charged with protecting their water and their health.

Mike Wireman, a former national groundwater specialist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is running the Commerce City testing program for Cultivando.

“We have heard for some time, from residents who live in parts of Commerce City, that their water tastes bad, smells bad, feels bad. Bacteria can cause that. We know they have a problem, but I don’t believe that it is related to the water that leaves the Commerce City treatment plant. It gets back in somewhere between the water treatment plant and the homes,” Wireman said.

The problem may be inside these older homes. “The houses that were built were not constructed with the best materials. They were not $500,000 homes. They were built to accommodate industrial workers,” he said.

In addition to neighborhood activists, lawmakers have also taken note. In 2021, at lawmakers’ request, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment created an environmental justice action task force in an effort to forge better relationships with communities whose water quality has been harmed by industrial contamination.

“We take these issues very seriously,” said Nicole Rowan, head of CDPHE’s Water Quality Division.

The state has also begun working with the City of Denver to oversee the removal of PFAS from soils around the Denver Fire Training Academy in Adams County. How long the cleanup might take isn’t clear. But Rowan said some mitigation work at the site has begun.

Generations of distrust

For the South Adams Water and Sanitation District, the legacy of contamination is a powerful, cultural constant. The district has built two treatment plants and is planning a third to deal with the issues, which stem both from industrial activities and naturally occurring minerals present in groundwater.

The discovery of PFAS in its groundwater wells in 2018 added another major item to its long list of industrial woes. The district immediately shut down wells that were too contaminated to salvage at the time, and began aggressively treating its other wells, as well as blending with clean water purchased from Denver, to meet federal PFAS safety standards. According to its 2022 Consumer Confidence Report, the district has been successful in meeting all federal and state water quality standards.

The district has spent millions of dollars and has some of the most sophisticated on-site testing equipment in the state, if not the country, according to Kipp Scott, SAWSD’s manager. Its high-tech labs allow the utility to test its raw water and treated water almost continuously to ensure it is safe. But new PFAS standards that are close to being finalized by the federal government will mean more has to be done.

Alan Frey, a PFAS analyst at South Adams Water and Sanitation District, checks levels Nov. 4 in Commerce City. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Scott remains deeply worried that the plume of contamination moving from the fire academy toward his district’s wells won’t be stopped before it gets any closer. In the interim, the district is spending some $8 million a year to buy clean surface water supplies from Denver Water to mix with its own, to ensure it can continue to deliver clean water until the contamination is removed.

Equally distressing is the community’s skepticism about the district’s efforts to deliver clean water to them, Scott said.

“It’s been a public relations nightmare,” he said.

The district is also plagued with naturally occurring hard water, which damages plumbing and can cause skin rashes and hair loss in some. Last year, the district built a $60 million water-softening plant that now delivers water that is much softer to residents.

Many of its customers still don’t know the water has been improved or do not believe it.

Theresa Friess, SAWSD’s public affairs coordinator, was hired to help educate and engage customers.

“It’s been a hard conversation, in part because it’s hard to hear that our customers feel this way,” said Friess. “But we have tried to increase our outreach and we are having more conservations with non-English speaking residents as well.”

The district has hosted tours and open houses, and has had various government officials meet with residents and publicly drink the water that flows from the taps in an effort to prove it is safe.

To date, there is little if any belief among nearly two dozen residents across north Denver, Commerce City and unincorporated Adams County interviewed by Fresh Water News that the water won’t make them sick.

“We have been drinking this water for years,” said one woman at a meeting convened by Cultivando in Commerce City last month on the private tap water testing program. Speaking through an interpreter, she said, “They think they can come in here and take one drink of water to convince us it is safe? What does that prove?”

Are your pipes okay?

In Denver’s Elyria, Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods, Denver Water has been working since 2019 to replace tens of thousands of lead service lines to protect its customers from lead contamination. Testing had shown that lead was leaching from the pipes into the water that reached the tap. The work is going on across the city, including such neighborhoods as Hilltop and Washington Park. Lead service lines are more likely to be an issue for homes built before 1951.

The agency replaced the old lead service lines in front of Tony Garcia’s Elyria house two years ago.

Garcia, a well-known historian and executive director of Su Teatro, and others in the neighborhood are happy about the remediation project. Some even drink the water now. But the utility is still almost 10 years away from having all the city’s lead service lines replaced, even with a new federal infrastructure grant to speed the process.

Raymond Gallegos water his lawn in Elyria in North Denver. Gallegos, whose water service lines have been replaced by Denver Water to help eliminate lead contamination, said he trusts the water now. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Garcia still uses filters provided by Denver Water, and the utility still tests his water periodically. Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said the ongoing testing is part of its lead monitoring program. For many of these older homes, the water may still contain lead, leaching not from the main delivery lines, which are lead-free, or from the customer-owned service lines Denver Water is replacing, but from the aging plumbing systems within the homes themselves. No amount of lead is safe to drink.

Garcia doesn’t drink the tap water and has no plans to do so. If his home’s pipes need to be replaced, he said, it will have to be done by the next homeowner or someone else.

CDPHE’s Rowan said her agency is researching whether some of its grant money could be accessed by homeowners to be used for in-home pipe replacement, but isn’t clear yet whether that is possible.

What the neighborhood has endured, not just with lead contamination but also with air and groundwater pollution, “would not be tolerated in other communities,” Garcia said.

