What the Supreme Court’s ruling on clean water means for rivers: Breaking down the recent clean water ruling — American Rivers

San Luis Valley. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the release on the American Rivers website (Amy Souers Kober):

Clean water is essential to all life. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act this year, we should be moving forward – not backward – when it comes to safeguarding clean, accessible, safe, affordable water for all.

But the U.S. Supreme Court recently issued an unfortunate ruling on Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Kelly Catlett, director of hydropower reform at American Rivers, breaks down what the ruling means, and what’s next:

Why is Section 401 of the Clean Water Act important – what does it do?

The Clean Water Act helps prevent water pollution. Section 401 of the Clean Water Act gives states and certain tribes authority to place conditions for the protection of water on permits and licenses for the construction and operation of projects that could harm rivers, streams, and other water bodies. These protections ensure that infrastructure projects, such as dams or pipelines, won’t pollute our water or otherwise negatively affect water quality. Section 401 also allows states and tribes to work with the federal government to ensure that rivers are protected and that projects meet the needs of local communities.

What did the Supreme Court rule, and what’s the impact for rivers?

In 2020, the Trump Administration’s EPA made drastic changes that limit the way states and tribes can apply Section 401. The changes unraveled 50 years of practice and cooperation between the federal government and states and tribes in the administration of these protections. American Rivers, along with our allies, sued to overturn the rules and successfully convinced a District Court to nullify the 2020 rule while the current EPA works to revise them. A few states, the fossil fuel industry and the hydropower industry appealed to the Supreme Court and asked that the Supreme Court reinstate the 2020 rule until the current EPA successfully completes its process to change the rules in 2023. The result of this decision is that it will be more difficult for states and tribes to protect water. For example, the 2020 rules prohibit states and tribes from weighing climate change and its impacts in making conditioning decisions and it restricts conditions to addressing only point source pollution.

What happens now — what are the next steps?

American Rivers is not giving up because these clean water protections are too important. The Supreme Court did not provide a rationale for why they reinstated the 2020 rule, but the message appears to be that they found it inappropriate for the lower courts to nullify the rule without making a determination on the merits of the arguments each side had raised. American Rivers and our partners at American Whitewater, Idaho Rivers United, and California Trout will continue to make our case in the federal courts for why this rule should be overturned. We will also work with the EPA to make sure that the new rule due in 2023 will fix the flaws in the 2020 rule.

Latest settlement involving 2015 #GoldKingMine spill to send $90 million for cleanup: Federal officials say they’ll drop their cases against mining companies with the settlement — The #Denver Post

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

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

The Sunnyside Gold Corporation and its corporate owner will pay about $45 million under yet another settlement connected to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, which dumped a yellow plume of heavy metals into the Animas River, federal officials announced Friday [April 29, 2022]. The federal government will kick in another $45 million as well. Under the finalized settlement, the company and its Canadian owner, Kinross Gold Corporation, will pay the United States $40.1 million and another $4 million to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for cleanup efforts, Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Rich Mylott said in a release.

Cleanup is needed in the broader Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, in southwest Colorado’s San Juan County. That site includes dozens of abandoned mines, which are polluting the area’s waterways but it’s also the location of the 3-million-gallon spill at the Gold King Mine, which EPA officials triggered…

Already, cleanup efforts have cost more than $70 million, The Denver Post previously reported. Sunnyside also agreed to a $1.6 million settlement in December and agreed last year to pay $10 million to the Navajo Nation and $11 million to New Mexico, downstream of the mines and spill site.

The family-owned Pankey Ranch in Moffat and Routt counties has been honored with the 2022 Leopold Conservation Award

Front row (left to right): Ryan, Adyson, Shelley, and Jack Pankey. Back row: Justin, Shea, Keith, Kevin, and Sarah Pankey. Photo credit: Sand Country Foundation

Click the link to read the release on the Sand County Foundation website:

The Pankey family’s resilience was put to a test when a wildfire burned nearly half of their ranch in 2018. Among the devastating impacts of the fire was livestock and wildlife could no longer drink from ponds because they were covered in ashes.

Keith and Shelley Pankey raise beef cattle with their sons, Kevin and Justin and their families, in Moffat and Routt counties. They have a history of doing right by their land. Following the fire, they cleaned the ponds and aerially reseeded native grasses on 900 acres in the fire’s path. It’s not the first time investing in conservation practices has paid off for this family and the landscape they share with livestock and wildlife.

Keith’s great grandfather homesteaded an area of high desert known as Great Divide. The Pankeys are still able to graze cattle in the drought-prone region from spring through fall thanks to improved water distribution and rotational grazing systems.

They replaced windmill-powered wells with solar pumps. New water storage tanks and nearly three miles of natural flow pipelines were also added. By expanding the number of watering stations (from six to 12) the Pankeys increased their ability to properly graze cattle while creating wildlife habitat across the ranch.

Precipitation, range conditions, and animal performance all impact how the Pankeys plan pasture rotations and stocking rates. They analyze pasture rotations to determine which areas benefit from early, middle or late season grazing. They’ve also found that some areas benefit from longer or shorter periods of grazing, while others benefit from being grazed twice in the same season.

When cattle widely disburse themselves, the Pankeys find that grass recovers at a faster rate, and taller grass is left behind when the cattle are rotated to another pasture. The ranch’s wildlife populations have greatly increased thanks to rotational grazing and the improved water system. By working with neighbors to control noxious weeds, desirable grasses have become dominant across the ranch.

Pankey Ranch borders Colorado’s largest Greater sage-grouse lek, a breeding ground for this declining species. The Pankeys hosted Colorado State University students to study grasses, insects, and Greater sage-grouse habitat in the Great Divide range. Their study was helpful in determining which conservation practices to adopt. The Pankeys fenced off a large area around a natural spring to provide cover. They also equipped water storage tanks with overflows that provide water and prolonged green vegetation to encourage production of insects that grouse chicks consume.

The Pankeys are involved with a large-scale conservation effort led by Trout Unlimited to stabilize Elk Head Creek’s riparian corridor. They have installed rock toe and erosion control mats, and reseeded stream banks to prevent erosion. Hundreds of willow trees have been planted in corridors to preserve wetlands and fish habitat. Less erosion in the creek means cleaner water downstream in the Elk Head Reservoir and Yampa River. This family’s leadership in raising awareness of the creek’s impaired health, and commitment to on-the-ground conservation practices, is inspiring other landowners to follow suit.

The Pankeys also provide public hunting opportunities on their land. In 2011, they obtained a conservation easement on their Routt County property through the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to ensure future agricultural uses on the land. As a longtime volunteer with the Moffat County Fair, Keith shares his land ethic and conservation practices with youth, neighbors and the general public.

Click the link to read “Pankey Ranch’s conservation efforts earn attention from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association” on the Craig Press website (Amber Delay). Here’s an excerpt:

According to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Leopold Award was created in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to recognize farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private, working lands…

The Pankeys will be presented with the award June 13 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Convention in Colorado Springs…

To mention a few who have contributed in addition to Trout Unlimited were: The National Resources Conservation Services, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the City of Craig, The Yampa-White-Green-Basin Roundtable and The Lower Colorado River Habitat Partnership Program.

Suncor discharging “forever chemicals” into #SandCreek and the #SouthPlatteRiver, enviro report says: Sand Creek and the South Platte provide drinking water and are used to irrigate crops — The #Denver Post #PFAS

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

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

Discharges from one of Suncor’s drainage ports accounts for between 16% and 47% of the total PFAS pumped into Sand Creek in 2021, according to a report from Wheat Ridge’s Westwater Hydrology LLC. The creek dumps into the South Platte River and the refinery can be linked to 3% to 18% of the total PFAS found in that waterway. Analysts with Westwater Hydrology prepared their report for Earthjustice, a national environmental nonprofit…Chemicals found in Sand Creek and the South Platte River can be especially troubling because cities like Commerce City, Brighton, Thornton and Aurora take in water from the river downstream of Suncor, the report indicates…

Pollution measured in the study only accounts for a portion of the discharges from Suncor, Wheeler said. The refinery installed a temporary treatment system in October to reduce PFAS discharges “but even with these measures in place, the pollution remains at toxic levels” under limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Zephyr Minerals’ Dawson Gold Mine permitting process extended a year — The #CañonCity Daily Record #ArkansasRiver

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Click the link to read the article on The Cañon City Daily Record website (Carie Canterbury). Here’s an excerpt:

Zephyr Minerals’ Dawson Gold Mine permitting process has been extended by at least a year after they’ve been told by the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety that they need to drill five groundwater monitoring wells and monitor them for five quarters, as well as one compliance well. This pushes out the potential approval of the mining permit to late 2023. Under current regulations, DRMS must respond, by approving or denying the mining permit application, within one year from the date on which DRMS considered the application to be complete, July 15, 2021.

“Clearly, it is impossible timewise to do five quarters of monitoring between now and the 15th of July 2022,” said Will Felderhof, who is the executive chairman for Zephyr Minerals. “That’s why we withdraw the application, do our monitoring and then resubmit the application to address these questions regarding the information they are requesting with the water wells.”

[…]

Additionally, the decision to ask for a two-month extension will allow for more time to get more exact locations for the additional water monitoring wells. Once those are approved, he said, Zephyr will withdraw the application in order to move forward with the five quarters of water monitoring.

Opinion: Abandoned mines, wells present vexing problems — The #Durango Herald

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

Click the link to read the opinion piece from the San Juan Citizens Alliance (Mark Pearson) on The Durango Herald website:

Our region hosts an abundance of abandoned mine sites and orphaned oil and gas wells.

They contaminate our water and air with acid mine drainage and leaking methane. They are the legacy of decades of resource extraction, and unfortunately, taxpayers often end up with the liability to reclaim the damage.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed in November includes billions of dollars for abandoned mine reclamation and plugging orphaned oil and gas wells. But more importantly, rules are needed to head off the creation of future problems.

Most of us are likely familiar with abandoned mines that dot the hillsides above Silverton and elsewhere, but the ones of most concern are those draining water laden with heavy metals. Our region also contains more 30,000 oil and gas well sites, and a surprising number are inactive with rusted equipment bleeding methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Abandoned mines and orphaned wells are derelicts without any responsible owner willing or financially capable of reclamation. These sites are not intentionally created, but creep up on us as owners change over the decades and lose interest or capacity to keep them operating. An owner might hope that metal or oil prices will spike and lead to a resurgence of extraction, but these sites have marginal reserves to begin with, and eventually owners may just walk away, leaving someone else on the hook for cleanup.

One important means to prevent these liabilities from burdening taxpayers is to require reclamation while a financially viable owner still exists. That’s the basis of Colorado’s Mined Land Reclamation Act, which allows mines to “temporarily” cease production for a limited period. If production does not resume, then it is in the interest of the state and taxpayers to make sure reclamation starts while someone responsible is still around.

Screenshot of Old uranium sites in Colorado via The Denver Post

The uranium mines scattered across the Dolores River basin are a case in point. Most haven’t operated for decades, but over the past 40 years owners kept hoping that uranium prices might reach a level that again spurred production. But at some point, reality needs to set in and owners should start undertaking efforts to reclaim mines. That’s the point of Colorado’s reclamation law.

Orphaned oil well. Photo credit: DroneDJ.com

Orphaned oil and gas wells are similarly vexing. A nearby example is dozens of rusting, derelict, leaking wells west of Farmington in an area called the Hogback. State and federal records list these as active, but the rust and the fact one needs a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle to even reach them is ample evidence the wells haven’t produced in many years. The companies associated with them have long since vanished, with phone numbers disconnected. If today’s price of oil hasn’t spurred any renewed activity, it seems unlikely anything would.

Colorado hopes to prevent additional orphaned wells by increasing bonds posted by oil companies. The bonds ideally should be ample enough to cover the costs of plugging and reclaiming wells in the event the companies disappear, so as to keep taxpayers off the hook.

It seems common sense to head off future problems, and forestall asking for billions in tax dollars like the Infrastructure Act provides, but not all agree. Right now, the mining industry is aggressively opposing rules about temporary cessation at hardrock mines, arguing for loopholes that allow mines to be idled and largely abandoned for decades, just in case someday they might again become profitable.

The plague of abandoned mines and orphaned wells proves the worth of Benjamin Franklin’s adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We can hope state officials to appropriately translate that advice into rules.

Mark Pearson is executive director at San Juan Citizens Alliance. Reach him at mark@sanjuancitizens.org.

Getches-Wilkinson Center: 42nd Annual #Colorado Law Conference on Natural Resources, June 16 and June 17, 2022

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

Click the link to read the announcement on the Getches-Wilkinson Center website:

Too Late: Hard Conversations About Really Complex Issues

Thursday, June 16 and Friday, June 17, 2022
Wolf Law Building, Wittemyer Courtroom

More information and registration coming soon!

Only painful decisions going forward on the river.

Photo from http://trmurf.com/about/

#Durango dodges problems with low reservoirs, but is subject to rivers’ whim: City can’t be proactive about #drought without significant water storage — The Durango Herald

Lemon Dam, Florida River. The Florida River is Durango’s main water source, but the city can pull from the Animas River when needed. Because of water shortages and a prolonged drought, city officials are looking at using water stored in Lake Nighthorse

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Christian Burney). Here’s an excerpt:

Durango faces a different scenario than many other municipalities that rely on large water reservoirs for their supplies, he said. When a municipality saves a gallon of water, for example, that water stays right there in its reservoir until it is needed. But Durango “lives on the flow” of the Animas and Florida rivers, Biggs said. On one hand, the city isn’t reliant on reservoirs that may be in short supply of water. But on the other, if the rivers are short on supply because there isn’t enough runoff, the city’s only choice is to clamp down on restrictions and wait out the shortage, he said…

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

The city is looking into installing a pipeline that would connect Lake Nighthorse to the College Mesa water-treatment facility, Mayor Kim Baxter said, which would allow Durango to take a more proactive approach to drought management and mitigation.

The full drought management plan can be viewed at https://www.durangogov.org/DocumentCenter/View/16674/City-of-Durango-Drought-Plan-Feb-2020?bidId=.

Watershed moment: The Grand Valley grapples with proposed #water quality standards — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division is proposing the limits for 11 Colorado River tributaries in the valley with impaired water quality because of high levels of dissolved selenium and total recoverable iron, and in the case of two of the tributaries, E. coli. The river itself along that stretch, which meets water quality standards for selenium and E. coli, but not iron, is not itself targeted by the proposal, although it would benefit from it.

As required by the federal Clean Water Act and by Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the state is developing what it calls total maximum daily loads (TMDL) that would establish how much of those pollutants can enter each of the tributaries each day while maintaining water quality standards.

The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park in the Grand Valley. CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

The area being targeted by regulators altogether encompasses about 138 square miles, stretching from Lewis Wash in the Clifton area to Salt Creek in western Mesa County. The area is all north of the Colorado River and is bounded on the northern end by the Government Highline Canal. That location beneath the canal is noteworthy because selenium is naturally occurring in the Mancos shale geological formation in the area, but at high levels in water can be harmful to fish and aquatic birds. The Water Quality Control Division, in its draft Grand Valley TMDL public notice, says that “the predominant source of selenium in all of the watersheds is likely groundwater inflow from canal seepage and deep percolation from irrigated lands.” Put another way, the valley’s irrigated agriculture, lying downgrade of the Government Highline Canal, is mostly driving the selenium problems in the drainages.

But as it happens, state water-quality regulators have little say over that agricultural activity. The Water Quality Control Division holds permitting authority over point sources of surface water discharges. Agricultural stormwater discharges, and return flows from irrigated agriculture, aren’t considered point sources under the Clean Water Act. The state relies on incentive-based approaches to encourage partners to work on voluntary measures to address contaminants, something that grant funding is available to support. This can include measures such as lining or piping canals and changing irrigation methods and schedules to reduce the leaching of selenium…Still, a concern for some people, including Trent Prall, public works director for the city of Grand Junction, is that because of the state’s lack of authority over the agricultural side of things, it will lean on permitted sources of surface water discharges to fix a problem that is largely agriculture-driven.

Scientists sound alarm at US regulator’s new ‘forever chemicals’ definition: Narrower definition excludes chemicals in pharmaceuticals and pesticides that are generally defined as #PFAS

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

Click the link to read the article on The Guardian website (Tom Perkins):

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) department responsible for protecting the public from toxic substances is working under a new definition of PFAS “forever chemicals” that excludes some of their widely used compounds. The new “working definition”, established by the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, is not only at odds with much of the scientific world, but is narrower than that used by other EPA departments.

Among other uses, the narrower definition excludes chemicals in pharmaceuticals and pesticides that are generally defined as PFAS. The EPA also cited the narrower definition in December when it declined to take action on some PFAS contamination found in North Carolina…

The discussion within the EPA comes as the agency faces increased pressure to largely restrict the entire chemical class, and critics say the change benefits chemical manufacturers, the Department of Defense and industry…

The most widely used, inclusive definition, and that proposed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), defines any chemical with one fluorinated carbon atom as a PFAS. That could include tens of thousands of chemicals on the market. The EPA toxics office, however, wrote a “working definition” that calls for “at least two adjacent carbon atoms, where one carbon is fully fluorinated and the other is at least partially fluorinated”. It covers about 6,500 PFAS, and the EPA is using that definition in its recently introduced “national testing strategy”, which serves as a road map in its attempt to rein in PFAS pollution. Beyond chemicals in pesticides and pharmaceuticals, the narrower definition excludes some refrigerants and PFAS gases. Some of the excluded PFAS compounds turn into highly toxic chemicals, like PFOA and PFOS, as they break down in the environment or are metabolized by the human body. And the production of some excluded PFAS requires the use of other more dangerous PFAS compounds.

