#AnimasRiver #GoldKingMine: Navajo Nation files $160 M claim with EPA over mine spill — The Denver Post

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)
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)

From the Associated Press via the The Denver Post:

The Navajo Nation has submitted a claim of more than $160 million in damages to the federal government over last year’s mine waste spill that fouled rivers in three western states.

A cleanup team led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency triggered the August 2015 spill while working at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado.

The 3-million-gallon blowout tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with tons of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, mercury and lead.

In a letter Monday to the EPA, attorneys say the tribe still awaits more than $3 million in unreimbursed expenses for costs through Sept. 30 to deal with the spill that contaminated the San Juan River.

The tribe also is seeking $159 million for 10 years of health monitoring and other assessments.

CDPHE: Water Quality Information Bulletin

Click here to read the bulletin. There will be an informational briefing concerning Clear Creek at the December 12, 2016 meeting.

Clear Creek, Standley Lake watersheds including the Standley Lake Canal Zone via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation.
Clear Creek, Standley Lake watersheds including the Standley Lake Canal Zone via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation.

@EPA to require mines to offer cleanup assurances — @DenverPost

The Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine, formerly and historically the Cresson Mine, is an active gold mine located near the town of Victor, in the Cripple Creek mining district in the US state of Colorado. It is the largest current producer of gold in Colorado, and produced 211,000 troy ounces of gold in 2014. Photo credit Wikimedia.
The Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine, formerly and historically the Cresson Mine, is an active gold mine located near the town of Victor, in the Cripple Creek mining district in the US state of Colorado. It is the largest current producer of gold in Colorado, and produced 211,000 troy ounces of gold in 2014. Photo credit Wikimedia.

From the Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via the The Denver Post:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday said it plans to require mining companies to show they have the financial wherewithal to clean up their pollution so taxpayers aren’t stuck footing the bill.

The proposal follows a 2015 court order for the government to enforce a long-ignored provision in the 1980 federal Superfund law.

The requirement would apply to hardrock mining, which includes mines for precious metals, copper, iron, lead and other ores. It would cover mines in 38 states, requiring their owners to set aside sufficient money to pay for future clean ups.

The EPA is considering similar requirements for chemical manufacturers, power generation companies and the petroleum refining and coal manufacturing industries.

From 2010 to 2013, the EPA spent $1.1 billion on cleanup work at abandoned hardrock mining and processing sites across the U.S. [ed. emphasis mine]

The new rule “would move the financial burden from taxpayers and ensure that industry assumes responsibility for these cleanups,” EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus said.

Contaminated water from mine sites can flow into rivers and other waterways, harming aquatic life and threatening drinking water supplies. Companies in the past avoided cleanup costs in many cases by declaring bankruptcy…

The National Mining Association said the new rule was “unnecessary, redundant and poorly constructed,” because existing programs prevent mines from becoming Superfund sites.

The group accused government officials of overstating the potential risks from modern mining techniques, in a rushed attempt to put a new rule in place before President Barack Obama leaves the White House next month.

U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah and Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan voiced similar concerns. The Republicans said programs in place at the state level already ensure the environment is protected and predicted the EPA proposal would result in a multibillion dollar obligation for the mining industry.

In documents released with the new rule, the EPA said that since 1980, at least 52 mines and mine processing sites using modern techniques had spills or other releases of pollution.

There are about 300 hardrock mines in the U.S. Combined they produced about $26.6 billion worth of metals last year, according to mining association Senior Vice President Ashley Burke. Of those mines, the EPA said 221 would be subject to the rule.

The agency took the first step toward seeking financial assurances on cleanups from hardrock mining companies in 2010 in response to a lawsuit from environmental groups.

In 2014, frustration with the agency’s slow progress prompted the Sierra Club, Earthworks and other groups to file a second suit that resulted in last year’s court order. A subsequent order in that case requires the EPA to finalize its rule by Dec. 1, 2017.

@ColoradoStateU researcher studying use of ‘produced water’ on crops and livestock — Sterling Journal-Advocate

producedwaterllcgraphic

From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Farmers and ranchers who work in close proximity to oil and gas production, especially if that extraction involves fracking, need to be aware of the effects of that process on their operations, according to a presentation made Tuesday morning during the Eastern Colorado Crop Production Conference in Fort Morgan.

While the boom in hydrologic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” began a decade ago, researchers are just now asking serious questions about the impact of fracking fluids on crops, livestock and people. Molly McLaughlin, a doctoral candidate at Colorado State University, told the 80-plus attendees at the Fort Morgan conference that she hopes her research will answer some of those questions.

The most surprising revelation from McLaughlin’s presentation is that some “produced water” from oil and gas wells is actually used to irrigate crops and water livestock.