In addition to the ongoing risk to public health, cost is a major concern, for residents and the water districts and state agencies charged with keeping the water safe.

On a recent Friday morning, student chef Paul Tyrell is filling up several of the ever-present five-gallon pale blue jugs at a private water station in Commerce City. His pregnant partner sits in the front seat as he hauls the empty jugs out of the back seat, fills them at the water station, and lugs them to the car.

Commerce City resident Paul Tyrell fills his family’s water jugs here every week because he and his wife say the water in their apartment makes them feel sick. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Here five gallons of water costs $1.50, or 30 cents a gallon. Tyrell will fill up all his containers once a week, at a cost of $7 to $10. If he could use his apartment’s tap water from SACWD, it would cost less than 5 cents a gallon. The district charges $5.24 for the first 12,000 gallons used.

“I wish we would have better water,” Tyrell said. “We don’t use the water in our apartment because it makes us feel sick.”

Who pays

Denver Water has raised residential water rates to help pay for its lead remediation work, in addition to issuing bonds and using cash on hand to cover for the $168 million overall project cost. It has also been approved for a $76 million federal infrastructure grant to help accelerate the work.

In South Adams County, the federal government paid for the district’s primary water treatment plant, completed in 1989, as part of the Superfund cleanup at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

But since 2018, the district has been forced to uses its own money, and some state grants, to fund the $3 million price tag on new water treatment processes along with testing equipment related to the PFAS contamination.

Residents are paying just over $4.50 a month additionally to cover the cost of the new water softening plant, but Scott says the district doesn’t believe they should have to pay to cover the cost of the new $45 million to $70 PFAS treatment plant. The district plans to apply for federal infrastructure improvement funds to get that done.

“Our residents should not have to bear this cost for the additional treatment we are going to have to put in place. But the new plant is going to be less expensive than purchasing Denver water over the long haul.”

It’s not just water bills that are expensive. Residents are often approached by sales people suggesting the water is so unsafe that they need to buy expensive in-home treatment systems and filters.

South Adams Water Quality Supervisor Kevin Pustulka said he recently went out to a home where a woman was preparing to buy a $20,000 in-home softening system that she didn’t need. “Please don’t,” he told her.

His message to everyone else: “The next time someone offers to sell you an in-home water device, call me.”

Olga Gonzalez hopes they do. She is executive director of Cultivando and has watched people in these North Metro communities struggle for years. That things may be changing is possible, she said, but her level of skepticism remains high.

“We are seeing them [the CDPHE and South Adams] ask what our communities need and be transparent and explain things in a way residents can understand. I feel hopeful that finally community members will be heard. We have been very clear that we don’t want these agencies to just check boxes and say they have been in touch with the community.”

For the environmental justice activists on the ground, after years of battling industrial pollution and institutional indifference, they are convinced the way to deliver safe tap water and to convince residents that it won’t make them ill, lies in rebuilding trust between residents and the government.

“In the end, we don’t want to be residents’ go-to,” Gonzalez said. “We want them to go to the people who are paid to protect them, and take care of their health.”

This project was made possible, in part, by funding from the Colorado Media Project.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

New Report: State of the Science on Restoring Western Headwater Mountain Streams — American Rivers #CRWUA2022

Click the link to read the article on the American Rivers website (Hannah Holm):

As western mountain snowpacks diminish and wildfires race across parched landscapes, appreciation has grown for the moist mountain meadows and wetlands that hold water up high, feeding streams throughout the summer and providing fire-resistant refuges for wildlife. Before beavers and their dams were largely eliminated by the fur trade, these natural water storage features and refuges were common across western states’ mountain landscapes.

The removal of beavers and other land disturbances have led many creeks to cut deeper into their valleys and detach from their floodplains, dropping the water table and drying out the landscape. A growing field of stream restoration, known as low-tech process-based restoration (LTPBR), seeks to reverse these changes through methods that mimic beaver activity in hopes of enticing them to return.

Projects across the west have demonstrated the benefits of LTPBR on the landscape. Projects have improved water quality, provided important habitat, trapped sediment, increased riparian vegetation and forage, and bolstered resilience against drought, fire, and floods. These benefits are achieved by installing low-tech, hand-built structures, creating “speedbumbs” that enable water from snowmelt and storms to spread across the riparian area, slowing peak flows and recharging groundwater. The rewetted soil “sponge” supports healthy riparian vegetation and reduces wildfire risks.

As LTPBR projects have proliferated across western states, both excitement about their benefits and questions about potential impacts have grown. A new report from American Rivers reviews the published science and case study information on LTPBR to better understand the full range of benefits these projects can provide, and provides scientific evidence to address potential concerns. The report finds ample evidence for LTPBR benefiting habitat and buffering the impacts of droughts, floods, and wildfires, but concludes that more research is needed to better understand the full suite of ecosystem service benefits. It also provides insights on how to address human and social factors related to LTPBR projects, such as mitigating beaver dam impacts to infrastructure.

Click here for full report

#California Attorney General Rob Bonta sues makers of cancer-causing ‘forever chemicals’ — The Los Angeles Times #PFAS

Products that contain PFAS. Graphic credit: Riverside (CA) Public Utilities

Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website (Susanne Rust). Here’s an excerpt:

The state of California on Thursday sued the manufacturers of a class of chemicals known as “forever chemicals” that are found in a variety of consumer items including food packaging and cookware and are linked to cancer and other illnesses…

“PFAS are as ubiquitous in California as they are harmful,” Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said during a news conference in San Francisco on Thursday morning. “The damage caused by 3M, DuPont and other manufacturers of PFAS is nothing short of staggering, and without drastic action, California will be dealing with the harms of these toxic chemicals for generations.”