U.S. mining sites dump 50 million gallons of fouled #wastewater daily — PBS

Settling ponds used to precipitate iron oxide and other suspended materials at the Red and Bonita mine drainage near Gold King mine, shown Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Eric Vance/EPA)

Click the link to read the article on the PBS website (Matthew Brown). Here’s an excerpt:

Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding streams and ponds without being treated, The Associated Press has found. That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.

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

The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other “hardrock” minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.

Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines. The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks. The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement…

Perpetual pollution

Problems at some sites are intractable.

Among them:

  • In eastern Oklahoma’s Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow.
  • At northern California’s Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever.
  • In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.
    This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.
  • Bulkheads caused the Gold King Mine spill. Could they also be part of the solution? Remediation tool can limit acidic drainage, but experts must also understand the complicated hydrology — The #Durango Herald

    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Aedan Hannon). Here’s an excerpt:

    Bulkheads remain relatively obscure except to those involved in mine remediation, but their purpose is to plug mines and limit the release of mine waste while reversing the chemical processes that contribute to acid mine drainage. They can be simple fixes for extraordinarily complex mining systems and produce unintended consequences. But they are also a critical tool for the EPA and those working to improve water quality and reduce the lingering effects of more than a century of mining in the Bonita Peak Mining District…

    The role of bulkheads in the Gold King Mine Spill

    In its October 2015 technical assessment of the incident, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation argued that bulkheads were at least partially responsible for the Gold King Mine spill. The Gold King Mine is a maze of tunnels, faults and fissures located at different elevations inside Bonita Peak and the surrounding mountains in Gladstone. The mine opening that drained when the EPA crews struck a plug holding back water was actually what’s known as the “Upper Gold King Mine,” or Gold King Mine Level 7. A short distance away lies the “Gold King Mine,” which refers to a mine adit called American Tunnel…

    With oversight from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, Sunnyside Gold Corp. first installed a bulkhead in American Tunnel in 1995 to stop mine drainage from entering Cement Creek. The company closed the valve on the first bulkhead in October 1996 and would go on to install two other bulkheads in American Tunnel. With the installation of the bulkheads, the flow of toxic mine waste into Cement Creek decreased from 1,700 gallons per minute to about 100 gallons per minute. But as the impounded water rose behind the bulkheads, the water rose elsewhere, including in Gold King Mine Level 7, which sits about 750 feet above American Tunnel, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s assessment…The EPA has yet to determine if it was faults and fractures in the rock or other internal mine workings that carried water from American Tunnel to Gold King Mine Level 7, but the EPA and the Bureau of Reclamation have both said the spill was in part the result of this buildup from the bulkheads in American Tunnel. Bulkheads have been used in mine remediation efforts in Colorado for more than three decades, and there are about 40 installed across the state, said Jeff Graves, director of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety’s Inactive Mine Reclamation Program…Bulkheads back up water and fill mine tunnels. When they do so, they limit the air rocks can come into contact with, preventing the chemical reaction that creates acid mine drainage…

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

    Acid mine drainage can also still make its way into river systems. Water naturally moves through rock and can turn into acid mine drainage when exposed to oxygen, though in smaller volumes.

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

    Success Story: Safe Water for a Disproportionately Impacted Community — Aqua Talk

    Brighton Village mobile home park next to a river. Multiple trailers are intersperses with bare deciduous trees on a riverbank. Photo credit: Aqua Talk

    Click the link to read the article on the Aqua Talk website (Amy Schultz and Jorge Delgado):

    The Brighton Village mobile home community (Park) is a 28-home community in Adams County that serves around 80 people and is a disproportionately impacted community, defined in HB21-1266 Environmental Justice Disproportionate Impacted Community. The department initially issued an Enforcement Order in 2003 due to high nitrate values and the Park’s failure to comply with the nitrate maximum contaminant levels. Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate above the MCL could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome.

    The 2003 enforcement order was closed in 2010. However, the department again issued an Enforcement Order in 2012 for nitrate violations and did so again in 2018. The Park had installed treatment but did not have the capabilities or the resources to operate the treatment appropriately to reliably achieve compliance. The long-term exposure to an acute contaminant created environmental injustices for this community.

    From the EPA, environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The Colorado Environmental Justice Act recognizes that all people have a right to drink clean water and live free of dangerous levels of toxic pollution, experience equal protection of environmental policies, and share the benefits of a prosperous and vibrant pollution-free economy.

    The department facilitated meetings with the Park and the City of Brighton. The City of Brighton and the Park decided that the best way to serve safe drinking water to the public was to connect the park to the City’s municipal water supply. However, the Park was required to upgrade its water distribution system before the connections could be made. The department provided the Park with $16,000 in grants that allowed the Park to connect to the municipal water supply.

    The Safe Drinking Water Program worked in partnership with both the Park and City of Brighton to ensure this disproportionately impacted community is being provided with access to a consistent and reliable source of safe drinking water. This is an Environmental Justice win for the residents of this community, the department, and Colorado.

    #SouthPlatteRiver restoration project awarded $350 million in infrastructure bill funds — #Colorado Newsline

    Ducks patrol the South Platte River as construction workers shore up bank. Oct. 8, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

    A long-planned project to restore healthy ecosystems along the South Platte River and two other waterways in central Denver got a major boost from the federal government this week, in the form of $350 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    The funding for the South Platte River Project, spearheaded by Denver and Adams counties, will cover nearly two-thirds of the $550 million that civic leaders plan to spend restoring wetland habitats, improving recreation and mitigating flood risk along a 6.5-mile stretch of the river, along with Weir Gulch and Harvard Gulch.

    The funds awarded Tuesday by the Biden administration are part of the $17 billion appropriated by a new federal infrastructure law to the Army Corps of Engineers to support flood mitigation projects across the country.

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    “I’m delighted to welcome funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the South Platte River and surrounding communities after years of urging Washington to support this project,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “For decades, the neighborhoods bordering the South Platte River have experienced environmental hardship. This project is an important part of Denver’s efforts to protect communities and businesses from flooding, build resilient infrastructure, and help ensure that anyone who wants to live and work in Denver is able to.”

    The Army Corps of Engineers finalized a feasibility and impact study on the project in 2019, concluding more than a decade of planning and environmental reviews. In addition to restoring aquatic, wetland and riparian wildlife habitats along the South Platte, supporters say the plan will create more than 7,000 jobs and protect hundreds of homes and other structures from flood risk.

    In December, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock convened a coalition of two dozen interest groups that signed a memorandum of understanding on the project in order to secure federal funding. Signatories included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water and multiple environmental and conservation organizations — as well as business and real-estate groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Revesco Properties.

    Revesco is the developer behind the massive, multi-billion-dollar River Mile project, which aims to redevelop 62 acres along the Platte south of Confluence Park over the next 25 years, adding homes for new 15,000 residents and ultimately displacing the Elitch Gardens amusement park. The river restoration project, too, is likely to take decades to complete, with city officials estimating in 2018 that the project could be finished in 10 to 20 years.

    “The restoration and conservation of the South Platte River ecosystem is a phenomenal opportunity,” Hancock said in a statement. “Infrastructure investments like this do more than just improve our waterways, they build lives, they build communities and they build futures.”

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    #NewMexico finalizes $1 million in restoration projects from #GoldKingMine spill — The Sante Fe New Mexican #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

    Click the link to read the article on the Sante Fe New Mexican website (Scott Weyland). Here’s an excerpt:

    The $1 million in restoration work is part of the $11 million settlement New Mexico reached last year with Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its two parent companies…

    The plan calls for:

  • San Juan County to build the Cedar Hill Boat Ramp on the Animas River.
  • The city of Farmington to build the Festival and Farmers Market Pavilion at Gateway Park.
  • The San Juan County Soil and Water Conservation District to implement a soil restoration project in San Juan Valley.
  • The Tse Daa Kaan Chapter of Navajo Nation to upgrade its irrigation system.
  • The other $10 million in the settlement covers environmental response costs and lost tax revenue, among other things.

    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    Sunnyside Gold oversaw construction of the bulkheads that led to mines filling with acidic water…

    Some money from the EPA settlement will go to northwestern New Mexico communities for agriculture and outdoor recreation, partly to ease the stigma the spill caused in that region, state officials said in a news release. It will cover some of New Mexico’s costs responding to the spill. And it will pay the state to restore and conserve river and land habitats, monitor water quality, and clean up pollution to protect drinking water.

    EPA objects to Suncor air quality permit renewal, tells #Colorado pollution control agency to try again: Federal agency expresses concern over environmental injustice toward Suncor’s neighbors — The #Denver Post #ActOnClimate

    Commerce City: This is east of Denver, the industrial suburb of Denver. Photo credit: James from Boulder, USA

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

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which submitted the 373-page permit for Suncor, has 90 days to respond to the EPA’s objections and then resubmit. The operating permit regulates the level of various toxic pollutants the refinery can release into the air. The EPA’s objections do not affect the Suncor refinery’s operations and they do not mean the agency will eventually deny the permit renewal.

    The Suncor refinery in Commerce City is pictured on Sand Creek near where it meets the South Platte River. Both streams have highly challenged water quality, though many conservationists argue they can get still better. Photo credit: Suncor

    The refinery has been operating under a permit that was issued in 2006. Those air-quality permits are supposed to be renewed every five years, but Suncor and the state have not applied for renewal since then, meaning the plant has been operating on an expired permit for 16 years.

    The EPA’s objections focused on three sites at the refinery where Suncor uses flares to burn off excess chemicals. The state’s Air Pollution Control Division, which falls under the health department, wanted to exempt those flaring sources from regular monitoring requirements, according to a letter to the agency from KC Becker, the EPA’s regional administrator. The EPA is asking the state to do more analysis and better explain why it believes the flare sites don’t need additional monitoring. The EPA also expressed significant concern about the refinery’s environmental impact on people who live and work within a three-mile radius of the plant, and the federal agency suggested multiple steps the state can take to improve communication with the community when it comes to permitting for the plant and reporting on the pollution that comes from it, the letter said.

    USBR, #Pueblo Water, Southeastern #Colorado #Water district ink new deal to ease Lower Arkansas Valley water contamination — @WaterEdCO #ArkansasRiver

    The Lower Arkansas River below Lake Cheraw. Credit: Jerd Smith

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

    Thousands of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley who’ve struggled to deal with contaminated water for more than 20 years will have access to clean water by 2024 under a new agreement signed by the federal government and two Colorado water agencies last week.

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), as the clean water delivery project is known, will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir through the city of Pueblo and out to communities on the Eastern Plains, such as Avondale and Boone, by 2024, and other communities, such as La Junta, as soon as 2027.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

    Water officials said the entire pipeline should be completed by 2035 if not sooner. The project will ultimately serve 50,000 people, officials said.

    Under the agreements, signed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Pueblo Water Board, and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District March 18, some $40 million in federal and local funding will be available to launch construction, with subsequent funding for the $600 million project anticipated to come from Congress and local water agencies.

    In addition, the agreement allows Reclamation and Southeastern to pipe the water through the city of Pueblo’s water system, rather than building a separate system to move the water out to the Eastern Plains. Officials said this new agreement will shave costs and several years off the project.

    “This contract signing marks one of the most significant milestones to date towards making the AVC a reality and bringing clean water to communities that desperately need it. It advances the project over 14 miles east from Pueblo Reservoir which puts us much closer to our first participants in Avondale and Boone,” said Brent Esplin, regional director of the Missouri Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Gulf regions for Reclamation, in a statement.

    Naturally occurring selenium and lead, as well as radionuclides, have dogged the region’s water systems since the 1960s. Many of the communities face enforcement actions from the state health department because they don’t have the financial resources to treat the water for drinking and then to treat it again for discharge into the wastewater systems that discharge to the Lower Arkansas River and its tributaries, according to Chris Woodka, senior policy manager with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Southeastern operates the federal Fryingpan-Arkansas Project’s Pueblo Reservoir.

    “This project will relieve some of the pressures that they face. They will get better quality drinking water and they will see improvements to their discharged water,” Woodka said.

    Pueblo Reservoir

    The idea is to deliver clean water from Pueblo Reservoir directly to the communities via the 34-mile pipeline, reducing and sometimes eliminating the contaminants that the water now picks up when it travels through streams and irrigation ditches.

    The conduit has been on planning boards for more than 50 years but it wasn’t until a new federal law was approved in 2009 stipulating that the federal government would pick up 65% of the costs that the plan began to advance, Woodka said.

    Since then the region has wrestled with getting federal cash to start work and convincing local water agencies and the communities who need the water to cooperate on design issues and costs, Woodka said.

    “People are convinced it will get built,” Woodka said. “Now the questions are about affordability.”

    And for small towns, those are big questions.

    Tom Seaba is La Junta’s director of utilities. His city has comparatively clean water, with no radionuclides and a selenium issue that it is treating via reverse osmosis.

    “It could be the silver bullet that everyone would like to take care of the contaminants that are in the water. The flip side is the cost,” Seaba said.

    La Junta charges customer $2.50 per thousand gallons for water now, which includes treatment costs. The new water will cost $2.19 per thousand gallons, untreated, and La Junta will still have to find a way to recoup the cost to disinfect and treat the water.

    “Now that we’re getting down to brass tacks, we need to see if the underlying reality will do for us what everyone hopes it will. If we can connect and that takes care of the problems we have, sign us up. But if it doesn’t, we will have to do something else,” Seaba said.

    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.

    #Superior addressing drinking #water taste and odor complaints after #MarshallFire — 9News.com

    Rock Creek Ranch subdivision in Superior fall of 2011. By Pleiades Two – Personal photo, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29687374

    Click the link to read the article on the 9News.com website (Wilson Beese). Here’s an excerpt:

    The town said its water treatment facilities have been restored, and the system has been flushed through the distribution network after suffering damage during the wildfire…

    Reservoir ash removal

    The fire deposited ash on the town’s raw water storage at Terminal Reservoir. A firm has been contracted to remove ash from the banks of the reservoir, which will prevent deposited ash from going into the reservoir. The process should be completed in early April.

    Chlorine dioxide

    Superior installed chlorine dioxide within water treatment plant operations to assist with the oxidation and breakdown of compounds causing the taste and odor issues. Complaints from residents continued after the system was installed, and its use was discontinued.

    Granular Activated Carbon (GAC)

    The town ordered a GAC system to remove compounds causing the taste and odor issues. It will take four to six weeks for delivery and an additional two weeks for installation.

    “This is a significant process revision and will require extensive modifications to the plant,” the town said in a release. “Our team is diligently working, including collaborating with other utilities, on procuring all the equipment required to bring this system online as fast as possible.”

    Reservoir draining

    Superior will soon begin releasing water from the reservoir into the parks irrigation system, which might help replenish the reservoir with water free of compounds causing the taste and odor issues.

    Home filtration systems

    The town said that home water filtration systems, especially those that use activated carbon, “may effectively remove” the compounds responsible for the taste and odor issues.

    #Colorado health officials investigating contaminated #PFAS plume near #Denver fire training center — @WaterEdCO

    The South Adams County Water and Sanitation district is one of several water providers around the state now treating to remove PFAS from its drinking water supplies. Nov. 23, 2021. Credit: Jerd Smith

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

    The Colorado health department is investigating a contaminated underground plume issuing from land next to the Denver Fire Training Academy to determine whether it is responsible for high levels of so-called “forever chemicals” in the raw water supply of an Adams County water district that serves more than 65,000 people in the north metro area.

    Photo credit: Denver Fire Department

    The contamination was discovered in 2018, and since then, officials said, the City of Denver’s fire training center has stopped using the fire-fighting foam containing hazardous PFAS, or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances. The compounds have long lifespans and have been linked to certain cancers. Contained in such common substances as Teflon and Scotchguard, they are also widely used to fight fires.

    A spokesperson for the fire academy declined to comment on the investigation and referred media inquiries to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, which said via email that it was working with the state to address the problem. It declined an interview request.

    Jennifer Talbert, a hazardous materials expert overseeing the investigation for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), said she expects the investigation to be done later this year, at which time decisions on how to clean up the contaminants will be made.

    “They did discover PFAS within a certain region of the [fire academy] site, but we need to do more sampling and investigation. We’re developing the plume boundary now,” Talbert said.

    The four contaminated wells owned by the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District were shut down quickly in 2018 after testing showed extraordinarily high PFAS levels, 2400 parts per trillion (ppt), in the raw water, according to Kipp Scott, manager of water systems at the district.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory standard for PFAS says levels should be no higher than 70 ppt.

    Since then the state and the Tri-County Health Department have issued alerts to private well owners in the area, notifying them not to drink the contaminated water. Other residents in the region are served by the South Adams County district, whose water is being treated to reduce PFAS levels to 35 ppt, a level that is considered safe under the existing voluntary federal guideline.

    Anyone concerned about potential contaminants in their drinking water can have free testing done.

    The CDPHE’s Talbert said it hasn’t determined who is responsible for the contamination and won’t be able to do so until its investigation is finished.

    But Scott said no other PFAS sources within the district have been identified other than those found at the fire academy, whose site is less than a half mile from the contaminated wells.

    “We infer that that is the largest source in the area that is affecting our groundwater supply,” Scott said. “There are no other sources identified.”

    Little was known about the unregulated PFAS chemicals in Colorado until 2015 when national news began appearing about their links to cancer, their prevalence in fire-fighting foam used at military bases and fire-fighting centers, and their presence in groundwater.