The researcher explained that there are two kinds of fluids involved in fracking. The first is the fracturing fluid that is forced into the drilled well to widen fractures in the bore hole. The fluid consists mainly of water but also contains chemicals to reduce friction of fluids against the well casing, biocides to kill bacteria that may grow in the warm, wet environment, and “proppants” that hold the fractures open so oil and gas can flow into them to be extracted. McLoughlin said wells in eastern Colorado use an average of about 3 million gallons of water per well during the fracturing process, mixed with about 30,000 gallons of chemicals.

The other fluid is the produced water, or fluid that flows back out of the well during the extraction of oil and gas. McLoughlin said most of the fracturing fluids are expelled from the well in the first few years of production, but that water will flow out for the life of the well, or about 30 years in most cases. During later years, most of the water is what was already in the geologic formation that contains the oil or gas being pumped out. She pointed out that this is not water from aquifers that supply water for human consumption. As oil and gas production decreases, she said, water production increases.

Most of the exposure to fracking fluids and produced water happens during spills, McLoughlin said, and virtually all spills must be reported to state authorities. She said contamination can come from spilled chemicals getting into surface water, such as nearby lakes and streams, or by leaching through soil into shallow aquifers.

McLoughlin said most of the chemicals used in fracking will degrade fairly rapidly if they are spilled into soil, but that combinations of chemicals degrade at different rates. She said the presence of salts in the produced water can retard degradation by six months or more. Her research is aimed at determining the degradation rates of various chemical combinations, and the effects those combinations have on soil, crops, livestock, and people.

Wastewater from oil and gas wells is treated, McLoughlin said, by skimming pollutants off of the top of holding ponds, by heating the wastewater, or by adding neutralizing chemicals. She said increasingly, treated water is being used to irrigate some crops and water some livestock.

McLaughlin showed research being done at the University of California at Davis that uses produced water to irrigate switch grass for biofuels or cotton for textiles.

An online article from the California Environmental Protection Agency states that produced water from oil and gas wells there is treated and then blended with other water to irrigate crops in the arid inland areas of the state. The CEPA closely monitors that water, the article said, and the state’s Food Safety Expert Panel monitors the crops grown with that water.

McLoughlin concluded her presentation by saying that much more research needs to be done on potential impacts of oil and gas wastewater on food production.

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. - Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

From MarketPlace.org (Scott Tong and Tom Scheck):

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.

Fixes underway to remedy high lead levels in Denver, Jeffco and Cherry Creek school water — Chalkbeat

Roman lead pipe -- Photo via the Science Museum
Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From Chalkbeat (Ann Schimke):

A small proportion of sinks and water fountains in Denver, Jeffco and Cherry Creek schools have been taken out of service because of high lead levels found after school district testing in the summer and fall.

So far, results are back for one-third of Denver schools, mostly elementaries. They show that about 4 percent of samples came back high. Some schools have no sinks or fountains with elevated lead levels, while others — such as Cory and Greenlee elementaries, and Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School — have four or five.

“We haven’t really found anything alarming,” said Joni Rix, environmental services manager for DPS. “Certainly we’ve found lead, but it’s not widespread.”

Fixes, which are expected to cost around $500,000, will happen at every school with elevated lead levels, she said.

That’s not the case in Jeffco, where testing revealed that about 80 percent of schools have at least one sink or water fountain with high lead levels.

While smaller fixes have been or will be made, district officials say voters’ rejection of the district’s $535 million bond issue earlier this month will make extensive plumbing repairs impossible.

“If it’s any kind of big fix it’s probably not going to happen,” said district spokeswoman Diana Wilson. “It’s probably going to be easier to shut some sinks down.”

In Cherry Creek, where testing was conducted this fall, some schools had elevated levels. In most cases, fixes have already been made, though more systemic problems surfaced at the 1980s-era Creekside Elementary. Water samples from 10 locations in the school had elevated lead levels and samples from most other locations also showed some lead, though not above the federal limit.

District spokeswoman Tustin Amole said via email that students there are drinking bottled water until repairs can be completed — probably over winter break.

The risk of lead poisoning from school water is relatively low, according to experts in Colorado. Still, they say school officials are right to be aware of it given that high lead levels can severely impair children’s physical and mental development.

School districts aren’t required to test their water for lead unless they’re considered public water systems. (That’s the case in some rural districts and on a limited basis in Jeffco, which provides water to six mountain schools.)

Still, in the wake of the lead-poisoning crisis in Flint, Mich., last year, Colorado’s five largest school districts all decided to test their water.

Douglas County School District launched its effort last spring at 19 older schools, and had no samples above the federal 15-parts-per-billion threshold, according to district records provided to Chalkbeat last summer.

Jeffco began districtwide lead-testing in June and Denver followed in August. In Jeffco, testing is now complete save for a small number of re-tests in locations where fixes have been made.