The suit is targeted at 20 chemical manufacturers, including 3M and DuPont de Nemours Inc. California joins a growing list of states and municipalities that have sued over these chemicals, as well as crafted laws to ban or phase them out.

A whistleblower and watchdog advocacy group used an EPA database of locations that may have handled PFAS materials or products to map the potential impact of PFAS throughout Colorado. They found about 21,000 Colorado locations in the EPA listings, which were uncovered through a freedom of information lawsuit. Locations are listed by industry category. (Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility analysis of EPA database)

The NGWA submits comments to EPA on proposed rule to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances #PFAS

Products that contain PFAS. Graphic credit: Riverside (CA) Public Utilities

Click the link to read the article on the NGWA website:

NGWA submitted comments on November 7, 2022 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its recently proposed rule to designate PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which is commonly referred to as “Superfund.”

This rulemaking, if finalized, would increase transparency around the release of these chemicals and prompt regulatory actions regarding their cleanup and disposal. The proposed rule is the EPA’s latest action as part of its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, which outlines the agency’s strategy to address PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) nationwide.

In its submitted comments, NGWA states the proposed rule lacks information on the impact of the designations on the groundwater industry. The Association also states the rule is unclear on how it may impact other chemical control statutes such as the Clean Water Act.

“A key concern is that the proposed rule does not address important information regarding the effect of this designation on the regulatory processes of other existing chemical constituent control statutes such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Clean Water Act that would also regulate PFOA and PFOS and affect the groundwater industry,” said Chuck Job, NGWA’s regulatory affairs manager. “NGWA comments are directed toward a more holistic regulatory approach to PFAS contaminants. Additionally, the proposed rule raises many questions about how the measurement of a reportable amount of hazardous substance would occur.”

Click here to read NGWA’s comments.

NGWA has long been an industry leader in providing PFAS research, education, and resources to the public and scientific communities. Learn more by visiting NGWA.org/PFAS, which is a complete resource center about the groundwater contaminants featuring a recently updated top-10 facts sheet, a position paper, and more.

Also found there is Groundwater and PFAS: State of Knowledge and Practice, which NGWA published in 2017 and is one of the first PFAS guidance documents to be released. The Association recently hosted its second conference in Westerville, Ohio, focused entirely on PFAS science and remediation.

Beaver dams overshadow #climate extremes in controlling riparian hydrology and #water quality — Nature Communications

Beaver dam. Photo credit the Walton Family Foundation

Click the link to access the article on the Nature Communications website (Christian Dewey, Patricia M. Fox, Nicholas J. Bouskill, Dipankar Dwivedi, Peter Nico & Scott Fendorf). Here’s the abstract:

Hydrologic extremes dominate chemical exports from riparian zones and dictate water quality in major river systems. Yet, changes in land use and ecosystem services alongside growing climate variability are altering hydrologic extremes and their coupled impacts on riverine water quality. In the western U.S., warming temperatures and intensified aridification are increasingly paired with the expanding range of the American beaver—and their dams, which transform hydrologic and biogeochemical cycles in riparian systems. Here, we show that beaver dams overshadow climatic hydrologic extremes in their effects on water residence time and oxygen and nitrogen fluxes in the riparian subsurface. In a mountainous watershed in Colorado, U.S.A., we find that the increase in riparian hydraulic gradients imposed by a beaver dam is 10.7–13.3 times greater than seasonal hydrologic extremes. The massive hydraulic gradient increases hyporheic nitrate removal by 44.2% relative to seasonal extremes alone. A drier, hotter climate in the western U.S. will further expand the range of beavers and magnify their impacts on watershed hydrology and biogeochemistry, illustrating that ecosystem feedbacks to climate change will alter water quality in river systems.

#Colorado #water users, environmentalists brace for changes as EPA, Supreme Court weigh wetland rules — @WaterEdCO

Sunrise Over Wetland by NPS/Patrick Myers

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Caitlin Coleman):

A race is on to determine which wetlands and other waters will be protected under the Clean Water Act, the law that regulates the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s water. At issue is not only the protection of water bodies but also clarity for farmers, ranchers, developers, and others who question whether the actions they take on their lands require a federal permit.

Last month, on October 3, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Sackett v. EPA, a case that asks whether certain wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act and how that should be determined. The Supreme Court offers no specific timeline as to when it will release an opinion, aside from by the end of this term in June 2023, or sooner, but likely not before January 2023.

“The magnitude of this Supreme Court case can’t be overstated,” said Ashley House, director of public policy national affairs for the Colorado Farm Bureau. “It’s a matter of food security.” But it’s also a matter of protecting the state and nation’s water resources.

In Colorado there is no state program to protect certain wetlands and waterways from dredging, filling and other damage if they’re not covered by the Clean Water Act. The state has always relied on the federal government’s program for dredge and fill permits, though it could develop its own protections if needed.