    Two years ago, as more testing revealed more contaminated sites, the CDPHE vowed to boost its oversight. Since then the Colorado Legislature has provided the health department with more authority and money to combat the problem. CDPHE’s approach has included conducting surveys to identify contaminated sites and affected drinking water systems, spending as much as $8 million to buy contaminated firefighting foam and store it, and helping communities whose water has been tainted by the compounds with testing support and grants to help cover treatment costs.

    Dozens of fire departments, military facilities, water utilities, and commercial properties as diverse as hotels and apartment complexes are now monitoring and testing for the substances.

    As Colorado ramped up its oversight, last year the EPA announced it would begin work on a regulation that will, for the first time, set an official limit on PFAS compounds in drinking water. It is set to be available for public review this fall and would be finalized by the fall of 2023.

    In the meantime, Scott said the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District has spent $5 million to build a sophisticated testing and monitoring lab, and to strengthen its treatment program enough to comply with the 70 ppt federal health advisory limit.

    But that won’t be enough long-term to ensure its customers have access to safe drinking water, Scott said, so the district is preparing to install an advanced $70 million treatment system to reduce PFAS levels even further. That price tag is almost three times the size of the district’s annual $26 million budget.

    “If the health advisory number should go lower, and we think it will, we don’t have enough capacity to go to a lower number,” Scott said. “And we need that raw water from the wells we shut down to meet future demand.”

    Who will pay to correct the situation isn’t clear yet, but Scott said the cost should not fall on his district. “We’ve spent around $5 million treating for this contaminant that is in our water supply, and we did not put it there. But that $5 million cost is being paid by each one of our residents through higher rates and fees.”

    CDPHE’s Talbert said cleaning up the contamination near the fire training facility and other sites will likely be complicated because the chemicals have never been regulated and, as a result, methods and technologies for clean-up are still being developed. But she said most residents in the region have access to treated drinking water through their water utilities.

    “The science is new,” Talbert said,” and we don’t know the extent of the contamination. If we find that people have an exposure we will get them on bottled water and/or a reverse osmosis system.”

    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.

    Injustice Forever? Toxic #PFAS Chemicals Have ‘Made a Mockery of Our #Environmental Regulations’: “It means that people are going to be carrying a lifetime of medical worry” — The Revelator

    Crew foaming YCC dormitory at Mammoth Hot Springs during 1988 Yellowstone fire, image taken by Jim Peaco, September 10, 1988 and retrieved from the following page [1] of the Yellowstone Digital Slide Files archives which are all in the public domain

    Click the link to read the article on The Revalator website (Tara Lohan):

    With a lack of regulations addressing toxic “forever chemicals,” students and professors at a Vermont college have taken their research skills into communities to spur action.

    Wherever you look for PFAS, you’ll find them.

    “They’re on Mount Everest; they’re in the Mariana Trench; they’re in polar bears; they’re in penguins; and they’re in just about every human population on Earth,” says David Bond, a cultural anthropologist and professor at Bennington College, who’s been investigating the “forever chemicals.”

    PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), a family of chemicals that includes PFOA and PFOS, are widely used in the manufacture of plastic products like non-stick pans, food packaging and waterproof clothing, and are also a component of firefighting foam.

    Their non-sticky, nonreactive properties made them appealing to plastics manufacturers. But they’ve proved a nightmare for environmental health because they don’t break down quickly, if at all. They also travel long distances and bioaccumulate in plants, animals and people. Traces of the chemicals — many known to be harmful — are now found all over the world.

    Seven years ago water tests revealed PFAS in Hoosick Falls, New York, just down the road from Bennington College. Bond, along with a small team of other professors at Bennington, began engaging students and community members in an effort to understand the extent of local PFAS contamination — which he later learned even included his own backyard.

    They’ve since extended their work to other areas — helping to generate research that’s given communities a weapon to fight back against polluters and push for stronger regulations.

    The Revelator spoke with Bond, who also serves as the associate director of the Elizabeth Coleman Center for the Advancement of Public Action, about the dangers of PFAS, why regulators have been slow to act and the power of a real-world education in environmental justice.

    You’ve studied the effects of fossil fuels on communities for years. How did you get involved with PFAS?

    PFAS came to us. In Hoosick Falls, New York, which is about seven miles from us at Bennington College, a resident discovered high levels of PFOA in drinking water in 2014. The state was unsure of what to do and actually put out a sheet for residents that said that PFOA was detected in the water over the level that the EPA had issued a health concern for, but residents could continue drinking the water and there was nothing to worry about.

    So this caused a lot of alarm and residents reached out to me and asked if I would help them understand what was happening. I quickly enlisted a chemistry professor and a geology professor to join me.

    We realized that one of the things that we do — teach — could be put in the service of this sort of unfolding toxic event. So we put together a classroom that was free for the community — anybody could come and take that class to learn about the contaminants, the health concerns, and what sort of things were available to help protect themselves.

    What was the response from the community? And what did you learn together?

    We had about half students and half community members in most of the classes. In 2015 [when we started] it was really just an emerging issue and there wasn’t a lot of reliable information. There were three plastics plants in town that were suspected and found to be the sources of the contamination. The state set up a perimeter around [them] and wasn’t willing to test beyond that perimeter.

    But in our class people would say things like, “I live outside town, but every night for a few years, a truck would come up my road with a bunch of barrels and it would come back down the road in the middle of the night with no barrels. I wonder if there’s a dumpsite there.”

    And so we would put together a little research question and go up and take some samples from surface water and groundwater where they had identified [potential problems] and see what we found. And a handful of times we came back with really high levels that we then turned over to the state and asked them to expand the perimeter. That perimeter kept expanding.

    Eventually what we identified was an area of about 200 square miles that was contaminated with PFOA — way above what you’d expect in that area — that we could trace back to the plastics factories.

    It took the state a very long time to start thinking at that scale. But we were able to because we were talking to people, listening to what they said. This is what anthropology is good at — listening to people. And [because we] partnered with a chemist and a geologist, we had all the tools you need to take people seriously and really test what they were telling us.

    What’s been the impact of this work?

    The students have gotten really engaged with this issue. It’s not something that you study in a textbook yet. It’s an unfolding problem and it’s happening next door. We brought our neighbors into our classroom, and we got out and went into our neighbors’ houses and started working together with them. And the students have been really taken with this model of learning.

    I’ve also just drawn tremendous inspiration from how the community has insisted on justice for them. I’m not just working with them, I actually live there. PFAS was found in my own garden.

    With this class of chemicals there’s no going back to before — the contamination is so extensive. There’s no way to remediate 200 square miles of this contaminant. It means that people are going to be carrying a lifetime of medical worry.

    We know that trace exposure to these chemicals on levels of parts per trillion — which is almost impossible to get your head around how small that is — is strongly linked to a number of developmental dysfunctions, immune issues, and a host of cancers. Folks know these chemicals are in our community. We were exposed to them for decades. That means we’re going to have a pattern of health impacts over the long haul. So they’ve been really proactive at insisting that medical monitoring be part of any settlement with the polluters.

    That sets up a kind of infrastructure where all the local doctors and nurses are on the lookout for all of the health issues that are known to be associated with exposure to these chemicals. And most of these issues — if they’re caught early — they’re very treatable.

    Folks have also insisted on filtration systems for everybody’s water — this stuff is probably going to be in the groundwater for millennia.

    After working in Hoosick Falls, you’ve extended your work to other communities. What else have you found?

    In the last few years we’ve gotten a number of requests, and each time we try to figure out what we can do to help and how we can put the scientific resources of a college to work helping the public understand the PFAS issue and equip them to be better citizens and pursue environmental justice.

    The last one that we got involved in was the incineration of PFAS. As it’s becoming clear that they will likely be designated as a hazardous waste substance, those who are sitting on stockpiles of these chemicals will soon have a huge liability on their hands. So the Department of Defense and the petrochemical industry have all rushed to start trying to incinerate stockpiles of PFAS.

    This is worrisome because there’s no evidence that incineration destroys these chemicals. They’re fireproof toxins and are used in firefighting foam extensively. It’s a bit of a harebrained notion that you can burn them to destroy them.

    A public housing complex in Cohoes, New York got ahold of us two years ago. It’s next to an incinerator. They had gotten word that it was suspected to be incinerating a tremendous amount of what’s called AFFF [Aqueous Film Forming Foam], which is a firefighting foam that’s made mostly of PFAS chemicals.

    We took some samples of soil and water around that incinerator and analyzed them. We found a fairly distinctive fingerprint that matched AFFF. And again, in the shadow of the incinerator stands the public housing complex that’s by and large poor people of color. And this incinerator was just torching away as much PFAS as they could get. There’s no evidence that incineration was breaking those toxins down and good reason to think it was just spreading them into the community.

    We were able to document that and push that out and the town passed a moratorium on burning PFAS waste at that incinerator. And then the state passed a bill that banned this incineration in [parts of] New York. We suspect that hasn’t slowed down the burning of these chemicals nationwide, so I’ve been in conversation with a few folks trying to figure out how we can push a national ban.

    There has been recent news that the EPA is finally moving to act on regulating some PFAS. Do you think the actions will go far enough?

    I appreciate that the EPA is taking a step toward this crisis by announcing that they are going to begin to try to regulate PFOA and PFOS — two of the most prominent chemicals in the PFAS family. However, the step they’ve chosen to take is far too little and far too late. The EPA was made aware of the toxicity of PFOA and PFOS nearly 20 years ago.

    If you follow that timeline out, it’s going to take about a century to go through all of the PFAS chemicals that are now in circulation, build up a data set on them, and begin to issue regulations for them.

    And now that we’re discovering these chemicals in our drinking water, our farms and our bodies, [regulators are] almost throwing their hands up at the sheer ubiquity of the problem and saying, “What can we possibly do at this point, they’re everywhere”? It’s almost as if PFAS are becoming too toxic to fail.

    The petrochemical manufacturers knew the risks of these chemicals almost from the moment they started manufacturing them in the 1960s. Again and again, they buried that evidence. The ways that PFAS has made a mockery of our environmental regulations can’t be the end of our ability to prosecute these injustices. This needs to be the starting point of fixing everything that went wrong, not a point of resignation.

    #Brush holds informational open house regarding Watershed Protection Ordinance — The #FortMorgan Times #SouthPlatteRiver

    Credit: Morgan County Quality Water Source Water Protection Plan

    Click the link to read the article on The Fort Morgan Times website (Katie Roth). Here’s an excerpt:

    Members of the Brush community got a chance to bring forward concerns and questions about the Watershed Protection Ordinance during a two-hour informational open house Wednesday, Feb. 23 with City of Brush staff and City Attorney Dan Krob.

    City Administrator Monty Torres began the meeting with a presentation providing information like the historical context of the City’s water and goals of the ordinance. Torres listed the goals: protect water quality, protect water quantity, protect agricultural and historical uses, minimize impact to quality of life, ensure a streamlined permitting process and coordinating with other permitting entities as needed.

    He also mentioned the Source Water Protection Plan, which was put together beginning in 2008 with the help of Morgan County Commissioners, Morgan County Quality Water and even some landowners…

    City staff members are trying to fight to protect water from any potential contaminants on behalf of all Brush residents, but frustrated landowners spent much of the open house engaging in passionate discussions in opposition to the ordinance. Many argued that their families, who have lived in Brush for generations, have kept the water clean. Like the city, they do highly value clean drinking water. However, they do not want restrictions on their land and are opposed to potential permit application fees (though staff does already have the power to waive or refund application fees when they see fit).

    Staff does understand that current owners have kept the water clean but are concerned about future owners who may not be as careful and courteous. Staff members are also trying to avoid major costs for the city, such as a water treatment plant that would cost millions.

    Study recommends six steps to improve our #water quality: A roadmap to overcome the challenges associated with legacy nitrogen for faster improvements to our water quality — University of Waterloo

    Fertilizer applied to corn field. Photo credit: USDA

    Click the link to read the release from The University of Waterloo:

    Nitrogen fertilizers are critical for growing crops to feed the world, yet when applied in excess can pollute our water for decades. A new study provides six steps to address nitrogen pollution and improve water quality.

    Since nitrogen persists for so long, management efforts may seem futile and unattractive because it can take a long time to see results. The study from the University of Waterloo appearing in Nature Geoscience provides a roadmap for scientists, policymakers, and the public to overcome the challenges associated with this legacy nitrogen for faster improvements to our water quality.

    “We have to think about the legacy we leave for the future in a strategic way from both the scientific and socio-economic angles,” said Nandita Basu, a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering at Waterloo and the study’s lead author. “This is a call to action for us to accept that these legacies exist and figure out how to use them to our advantage.”

    The study recommends the following six steps:

  • Focus research to quantify the length of time the nitrogen stays in our ecosystems to adjust our expectations for conservation timelines.
  • Find ways to use the legacy nitrogen as a resource for growing crops instead of adding new nitrogen fertilizers to our ecosystems with already high levels of nitrogen.
  • Target conservation strategies to get the maximum water quality improvement instead of a widespread blanket approach.
  • Combine conservation methods that reduce the amount of nitrogen that has already left the farm fields, such as in wetlands, with methods that harvest nitrogen from past legacies accumulated in the soil.
  • Monitor water quality at both large and small scales so that short-term results can be seen at scales like a farm field and long-term results downstream at river basins can also be tracked.
  • When assessing the economic impacts of conservation strategies, incorporate both short- and long-term cost-benefit analyses.
    Nitrogen legacies are different around the world depending on the climate and historical land use, and land management patterns. While theoretical knowledge of these legacies has existed for decades, measurements and monitoring have not yet been widespread enough to understand these differences and support water quality policies, where there is still an expectation of short-term water quality improvement.

    “It’s time we stop treating nitrogen legacies as the elephant in the room and design watershed management strategies that can address these past legacies,” said Basu. “We need to ask ourselves how we can do better for the future.”

    The study, Managing Nitrogen Legacies to Accelerate Water Quality Improvement, was recently published online. Here’s the abstract:

    “Increasing incidences of eutrophication and groundwater quality impairment from agricultural nitrogen pollution are threatening humans and ecosystem health. Minimal improvements in water quality have been achieved despite billions of dollars invested in conservation measures worldwide. Such apparent failures can be attributed in part to legacy nitrogen that has accumulated over decades of agricultural intensification and that can lead to time lags in water quality improvement. Here, we identify the key knowledge gaps related to landscape nitrogen legacies and propose approaches to manage and improve water quality, given the presence of these legacies.”

    How poisonous mercury gets from coal-fired power plants into the fish you eat — The Conversation

    Coal-fired power plants are a source of mercury that people can ingest by eating fish.
    Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    Gabriel Filippelli, IUPUI

    People fishing along the banks of the White River as it winds through Indianapolis sometimes pass by ominous signs warning about eating the fish they catch.

    One of the risks they have faced is mercury poisoning.

    Mercury is a neurotoxic metal that can cause irreparable harm to human health – especially the brain development of young children. It is tied to lower IQ and results in decreased earning potential, as well as higher health costs. Lost productivity from mercury alone was calculated in 2005 to reach almost $9 billion per year.

    One way mercury gets into river fish is with the gases that rise up the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants.

    The Environmental Protection Agency has had a rule since 2012 limiting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. But the Trump administration stopped enforcing it, arguing that the costs to industry outweighed the health benefit.

    Now, the Biden administration is moving to reassert it.

    I study mercury and its sources as a biogeochemist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Before the EPA’s original mercury rule went into effect, my students and I launched a project to track how Indianapolis-area power plants were increasing mercury in the rivers and soil.

    Mercury bioaccumulates in the food chain

    The risks from eating a fish from a river downwind from a coal-burning power plant depends on both the type of fish caught and the age and condition of the person consuming it.

    Mercury is a bioaccumulative toxin, meaning that it increasingly concentrates in the flesh of organisms as it makes its way up the food chain.

    A person's hands old a smallmouth bass, with the fish's mouth open
    Mercury accumulates as it moves up the food chain.
    doug4537 via Getty Images

    The mercury emitted from coal-burning power plants falls onto soils and washes into waterways. There, the moderately benign mercury is transformed by bacteria into a toxic organic form called methylmercury.

    Each bacterium might contain only one unit of toxic methylmercury, but a worm chewing through sediment and eating 1,000 of those bacteria now contains 1,000 doses of mercury. The catfish that eats the worm then get more doses, and so on up the food chain to humans.

    In this way, top-level predator fishes, such as smallmouth bass, walleye, largemouth bass, lake trout and Northern pike, typically contain the highest amounts of mercury in aquatic ecosystems. On average, one of these fish contains enough to make eating only one serving of them per month dangerous for the developing fetuses of pregnant women and for children.

    How coal plant mercury rains down

    In our study, we wanted to answer a simple question: Did the local coal-burning power plants, known to be major emitters of toxic mercury, have an impact on the local environment?

    The obvious answer seems to be yes, they do. But in fact, quite a bit of research – and coal industry advertising – noted that mercury is a “global pollutant” and could not necessarily be traced to a local source. A recurring argument is that mercury deposited on the landscape came from coal-burning power plants in China, so why regulate local emissions if others were still burning coal?

    That justification was based on the unique chemistry of this element. It is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, and when heated just to a moderate level, will evaporate into mercury vapor. Thus, when coal is burned in a power plant, the mercury that is present in it is released through the smokestacks as a gas and dilutes as it travels. Low levels of mercury also occur naturally.

    Although this argument was technically true, we found it obscured the bigger picture.

    A view of the river with a bridge and the city in the background.
    People sometimes fish along the White River where it flows through Indianapolis.
    alexeys via Getty Images

    We found the overwhelming source of mercury was within sight of the White River fishermen – a large coal-burning power plant on the edge of the city.

