Lower Ark board meeting recap

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

Peter Nichols, an attorney for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, at the agency’s meeting Wednesday, updated the board on the long-standing controversy with Colorado Springs concerning water quality in Fountain Creek…

A lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency in November 2017 alleges the City of Colorado Springs’ stormwater system degraded the creek on its way to Pueblo and, eventually, the Arkansas River. The Pueblo Board of County Commissioners and the LAVWCD were permitted to intervene in the case, on the side of the environmental agency.

On Nov. 9, Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled that Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates stormwater discharges into Fountain Creek.

Following Matsch’s decision, the parties asked the judge to put the litigation on hold for three months, to see if they could agree how to remedy the city’s violations. That request was granted.

The post-trial settlement conferences were scheduled for Dec. 6, 2018; Jan. 10 (which was cancelled because of the federal government shutdown); Feb. 7, March 7, April 11 and May 9.

Say hello to River Watch of #Colorado

Screen shot from the River Watch of Colorado website (https://coloradoriverwatch.org) January 17, 2019.

From the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (Tanya Ishikawa) via The Telluride Daily Planet:

Local volunteers sample waterways throughout the year

Once a month you can find Ethan Funk kneeling down at the edge of Red Mountain Creek with a few bottles at his side. The bottles start out empty, but within a few moments they are filled with water tinted red from the high level of iron in it. After taking temperature readings of the water and air, he gathers up his supplies and heads back to his 2003 Toyota Tacoma truck, where he places the samples in the flatbed, records the time and temperatures, sets the paperwork aside, turns on the engine, and heads back down the mountain towards Ouray.

But Funk is not heading home yet. Before returning, he will visit five more streamside sites to gather more water samples. Then, he will head back to his lab in the back of his office, where he will analyze some samples for pH/alkalinity and hardness levels. Others he will package up to send to a laboratory in Denver, where they will be tested for heavy metals.

He is a citizen scientist for the River Watch program. Though he modestly claims not to be a water expert, the electrical engineer by day and radio DJ by evening has been volunteering to sample water in local creeks and rivers for nearly 13 years. The hydrological data Funk has gathered over the years adds up to thousands of points of data that help characterize water quality in Ouray County.

“I’m not doing this for people today. I’m doing this for people 100 years from now,” Funk said. “If we had information like this from 100 years ago, we would know how much of an impact that all the mining in our area has had on the watershed. But, we don’t, so we have to make estimates. With the data from the samples I take, now people 100 years in the future will understand what has happened to their water quality.”

Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

“Real people doing real science for a real purpose” is the tagline for the statewide River Watch program, which has multiple purposes. Its mission is “to work with voluntary stewards to monitor water quality and other indicators of watershed health and utilize this high quality data to educate citizens and inform decision makers about the condition of Colorado’s waters. This data is also used in the Clean Water Act decision-making process,” according to the group’s website (http://coloradoriverwatch.org).

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist Barb Horn started River Watch in 1989, modeled after monthly water sampling programs on Clear Creek and the Eagle River. Both streams were impacted by heavy metals flowing from shut down mines and tailings, which became EPA Superfund sites. Regulators, as well as stakeholders, needed a way to monitor the success of the cleanups.

“The Idarado Mine had just been declared a CERCLA (superfund) site, and I found ways to start River Watch,” recalled Horn, who is part of a five-person team that oversees the program throughout the state.

Starting with five school groups collecting samples at five sites on the Yampa River in 1989, the program grew to include more than 1,200 sampling sites called stations on 700 rivers across the state. Though all of those stations provided samples at some point, not all are actively being sampled today, due to a shortage of volunteers.

The national nonprofit Earth Force, in cooperation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), operates the program. Neither group has the funds to pay hundreds of people to monitor water quality monthly at more than 1,000 sites. CPW uses a mix of federal funds and Colorado Lottery funds to finance the program’s organization, database, heavy metals analysis, shipping cost and other administration.

“Volunteer monitoring produces data that is not free, but cheap,” Horn said.

Besides volunteer time, producing data from the hundreds of water samples each month takes additional time. While volunteers enter pH/alkalinity and hardness monthly numbers every month, data for the heavy metals takes up to six months for professionals to enter into the database.

“There’s a funny disconnect in this world right now: wanting all this accountability and wanting all this clean air and water, but not understanding that it costs money to get it,” she said. “What each taxpayer is paying to have clean water via the Clean Water Act is practically nothing.”

Horn describes the results of River Watch monitoring as baseline data — similar to when a person goes in for a physical at the doctor’s office.