Over the past seven years, the test for which water bodies are protected under the Clean Water Act has changed three times – with each new presidential administration – as certain categories of wetlands and ephemeral streams have been revised in and out of the definition for “waters of the United States,” also known as WOTUS, a federal status that extends them protections under the Clean Water Act.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are developing another new rule that would also clarify which waters are protected from pollutants under the act. The agencies’ final rule was submitted in September 2022 and, according to EPA, the agencies plan to issue the rule by the end of the year.

Recent changes to the definition of WOTUS occurred in 2015, 2020 and 2021, with another likely coming in 2022. Those recent definitions for what qualifies have bounced between broader and narrower.

“A narrow definition of waters of the U.S. leaves an incredibly important water resource value unprotected by federal law — which is basically uniform across the nation — and then it’s up to the states to decide what to do, and some states won’t decide to protect those areas at all,” said Joro Walker, general counsel with Western Resource Advocates.

Ephemeral streams are streams that do not always flow. They are above the groundwater reservoir and appear after precipitation in the area. Via Socratic.org

The 2020 definition, for example, excluded all ephemeral waterways and some wetlands. Ephemeral streams represent more than 25% of Colorado’s stream miles, according to Colorado Trout Unlimited.

But farmers and ranchers, developers, and other business owners worry the broader definition would mean federal involvement in day-to-day decisions around their properties, or the need to consult a lawyer on something like driving across an ephemeral stream or running water through an irrigation ditch every few years. The 2015 rule included a broad definition and has been referred to as a federal “overreach.” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in 2019 that the rule would have put “backyard ponds, puddles, and prairie potholes under Washington’s control.”

Now though, the Colorado Farm Bureau and others who are regulated are calling for clarity and security, something they hope the Supreme Court will provide.

“It’s hard to know what is covered,” said Travis Vincent, general counsel and director of public policy state affairs for the Colorado Farm Bureau. “We want a more bright-lined test so our members have a better understanding of when their property or something on their property would be regulated under WOTUS.”

The organization is also looking for more stability.

“On the existential level it creates a lot of anxiety when you have changes to the definition with every changing administration. There’s a sense of anxiety with all producers,” said House. “Producers need accountability and also regulatory consistency.”

Currently, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are relying on the definition that was in place through 2015, which they call a “familiar approach” that will “support a stable implementation of ‘waters of the United States’” while EPA and the Army Corps continue their rulemaking.

According to a statement issued by EPA, the new rule will include “amendments to reflect the agencies’ determination of the statutory limits on the scope of the ‘waters of the United States’ informed by Supreme Court precedent, the best available science, and the agencies’ experience and technical expertise.”

But the Supreme Court’s decision could change that. If the Supreme Court issues a decision before EPA finalizes its rule, the agency would likely need to adjust its rule before issuing it. If EPA’s call comes first, it could render the court’s decision moot, or mean that the agencies need to go back to the drawing board after the court’s decision is released. Both the court’s opinion and the rulemaking could affect EPA’s regulatory process and the level of protection that water bodies receive.

“We are in a very dynamic situation with the rule and have been for a number of years,” says Trisha Oeth, director of environmental health and protection at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “I think all interests would benefit from certainty and stability in this area, so we continue to watch it very closely and have been having conversations with stakeholders here in Colorado to figure out, long term, what is the right path for us.”

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

In Colorado, not all changes to the rule have been implemented. A month after the 2020 revision took effect, which rolled back protections, Colorado filed a legal challenge. According to Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division, some 25% to 50% of Colorado streams, lakes and wetlands could have been impacted by the 2020 rule. Colorado’s attorneys initially secured a stay on enacting the new rule and absorbing more enforcement responsibilities, but that ruling was vacated by the Tenth Circuit Court in March 2021.

In 2021, the nation reverted back to the pre-2015 rule but just after that, in January 2022 the Supreme Court agreed to review Sackett v. EPA, which questions whether certain wetlands are waters of the United States. The Sacketts own land in Idaho which lies across from wetlands and drains into a tributary that feeds Priest Lake. They had long been trying to build there but EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers found that the dredging and filling of construction would affect the tributary and lake.

When the case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals, the court upheld EPA’s conclusion, based on a test established through a 2006 Supreme Court case, Rapanos v. United States, in which Justice Kennedy argued that the Army Corps of Engineers should determine whether the water at issue possesses a “significant nexus” to waters that are navigable when determining whether a water body meets the definition of WOTUS.

But in the Rapanos case, justices failed to achieve a majority opinion on the WOTUS test. This has left, as the Sacketts have said, a landscape of “fruitless confusion, conflict, and litigation.”

The Sacketts appealed the Court of Appeals’ decision to the Supreme Court. The Sacketts aren’t alone in standing up to EPA on its decision. In April 2022, the Colorado Farm Bureau joined 19 other state Farm Bureaus in filing a brief with the court in support of the Sacketts.

More than 40 additional briefs in support of either EPA or the Sacketts have been filed by many other parties, including the State of Colorado, which filed a brief in June arguing for broad protection of waters and for the use of the “significant nexus” test in determining which waters to protect.

Although the court has heard oral arguments, it remains unclear where the justices will side and whether they will come together to provide a new, definitive test for WOTUS jurisdiction.

“It’s hard to speculate on what the [U.S. Supreme Court decision] is going to look like,” said Oeth. “If the outcome were to change the definition of WOTUS or add a new test for what WOTUS includes, that could have an impact here in Colorado.” If a new definition were to apply to fewer water bodies than it does now, that would mean that Colorado waters would have less protection than they do today, she said.