    This power plant emitted vaporous mercury at the time, though it has since switched to natural gas. We found that much of the plant’s mercury rapidly reacted with other atmospheric constituents and water vapor to “wash out” over the city. It was raining down mercury on the landscape.

    Traveling by air and water, miles from the source

    Mercury emitted from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants can fall from the atmosphere with rain, mist or chemical reactions. Several studies have shown elevated levels of mercury in soils and plants near power plants, with much of the mercury falling within about 9 miles (15 kilometers) of the smokestack.

    When we surveyed hundreds of surface soils ranging from about 1 to 31 miles (2 to 50 km) from the coal-fired power plant, then the single largest emitter of mercury in central Indiana, we were shocked. We found a clear “plume” of elevated mercury in Indianapolis, with much higher values near the power plant tailing off to almost background values 31 miles downwind.

    The White River flows from the northeast to the southwest through Indianapolis, opposite the wind patterns. When we sampled sediments from most of its course through central Indiana, we found that mercury levels started low well upstream of Indianapolis, but increased substantially as the river flowed through downtown, apparently accumulating deposited mercury along its flow path.

    [Understand developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

    We also found high levels well downstream of the city. Thus a fisherman out in the countryside, far away from the city, was still at significant risk of catching, and eating, high-mercury fish.

    The region’s fish advisories still recommend sharply limiting the amount of fish eaten from the White River. In Indianapolis, for example, pregnant women are advised to avoid eating some fish from the river altogether.

    Reviving the MATS rule

    The EPA announced the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rule in 2011 to deal with the exact health risk Indianapolis was facing.

    The rule stipulated that mercury sources had to be sharply reduced. For coal-fired power plants, this meant either installing costly mercury-capturing filters in the smokestacks or converting to another energy source. Many converted to natural gas, which reduces the mercury risk but still contributes to health problems and global warming.

    The MATS rule helped tilt the national energy playing field away from coal, until the Trump Administration attempted to weaken the rule in 2020 to try to bolster the declining U.S. coal industry. The administration rescinded a “supplemental finding” that determined it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury from power plants.

    On Jan. 31, 2022, the Biden Administration moved to reaffirm that supplemental finding and effectively restore the standards.

    More than a quarter of U.S. coal-fired power plants currently operating were scheduled as of 2021 to be retired by 2035.
    EIA

    Some economists have calculated the net cost of the MATS rule to the U.S. electricity sector to be about $9.6 billion per year. This is roughly equal to the earlier estimates of productivity loss from the harm mercury emissions cause.

    To a public health expert, this math problem is a no-brainer, and I am pleased to see the rule back in place, protecting the health of generations of future Americans.The Conversation

    Gabriel Filippelli, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth Sciences and Executive Director, Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute, IUPUI

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    New [federal] legislation would address abandoned mine pollution in Southwest #Colorado: Conservation groups, nonprofits and local governments could finally join remediation efforts — The #Durango Herald

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

    From The Durango Herald (Aedan Hannon):

    The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday would allow “Good Samaritan” groups to assist in the cleanup of abandoned mines by limiting their legal and financial liability for mine pollution. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., co-sponsored the bill, which would drastically expand the capacity for communities to address toxic mine waste from hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines in the U.S…

    The bill establishes a pilot program of 15 sites in which Good Samaritans – anyone from state mine reclamation agencies to local conservation groups – receive permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to carry out cleanups at abandoned mine sites.

    The legislation has a seven-year sunset and is meant to test a more constructive approach to limiting the pollution from the hundreds of thousands of mines that don’t qualify for the EPA’s Superfund status.

    For years, conservation groups and local governments have argued that the Clean Water Act, though critical for protecting water, limits their involvement in mine cleanups.

    The Clean Water Act characterizes the pollution from abandoned mines in two different ways. One is “nonpoint source,” which means there is no single identifiable source actively emitting pollution. Solid waste rock at an abandoned mine would qualify as a nonpoint source because it releases toxic materials only when rain and snow wear down the rock.

    Nonprofits and other Good Samaritans have been able to clean up nonpoint source abandoned mine pollution since at least 2007 after the EPA issued a policy that protected these groups from any liability for the pollution.

    The Clean Water Act also identifies “point source” pollution, which is actively emitted by a single source such as a pipe. Under the Clean Water Act, any entity that wants to clean up the infrastructure of an abandoned mine that discharges pollution, such as a tunnel, must assume liability for that pollution permanently.

    To comply with the Clean Water Act, these entities would have to undertake costly efforts to ensure that any water released by the mines during their work meets stringent standards.

    This issue of liability prevented state agencies, local governments and conservation organizations from cleaning up tens of thousands of abandoned mine sites that spew toxic chemicals.

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

    Environmental group says analysis shows oil and gas companies have used ‘forever chemicals’ to frack wells across #Colorado — Colorado Public Radio #PFAS

    From Colorado Public Radio (Sam Brasch):

    Companies have used potentially toxic “forever chemicals” to coax oil and gas from Colorado wells since at least 2008, according to a new report from Physicians for Social Responsibility.

    The environmental advocacy group also claims drillers may have concealed some dangerous chemicals they’ve pumped into wells under state rules that allow companies to withhold the disclosure of industry “trade secrets.” Dusty Horwitt, one of the report’s authors, said the disclosure exemptions make it nearly impossible to know the full extent of the industry’s use per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — also known as PFAS.

    “Coloradans could be unknowingly exposed to these highly toxic forever chemicals, as they’re called, from thousands of oil and gas wells across the state,” Horwitt said.

    The claims could add another chapter to a rapidly expanding PFAS pollution crisis. The category of chemicals was born in 1938 when a chemist at DuPont stumbled upon polytetrafluoroethylene, a compound that later became famous as a nonstick cookware coating known as Teflon. Companies soon found other applications for the chemical’s slipperiness and ability to resist oil and water. The discovery fueled the development of other PFAS chemicals now used in a wide range of consumer products like dental floss, waterproof jackets and fire fighting foam.

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

    A #Wyoming state hydrological study estimates the coal-bed methane gas industry drew down some [Powder River Basin] sandstone aquifers by more than 100 feet — @WyoFile

    Jill Morrison of the Powder River Basin Resource Council and rancher Kenny Clabaugh discuss the impacts of coal-bed methane gas on ranching operations in the Powder River Basin in 2006. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

    From WyoFile (Dustin Bleizeffer) [January 26, 2022]:

    The coal-bed methane gas boom that dotted northeast Wyoming with rigs and workers in the 2000s and left a legacy of bankruptcies and orphaned wells will also have lingering impacts on groundwater for up to 144 years, according to a new study by the Wyoming State Geological Survey.

    Some sandstone aquifers in the Powder River Basin have declined by more than 100 feet due to the industry’s preferred method of pumping large volumes of water from coal seams to release the microbial-formed coal-bed methane gas, according the study, “Groundwater Level Recovery in the Sandstones of the Lower Tertiary Aquifer System of the Powder River Basin, Wyoming.”

    The industry has pumped about 1 million acre-feet of water from coal seams since 2001 and discharged it onto the surface, partially depleting coal aquifers as well as associated sandstone aquifers. That’s enough water to fill Alcova Reservoir to maximum capacity more than five times.

    “The calculated times of recovery, which vary from 20-144 years with a mean value of 52 years, probably represent best-case estimates because the calculations assume that environmental and hydrological conditions will largely remain unchanged from those of the last decade,” the study states.

    This map depicts the location of 39 Bureau of Land Management sandstone and coal seam monitoring well sites in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. (U.S. Geological Survey)

    “Furthermore,” the study continues, “slowing recovery rates commonly observed in some coal seam aquifers may impede the return to predevelopment water levels in the proximal sandstones.”

    The most severely drawn down aquifers are within 20 miles of the Powder River, both north and south of Interstate 90, study co-author Karl Taboga said. That’s also the area where much of the remaining active coal-bed methane wells are located. While the geographic coverage of the monitoring wells used to measure water tables is limited, it’s believed the industry’s impact to aquifers elsewhere in the Powder River Basin is less severe.

    “It appears to be localized,” Taboga said. “In a couple of cases, a little farther east in the Powder River, you may have a site that has a significant groundwater decline, but five or six miles away you have another site where you’re not seeing a significant decline.”

    Ongoing groundwater monitoring in the Powder River Basin provides “a unique opportunity to study long-term groundwater changes,” State Geologist and WSGA Director Erin Campbell said in a press statement. “Understanding how subsurface systems relate to groundwater recovery allow us to best plan future development.”

    But there are perhaps even more critical lessons to learn, according to longtime critics of the industry’s dewatering practice.

    “The big question is: Will we learn the lesson that we live in a high desert and pumping and dumping and wasting water is the height of greed and ignorance?” the Powder River Basin Resource Council’s former Executive Director Jill Morrison said.

    Landowner group: The state was warned

    The massive dewatering of groundwater resources has been a point of contention since the beginning of the coal-bed methane gas play in the Powder River Basin in the mid-1990s. In some cases, it sapped water from wells used for livestock and drinking water for homes. While the practice of discharging the water on the surface provided new stock watering ponds for ranchers, it also flooded critical grazing areas and loaded the surface with salts, wreaking havoc on native grasses.

    The Sheridan-based landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council pressured the state to minimize pumping groundwater and discharging it on the surface. Instead, it urged the state to insist on forcing operators to reinject the water “in a staged fashion.”

    Most coal-bed methane wells bring up large volumes of water along with the methane. This 2006 photo shows a water-discharge facility on a Johnson County ranch near the Powder River. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

    But the state didn’t take any actions to limit groundwater pumping and surface discharge until 2007 as the development began to decline.

    There’s no agenda. WyoFile aims to provide you with the tools to make informed decisions by producing independent, unbiased reporting that is free and accessible to all. Donate today to help keep Wyoming empowered and informed.

    “These aquifers took eons to establish and [coal-bed methane] development has significantly dewatered them in less than two decades,” Morrison said Wednesday, adding that she is “not at all surprised” by the report’s findings. “You can’t pump this gigantic volume of water out of aquifers that took eons to be created, and then expect that it’s going to regenerate.”

    The diminished aquifers and long-term recovery rates represent potentially higher costs for rural landowners and agricultural operations to access groundwater, as well as municipalities that might rely on groundwater resources in the future, Morrison said.

    Many in the Powder River Basin have already felt those types of impacts, Morrison added.

    Diagram of a coal-bed methane well. (Wyoming State Geological Survey)

    “The state said industry is responsible and they just have to drill you another water well that’s deeper,” Morrison said. “But that didn’t solve the problem because that [deeper] water isn’t as good, it costs more to pump and they didn’t pay for the extra electricity charges.”

    For years, hydrologists have speculated at the potential rate that both coal and sandstone aquifers might replenish. Early estimates included a rate of 1 inch per year, Morrison said. The new WSGS study estimates a faster rate and notes that recovery rates will vary widely depending on geology.

    “Typically, groundwater levels in the affected sandstone aquifers briefly rise by several feet for a few months after [coal-bed methane gas] production ceases,” according to the study. “But this rapid recovery frequently decreases to one foot or less annually after a year or two.”

    Recharge and climate change

    Climate change may also play a significant role in the rate of aquifer recovery in the Powder River Basin.

    The WSGS study notes that its estimated recovery rates “represent best-case estimates because the calculations assume that environmental and hydrological conditions will largely remain unchanged from those of the last decade.”

    But Wyoming’s precipitation and snowmelt dynamics are quickly changing due to human-caused climate change, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data. While much of Wyoming could see more overall precipitation, less of it will come in the form of snow that drives annual springtime melt.

    However, since 2000, the Powder and Tongue River Basins have experienced their longest and deepest droughts compared to the last 100 years, based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index, University of Wyoming Department of Geology and Geophysics professor J.J. Shinker said.

    “The increase in temperatures coincides with prolonged and deepening regional drought conditions and the trend of increasing temperatures (globally and regionally) is likely to continue well into the projected recovery timeframe,” Shinker told WyoFile via email.

    Wyoming’s evolving climate conditions make it extremely difficult to predict aquifer recharge cycles, Shinker said.

    WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

    2022 #COleg: #Colorado should limit kids’ lead exposure with school water filters, advocates say — #Colorado Newsline

    Denver Water delivers safe, clean water to 1.5 million people every day, 25% of Colorado’s population. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Nearly 3 in 4 Colorado kids have detectable levels of lead in their bloodstream, according to a peer-reviewed study published in September.

    The September analysis — published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics — found that nationwide, slightly more than half of children tested positive for lead, making Colorado’s rate above average.

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    Some state lawmakers and public health advocates want to address Colorado’s lead problem by installing water filters in every K-12 public and charter school in the state. They plan to introduce a bill that would leverage federal funds to pay for the water filter installation.

    Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial justice organization with offices in Denver and Aurora, and Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental advocacy group, are backing the bill, which has yet to be officially introduced. Sponsors include three Democrats: Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora along with Reps. Emily Sirota of Denver and Barbara McLachlan of Durango.

    “Lead is a problem in Colorado schools,” said Cori Bell, an attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council who advocates for healthy and affordable water. Bell spoke during a virtual news conference Monday to announce the upcoming bill.

    “Schools and child care centers may have older plumbing materials, such as pipes and faucets, which are more likely to contain high levels of lead,” Bell continued. “There are so many times when pipes at schools sit unused. Think about the weekends, school breaks and summer vacation. During these times, lead can dissolve in the water that’s sitting in the pipes. No one would hand a child a lead straw for their glass, so why would we allow lead contamination in school drinking water?”

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that exposure to lead can cause serious health effects for children, including brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.

    Lead exposure is most common among children who live in communities with older housing and high poverty rates, according to the September study, which also found higher-than-average lead exposure in children from predominantly Black and Hispanic ZIP codes.

    Rachel Lehman, a member of Colorado People’s Alliance, said she didn’t trust the drinking water in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood where her family lives. She buys water filters for her home once a month, and her daughter lugs water from home in a Hydro Flask when she goes to class.

    “Water is life,” Lehman said during the news conference. “I don’t see how this is a political issue at all, and I urge the state of Colorado to do some kind of action in this matter to support clean drinking water for all of our children.”

    Dr. PJ Parmar, whose clinic serves refugees in the East Colfax neighborhood, pointed out the difficulty of testing individual kids for lead.

    “If anyone has tried to test the blood of a 1- or 2-year-old, it’s impractical,” Parmar said. But his clients would be on board with the broader filter proposal, he said, because “many of them come from places where they don’t trust the drinking water anyway.”

    Under the upcoming bill, the $26.7 million filter installation cost would be paid for using existing federal funds.

    Advocates say President Joe Biden’s social spending plan, which remains stalled in the U.S. Senate, would cover annual filter maintenance costs totaling $12.7 million for Colorado schools. But if Congress doesn’t pass the social spending plan, or some version of it, it’s unclear who would pay for maintenance. State funding for K-12 education already falls more than $500 million short of the amount that lawmakers are required to pay school districts under a formula in state law.

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    The US is losing some of its biggest freshwater reserves: Globally, around 2.2 billion people and 27 percent of all food crop production is located near drying-out freshwater basins — Popular Science

    The Green and Colorado rivers cut through Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. A warming climate is adding to the drought-driven declines in snowmelt and spring runoff across the Colorado River Basin. (Source: LightHawk Conservation Flying/The Water Desk)

    From Popular Science (Nikita Amir):

    Less than 3 percent of Earth is covered in freshwater. And while that percentage has remained pretty constant, population growth has not. Only 1 percent of freshwater is accessible to the 7.7 billion people and counting.

    As concerns over water scarcity grow, research published in Nature recently documents how freshwater availability has changed over the years, helping water specialists and managers pinpoint how this essential resource’s flows have been changing. Xander Huggins, a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria and Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, and his fellow researchers decided to explore what exactly these changes would mean for life here on Earth.

    The team examined 1,024 basins across the world to understand how water availability couples with social processes to create vulnerability in communities. The main factor they studied were freshwater stress, which is the amount of H2O that naturally leaves the watershed or basin per year; the higher the stress, the less water there is available for ecosystems and for people’s demands, according to Huggins. Following this, he and his colleagues coupled the findings with data on how freshwater storage in underground aquifers and glaciers, for example, is changing.

    Huggins learned that 42 percent of the 478 most stressed basins around the planet are also the ones disproportionately losing storage. These basins, including ones in the American South and Southwest, central Argentina, and throughout the Middle East, are the ones where people and living things are already under pressure. By his team’s calculations, around 2.2 billion people and 27 percent of all global food crop production is located near drying-out freshwater basins.

    Identifying vulnerable water sources

    After mapping the most high-risk areas, Huggins created a vulnerability analysis by combining the relationship between stress and storage with data on how prepared and economically sufficient a government might be to respond. He hopes that by creating a framework to understand vulnerability and identifying these “hotspot” basins, the water scarcity in these regions can be prioritized by policymakers.

    Huggins notes that the metric is simplified enough to use it on a global scale. Out of the 168 “very high” and “high” vulnerability scoring areas, not all faced the same threats. The authors of the paper found that the most vulnerable basins predictably had the worst water resource management, and that basins that spanned countries were even worse off. According to the scale, nations like Algeria, India, and Kazakhstan were found to have high vulnerabilities according to the scale, as well as low levels of water management.