“We are doing the same thing for our rivers and that kind of monitoring takes a lot of time. It’s not glamorous. We’re not putting out fires. We want to know what preexisting conditions are,” she said. “The public believes that somebody is doing that but it’s expensive. The limited budgets that agencies have get used up for those (metaphorical) fires.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment implements the Clean Water Act in Colorado and does water quality monitoring. Due to limited funds, the agency cannot monitor the whole state every year, so they divide the state into four sections that align with major river basins. They have funds to monitor between 40-60 sites annually, 10 or so are monitored every year, the others every five years. When each site is monitored, data is gathered four to six times per year, not monthly.

River Watch data is much more comprehensive and long-term for rivers where the program consistently has volunteers.

“If we sample monthly, think of it as if we are writing a ‘War and Peace’ novel. If the state health department sampled at 40 sites two times a year, while we sample at 600 stations monthly, it’s like they are writing the abridged version of ‘War and Peace’ that you use to cram for the test. But they actually sample each site only twice in five years, which is like ripping a page out of that book and only having that much information,” she explained.

All River Watch data is public information available on its website, as well as on the Colorado Data Sharing Network (coloradowaterdate.org) and National Water Quality Portal (waterqualitydata.us). The data is also delivered to the state Water Quality Control Division annually.

In Ouray County, River Watch data has helped organizations like the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety and the nonprofit Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) make decisions about which reclamation and water quality improvement projects to pursue. It has also helped them analyze and understand the success of projects.

“Water quality data will become more and more important as climate change worsens,” Horn added.

Besides gathering this significant data, the other primary goal of River Watch is to give people hands-on science experiences, and an understanding of the value and function of Colorado’s river and water ecosystems. That’s why the program originated with teachers volunteering to do the sampling with their classes. Currently, teacher-led groups are estimated to make up approximately 80 percent of the sampling volunteers. The remaining 20 percent are a mix of individuals and adult groups.

Some volunteers have been sampling for the program for up to three decades, while others only last a couple years. Some have one site to sample, but others like Funk have six or more. The time commitment is usually about 15 minutes at each site, plus driving time. Both can take longer during the winter, when snow makes the roads more difficult to navigate and some riversides are only accessible by snowshoes. Sometimes it is even necessary to break through ice to get samples.

It typically takes around 30 minutes to analyze and record the pH/alkalinity and hardness data for each site; the paperwork, computer input and shipping of samples can take an additional 30-plus minutes for each site. A volunteer responsible for one site commits to around two hours a month, while those doing four or six sites pledge six-plus hours. Other annual requirements include a multi-day training, a half-day of demonstrating procedures with Horn, and sampling for habitat and possibly microinvertabrates, plus an extra sample of nutrients quarterly.

“It’s a rigorous program that produces high quality data. Field and lab methods align with the health department’s, so data is comparable. When River Watch goals match a volunteer’s interests, they get really excited about making an impact,” Horn said. “Volunteers are happy to be a cog in this big wheel that delivers data to organizations that can use it to make a difference.”

In Ouray County, Funk was preceded by student volunteers led by a Ouray High School science teacher. The other four sites in Ouray County, all downstream on the Uncompahgre River, started out with volunteers from Ridgway High School. Volunteers from the UWP took over the sites almost a decade ago, including Dudley and Sharon Case, most recently.

The Cases had previously volunteered to sample and test water for 10 years with their Sierra Club group in Illinois. For the past five years, the retired couple could be seen once a month, driving in their Jeep through Ridgway en route to Pa-Co-Chu Puk, north of the Ridgway Reservoir. They methodically stopped at spots along the Uncompahgre River. They found their way through willows, down boulders, under bridges and over mud and snow to get to the river banks — he with a handful of water bottles and she with a clipboard and thermometer.

“I was volunteering with the UWP river cleanups and plantings in Ridgway, and I mentioned to Agnieszka (the former UWP coordinator) that Sharon and I might be interested in River Watch,” said Dudley, who added that curiosity was the driving force behind his volunteering

“I had heard so much about the mines and mining in the San Juans that I was curious to find out how the mining had and was still effecting the Uncompahgre River each year,” he explained. “I am hoping that future generations will be able to use the data I have collected over my five years of doing it to help eventually clean up the mines and thus the river. I might have volunteered longer if we hadn’t decided to move away.”

UWP is currently looking for volunteers to take over the four sites that are no longer sampled by the Cases. For more information, visit coloradoriverwatch.org. If you’re interested in volunteering in Ouray, Montrose or San Miguel counties, email uwpcoordinator@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Tanya Ishikawa is a public relations professional for the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership.