Elizabeth Miller contributed to this report.

Caitlin Coleman is a contributor to Fresh Water News and is editor of Water Education Colorado’s Headwaters Magazine. She can be reached at caitlin@wateredco.org.

EPA Awards Nearly $750,000 in Funding to Research #PFAS Exposure Pathways

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

Click the link to read the release on the EPA website:

Today [October 28, 2022], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $748,180 in research grant funding to three institutions for research to improve our understanding of how people are exposed to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in several communities throughout the country.

“Recognizing that exposure to PFAS is a public health and environmental issue facing communities across the United States, and consistent with EPA’s Strategic Roadmap for PFAS, the EPA is investing in scientific research to increase understanding of PFAS exposures,” said Chris Frey, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The research announced today will answer critical questions regarding the contribution of PFAS exposures at home to PFAS found in the body and will produce science that can help inform and focus decisions to protect human health.”

PFAS are a large group of chemicals that are used in many consumer products and industrial and manufacturing applications and are commonly known as ‘forever chemicals’ since they take so long to break down. Due to their widespread use and environmental persistence, most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS. There is evidence that continued exposure above specific levels to certain PFAS may lead to adverse health effects. More data is needed to measure the nature and levels of PFAS in homes and food to understand pathways for human exposure and risk mitigation.

The research grants announced today will help us better understand the sources and pathways related to people’s exposures to PFAS chemicals.

The following institutions are receiving awards:

  • Silent Spring Institute, Newton, Mass., to measure PFAS in air and dust in homes, and evaluate associations between potential residential sources and PFAS occurrence at home. This research will enhance understanding of the contribution of residential pathways to PFAS exposures and improve the interpretation of PFAS biomonitoring data.
  • Duke University, Durham, N.C., to determine how different sources of PFAS exposure, including PFAS in drinking water and in homes, contribute to levels measured in blood. This study will address key questions on the most relevant PFAS exposure pathways for the general U.S. population.
  • Emory University, Atlanta, Ga., to develop a standardized, validated, scientific protocol to measure levels of a targeted set of PFAS in the home. Data collected from home samples will be compared to data collected from PFAS in blood to help identify residential sources of PFAS measured in people’s blood. 

Learn more about the research grant recipients.

Learn more about EPA research grants.

Pitkin County petitions to join fight over oil trains — The #Aspen Daily News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Rockslides in Glenwood Canyon are one reason Eagle County is concerned about the potential for 10 additional train trips daily hauling crude oil. Pitkin County is trying to lend a voice to Eagle County’s objection to the additional rail traffic.. Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River. Photo credit: CDOT via Roads & Bridges

Click the link to read the article on The Aspen Daily News website (Scott Condon). Here’s an excerpt:

Pitkin County government has joined a legal challenge to try to prevent crude oil from being shipped by rail from Utah to Denver in an effort to support neighboring Eagle County. Pitkin County doesn’t have a dog directly in the fight, but the county commissioners on Oct. 26 approved attempting to hop in because of concerns over what a train derailment could mean to Colorado’s environment.

“You can only imagine the catastrophe if we had an incident in Glenwood Canyon, for instance, or anywhere on the river corridor on the Upper Colorado,” said Commissioner Greg Poschman. “It would affect 40 million people downstream, so I think it’s a risky thing to do, and I think they can find another way to transport their oil.”

[…]

Pitkin County is one of several counties and municipalities that entered an amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, asking for permission to join the legal fight headed by Eagle County and a coalition of conservation groups. Eagle County and conservation groups headed by the Center for Biological Diversity appealed a decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that would allow construction of an 88-mile rail line from the Uinta Basin in Utah to carry crude oil from a production field and tie into the existing 457-mile Union Pacific rail line for delivery to a refinery in Denver. The crude oil would be hauled along the Interstate 70 corridor into Eagle County and then into Grand County, through the Moffat Tunnel and down the East Slope to Denver.

$500M in new federal funds to give thousands of Coloradans freedom from #lead, #PFAS tainted drinking #water — @WaterEdCO

Denver Water crews replacing a lead service line at 1657 Vine Street. Jan. 12, 2021. Credit: Jerd Smith

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado Website (Jerd Smith):

Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans exposed to drinking water tainted by lead from aging, corroded city pipes or so-called “forever chemicals,” will see clean water faster thanks to a historic infusion of $500 million from the federal government.

The money, largely from the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is being funneled through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over a five-year period and will allow miles of lead water delivery pipes to be replaced in towns across the state much faster than cities with little access to cash could achieve.

It will also be used to remove a set of chemicals known as PFAS, or poly and perfluoroalkyl substances, that are present in household and industrial products, such as Teflon and fire-fighting foam. The substances have been unregulated to date, although states and the federal government are writing new regulations to address the contaminants.

CDPHE officials said the money will double the agency’s capacity to fund its water quality safety work.

“The federal money is big,” said Nicole Rowan, director of the CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division. “It’s a once in a generation opportunity to improve our infrastructure here in Colorado.”

To date, 67 Colorado water districts and communities, including the Academy Water and Sanitation District north of Colorado Springs, Limon, Louisville and Grand Junction, have expressed an interest in and are eligible for the funds, according to documents on file at the CDPHE.

Denver Water has been awarded $76 million to fast-track its lead pipe replacement program. The infusion will allow Denver to shave 1.5 years off the 15-year program, according to spokesman Jose Salas.