    While the US scores highly in terms of social adaptiveness in Huggins’s study, it has multitude freshwater issues that go beyond stress and storage. Equitable access to freshwater sources looks different in communities across the states. According to Jill Ryan, the executive director of Freshwater Future, an advocacy group working on protecting drinking reservoirs in the Great Lakes region, two of the biggest issues are that of water contamination and cost. Illinois and Ohio are the states with the highest levels of lead in their pipes. Rising costs are also making water too expensive for a growing number of families––one of the reasons being new infrastructure to get rid of the lead pipes. This cost is now increasingly being pushed onto the consumers, Ryan says.

    Wonkfest: Sunnyside #GoldKingMine Settlement, explained: Why has a mining company forked out millions for an accident in a mine it didn’t own? — @Land_Desk #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.

    From The Land Desk (Jonathan P. Thompson):

    Last week’s $90 million settlement relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine Blowout that turned the Animas and San Juan Rivers TANG-orange for over 100 miles downstream did not bring an end to the legal saga that has dragged on for more than six years (lawsuits against the federal government are still pending). But when the agreement is finalized, Sunnyside Gold Corp—the owner of the nearby, now-shuttered Sunnyside Mine—will finally be free of the mess. Extricating themselves from any further liabilities has cost them about $67.6 million: $40.5 million to the feds; $6.1 million to the State of Colorado; $11 million to the State of New Mexico; and $10 million to the Navajo Nation, not to mention the tens of millions they’d already spent cleaning up a century’s worth of mining mess.

    In agreeing to the payments, Sunnyside and its parent company, Canada-based global mining giant Kinross, have made it clear that they are not admitting wrongdoing or liability. They don’t own the Gold King Mine and never did. So why did the company fork out so much money?

    The simple answer is that the bulkheads Sunnyside installed in the American Tunnel in the 1990s and early 2000s caused water to back up inside Bonita Peak and make its way into the Gold King Mine, resulting in the 3 million-gallon blowout. The truth is a bit more complicated.

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    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    The real question is not whether Sunnyside’s bulkheads backed up water into the Gold King Mine. That’s pretty much a given. More important is exactly where the water came from in the first place. And to get at that answer, we need to go back in time a century and some to the days when the Gold King Mine was one of the most profitable operations in Colorado.

    To see the photos in full resolution, please view this at http://LandDesk.org.

    A Timeline of the American Tunnel

    1887 Olaf Arvid Nelson, while working at the nearby Sampson Mine, surreptitiously locates the original Gold King claim on the slopes of Bonita Peak, and goes to work on it immediately. He eventually digs a 50-foot shaft and a 50-foot drift, but never makes money from it.

    1891 Nelson dies, perhaps from pneumonia, silicosis or just overwork. A year later his widow, Louisa, patents the Gold King claim, taking title to it. And in 1894 Louisa sells the Gold King claim to Northeastern capitalists Cyrus W. Davis and Henry Soule, for a mere $15,000. They hire local Willis Z. Kinney to run the mine.

    1897 About 40 employees pull ore from the Gold King mine’s 2,000 feet or so of underground workings and ships it down a 5,600-foot long tramway from the mine opening’s lofty perch on Bonita Peak’s slope to a new mill at Gladstone for processing.

    1898 The Gold King owners form the American Mining and Tunnel Co. and begin construction on a lower-elevation, safer access to the Gold King Mine several hundred feet below the current access adit (Gold King Level #1). They originally name the lower access point the American Tunnel, but after it is completed in 1903 and becomes the mine’s primary portal, it will be renamed the #7 Level of the Gold King Mine. This is level that will blowout in 2015 and is not the same American Tunnel in which Sunnyside placed its bulkheads many years later.

    1900 USGS geologist Frederick Ransome visits the Gold King Mine, noticing that the main adit—or opening to the mine—is not draining any water, which is highly unusual for the area. He hypothesizes that the American Tunnel #1 (aka Gold King Level #7)—which at the time was under construction—is “deep draining” the water from the Gold King’s upper operations.

    1900 The Gold King Mine owners begin construction on another American Tunnel (still known by that name today) at Gladstone. They plan to burrow into Bonita Peak until they are directly below the Gold King workings, then connect the two via a 1,000+ foot shaft. This will enable them to bring ore directly to the Gladstone mill, obviating the need to move it by tram across avalanche-prone terrain. But the project is abandoned after only 700 feet of tunneling (they need to go more than a mile underground before they will be in position to link with the Gold King).

    1906 (or thereabouts) A photo of the Gold King Mine #7 Level appears to show about 200 to 300 gallons of water draining from the mine adit.

    Gold King Mine drainage. Photo via The Land Desk

    1908 The structures at the mouth of the Gold King #7 Level catch fire, destroying the tram terminal, boardinghouse, compressor house, carpenter shop, and stables, killing six. The mine rebuilds, but it will never be the same. In 1909 the new boardinghouse burns, killing a waiter, and in 1911 an avalanche hits the boardinghouse, killing four people. After that operations are on-again, off-again and profits hard to come by.

    1921 The Gold King miners are working again to open the Gladstone tunnel, aka. the American Tunnel, that goes from the Gold King mill at Gladstone into Bonita Peak and under the Gold King Mine, about 860 feet below the Gold King #7 Level. The intent is to provide a long haulage tunnel for Gold King ore, thereby rendering the treacherous trams obsolete, but the connection to the upper mine is never made. A later report indicates that the American Tunnel is 6,233 feet deep when work is finally halted. The tunnel “deep drains” the groundwater of Bonita Peak, leaving the Gold King mine virtually dry.

    This shows the relative elevations of different levels of the Gold King and the American Tunnel. The Gold King was accessed via adits (mine openings) on Level 1 and Level 7. The other levels were mined, but did not have their own adits. Gold King Level 7 was called the American Tunnel when it was first built in the late 1890s, but the name was transferred to the far lower and longer American Tunnel that was originally built to link Gladstone with the Gold King Mine workings. The link was never completed and Standard Metals later took over the American Tunnel to access the Sunnyside Mine. Credit: The Land Desk

    1922 The Gold King Mine’s parent company goes bankrupt, leaving the Sunnyside Mine, on the opposite side of Bonita Peak, as one of the region’s biggest mines. But it struggles because the mine opening is above the workings, meaning water and ore must be pulled up and out of the mine, against gravity, which increases operational expenses.

    Text from a 1918 proposal to extend the Gold King Mine to meet up with the Sunnyside Mine workings. Credit: The Land Desk

    1960 Standard Metals takes over the dormant Sunnyside Mine and plans to revive it by extending the unused, partially complete American Tunnel to access it. The tunnel will provide gravity-assisted ore-haulage and water drainage for the Sunnyside by way of Gladstone. When it’s finished, the tunnel is 11,000 feet long, and brings mining, and prosperity, back to Silverton.

    General view of the Sunnyside Mine and Lake Emma, southwestern Colorado photo via the Denver Public Library

    1978 On a Sunday, when no miners are working, the floor of Lake Emma collapses into the Sunnyside Mine, sending tens of millions of gallons of water shooting out the American Tunnel at Gladstone and shutting the mine down for months. To this day some folks remain suspicious of the collapse, theorizing that it was planned by a beleaguered company looking for an insurance payout: Miners had warned management about increasing amounts of water pouring into the mine and worried that they were getting too close to the lake’s floor. Ultimately, Standard Metals received $9 million, but they had to drag the insurance company to court to get it. The company will go bankrupt in the early 1980s and sell the Sunnyside Mine to Echo Bay, a Canadian company, doing business as Sunnyside Gold Corp.

    1986 Meanwhile, a company called Gerber Minerals takes over the Gold King and sets about to re-open it. They apply for a mining permit for the Gold King, but not a discharge permit, because: “No drainage occurs from any of the portals—the district is deep-drained by the American Tunnel located at Gladstone.” As a result, the American Tunnel flows with about 1,600 gallons per minute of acidic, heavy-metal laden water draining into Cement Creek and, ultimately, the Animas River. Note: The first mile and some of the American Tunnel runs through Gold King Mine patented claims, meaning it belongs to the owners of the Gold King.

    1987 Donald “Donnie” Goode killed when a 100-pound rock falls from the ceiling of Gold King #7 Level, about 2,500 feet underground, striking him in the head.

    1988 Sunnyside overhauls the old American Tunnel water treatment plant. It uses one ton of lime per day to raise pH levels, causing toxic metals to precipitate out of solution and settle into ponds, cleaning the 1,600 gallons per minute of discharge to a level that can support sensitive fathead minnows. The process costs approximately $500,000 per year, and results in 365 tons per year of metal-laden sludge.

    1991 The Sunnyside Mine closes for good. A year later the re-born Gold King suspends operations, as well, but holds onto its permits. In preparation for plugging, or bulkheading, the American Tunnel, Sunnyside Gold and Washington Mining Co. commission an exhaustive hydrological study of the Sunnyside, which concludes that bulkheads in the American Tunnel should not cause flooding of the Gold King, and that it would take 150 years for mine pool water to reach Cement Creek.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    1994 Animas River Stakeholders Group is formed as a citizen-led effort to study and address mining pollution in the watershed and propose realistic water quality standards. It’s seen as a collaborative alternative to Superfund. Bill Simon is chosen as coordinator. Other notable members include Peter Butler, who had just received his Ph.D. in natural resource management, Larry Perino of Sunnyside Gold, and Steve Fearn.

    1996 Sunnyside enters into a consent decree with the state, a sort of pollution trading scheme. Sunnyside will install three bulkheads in the American Tunnel, one on its property to back up water into the Sunnyside’s workings, and two more on Gold King property nearer to the surface. They will also clean up a list of abandoned mines in the watershed in order to offset the increased heavy metal loading that will result when Sunnyside turns off its American Tunnel water treatment plant. At about the same time, the state division of minerals and geology inspects the Gold King and finds that it’s draining just one to two gallons of acidic, metal-laden water per minute, a mere trickle.

    1996 The valve is shut on the first bulkhead over 6,000 feet into the American Tunnel, beyond the Gold King property line. Water backed up behind this will inundate the Sunnyside Mine workings and create what’s known as the Sunnyside mine pool. By robbing the system of oxygen, it should slow acid mine drainage reactions. Sunnyside also dumped 625 tons of lime in from the top of the mine to raise pH levels.

    1991 The Sunnyside Mine closes for good. A year later the re-born Gold King suspends operations, as well, but holds onto its permits. In preparation for plugging, or bulkheading, the American Tunnel, Sunnyside Gold and Washington Mining Co. commission an exhaustive hydrological study of the Sunnyside, which concludes that bulkheads in the American Tunnel should not cause flooding of the Gold King, and that it would take 150 years for mine pool water to reach Cement Creek.

    1997 A Gold King Mines environmental protection plan notes that the mine is discharging between 4 gpm and 30 gpm, with a pH as low as 2.25. However, the authors of the report theorize that it’s groundwater, not Sunnyside mine pool water, based on the 1992 hydrology report. A 1998 inspection finds that the Gold King #7 level portal had collapsed, just inside the portal, and is impassible. It does not say how much water is draining from the mine.

    An aerial view of the Gold King Mine days after the 2015 blowout showing the approximate path of the American Tunnel, which runs beneath the Gold King. The Sunnyside Mine is beneath Lake Emma. Jonathan P. Thompson photo enabled by EcoFlight.org.

    1999 A water analysis report of the Gold King Mine finds that the mine is discharging between 11 gpm and 30 gpm with a very low pH and very high concentrations of dissolved metals. The following year Steve Fearn buys the Gold King mine from CCTC, trustee for Pitchfork “M” Corp. The state inspection later that year notes: “Though this year has been abnormally dry, the No. 7 level discharge appears to have increased significantly … from around 30 gpm to around 45 gpm.”

    2001 The Sunnyside Mine Pool is thought to have reached equilibrium, based on the findings of the 1992 hydrological study. The mine pool, some 1,200 feet deep, exerts nearly 500 psi on bulkhead #1. Sunnyside then installs bulkhead #2, which is closer to the surface and, in 2002, bulkhead #3, which is right at the surface, in preparation for its exit from the area. By now Sunnyside Gold has spent upwards of $25 million on cleanup and reclamation. Discharges from both the Gold King and the nearby Mogul Mine—which was also mostly dry prior to the first bulkhead installation—continue to increase.

    2003 A byzantine agreement transfers ownership of the Sunnyside water treatment plant to Gold King owner Fearn, allowing Fearn to treat Gold King water, and allowing Sunnyside to leave—in theory. Also involved in the deal is Todd Hennis, owner of the Mogul Mine in the Cement Creek drainage, who acquires most of the Gladstone townsite. The deal will go bad a year later when Hennis evicts Fearn, and thus the water treatment plant, from his property at Gladstone, shutting down water treatment for good (proving detrimental to downstream fish populations). Meanwhile, Fearn’s mining ventures have gone broke. Hennis will acquire the Gold King and in coming years set about to mine it, first with a new company called Colorado Goldfields, and then on his own.

    When treatment of water draining from the Gold King Mine ceased in 2004, downstream water quality—and fish populations—were negatively affected. Credit: The Land Desk

    2005 Gold King mine discharges have increased to 200 gallons per minute or more. Animas River Stakeholders Group calls in the Environmental Protection Agency to help figure out the cause and potentially fund a solution. In its annual report to the Security Exchange Commission, Colorado Goldfields says it intends to re-open Gold King #7 Level, and that it hopes to enter into an agreement with the EPA allowing it to deal with increasing flows of acid mine drainage, which the company believes are coming from the “2150 vein workings of the Sunnyside Mine.” The report also notes the danger for a “blow out of potentially impounded mine waters.”

    2009 The State Division of Mining Reclamation and Safety calls the Gold King, now dumping nearly 200,000 pounds of metals into the watershed per year, “one of the worst high quantity, poor water quality draining mines in the State of Colorado.” It backfills the mine portal, or opening, because it had collapsed, and installs drainage pipe.

    2014 Sunnyside Gold Corp. offers $10 million towards water treatment and other upper Cement Creek cleanup—as long as Superfund isn’t declared.

    2015 EPA contractors begin excavating dirt piled up at the opening of Gold King Mine #7 Level until the operator notices a “spring” spurting from the dirt. Within minutes, the tiny fountain has grown to a 3-million gallon torrent of electric-orange, acidic, heavy metal-laden water pouring into the North Fork of Cement Creek far below.

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

    So, yeah, I know: That made it about as clear as the Animas River was in the days following the blowout. This puzzle will never be solved definitively. Bonita Peak’s hydrology is all a tangled maze of fractures and faults and veins, a sort of lithic Swiss cheese comprised of hundreds of miles of drifts, shafts, crosscuts, and tunnels, creating innumerable potential paths the water could follow.

    But from what we can glean from the history we can conclude:

    • The Gold King Mine had water flowing through it early on. When the first American Tunnel, aka #7 Level, was dug, it deep drained the upper levels, making them appear to be dry.
    • About 200 to 300 gallons of water per minute flowed out of the #7 Level adit until the new American Tunnel was drilled under the Gold King in the 1920s, deep draining the entirety of Bonita Peak.
    • It wasn’t until after Sunnyside installed bulkheads in the American Tunnel that drainage returned to the Gold King #7 level (as well as to the Mogul Mine). It’s safe to conclude in this case that correlation is causation: The installation of the bulkheads caused drainage to return to the Gold King.

    Not clear, though, is precisely where the water was coming from: Did the Sunnyside mine pool water back up, then find a pathway through to the Gold King Mine? If so, then it would seem that Sunnyside is at least partially responsible for the resulting 2015 blowout, since that nasty orange water originated on its subterranean property. Or did the lower two bulkheads—which are on Gold King property—simply return Bonita Peak’s hydrology to a pre-American Tunnel state of affairs, or a “natural flow regime,” as one Sunnyside employee put it in the early 2000s? In that case it is not Sunnyside Gold’s water, it’s the Gold King’s, which would absolve Sunnyside of responsibility.

    While conclusive answers to those questions aren’t exactly forthcoming, a look at the timeline suggests that the water that spewed from Gold King #7 Level on Aug. 5, 2015, may have come from both sources. Drainage from the Gold King first started increasing—albeit only marginally—in 1997, after bulkhead #1 had been installed but before the next two were sealed. But flows remained pretty low until after the valves on bulkheads #2 and #3 were closed. It was only then that the Gold King became a major source of acid mine drainage and conditions established that would lead to the blowout.

    But at this point maybe it doesn’t matter: Even if Sunnyside could prove that it’s not liable for what happened in 2015, it still would have been the last and only viable mining concern in the vicinity when it happened. Whether it’s culpable or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is probably irrelevant. In either case, the company would have had to take responsibility or else risk damaging its corporate image. That’s the price one pays for playing the mining game.

    #Runoff from land scarred by wildfires can contaminate drinking #water #FortCollins, #Colorado, was forced to adjust its water treatment system to cope with polluted water — Yale #Climate Connections

    (Photo credit: A. Torres, USDA / CC BY 2.0)

    From Yale Climate Connections:

    Increasingly extreme wildfires are raging across the West – leaving behind barren, charred areas and threatening drinking water.

    Jill Oropeza is director of sciences for water quality services for Fort Collins Utilities in Colorado.

    She says in a healthy forest, trees and shrubs buffer the impact of rain on the ground. Pine needles and detritus on the forest floor help retain water.

    “That is the sponge that soaks up and holds a lot of that moisture and allows the precipitation to percolate downwards,” she says.

    If this vegetation burns up, melting snow and rain run across the land instead of seeping into the soil. And as the water flows, it picks up ash, sediment, and other debris.

    “And those substances in the soil itself and the ash are dissolved and carried in the river and into reservoirs,” Oropeza says.

    She says Fort Collins was forced to adjust its water treatment system to cope with influxes of contaminated water. And it’s using helicopters to spread mulch in burned areas to help plants start growing again.