Aurora Public Schools began testing school water in October, and so far results are available for two early childhood centers, according to the district’s lead-testing web page. Neither have elevated lead levels.

Results for the remaining two-thirds of Denver’s schools will be back by the end of January. Rix said she expects a similar proportion of those samples — 4 to 5 percent — to have elevated levels. All told, district staff collected more than 4,000 water samples this fall.

Starting this Saturday, DPS will also test some schools’ service lines — the pipes that run from buildings to the city’s water mains under the street — to determine whether they are made of lead. That testing, which involves drilling into the ground to reach the service lines, will start at Newlon, Cowell, Goldrick, Schmitt and Knapp elementary schools.

The five, all built in the 1950s, are among 69 district schools that may have their service lines tested this year. The $572 million bond Denver voters passed earlier this month will provide $800,000 to replace lead service lines.

@USGS: Characterization and relation of precipitation, streamflow, and water-quality data at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado, water years 2013–14

fortcarsonpinoncanyonusgs

Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract:

To evaluate the influence of military training activities on streamflow and water quality, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Army, began a hydrologic data collection network on the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson in 1978 and on the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in 1983. This report is a summary and characterization of the precipitation, streamflow, and water-quality data collected at 43 sites between October 1, 2012, and September 30, 2014 (water years 2013 and 2014).

Variations in the frequency of daily precipitation, seasonal distribution, and seasonal and annual precipitation at 5 stations at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and 18 stations at or near the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site were evaluated. Isohyetal diagrams indicated a general pattern of increase in total annual precipitation from east to west at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. Between about 54 and 79 percent of daily precipitation was 0.1 inch or less in magnitude. Precipitation events were larger and more frequent between July and September.

Daily streamflow data from 16 sites were used to evaluate temporal and spatial variations in streamflow for the water years 2013 and 2014. At all sites, median daily mean streamflow for the 2-year period ranged from 0.0 to 9.60 cubic feet per second. Daily mean streamflow hydrographs are included in this report. Five sites on the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site were monitored for peak stage using crest-stage gages.

At the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, five sites had a stage recorder and precipitation gage, providing a paired streamflow-precipitation dataset. There was a statistically significant correlation between precipitation and streamflow based on Spearman’s rho correlation (rho values ranged from 0.17 to 0.35).

Suspended-sediment samples were collected in April through October for water years 2013–14 at one site at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and five sites at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. Suspended-sediment-transport curves were used to illustrate the relation between streamflow and suspended-sediment concentration. All these sediment-transport curves showed a streamflow dependent suspended-sediment concentration relation except for the U.S. Geological Survey station Bent Canyon Creek at mouth near Timpas, CO.

Water-quality data were collected and reported from seven sites on the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site during water years 2013–14. Sample results exceeding an established water-quality standard were identified. Selected water-quality properties and constituents were stratified to compare spatial variation among selected characteristics using boxplots.

Trilinear diagrams were used to classify water type based on ionic concentrations of water-quality samples collected during the study period.

At the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, 27 samples were classified as very hard or brackish. Seven samples had a lower hardness character relative to the other samples. Four of those nine samples were collected at two U.S. Geological Survey stations (Turkey Creek near Fountain, CO, and Little Fountain Creek above Highway 115 at Fort Carson, CO), which have different geologic makeup. Three samples collected at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site had a markedly lower hardness likely because of dilution from an increase in streamflow.

#AnimasRiver: Justice Dept. to look at #GoldKingMine spill lawsuit — Albuquerque Journal

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. 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]
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. 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]

From the Associated Press (Dan Boyd) via The Albuquerque Journal:

New Mexico’s lawsuit against neighboring Colorado over the fallout of a massive mine spill could be affected by the pending presidential transition, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked the federal Department of Justice to weigh in on the case…

Top-ranking state officials indicated Monday that they are taking a wait-and-see approach to the request for the federal government’s legal opinion – even if that means a drawn-out court saga.

“We will be interested to read the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General’s opinion of our lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court against the state of Colorado,” state Environment Secretary-designate Butch Tongate said in a statement.

New Mexico’s lawsuit, filed in June, contends Colorado was too lax in its oversight of water contaminated by decades of mining and should be held responsible for the fallout of the 2015 Gold King mine spill. It was filed by Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office and outside attorneys hired by the Environment Department…

In addition to the lawsuit against Colorado, New Mexico has also filed a lawsuit in federal court against the EPA and the owners of a mine adjacent to the Gold King Mine. That lawsuit seeks more than $136 million in damages, which would be used to pay for economic losses the state attributes to the mine spill, specifically in the tourism, recreation and agriculture sectors.

The U.S. Supreme Court…handles cases that involve one state suing another. And it’s common for the nation’s highest court to ask the solicitor general, a top attorney within the Justice Department, to weigh in on such cases by filing official court briefs. The briefs lay out the federal government’s views on the case, including its merits.