Denver: Heron Pond redevelopment poses environmental challenges

Proposed Heron Pond Park via the City of Denver.

Click here to read the master plan.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The 2-foot-deep pond holds toxic sludge laced with lead, arsenic and cadmium. Contaminated stormwater runoff from surrounding work yards worsens the brew…

Denver’s willingness to embrace such a site for future parkland reflects the increasingly difficult challenge of establishing enough public green space to keep pace with population growth and development. Denver has fallen behind other U.S. cities in urban parks and open space. This is causing discomfort, hurting public health, exacerbating heat waves and risking costly problems with stormwater runoff.

City officials interviewed by The Denver Post said they see establishing new green space as essential but, perhaps, impossible given the rising price of land. Yet voters recently ordered a sales-tax hike that will raise $45 million a year for parks and open space. This has compelled planners to pore over thousands of acres that could be preserved as green space.

The problem, city officials said, is competing with private developers for land. Developers since 1998 have installed buildings, paved over natural terrain and otherwise overhauled vast tracts of the city — profiting from shopping plazas and upmarket apartments that eventually sell as condominiums. They’ve built higher, lot-line-to-lot-line in some areas, leaving less space to even plant trees.

Turning to marginal industrial land, city officials said, may be Denver’s best hope for stabilizing a decline in green space per capita.

Chief parks planner Mark Tabor said that, after establishing the new green space around Heron Pond, Denver officials could try to purchase the land around the Arapaho power plant south of downtown and in the rail yards northwest of downtown for preservation as large green space where natural ecosystems could be restored.

This approach hinges on cleanup.

It can be done, not just by excavating and hauling away contaminated soil but by using modern cleanup methods that remove acidity and toxic metals, said Fonda Apostopoulos, a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment engineer who managed decontamination of the Asarco smelters and 862 residential properties near Heron Pond.

“The low-lying fruit of clean property in Denver is few and far between. ‘Brownfields’ are pretty much the only property people are developing,” Apostopoulos said.

“It is all about exposure pathways” — the ways contamination can reach people, he said.

Around Heron Pond, cleanup included excavation and replacement of soil around homes. Nine new monitoring wells will be installed between the smelter site and the South Platte River to make sure toxic metals no longer contaminate groundwater, Apostopoulos said, pronouncing the area safe for at least passive recreational activity.

While cleaning up industrial wasteland costs hundreds of millions of dollars, “there are a lot of private-public partnerships that could do that,” he said. “Denver could get extra federal funding. They could get cleanup grants.”

Proposed Heron Pond boundary via the City of Denver.

New septic system rules for Montezuma County

Septic system

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New septic system regulations under the Montezuma County Health Department kicked in Jan. 1.

Under the Transfer of Title program, when a residential or commercial property meets certain criteria, an inspection of its on-site wastewater septic system will take place when the property is being sold, and repairs or replacement may be required.

The new rules are intended to prevent pollution from failing septic systems and protect the public and water resources, said Melissa Mathews, environmental health specialist for the health department.

The criteria triggering a septic system inspection when a title is transfered include: Structures older than 1974 that do not have a on-site waste water permit; properties that had a permit issued 20 years ago or longer; properties that have a higher level treatment system; properties that have had a previous septic system failure; properties that have a valid septic permit but no structure.

#Utah: 2018 State of the Environment Report

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 here to go to the State of Utah website.

Here’s a report from Amy Joi O’Donoghue writing for The Deseret News. Here’s an excerpt:

On Wednesday [January 2, 2019], the Utah Department of Environmental Quality released its annual State of the Environment Report, featuring a message from Executive Director Alan Matheson and a comprehensive examination of challenges faced and milestones achieved in 2018.

The report examines agency actions through its five divisions, including water quality, air quality, and environmental response and remediation of contaminated land.

New this year is an online link to some of the agency’s most popular blogs informing residents of snowblower exchanges to cut wintertime emissions, wood stove exchange grants and tips on recycling the right way…

Matheson noted efforts by divisions to address ozone emissions in the oil- and gas-producing region of eastern Utah, boost wastewater improvements in cities like Logan and Salem, help areas with drinking water problems in the aftermath of wildfires and remediation of the Sharon Steel Superfund site.

The Abandoned Mine Problem: Who Should Bear the Burden? — @WaterLawReview

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

From the University of Denver Water Law Review (Haley McCullouch):

There are three laws that generally govern mining law in the United States: the 1872 Mining Law, the Clean Water Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). These laws lack concrete measures to prevent mine spills from occurring as well as reliable methods to ensure that all mines receive the necessary attention in the case of a spill (or better yet, to prevent one). In addition, these laws can create liabilities and disincentives on parties who might otherwise be willing to come in and remediate the mine on their own. However, some states are turning towards a non-traditional form of legislation: Good Samaritan laws, in which citizens, companies, and organizations would be not liable in the case they decide to take on the task of cleaning up acid mine drainage.