    Doing so is expensive but critical to providing people with clean water as the climate warms.

    #GoldKingMine settlement — @Land_Desk #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    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]

    From The Land Desk (Jonathan Thompson):

    We have just received word that the federal government and the owner of the Sunnyside Mine have agreed to pay a total of $90 million to settle claims relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout. The proposed consent decree will be posted in the Federal Register and opened to public comment for 30 days prior to being finalized.

    That consent decree will “resolve all claims, cross-claims, and counterclaims between the United States and Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold Corporation (the “Mining Defendants”) in this multidistrict litigation,” according to the U.S. District Court of New Mexico filing.

    The Land Desk will have more details—along with a wonkfest explaining why Sunnyside is even involved with an incident that occurred at a mine it doesn’t own—next week.

    The settlement by the numbers:

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

    $40.95 million

    Amount Sunnyside Gold Corp., a subsidiary of Canada-based Kinross Gold, will pay to the federal government under the settlement, all of which will be used to finance cleanup relating to the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    $4.05 million

    Amount Sunnyside Gold will pay to the Colorado Dept. of Health and Environment.

    $45 million

    Amount the U.S. government, on behalf of federal settling agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service—will pay to “appropriate federal accounts” under the settlement.

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

    From The Durango Herald (Aedan Hannon):

    The Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Department, Department of the Interior, Department Agriculture and state of Colorado announced Friday they have reached a settlement with Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent company Kinross Gold Corp. to fund remediation in the Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton.

    In the case of an old-fashioned standoff, the federal government will drop its claims against Sunnyside Gold Corp. and Canadian mining company Kinross Gold Corp. and the two companies will drop their claims against the federal government after the settlement.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. will pay $40.95 million to the federal government and the EPA and another $4.05 million to Colorado, while the United States will contribute $45 million to the cleanup of mining contamination in the area…

    The agreement marks the end of Sunnyside Gold Corp.’s remediation work in the Bonita Peak Mining District. The EPA previously ordered the company to undertake a costly investigation of groundwater in the area in March 2018.

    The state of Colorado has also released Sunnyside from its reclamation permit obligations, which require the company to clean up its past mining operations and meet the conditions of a reclamation plan approved by the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, a branch of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

    In addition, the settlement limits the future liability of both Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent company…

    The settlement was made as a matter of practicality with no admission of wrongdoing or liability, Myers said in an email to The Durango Herald.

    Myers noted the federal government’s matching $45 million was a result of the federal government’s own liability for the Gold King Mine spill and damage to the surrounding area…

    The Colorado and the federal governments have argued that Sunnyside Gold Corp. is partly at fault and responsible for funding remediation in the Bonita Peak Mining District after placing bulkheads in the 1990s to prevent the drainage of contaminated water.

    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    In legal filings, the state has said the bulkheads backed up waste in surrounding mines, including the Gold King Mine, which was released when EPA contractors accidentally caused a blowout…

    The EPA has already spent more than $75 million to remediate the site.

    The Bonita Peak Mining District Community Advisory Group is working to define water-quality targets and other environmental standards that will need to be met for the area to be considered decontaminated. Those targets will help guide the work of the EPA…

    [Ty Churchwell] said a full cleanup of the site will likely take at least another decade. He pointed to similar Superfund sites near Leadville and Idaho Springs that each took about two decades.

    The settlement is a step in that direction.

    Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Associated Press (James Anderson) via The Colorado Sun:

    The agreement must be approved by the U.S. District Court in the District of New Mexico after a 30-day public comment period…

    An EPA-led contractor crew was doing excavation work at the entrance to the Gold King Mine, another site in the district not owned by Sunnyside, in August 2015 when it inadvertently breached a debris pile that was holding back wastewater inside the mine.

    Settling ponds used to precipitate iron oxide and other suspended materials at the Red and Bonita mine drainage near Gold King mine, shown Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Eric Vance/EPA)

    An estimated 3 million gallons of wastewater poured out, carrying nearly 540 U.S. tons of metals, mostly iron and aluminum. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted…

    Monies will be used for water and soil sampling and to build more waste repositories. The EPA said in a statement Friday it has spent more than $75 million on cleanup work “and expects to continue significant work at the site in the coming years.”

    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 proposed consent decree follows Sunnyside settlements with New Mexico and the Navajo Nation earlier this year. Sunnyside admits no fault in the agreement.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    #Colorado fines #Boulder County gold mine $17,000 for #water quality violations — The Colorado Sun

    Caribou Colorado late 1800s. Photo credit: Western Mining History

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    All but $5,000 suspended, as mine reclamation staff says owners of Cross and Caribou mines are making “good faith” efforts to get cleanup online.

    The state Mined Land Reclamation Board imposed a $17,000 fine on owners of the Cross and Caribou mines for water quality violations, but suspended all but $5,000 of the penalty as long as Grand Island Resources continues “good faith” efforts to install containment and cleanup equipment.

    The state agency’s staff largely endorsed the mining company’s presentation detailing completion of a filtration system for any water emitted from the historic mine above Nederland, and said they would continue on-site review of the improvements and water sampling…

    The state board was reviewing a cease and desist order issued late in 2021 that said mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months, but also more alleged violations before and after, from December 2020 to last August. Violations included excessive traces of heavy metals, including copper and lead, that can be dangerous to aquatic and human health.

    The state’s order charged the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. Water quality officials ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and said it would determine the levels of fines in January.

    Ed Byrne, an attorney for Grand Island Resources, said the company is satisfied with the outcome of the hearing…

    The company will keep working with state and local officials to fully comply with permits, Byrne added.

    An attorney for Save the Colorado, a nonprofit environmental group that is monitoring the mine, said the testimony before the board shows the mine appears to have remedied some pollution problems…

    Cross and Caribou is not currently producing gold ore, but the company has a permit to build an ore processing facility and says it has been spending millions of dollars rebuilding tunnels and cleaning up past mine operations.

    Grand Island said it will also continue to work with Boulder County, City of Boulder and Nederland.

    #Louisville main #water system cut off to avoid contamination — #Colorado Hometown Weekly #MarshallFire

    This is the oldest known photo of Louisville. In this beautiful image you are looking west on Spruce Steet from Main Street and can see the Flatirons in the hazy distance. This photo provides an amazing feel of how wide open the spaces were between the new cities on the front range. Photo via DowntownLouisville.com.

    From Colorado Hometown Weekly (Ella Cobb):

    While neighboring Superior deals with water odor and smell issues, a number of residents in Louisville are reporting no running water at all.

    According to a City of Louisville website update on Thursday, a high number of homes within or close to the Marshall Fire burn area were cut off from Louisville’s main water system in order to avoid contamination following the fire.

    The city is working alongside the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to monitor the water quality level and ensure that when water returns to homes that it’s safe to use.

    In order to keep residents up to date on testing measures, the city’s Public Works Department created an interactive map that reflects current water sample testing activity.

    Places on the map that read “sample compliant” indicates that the water in the area has tested negative for chlorine, bacteria or volatile organic compounds, and that chlorine residuals in the water are between 0.2 and 4.0 mg/L, which is the national drinking water standard.

    While tests are ongoing, the city has provided bulk water tanks for residents to use while water reinstatement is pending. One is located at North Washington Avenue and Arapahoe Circle, with another one at Owl Drive and Pinyon Way. The Recreation Center, located at 900 Via Appia Way, is offering free showers and bottled water to affected residents.

    Hundreds ignore, refuse #Denver’s efforts to remove dangerous lead #water pipes — @WaterEdCO

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

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Hundreds of Denver property owners have failed to respond to requests or have directly refused to allow Denver Water to replace lead service lines leading to homes and businesses, a situation that jeopardizes the city’s efforts to keep lead out of drinking water.

    The pipe replacement program, one of the largest in the country, is being done to help the agency comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which sharply limits lead in drinking water.

    Since the program’s approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2020, Denver Water has replaced some 10,000 service lines out of 68,000 targeted in the program.

    But the agency has yet to decide how to bring reluctant property owners into the fold, according to Alexis Woodrow, Denver Water’s lead reduction program manager.

    “Of course we would like to get 100% consent or compliance and we’re continuing to come up with communications to make sure homeowners understand the why behind this work,” Woodrow said.

    According to data obtained by Fresh Water News through an Open Records Act request, 534 property owners, roughly 5% of those targeted by the program to date, have either failed to respond to the agency’s request to replace the service lines or have specifically refused to allow the work to be done.

    Top reasons for refusing, according to Woodrow, are that homeowners don’t want their landscapes disturbed or they believe their lead service lines have already been replaced.

    Denver, 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.

    Though lead isn’t present in the city’s treated water, it shows up at customers’ taps if it is delivered through aging lead service lines, where corrosion allows it to seep into the supply.

    Cities across the country, including 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 water supplies, eventually reaching taps.

    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.

    In earlier negotiations the utility had proposed replacing the lines at a much slower rate that would have taken decades to complete.

    MaryAnn Nason, CDPHE spokesperson, said the agency is happy that Denver Water has been able to replace so many lines so quickly.

    “While we are pleased, our goal is to have everyone participate or use a filter to keep themselves safe,” Nason said via email.

    “When Denver Water’s program was approved, a strong outreach component was included. We wanted Denver Water to reach out to the community and provide educational materials about why this is important to do and how it protects public health. We understand the disruption to their lives is significant, but the outreach program is intended to help customers understand the safety and health benefits of replacing their service line,” she said.

    Citing state privacy laws, Denver Water declined to identify addresses of properties that had not complied with the replacement requests. But an analysis of the zip codes where the agency has been shut out shows that the largest number, 124, are in 80205, which encompasses an area north and west of City Park and which includes Five Points and the Whittier neighborhoods.

    The zip code with the second largest number of non-compliant property owners, 72, is 80220, an area that includes South Park Hill, Montclair and Hilltop.

    Though no large apartment complexes have refused to replace lead lines, according to Denver Water, dozens of small multi-family units have yet to agree to have the work done, according to Fresh Water News’ analysis.

    Tom Romero, an associate professor of law at the University of Denver and an expert on water equity issues, said the replacement program is critical to providing safe drinking water to everyone in the city.

    “I definitely am concerned for all of those residents where you have recalcitrant property owners that are refusing to have these lead pipes replaced,” Romero said.

    “This is definitely a public health issue,” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable that they have been able to get a 95% response, but any lead level is putting people at risk. It goes to the duty of Denver Water to provide safe drinking water to us all.”

    This year is the third year of program, and is a critical benchmark with the EPA, which will decide later this year whether to allow Denver to continue the work, or use a different strategy.

    Denver Water’s Woodrow said the agency is still trying to decide how aggressive to be with reluctant property owners because legally it could access the properties without the owner’s consent.

    “We have discussed internally if we could compel the customer,” she said. “But we haven’t gotten there yet in terms of making a decision.”

    But that may change.

    “When you’re looking at the long-term strategy, we’re going to have to come up with additional tactics to get these lines replaced,” she said.

    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.

    How the #Boulder County fires contaminated #water supplies in #Superior and #Louisville — #Colorado Public Radio #MarshallFire

    Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Several factors are fueling the water problems in both communities. Firefighters used so much water trying to extinguish the Marshall and Middle Fork fires that pressure was lost in both water systems. Bacteria and other organisms can enter water lines that aren’t properly pressurized and contaminate water supplies.

    The fires also carved a destructive path through Superior and Louisville that broke water mains and destroyed as many as 1,000 homes, damaging and exposing other pipes, leaving them open to other contaminants entering the water systems.

    South Platte Update will provide information on the state of the river: Program will cover the river’s condition, new projects within the basin — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate #SouthPlatteRiver

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    A South Platte River Water Update will be held in Brush on Wednesday [January 12, 2022]. The half-day program includes updates on the Master Irrigator Program, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, salinity in the South Platte and the Platte Valley Water Partnership project.

    The update will be held at the Riverview Event Center, 19201 County Road 24, near Brush. It will begin at 8:50 a.m. and run until noon. Lunch will be served.

    The Colorado Master Irrigator program offers farmers and farm managers advanced training on conservation- and efficiency-oriented irrigation management practices and tools. The program is the product of efforts led by several producers, district management representatives, and others interested in conserving groundwater in eastern Colorado. The program is modeled on the award-winning Master Irrigator program created and run since 2016 by the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in the Texas panhandle.

    Greg Peterson of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and Roxy McCormick, Master Irrigator in the Republican River Basin, will present the information.

    [Brad] Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will provide an update on NISP. Construction has been under way for several month on the project, which will provide about 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supply. The project consists of two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, a forebay reservoir, three pump plants, pipelines to deliver water for exchange with two irrigation companies and for delivery to participants, and improvements to an existing canal to divert water off the Poudre River near the canyon mouth.

    Grady O’Brien, CEO of Neirbo Hydrology, will present information on salinity in the lower reaches of the South Platte River. Salinity has been a growing problem as urban development and agricultural irrigation have added to the river’s saltiness. The water doesn’t taste salty – it contains only 0.12 percent salts compared with ocean water’s 3.5 percent – but the increasing salinity does have a negative impact on the soil. Salt in the soil suppresses the level of potassium, which is necessary for plants to take up nitrogen and create new plant material.

    Old-fashioned flood irrigation used to leach the salts out of the soil, but more efficient irrigation methods don’t put enough water on the ground to do that. And, while the amount of salt in the river at Sterling seems miniscule, it is nearly twice the amount in the Denver area, just above Broomfield, and more than six time the salinity of the river above Denver.

    Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, will talk about the Platte Valley Water Partnership. It is a joint water supply project by the LSPWCD and the Parker Water and Sanitation District to use a new water right that the two entities are developing along the South Platte River near Sterling.

    The project will use new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000-acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project.

    Anyone wanting to attend the update presentations can register by contacting Madeline Hagan, morganconservationdistrict@gmail.com (970) 427-3362 or Amber Beeson, centennialcd1@gmail.com (970) 571-5296.

    USDA rule to allow payments for cattle contaminated by harmful chemical — KRQE #PFAS

    Clovis, New Mexico. Photo credit: Clovis and Curry County Chamber of Commerce

    From KQRE (Allison Keys):

    The federal government will allow a Clovis dairy to be reimbursed after its groundwater was contaminated by the Cannon Air Force base. The government announced it will finalize a rule change allowing compensation for cows that are not likely to be sold.

    Art and Renee Schaap own Highland Dairy. They say a firefighting foam contaminated their water supply which reduced milk production in their cows.

    The milk that was produced had to be thrown out for fear it was contaminated too. They filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2019 saying the military knew about the contamination but didn’t tell them.

    After decades, some of America’s most toxic sites will finally get cleaned up: New funding and the revival of a long-lapsed tax on chemical makers in the bipartisan infrastructure law mean cities like Newark will get money to restore toxic Superfund sites — The Washington Post

    Leviathan Creek below an abandoned open pit mine, an EPA Superfund site in the Sierra Nevada, where iron oxide deposits coat the stream bottom. (Photos by David Herbst)

    From The Washington Post (Dino Grandoni):

    The laboratories and other buildings that once housed a chemical manufacturer here in New Jersey’s most populous city have been demolished. More than 10,000 leaky drums and other containers once illegally stored here have long been removed. Its owner was convicted three decades ago.

    Yet the groundwater beneath the 4.4-acre expanse once occupied by White Chemical Corp. in Newark remains contaminated, given a lack of federal funding…

    But three decades after federal officials declared it one of America’s most toxic spots, it’s about to get a jolt. This plot in Newark is among more than four dozen toxic waste sites to get cleanup funding from the newly-enacted infrastructure law, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday, totaling $1 billion…

    On that same day in November that Freeman looked out at the White Chemical site, President Biden signed legislation reviving a polluter’s tax that will inject a new stream of cash into the nation’s troubled Superfund program. The renewed excise fees, which disappeared more than 25 years ago, are expected to raise $14.5 billion in revenue over the next decade and could accelerate cleanups of many sites that are increasingly threatened by climate change.

    The Superfund list includes more than 1,300 abandoned mines, radioactive landfills, shuttered military labs, closed factories and other contaminated areas across nearly all 50 states. They are the poisoned remnants of America’s emergence as a 20th-century industrial juggernaut.

    The 49 sites receiving money from the infrastructure law include a neighborhood in Florida with soil contaminated from treating wooden telephone poles, a former copper mine in Maine laced with leftover metals, and an old steel manufacturer in southern New Jersey where parts of the Golden Gate Bridge were fabricated.

    America’s toxic spots

    Many of these sites are also in poor and minority communities, such as Newark, where most residents are African American. Biden has said easing the pollution burden that Black, Latino and Native Americans bear is central to his environmental policy.

    No state boasts more Superfund sites than New Jersey. Some of them, such as the White Chemical site, have lingered on the agency’s “priorities list” for decades…

    The law that established the Superfund program in 1980 gives the EPA the power to compel polluters to clean up their noxious messes. But many of these companies have gone out of business, or in some cases, it is hard to find the culprits. Congress taxed the chemical and oil industry to create a trust fund for these orphaned sites, but the taxes expired in 1995.

    By the early 2000s, the trust fund was drained. The agency has grappled with a mounting list of costly and complex hazardous waste sites ever since…

    The new bipartisan infrastructure law reestablishes fees on the sale of more than 40 chemicals often found in fuels, plastics and other products, ranging from 44 cents to $9.74 per ton depending on the compound.