The City of Englewood also plans to apply, and will ask for $79 million to replace 8,000 lead service lines, according to Sarah Stone, deputy director of business solutions for Englewood Utilities.

Stone said the federal infrastructure funding will provide a critical boost to its efforts to remove lead from Englewood’s drinking water delivery system, if the city’s application is approved.

“We were extremely worried,” Stone said. “This means we can fund the program.”

Cities across the country, including Denver, Flint, Mich., Pittsburgh, Penn., Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C., have been dogged by an increase in lead contamination as service lines age and corrode, allowing the lead to comingle with drinking water supplies, eventually reaching taps.

Denver Water, which is Colorado’s largest municipal water utility, has known lead was present at the tap in some of its customers’ homes since it appeared in routine sampling in 2013. The levels exceeded the benchmarks set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

For several years, the utility ran pilot tests and negotiated with CDPHE and EPA over how best to eradicate the harmful metal. Though the amounts of lead found in Denver’s tap water samples varied, no amount of lead is considered safe to ingest, especially for young children.

The CDPHE issued an order in 2018 requiring Denver to begin adding phosphorous to its water, one of the most effective ways to reduce corrosion in pipes. But phosphorous is also a pollutant and causes problematic algae blooms in lakes and rivers. Adding it to the municipal drinking water supply would also make it harder for wastewater treatment operators to meet their own obligations to keep phosphorous out of rivers and streams.

Due to those concerns, Aurora, Metro Water Recovery, The Greenway Foundation, and eventually Denver, sued the CDPHE in 2018 to stop the order from taking effect.

The dispute was settled after Denver was able to obtain a rare variance under the Safe Drinking Water Act in exchange for agreeing to invest some $68 million over 15 years to replace lead service lines, offer free water filters to residents as they wait for the new lines to be installed, conduct community education programs, and increase the pH of the water supply to also help reduce corrosion in pipes.

Several cities and water districts are hoping the federal funding will allow them to mitigate their ongoing issues with PFAS contamination.

Roy Heald manages the Town of Security’s water utility. The town has been hard-hit by PFAS contamination attributed to Peterson Air Force Base. The PFAS chemicals from fire-fighting foam contaminated its groundwater.

Though the military facility has built a remediation plant for Security, it is considered a temporary facility, Heald said. With $450,000 in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act approved earlier this year, Security is converting the plant to a permanent facility, one capable of operating for the decades it will likely take to clean up the groundwater.

“We’re happy to get it,” Heald said. “This work has to be done, and it’s $450,000 our ratepayers won’t have to pay.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Clean Water Act at 50: environmental gains, challenges unmet — The Associated Press #cwa

Kayakers on the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Erik Drost (CC BY 2.0)

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (John Flescher). Here’s an excerpt:

As officials and community leaders prepared to celebrate the law’s 50th anniversary Tuesday [October 18, 2022] near the river mouth at Lake Erie, the Cuyahoga again is emblematic. This time, it represents progress toward restoring abused waterways — and challenges that remain after the act’s crackdown on industrial and municipal sewage discharges and years of cleanup work. A 1967 survey found not a single fish in the river between Akron and Cleveland. Now, there are more than 70 species including smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskellunge. Limits on eating them have been lifted. The Cuyahoga is popular with boaters. Parks and restaurants line its banks…

The Clean Water Act established ambitious goals: making the nation’s waters “fishable and swimmable” and restoring their “chemical, physical and biological integrity.” It gave the newly established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to set and enforce regulations. Experts and activists agree many waterways are healthier than they were, and cleanups continue. The Biden administration’s 2021 infrastructure package includes $50 billion to upgrade drinking water and wastewater treatment systems, replace lead pipes and cleanse drinking water of toxic PFAS, known as “forever chemicals.”

But the law’s aims have been only “halfway met,” said Oday Salim, director of the University of Michigan’s Environmental Law and Sustainability Clinic. ”If you spoke to most clean water policy advocates today, they’d be pretty disappointed in how long it has taken to get halfway.”

#Westminster, #Thornton, #Northglenn sites on ‘forever chemicals’ list — The Northglenn/Thornton Sentinel #PFAS

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

Click the link to read the article on the Northglenn/Thornton Sentinel website (Luke Zarzecki). Here’s an excerpt:

Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, Thornton’s Ascent Solar and Westminster’s Ambassador Printing are all sites called out in a new interactive map that identifies places across the country contaminated by “forever chemicals.” […] The map calls out places that have tested positive for having PFAS onsite as well as “presumption contamination” from things such as firefighting foam and industrial chemicals. The sites in Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster are all listed among the sites with presumed contamination…[Alissa Cordner] said the tool’s purpose is to provide regulators, decision-makers and public health officials more information regarding potential risks to their communities.  Places with contamination or presumptive contamination do not imply direct exposure or ingestion…

In 2020, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment tested 400 Colorado water systems, 15 firefighting districts and 43 streams and found 34% of drinking water systems tested had some level of PFAS in the water.  A 2020 survey from the Colorado Health Department found 71 surface water samples had concentrations as high as 257 parts per trillion for 18 different kinds of PFAS.  The state health department released a report in April indicating that bodies of water in El Paso, Adams and Jefferson counties were contaminated with PFAS. CDPHE collected 49 fish representing 10 different species from Willow Springs Pond in El Paso County, Tabor Lake in Jefferson County and Mann-Nyholt Lake at Adams County’s Riverdale Regional Park. They found PFAS in 100% of the fish they collected. 

Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics Sues Forest Service Over Fire Retardant

Dropping fire retardant on wildfire. Photo credit: Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics

Click the link to read the release on the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics website:

Discharging chemicals into waterways violates the Clean Water Act.

Sixty days have passed since FSEEE delivered a notice of intent to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for its use of fire retardant in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Forest Service has not responded, so we have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana.

The CWA prohibits the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters without a permit, yet the Forest Service has discharged hundreds of millions gallons of fire retardant without a permit since 2012. In a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), the Forest Service admits that it and its contractors discharged retardant from aircraft directly into U.S. waterways on at least 376 occasions between 2012 and 2019.

Fire retardant is a pollutant, and the agency’s use of retardant is ongoing and increasing, putting additional waters at risk from these illegal chemical dumps. The Forest Service draft EIS states that fire retardant “may affect” 57 threatened and endangered aquatic species and is “likely to adversely affect” an additional 32 aquatic species, further acknowledging that the Forest Service regularly discharges a chemical pollutant into waterways.

The Forest Service has taken the position that a June 23, 2011, letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) excuses its failure to obtain a permit. Nonetheless, an EPA opinion cannot amend an act of Congress, and the CWA requires a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the discharge of fire retardant from aircraft into waterways.

In our notice of intent, FSEEE expressed a willingness to discuss effective remedies for these CWA violations, but since the 60-day notice period passed without any response from the Forest Service, FSEEE’s lawsuit seeks “injunctive relief to compel the Forest Service to comply with applicable environmental statutes.”

#Colorado Issues Suncor Permit But Also Demands Tougher Monitoring — The North #Denver News

Suncor Refinery with Sand Creek in the foreground July 9, 2022. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on The North Denver News website (James Python). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado air pollution regulators have issued one of the Suncor refinery’s two long-delayed permit renewals, while also strengthening rules on how the company must carry out a new air monitoring law to protect neighbors. The EPA also signaled it no longer objects to the Plant 2 permit for Suncor after the state made some revisions. But clean air advocates who have long fought Suncor’s high-pollution presence in Commerce City just north of Denver said they will renew efforts to block the permit…

Suncor has two permits from the Air Pollution Control Division. Suncor submitted a renewal application for Plants 1 and 3 in 2008, and that is still under review by the division. Many Colorado polluters are allowed to continue operating under the conditions of expired permits while the state works through a backlog of dozens of applications and renewals. Suncor, which primarily refines gasoline and asphalt from petroleum at the Commerce City complex, is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in Colorado. The state-issued permit also has specific limits on individual pollutants such as nitrogen oxide or sulfur dioxide. The state on Aug. 18 said after incorporating public comments and staff reviews, it was sending the required air monitoring plan back to Suncor with additional requirements. Colorado is demanding Suncor report data on 14 different compounds emitted beyond the borders of the plant, in addition to the three required in the 2021 law that targeted Suncor and a handful of other emitters of toxic substances. The three chemicals originally targeted by the law were benzene, hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide.

Other changes Colorado wants from Suncor to stiffen the air monitoring include:

– Additional monitoring resources to fully encompass the refinery complex, and to make air monitoring continuous. The new requirement includes an additional monitor along Brighton Boulevard, and more advanced equipment to detect hydrogen sulfide at lower levels.

– Updating online emissions data every five minutes.

– Using lower thresholds of emissions that would prompt public emergency notifications.

– Add more nonemergency notifications that are for “informational purposes.”

– There will be two tiers of notifications under the state’s demands for Suncor: An emergency level, which will go out to all citizens with cellphones, though the public can choose to turn off those notifications; and an optional level, with much lower thresholds well below those with health impacts, where residents can opt in for the alerts. Suncor has until Nov. 1 to address the state’s demands for the additional monitoring provisions.

U.S. 2022-2027 Global #Water Strategy — U.S. Department of State

(Click to enlarge)

Click the link to read the strategy on the Department of State website:

The global water crisis threatens U.S. national security and prosperity. Water insecurity endangers public health, undermines economic growth, deepens inequalities, and increases the likelihood of conflict and state failure. Strong water, sanitation, and hygiene services, finance, governance, and institutions are critical to increasing resilience in the face of global shocks and stressors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

The 2014 Water for the World Act requires that USAID and the Department of State deliver a whole-of-government Global Water Strategy to Congress, beginning in 2017 and refreshing it every five years until 2032 (see the 2017 Global Water Strategy). The 2022 strategy will operationalize the first-ever White House Action Plan on Global Water Security that Vice President Kamala Harris launched in June 2022.

Strategic Objectives

Under this strategy, the U.S. government will work through four interconnected and mutually reinforcing strategic objectives:

– Strengthen sector governance, financing, institutions, and markets;   

– Increase equitable access to safe, sustainable, and climate-resilient water and sanitation services, and the adoption of key hygiene behaviors; 

– Improve climate-resilient conservation and management of freshwater resources and associated ecosystems; and

– Anticipate and reduce conflict and fragility related to water.

New Priorities

This strategy advances new priorities, such as:

– Going beyond community-managed services for a comprehensive, professionalized, and scalable approach;

– Prioritizing local leadership of water and sanitation systems and services;

– Integrating climate resilience to respond to the growing threat that climate change poses to water security; and

– Increasing coherent implementation across humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding contexts.