The abandoned mine problem in the United States is striking. Specifically, hard rock mines (including metals like gold, silver, iron, copper, and zinc) are predominant in the West as a result of the discovery of gold and silver during the era of western expansion. Up until the 1970s, the federal government engaged in little oversight on mining across much of the West. During the mining era, there were few expectations about environmental safeguards, and as a result, historic mining operations often went largely unregulated. Before the 1970s, it was common for mining companies to abandon mine sites after mineral extraction was completed or no longer profitable. The land was often left exposed, with waste materials in piles or dumped into mine cavities and pits. At the time, mining companies had no requirement to restore mine lands to their original condition. Today, it is almost impossible to hold these mine owners financially responsible because records of original ownership have been lost and accountable individuals have long passed away. There are over 500,000 abandoned hardrock mine sites across the nation, and the cost for cleaning up these inactive mines is estimated to be between $33 and 72 billion dollars. Today, these abandoned mines are capable of polluting adjacent streams, lakes, and groundwater with high volumes of toxic waste. In doing so, contamination from spills has the potential to—and often does—harm marine ecosystems, poison local drinking water, and pose serious health risks to local communities.

#ColoradoSprings scores $4.6 million from FEMA for two high priority stormwater projects

Douglas Creek, Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Pam Zubeck/Colorado Springs Independent

Here’s the release from the City of Colorado Springs:

Thanks to grant funding totaling $4.6 million awarded through FEMA to the State of Colorado, work will soon begin on two separate mitigation projects in Colorado Springs to restore a severely degraded drainage channel along Douglas Creek and Pine Creek.

The first grant, for $2,612,325, will fund a bank stabilization project along a 1,100-foot stretch of Douglas Creek, just south of Garden of the Gods Road that is threatening I-25, Sinton Road, major utilities and surrounding business property. This area eroded during 2013 and 2015 flood events, continues to erode today and was identified as a finding in the 2013 EPA audit of the City’s MS4 permit.

When complete, this stretch of Douglas Creek will be designed to withstand a 100-year flood event. It will function as a natural stream corridor, build resilience in future events by restoring floodplain function, and will help downstream communities by reducing sediment in the Fountain Creek watershed.

The second grant, for $2,005,125, will fund restoration and stabilization along a 1,750 foot section of Pine Creek that has experienced signification erosion and bank failure since the 2013 flood. This project will use natural channel construction to reconnect with the natural floodplain and will utilize an upstream detention pond to be constructed separately by the City. The stabilization of this area will protect adjacent properties and significantly reduce a heavy sediment load currently impacting downstream areas.

FEMA’s grant represents 75 percent of the total cost for the project; total cost is approximately $3,483,100 for Douglas Creek and approximately $2,673,500 for Pine Creek. The 25 percent match will come from the City.

The 25 percent local grant match funding was made possible through a provision in the City’s Inter-Governmental Agreement with Pueblo that earmarks funds that can be leveraged toward grants for much larger projects.

Federal funding is provided through FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which is designed to assist states, U.S. territories, federally-recognized tribes, and local communities in implementing a sustained pre-disaster natural hazard mitigation program. The goal is to reduce overall risk to the population and structures from future hazard events, while also reducing reliance on federal funding in future disasters.

From KRDO (Scott Harrison):

City officials announced last week that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide a $4.6 million grant from a pre-disaster mitigation program, designed to reduce risk and spending from future disasters.

FEMA is paying 75 percent of the cost of two projects to stabilize creek banks and stop erosion caused by flooding in 2013 and 2015.

The city will use $2.6 million of the grant on a section of Douglas Creek, below Sinton Road and south of the interchange at Interstate 25 and Garden of the Gods Road.

Erosion at that location is affecting two adjacent commercial properties, has already damaged some utility lines and could eventually undermine Sinton Road.

The city will use the remaining grant on a similar project in Pine Creek, near the intersection of Briargate Parkway and Chapel Hills Drive.

Homes line both sides of the creek but are closer on the north side, where some work has been done to improve drainage and reduce erosion.

The Pine Creek project will include an upstream retention pond to prevent flash flooding and erosion by holding runoff during heavy storm events and gradually releasing it later.

The actual cost of both projects is $6.1 million but the city is paying 25 percent to qualify for the 75 percent match from FEMA.