    The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other groups lobbied unsuccessfully to defeat the proposal…

    Biden administration officials, however, said the tax revenue will provide a critical boost for underfunded projects. Carlton Waterhouse, Biden’s nominee to head the EPA’s land office, said that even after paying for projects that got no financial support last year, there will still be money left over…

    To fully clean up the ground where White Chemical once stood, crews will have to inject a cocktail of chemicals underground to break down lingering volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethene, which is linked to neurological problems and several kinds of cancer. Right now, no building can be constructed over the contaminated aquifer without the risk of hazardous fumes accumulating indoors…

    Until Friday, the EPA had to shelve the plan for nearly a decade because it cost $16.6 million. But with the tax reinstated and with Congress providing an additional $3.5 billion for the Superfund program, work in Newark and on dozens of other orphaned sites will begin “as soon as possible,” according to the agency.
    Global warming gives these projects even greater urgency. The Frelinghuysen Avenue lot is one of more than 900 toxic waste sites facing ever-increasing risks from rising seas, fiercer wildfires and other disasters driven by climate change, according to a 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office.

    Climate impacts could unleash hazardous waste at 60 percent of Superfund sites, mainly due to flooding. More than a dozen Superfund sites flooded after Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast in 2017. In Newark, even a Category 1 hurricane could damage the White Chemical site, the GAO said…

    Reviving the chemical production fee is a step toward making the Superfund program operate as originally intended, with industry paying to clean up its messes even after companies go bankrupt. The tax will be up for renewal again in 2031.

    #PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ constantly cycle through ground, air and #water, study finds: The Stockholm University study highlights the chemicals’ mobility, which has been found in penguin eggs and polar bears — The Guardian

    Polar bear. Photo credit: Eric Regehr, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    From The Guardian (Tom Perkins):

    Toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” in the ocean are transported from seawater to air when waves hit the beach and that phenomenon represents a significant source of air pollution, a new study from Stockholm University has found.

    The findings, published in Environmental Science & Technology, also partly explain how PFAS get into the atmosphere and eventually precipitation. The study, which collected samples from two Norwegian sites, also concludes that the pollution “may impact large areas of inland Europe and other continents, in addition to coastal areas”.

    “The results are fascinating but at the same time concerning,” said Bo Sha, a Stockholm University researcher and study co-author…

    The study highlights the chemicals’ mobility once they’re released into the environment: PFAS don’t naturally break down, so they continuously move through the ground, water and air and their longevity in the environment has led them to be dubbed “forever chemicals”. They have been detected in all corners of the globe, from penguin eggs in Antarctica to polar bears in the Arctic.

    The Stockholm research team collected aerosol samples between 2018 and 2020 from Andøya, an Arctic island, and Birkenes, a city in southern Norway. It found correlating levels of PFAS and sodium ions, which are markers of sea spray. The chemicals’ transfer occurs when air bubbles burst as waves crash, and the study found that PFAS can travel thousands of kilometers via sea spray in the atmosphere before the chemicals return to land.

    Some regulators and the chemical industry have long claimed that dumping PFAS into the ocean is an appropriate disposal method because it dilutes the waste to a safe level. The study concluded that the approach isn’t safe because the chemicals are returned to land, which can pollute drinking water sources, among other issues.

    “The common belief was that PFAS would eventually wash off into the oceans where they would stay to be diluted over the timescale of decades,” said Matthew Salter, a co-author of the study and researcher at Stockholm University. “But it turns out that there’s a boomerang effect, and some of the toxic PFAS are re-emitted to air, transported long distances and then deposited back onto land.”

    Owner of mine to pay $1.6 million in settlement for #GoldKingMine blowout: Money will go toward restoration projects in areas damaged by spill — The #Durango Herald #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    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]

    From The Durango Herald (Nicholas A. Johnson):

    A $1.6 million settlement agreement with Sunnyside Gold Corp. was approved by the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees to resolve the company’s liability for damaged natural resources at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site where the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout occurred.

    Colorado Natural Resources Trustees include state Attorney General Phil Weiser, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Jill Hunsaker Ryan and the Executive Director of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Dan Gibbs.

    The settlement will allow trustees to fund restoration projects in natural areas damaged by the spill and other releases of hazardous substances within the Superfund site.

    Trustees will now begin to consult with regional stakeholders, including local governments and nonprofit groups, solicit proposals and allocate the money for environmental restoration and property acquisition projects.

    “The settlement announced today is a step in the right direction to address the damage suffered in Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners region in the wake of the Gold King Mine disaster and other degradation of our natural resources,” Weiser said in a news release. “The trustees look forward to partnering with the local community on how to invest the funds.”

    The work reflects the mandate of the trustees to take necessary actions to address when Colorado’s natural resources are injured or destroyed.

    In an email to The Durango Herald, Gina Meyers, director of reclamation operations for Sunnyside Gold Corp., said the settlement agreement was reached as a matter of practicality, with no admission of liability or wrongdoing.

    The settlement agreement resolves the trustees’ claims that Sunnyside caused or contributed to releases of acidic, metals-laden mine wastewater into the Upper Animas River watershed. Sunnyside operated the Sunnyside Mine from 1986 until 1991…

    The settlement agreement will be filed with the U.S. District Court in Denver. Once filed with the court, the agreement will go through a 30-day public comment process.

    After the close of the comment period, Sunnyside Gold Corp. and the trustees will present all comments received to the court. The court will ultimately decide whether to approve the settlement.

    “The trustees look forward to infusing funds into the local economy through community endorsed reclamation projects that improve watersheds and address legacy mining impacts,” Gibbs said in a news release.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    A #ColoradoRiver veteran takes on the top #Water & Science post at Interior Department — @WaterEdFdn #CRWUA2021 #COriver #aridification #ClimateChange

    Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Interior Secretary for Water and Science (Source: U.S. Department of the Interior)

    From the Water Education Foundation (Douglas Beeman):

    Western Water Q&A: Tanya Trujillo brings two decades of experience on Colorado River issues as she takes on the challenges of a river basin stressed by climate change

    For more than 20 years, Tanya Trujillo has been immersed in the many challenges of the Colorado River, the drought-stressed lifeline for 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles and the source of irrigation water for more than 5 million acres of winter lettuce, supermarket melons and other crops.

    Trujillo has experience working in both the Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River, basins that split the river’s water evenly but are sometimes at odds with each other. She was a lawyer for the state of New Mexico, one of four states in the Upper Colorado River Basin, when key operating guidelines for sharing shortages on the river were negotiated in 2007. She later worked as executive director for the Colorado River Board of California, exposing her to the different perspectives and challenges facing California and the other states in the river’s Lower Basin.

    Now, she’ll have a chance to draw upon those different perspectives as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, where she oversees the U.S. Geological Survey and – more important for the Colorado River and federal water projects in California – the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Lake Powell, a key reservoir on the Colorado River, has seen water levels drop precipitously as a result of two decades of drought. (Source: The Water Desk and Lighthawk Conservation Flying)

    Trujillo has ample challenges ahead of her. For two decades, drought – fueled in no small part by climate change – has gripped the Colorado River Basin, starving the huge reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead of runoff. Drought plans in place since 2019 failed to stop the decline of these critical reservoirs. New operating guidelines for the river are now being discussed and the Basin’s 30 tribes, which have substantial rights to the river’s waters, want to make sure they get a seat at the negotiating table.

    The Department of Interior faces still other water challenges: For example, in southeastern desert of California, the ecologically troubled Salton Sea has nearly upended past Colorado River negotiations involving drought contingency planning.

    Trujillo talked with Western Water news about how her experience on the Colorado River will play into her new job, the impacts from the drought and how the river’s history of innovation should help.

    WESTERN WATER: You’ve worked on Colorado River issues for years, both in the Upper Basin (as a member of New Mexico’s Interstate Stream Commission) and Lower Basin (as executive director of the Colorado River Board of California). How is that informing your work now on Colorado River Basin issues?

    TRUJILLO: I’m very appreciative of having had several different positions that have allowed me to work on Colorado River issues from different perspectives. As the general counsel of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, we were finalizing the 2007 Interim Guideline process [for the Colorado River] and I very much had an Upper Basin hat on at that time. That was also right in the middle of our work in New Mexico on negotiating the Indian water rights settlements with the Navajo Nation. Both the Guidelines and the Navajo settlement work really expanded the notion of flexibility in the Basin with respect to the existing statutes and the existing regulations.

    I had a Lower Basin perspective when I was working for the state of California on Colorado River issues with the Colorado River Board of California although I was working with a lot of the same people and there were a lot of familiar legal and operational questions. But for the other half of the job, I was brand new to California and was having to learn the whole Lower Basin perspective from scratch.… It was great just to learn the perspective of the Lower Basin and because there are quite a few challenges just within the Lower Basin that are independent of what’s going on in the Upper Basin.

    WW:It’s pretty clear the Colorado River Basin is in trouble – too little snowpack and runoff, too little water left in Lakes Powell and Mead. Are we headed toward a Compact call? Or are there still enough opportunities to protect Powell and Mead and meet obligations to the Lower Basin and Mexico without draining upstream reservoirs?

    More than two decades of drought in the Colorado River Basin have left Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, at just 34 percent of capacity. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

    TRUJILLO: I think in some respects it’s the wrong way to think about this question…. A better approach is to focus on the strategies the Upper Basin develop to continue to protect the water resources and communities and economies that rely on that water. There’s a lot to build off of.

    Going back to the ‘07 guidelines, we were thinking about building off of the existing regulations that described the operating criteria. We were thinking about how to protect those resources in the Upper Basin, even when there is a drought, even when there is less water that’s naturally occurring in the system on a continual basis.

    But that translates into concerns about how to protect the system in the context of the lower reservoir levels, including the impact on hydropower generation. Each of the Upper Basin states is carefully watching that not only from a power supply perspective, but because if there’s less [hydropower] production, there’s less funding coming in and the funding supports programs that are very important and beneficial to the Upper Basin, like the salinity control program and the [endangered] species recovery programs in the San Juan Basin and the Colorado Basin.

    So I know those are concerns that the states have, to protect the elevations at Lake Powell. And another important concern that we specifically agree on is the need to be very careful with respect to the infrastructure and the structural integrity of the [Glen Canyon] dam itself. We may have to operate the facilities at levels that we haven’t experienced before. So we have no operational experience with how the turbines are going to function – and not only the turbines but also how the structures are going to function if we have to use the jet tubes if the turbines are not available.

    WW: So there’s concern about how the structures function in terms of getting water from one side of the dam to the other? Or in terms of the physical structure itself?

    TRUJILLO: I’m a lawyer and not going to be opining on the actual engineering situation. But we have lots of people who are working in the Upper Basin and Denver Technical Center who are dam safety engineers and they have not had experience in working at this facility under those low water levels. And so that’s where there’s uncertainty. We don’t know how the structures will function under those conditions and that means that people are concerned about that uncertainty because that’s such a critical piece of the infrastructure. [That is] additional motivation among the Upper Basin states for trying to think proactively about how to make sure that the supply and the flows that extend down to Glen Canyon Dam can be maintained.

    WW: Given how drought and climate change have left far less water in the Colorado River than the 1922 Compact assumes, is it time to rethink that Compact? Or do you think the Compact and the rest of the Law of the River has the flexibility to accommodate the current realities? And how?

    TRUJILLO: I might take the liberty of quarreling a bit with the context of the question because I think the focus should be a forward-looking focus as opposed to rethinking the situation that existed 100 years ago. Even just looking at the past 20 years, we’ve been able to be very innovative and very focused on continued efforts to improve the [weather] prediction capabilities and continued efforts to make sure we have additional flexibility, additional tools, and additional conservation options that can help us work at a multi-faceted level. There are multiple layers of innovations and flexibilities that we have been able to successfully pull together, and my expectation and hope is that will be the same kind of approach that we will continue to work through.

    WW: In July, you toured portions of western Colorado to discuss drought and water challenges across the Upper Colorado River Basin. What did you hear? What did you tell them?

    TRUJILLO: That was a great trip. The basis of that trip was a listening session that was co-hosted with the governor of Colorado and our Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland. It was an opportunity to hear updates and perspectives from a wide variety of water users in Colorado…. I personally was able to visit quite a few communities in the West Slope, starting in Grand Junction, and see some of the innovative agreements that are coming together in that area with respect to some upgraded hydropower facilities. So it’s great to have the aging infrastructure issues being addressed in that area.

    Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary of the Interior, speaks speaks during a stop while on a tour of Colorado this summer with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (second from left). (Source: U.S. Department of the Interior)

    There is obviously a lot of strong, productive agricultural communities that are clearly watching with respect to any drought developments. I was also able to visit the Colorado River District board meeting and heard a discussion about the different perspectives relating to support for additional infrastructure and funding different infrastructure projects. There was a USGS proposal that was being approved by the River District, and they were able to really showcase the tremendous contribution that USGS is able to provide to some of their cooperative investigations. I also met with representatives from Northern Water and the Arkansas Valley Conduit Project, so it was a great opportunity to get an overview of the many important projects that are underway in Colorado.

    WW: Did they tell you anything that surprised you?

    TRUJILLO: No, I don’t think so. I have a pretty good base of background with some of the challenges that exist in that area. Maybe one way to sum up that that week of visits is that the broad variety of examples there in Colorado can be replicated in other states as well. It was great to just see a diversity of projects that are that are in place there. I would go back there in a second. It was the first trip for me in my tenure as assistant secretary and it was very informative.

    WW: As you know, the Salton Sea has been a festering environmental problem for years, and it threatened to upend California’s participation in the 2019 Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan when Imperial Irrigation District insisted that the sea’s ills needed to be addressed as part of the DCP. What can — or should — Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation do to help find a sustainable solution for the Salton Sea?

    TRUJILLO: The Salton Sea has had a long history over the past century and is a dynamic and changing terminal lake. For decades there has been a recognition that the changing conditions at the Salton Sea needed to be addressed. The Bureau of Reclamation, other entities within the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies have been involved in the Salton Sea for many decades.

    The receding Salton Sea exposes large swaths of playa that generate harmful dust emissions. (Source: Department of Water Resources)

    There are various types of federal lands surrounding the Salton Sea, the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge provides a sanctuary and breeding ground for migrating birds, and Reclamation plays an important role as a partner with respect to ongoing habitat and air quality projects in support of the state of California’s Salton Sea Management Program and the Dust Suppression Action Plan. Reclamation also works in partnership with Imperial Irrigation District to implement the Salton Sea Air Quality dust control plan. Since 2016, for example, Reclamation has provided approximately $14 million for Salton Sea projects, technical assistance and program management. Reclamation and its federal partners participate in a number of state-led committees and processes, providing technical expertise on activities related to the long-term restoration of the sea.

    #GlenwoodCanyon monitoring project gets funding for second phase: Data could be useful for downstream water users in #Silt — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Nathan Bell, a consultant with the Silt Water Conservancy District points to the sediment built up where the canal that takes water from the Colorado River feeds into the pump house. An upstream water quality monitoring project, which received funding approval from the Colorado Basin Roundtable, could help alert the district when mudslides occur in Glenwood Canyon.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Water managers are dealing with the after effects of the Grizzly Creek Fire and subsequent mudslides in Glenwood Canyon by continuing a water quality monitoring program.

    The Middle Colorado Watershed Council received funding approval this week for the second phase of a program that will continue to collect and distribute data about weather and river conditions downstream of the Grizzly Creek burn scar. The Colorado Basin Roundtable approved $72,200 in state grant money for continued data collection at seven rain gauges in Glenwood Canyon, which will provide information to the National Weather Service, an automatic water quality sampler, soil moisture sensors, a new stream gauge and water quality monitoring station in the Rifle/Silt area and a data dashboard for easy access of the information.

    The first phase of the project, which was implemented early last summer before the monsoons, addressed immediate water quality issues, collecting data at the rain gauges every 15 minutes.

    The second phase of the project amounts to an early warning system that will let water users downstream of Glenwood Canyon know when dirty water from mudslides is headed their way. The MCWC hopes to have all the pieces in place before spring runoff.

    “With the way post-fire events happen, we are going to be looking at impacts for the next two to five years,” said Paula Stepp, executive director of the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. “The part I’m really excited about is the cooperation between stakeholders and downstream users.”

    On July 29, a heavy rainstorm triggered mudslides in Glenwood Canyon, which left some motorists stranded overnight, and closed Interstate 70 for weeks. Because soils scorched by the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire don’t absorb moisture, the rain sent rocks, sediment and debris flowing down drainages, across the highway and into the Colorado River.

    But the mudslides didn’t just affect the river at the site of the rainstorm. The cascade of dirty water also had impacts to agricultural and municipal water users downstream in Silt, whose only source of water is the Colorado.

    The sediment-laden water caused problems for the town of Silt’s water treatment plant, which had to use more chemicals to get the sand to settle out. The increased manganese and iron suspended in the water gave it a brownish tint at taps. It also fouled a set of filters, which the town spent $48,000 to replace. The filters normally last four to five years, but had to be replaced after just one, said Trey Fonner, public works director for the town.

    “If we knew what was coming down the river, we could shut off the intake and we could let the river clean up a little bit before we turned it back on,” Fonner said. “If our tanks are full, we can shut off and let the worst part of it go by.”

    Town of Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner points out how the water treatment plant’s filters were affected by turbid water from the mudslides in Glenwood Canyon last summer. The town had to replace them at a cost of $48,000. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Conservancy district impacts

    The mudslides also created challenges for the Silt Water Conservancy District, which delivers water from the river to about 45 headgates via a canal and pumphouse. Although the town can temporarily shut down its intake because it has about a three-day supply of water in storage, the conservancy district pumps water continuously and shutting off for a brief period of time is difficult.

    “It’s not really a system that can be shut down easily,” said Nathan Bell, a consultant for the district and roundtable member. “It’s extremely cumbersome. It’s a nightmare.”