Opinion: Let Good Samaritans help with abandoned mine cleanups: Acid mine drainage in the #Colorado mountains damages waterways throughout the state — Colorado Newsline

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

Click the link to read the guest column on the Colorado Newsline website (Martin Saunders):

In the West and around the country, tens of thousands of abandoned mines — an estimated 23,000 in Colorado alone — dot the landscape, many of them fouling waterways and harming aquatic ecosystems.

Seven years ago in the mountains above Durango, workers for the Environmental Protection Agency dislodged rock while inspecting the Gold King Mine. Water that had built up in the mine suddenly gushed forth and 3 million gallons of liquid tainted with heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, flowed into Cement Creek, then the Animas, the San Juan and on to Lake Powell. As bad as it was, that spill represented just a trickle of the millions of gallons of tainted water that flow from abandoned mines — big and small — every year nationwide.

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

The Gold King helped shine a brief spotlight on a major issue.

As imposing as they may seem, Colorado’s mountains are not rock solid. Beneath those peaks are thousands of miles of old mine tunnels, many of them discharging acidic, metal-laden water that kills insects and fish, taints drinking and agricultural water and damages waterways throughout the state. A 2017 study commissioned by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper estimated that more than 1,800 miles of streams in Colorado are polluted by that water — known as acid mine drainage.

But thanks to bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate, help could be on the way.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are two of the 14 bipartisan cosponsors of S. 3571, the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2022Introduced by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and James Risch (R-Idaho), the bill would establish a new pilot program administered by the EPA that would help spur abandoned mine cleanups.

It is estimated that it could cost at least $54 billion to clean up abandoned mines in the West. Currently those costs fall on underfunded government agencies, so there’s never enough money. While the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act established a new abandoned hardrock mine remediation program, that “fund” has yet to be funded. State agencies and non-governmental parties want to help fill this resource gap and add horsepower to federal cleanup efforts, but substantial legal liability obstacles severely limit the work these entities — called Good Samaritans — can do.

The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

At present, the only legal mechanism to address these leaking, abandoned mines is a federal Superfund cleanup, a program that is ironically also underfunded. Moreover, Superfund only addresses the worst cases and is not well-suited for the thousands of smaller discharges and waste rock piles impacting Western waterways.

Without a legal mechanism authorizing state agencies and private organizations to add to federal cleanup capacity and take on smaller remediation projects, these sites will bleed and bleed, decade after decade. Thus, incremental water quality improvements are hamstrung by provisions in the Clean Water Act and Superfund law that treat those who want to clean up abandoned mines as if they themselves are polluters.

That is why the Good Samaritan bill co-sponsored by Bennet and Hickenlooper is so important.

State agencies and non-governmental organizations, such as Trout Unlimited, that have no legal or financial responsibility or connection to a project — true Good Samaritans — want to help fill the gap between Superfund and the immense need to remediate abandoned mine sites. Complex projects like the Gold King would be off the table, but there are thousands of smaller, low-risk cleanups where Good Samaritans could substantially improve water quality.

By cleaning up sites that pose a low risk for accidents, cost-effective Good Samaritan cleanups would improve water quality. But, conservation organizations, state agencies, and watershed groups can’t help clean up draining abandoned mines unless Congress makes minor, targeted changes in law to provide Good Samaritans with conditional liability relief.

The Good Samaritan bill enables willing and well-qualified Good Samaritans to provide badly needed help.

It is time to empower volunteers who want to clean up abandoned mines — it’s time to solve a problem that has been more than a century in the making.

@DenverWater on schedule for lead pipe replacement, awaiting additional federal approval — The #Denver Post

Denver Water crews dug up old lead service lines from customers’ homes for years of study that led to the utility’s Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

The Environmental Protection Agency said the utility has succeeded in its three-year trial program and should be allowed to finish its 15-year program

Denver Water’s plan to replace tens of thousands of lead pipes connecting homes to the city’s water supply is working well enough to move past the trial phase, federal officials said. Environmental Protection Agency officials gave the utility three years in late 2019 to try its unique approach of replacing lead service lines, home by home, while changing the chemistry of its water supply to keep lead levels low. In that time, Denver Water has replaced thousands of lead service lines and kept levels of the toxic, heavy metal in its water supply at a fraction of the allowable federal limits, Sarah Bahrman, chief of the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Branch, said. Bahrman said EPA officials are recommending that Denver Water be allowed to finish the remaining 12 years of its replacement plan, a decision that EPA Region 8 Administrator KC Becker is expected to make in the coming weeks.

Denver Water officials originally estimated that between 64,000 and 84,000 homes received water through lead service lines and that replacing them would cost about $500 million and take 15 years. Considering inflation, supply chain shortages and more, Alexis Woodrow, the utility’s lead reduction program manager, said the new cost estimate for the life of the program is more likely to be $681 million…

Denver Water needed approval from the EPA because CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead pushed back on a mandate from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which originally ordered the utility to inject a nutrient – orthophosphate – into its water system. Lochhead argued that orthophosphate could pose a health risk for metro residents and downstream communities. Instead he proposed to send water filters to homes that might have lead service lines, replace the service lines themselves and to slightly boost the water’s alkalinity to stop the heavy metal from breaking off into the water supply.