    The main problem for the district is that the earthen canal which takes water from the river to the pump station silts up. The turbid water also acts like sandpaper, causing more wear and tear on the machinery and reducing its lifespan. The district is planning on more frequent canal cleanings and installing drop structures to catch the mud before it makes it to the pump house.

    The data generated from the monitoring project will allow the district to better plan and budget for the inevitable increased maintenance and repairs, Bell said.

    “It reduces the variables you’re having to manage,” he said. “It lets us get ahead of the game.”

    The data dashboard will let downstream users and the general public set up text alerts for when a parameter of interest is too high or outside a specific window. Silt water users, for example, could set an alert for when rain gauges in Glenwood Canyon record a certain amount of rain, which increases the likelihood a plume of dirty water is headed their way.

    The total cost of phase two of the project is nearly $1.3 million. The watershed council is asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board for about $650,000 in grant money and they also expect funds from the U.S. Geological Survey. Garfield County has committed to $15,000 over the next three years and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will contribute $50,000.

    Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the Dec. 4 edition of The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.

    #Silt water treatment plant feeling effects of #GlenwoodCanyon mudslides months later — The #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    An irrigation ditch south of Silt, and the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

    From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Ray K. Erku):

    Debris flows that wreaked havoc through Glenwood Canyon over the summer are causing Silt’s water treatment center to work harder to remove pollutants from the Colorado River, a town official said.

    Silt Town Manager Jeff Layman said the facility isn’t in any kind of crisis, but it’s simply having to treat water with higher levels of turbidity. The cloudy water also has higher levels of manganese and iron.

    “The facility’s able to treat the water that’s coming in,” he said. “But there’s an increased amount of foreign debris that came off the burn scar.”

    Silt is working with state and federal resources in the hopes of obtaining funding for either updates for the current plant or purchasing a new one.

    Preliminary figures for these potential updates is around $13 million, Layman said. A new plant could potentially cost between $25 million and $30 million…

    Roughly 21 miles west of Glenwood Canyon, Silt pulls its water supply from the Colorado River, and it relies on a micro-filtration water treatment system built about 15 years ago. New Castle pulls its water supply from Elk Creek.

    With the treatment center having to filter out more debris, the city is already having to allocate extra funds to replace equipment. The past month saw the town approve a $48,000 payment to replace filters. Each filter costs about $1,000, and the treatment center is equipped with 96 filters.

    “Usually the filters would last a number of years,” Layman said. “These lasted less than a year because of this problem.”

    Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner said he’s concerned the town’s water treatment system could go through filters more quickly than in the past.

    #Colorado issues cease-and-desist order for #Nederland-area mine that’s leaking heavy metals into water — The Colorado Sun

    Barker Meadows Dam Construction

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Tests at the Cross and Caribou mine that drains into drinking water supplies show elevated levels of lead, cadmium and other toxic minerals, as the state threatens high fines.

    State water quality officials have issued a cease and desist order and threatened substantial fines against owners of the Caribou gold mine above Nederland because of heavy metals leaking into drinking water sources, hammering Grand Island Resources over repeated violations.

    The dripping heavy metals are not a current threat to Middle Boulder Creek, Barker Reservoir or the parts of Boulder County downstream, state officials said. But they ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and threatened to impose fines of up to $54,833 per day for each of multiple violations for the toxic metals and for failing to report test results.

    “A notice of violation is one of the most serious actions we take, and I think this shows that we really are committed to protecting the resource up there,” said Kelly Morgan, an environmental protection specialist for water quality in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This is a big deal to us.”

    In a statement from a Nederland address, Grand Island Resources acknowledged the violations, and said that it had been moving since before the state’s notice to solve the problems and “replace the last 50 years of antiquated and obsolete water purification methods and treatments.”

    “We are working hand in hand with federal, state and local agencies. . . to make all the necessary investments and capital improvements that were not made by previous operators of the Cross and Caribou Mines,” the statement said. The company said it has hired a top engineering team to design new water capture and treatment facilities as ordered by the state.

    Nederland wants the Boulder County Commissioners to help monitor the situation, and is keeping careful track of water supplies fed by Coon Track Creek, where the mine discharges water, and downstream waters, town trustee Alan Apt said. Nederland over the summer passed a “natural rights of rivers” resolution for exactly this reason: protecting western Boulder County’s natural resources for the public, he noted…

    The once-thriving mine is near popular backcountry attractions a few miles northwest and northeast of Nederland, including Eldora ski area, to the Rainbow Lakes and Fourth of July trailheads, to the Caribou Ranch Open Space playgrounds…

    Apt said Grand Island wants to increase the amount of ore it mines at Cross and Caribou and hopes to build an ore crushing and processing plant at the site…

    The company’s attorney Ed Byrne said Boulder County approved an ore processing facility in 2008 and Grand Island still plans to build it, which would save dozens of truck trips a day…

    In terms of how high the eventual fines might be, Byrne said, “there was no chemical spill or release of ore processing water. The higher fine levels are typically reserved for damaging or reckless releases, not rare exceedances of stringent numerical aquatic life standards.”

    […]

    The state’s cease and desist order says mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April of this year. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months but also many more alleged violations before and after, spanning a period of December 2020 through August 2021.

    In April, for example, Cross/Caribou self-reported copper traces of 50 micrograms per liter of water, when the state standard is a daily maximum of 20. In January, the mine reported lead of 10 micrograms per liter, when the state 30-day average limit was 3.8. The state’s order charges the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. The notice of violations and cease and desist order in early November say the state is continuing to investigate and may have “additional enforcement actions.”

    […]

    Grand Island Resources must also answer to the state’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, and will be subject to a hearing in front of the division’s board in mid-December. The company was trying to make improvements in recent months, Morgan said, but the state hasn’t found them effective…

    The violations related to failing to report tainted water were not intentional, Byrne, the company’s attorney, said. Some were “a misinterpretation on our part of the state reporting protocols,” he said, and others were related to weather delaying timely deliveries to a lab in Montana.

    Some Coloradans’ drinking water still has highest radium levels in the nation — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Evan Wyloge):

    Some of the highest concentrations of radium-contaminated drinking water in the nation are clustered in rural southeast Colorado, according to a recent compilation of data.

    The problem is hardly new. The presence of radium in the area’s groundwater, which is linked to an increased cancer risk particularly for children, has been known for decades. The newly compiled data shows that out of the 50,000 water systems included in the research, six of the ten worst radium levels in the nation are in Colorado.

    The water providers are required to inform their customers of the contamination, and they say they’d like to fix the problem, but providing clean, radium-free tap water in the most remote areas comes with an untenable price tag.

    A massive infrastructure project that promises to largely resolve the problem, the Arkansas Valley Conduit, broke ground this year, but its completion is years away and the bulk of its funding hasn’t materialized yet.

    For now, most are hopeful that the conduit will be fully funded and fully built, but until then, the faucets in the area will still provide water with as much as four times the legal radium limit…

    Radium poses a unique risk to children, because it is treated by the human body like calcium and deposited into developing bones, where it remains radioactive and can kill and mutate cells.

    Although the area’s groundwater was known to have contaminants, high levels of radium in Colorado’s groundwater became a regulatory problem around 20 years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated new radionuclide standards. Federal law allows up to 5 picocuries of radium-226 or radium-228, the most common versions of the element, per liter of water…

    Rocky Ford Melon Day 1893 via the Colorado Historical Society

    According to the Environmental Working Group’s new drinking water contamination data compilation, the worst radium content in the nation is found in Rocky Ford, where there was an average of 23 picocuries of radium per liter of water.

    Eighteen other water systems in Colorado contain more than the legal limit. Most are clustered around the small rural towns of Rocky Ford, Swink and La Junta, about an hour’s drive east from Pueblo. The new data show one in every six Otero County resident has tap water above the federal limit.

    After years of testing, studies and planning, the solution that‘s emerged is one proposed sixty years ago: The Arkansas Valley Conduit, the massive clean water delivery system proposal that stalled for decades over the project’s equally massive price tag.

    Elsewhere in the state the Peak View Park mobile home park, situated on a wooded hillside along U.S. Route 24 in Woodland Park, registered more than twice the legal limit of radium for years, as the owners struggled to get the problem fixed…

    But a key feature of the system Peak View Park installed is the access to Woodland Park’s sewer system. LaBarre said he had to make arrangements with the city’s wastewater treatment officials about the timing of their extraction system’s wastewater disposal, so that they can send the radium-saturated byproduct of the extraction process into the sewer when the system can adequately handle it…

    The lack of a sewer system is what cripples any similar efforts in the more rural areas around La Junta. There, where many of the residents use septic tanks, storing an extraction byproduct would be prohibitively expensive…

    Bill Long, the president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the towns along the first 12 miles of the [Arkansas Valley Conduit], Boone and Avondale, should be getting clean water from the conduit by 2024.

    More funding will be needed to finish the project, and Long said he believes there will be money allocated from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, and that the funds could help get the conduit finished, but that the details aren’t yet clear.

    Arkansas River Basin alluvial aquifers via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Colorado launches #PFAS takeback, emergency grant programs — @WaterEdCO

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    This fall Colorado has launched two new programs, one aimed at removing firefighting foam containing so-called “forever chemicals” from fire departments, military bases and other properties and an emergency grant program aimed at helping communities where the chemicals have appeared in drinking water.

    The chemicals, known broadly as PFAS or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances, have long lifespans and have been linked to certain cancers. Contained in such common substances as Teflon and Scotchguard, they are also widely used to fight fires, particularly those involving jet fuel.

    “We’re learning more every day about PFAS and its exposure in our environment,” said Erin Garcia, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    The unregulated substances were once thought to be rare, but since at least 2015 have shown up at alarming levels in communities such as Fountain and Security, where groundwater was contaminated by runoff from the nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Those two communities were forced to shut down their water systems, find temporary substitute supplies, and build new treatment systems.

    The chemicals have also been found in groundwater wells that serve Commerce City and in areas near the Suncor Refinery in Adams County and Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, among other sites.

    Two years ago, as more testing revealed more contaminated sites, the CDPHE vowed to boost its oversight. Since then the Colorado Legislature has provided the health department with more authority and money to combat the problem, including conducting surveys to identify contaminated sites and drinking water systems, and providing as much as $8 million to buy contaminated firefighting foam and store it, and to help communities whose water has been tainted by the compounds.

    Sugarloaf Mountain fire station.

    Dozens of fire departments, military facilities, water utilities, and commercial properties as diverse as hotels and apartment complexes, are now monitoring and testing for the substances.

    As Colorado has ramped up its oversight, last month the EPA announced it would begin work on a regulation that will, for the first time, set a limit on PFAS compounds in drinking water. It is set to be available for public review next fall and would be finalized by the fall of 2023.

    Ron Falco, CDPHE’s safe drinking water program manager, said he’s pleased the EPA is moving to regulate PFAS, but he said fast action is critical.

    “We want the EPA to hit that timeline,” he said.

    The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, which serves Commerce City, is watching the state’s progress carefully. It discovered PFAS contamination in 2018 when it began testing voluntarily for the substances after the crises in Fountain and Security.

    It already had in place a carbon filtering system and was able to strengthen it to reduce PFAS contamination in its system to 35 parts per trillion (ppt), half of the EPA’s voluntary 70 ppt guideline. It also had to shut down wells whose contamination levels were so high, 2400 ppt, that no amount of carbon filtering could remove the chemicals fast enough to keep the drinking water safe.

    “The key here is that we can treat the current levels,” said Kipp Scott, manager of drinking systems at the South Adams County district, but better treatment will be needed once the federal regulation takes effect.

    And that means the district will need to install a new system that uses an ion exchange technology to remove the chemicals. Its estimated cost is $70 million. Scott said the district hopes the state’s emergency grant fund and new federal infrastructure dollars will help cover the cost.

    “I hope this moves in the right direction, and we can continue to provide safe water to our customers,” Scott said.

    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.

    Uncompahgre Valley slated for a second #water supply source by 2025 — The #Montrose Daily Press

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Cassie Knust):

    When Project 7 began drawing up plans for a water resiliency program in 2019, its leaders didn’t plan to invest in connecting a raw water line from the Ridgway Reservoir to a new treatment plant in Ridgway.

    The new treatment plant and water line would be designed so additional capacity can be added in the future, allowing a maximum capacity of approximately 10 million gallons per day, more than a 30% increase in drinking water supply for the region.

    The plan to construct the Regional Water Supply Program in conjunction with the Ridgway Water Treatment Plant is a decision driven by water supply security. The project will add a second water source to the region while serving all Project 7 members.

    The valley hasn’t yet experienced water supply interruption, but Project 7 intends to stay ahead of a slew of risks that could potentially affect over 50,000 people and thousands of local businesses.

    The new treatment plant would allow direct access to existing water rights in the Ridgway Reservoir while building a system resilient to wildfire, drought and transmission interruptions in the Gunnison Tunnel.

    Project 7 Water Authority is a wholesale water treatment provider that supplies to the City of Montrose, City of Delta, Town of Olathe, Tri-County Water Conservancy District and the Menoken and Chipeta water districts, although each entity owns its own water rights.

    Although geographically the second smallest entity in the cooperative by size, the City of Montrose uses roughly 50% of the water supply due to population density, with about 8,000 residents using water services from Project 7…

    As it stands, the Gunnison River remains the only water supply source for the region, with one treatment facility to provide to the six entities within the cooperative.

    The cooperative projected the overhead cost of the project to be between $50 – $70 million. The estimate includes the raw water line, but will become more specific as the design process progresses, said Miles Graham, spokesman for the resiliency program.

    City of Montrose customers will see an increase in water rates on Jan. 1, 2022, due in part to Project 7’s elevated fees. Huggins noted that the impact of increasing wholesale rates for customers depends largely on the size and budget of the district…

    Montrose residential water bills will increase by $4.86 per 3,000 gallons of water used per month and increase $1.35 per 1,000 gallons used per month, due in part to the water supplier raising its own fees by 15%.

    At this stage in the planning process, it’s impossible to predict the cost for each entity without knowing the ultimate program cost or the amount of outside state and federal support, said Graham.

    By using a uniform rate structure for all entities to provide local funding, the cost will be shared equally throughout the valley and supplemented by aggressively seeking grants and low-interest loans.

    As the process moves forward, the team will be able to test and determine which treatment technology is best for the new plant and raw water line, as well as finding opportunities to make use of existing water distribution infrastructure near the new facility site.

    The cost may be higher to build the raw water line, but overall, the cost to run and operate will be lower since the water quality leaving the reservoir will provide a stable water supply, Huggins noted. The water will also be easier to treat, with less influence from rain events washing mud and silt in the river that have to be removed, allowing for mitigated operation costs…

    Water treatment plants often use electrical backup generators that run on diesel or natural gas, which is typically banned in the event of a wildfire, the engineer said. Because a gas-run generator on a tank of fuel presents a dangerous risk, utility companies usually shut off any natural gas in the area if a wildfire is present.

    “So if you think about an emergency situation, having the ability to bring water down to this site and continue operations at the plant without having to pump it up from the river made a lot of sense. [It’s] a more sustainable solution than the other options for getting water to the site.”

    Construction for the project is expected to begin in 2023. The new water line and treatment plan is slated to go online by 2025.

    For more information on Project 7 and the resiliency program project, visit https://www.project7water.org/

    As winter wildfires burn, will they forever alter #Colorado’s forests, #water? — @WaterEdCO

    Camille Stevens-Rumann, a forestry researcher at Colorado State University, graduate assistant Zoe Schapira, and field technician Zane Dickson-Hunt gather data in 2019 at the 2018 Spring Creek Fire burn scar, near La Veta, Colo. Here, aspen and scrub oak have sprouted but all pine trees and cones were destroyed in the fire. Photo by Mike Sweeney

    From Water Education Colorado (Jason Plautz):

    The megafire era gripping the West isn’t just a threat to human development. Fires now burn so intensely that they literally reshape forests, shift tree species, and turn calm waterways into devastating mudflows.

    A 2017 University of Colorado study analyzing 15 burn scars left from fires in Colorado and New Mexico found that as many as 80% of the plots did not contain new seedlings. In a 2020 follow-up study project under different climate change scenarios, the most severe scenario, where climate change continues unabated through 2050, showed as many as 95% of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forests would not recover after a fire. In a “moderate” scenario where emissions decline after 2040, more than 80% of the forest would be replaced by scrubby grassland.

    That, said study author Kyle Rodman, could have serious implications for waterways, due to the lack of established trees to stabilize soil and reduce the risk of flooding.

    “Just because there aren’t trees doesn’t mean there’s no vegetation. Grasses and shrubs can hold back the soil, but it won’t be the same,” says Rodman, now a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Wisconsin.

    Nearly two decades later, the site of the 138,000-acre Hayman Fire, which burned in an area southwest of Denver in 2002, is still marred with patches of bare ground. That fire, according to a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) study, was so severe in areas that it consumed the canopy foliage as well as the seed bank for the forest’s ponderosa pines and Douglas firs, limiting regeneration. Overall, the study predicted “gradual return to preferred conditions” in the Hayman Fire area, though some of the worst-hit patches may see permanent vegetation changes.

    In lower elevations, some of the heartier species, like the ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, are having trouble regrowing because of the increased heat and months-long drought. A 2018 study found that even seedlings of those species that were given supplemental water in burned areas had lower survival rates than expected because of the harsh natural conditions.

    “When you’re planting a garden, those first few days are so critical. The plants need water to establish their roots and get healthy,” Rodman says. “Trees work a much longer timescale. Those first few years should be cool and wet and we just don’t have those condi