Earthquake reported at the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility — @USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that an earthquake occurred at 10:22 a.m. MST, on Monday, March 4, 2019, near Reclamation’s Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility near Bedrock, Colorado. Reclamation maintains a comprehensive network of seismic monitoring instruments in the area, which indicated a preliminary magnitude 4.1 for this earthquake. The quake was felt by employees at the Reclamation facility and residents in surrounding areas.

The Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility injects highly pressurized, concentrated salt water (brine) into a 16,000-foot-deep well, preventing the brine from entering the Dolores River. The well was not operating at the time of the earthquake due to routine maintenance. Operations will not resume until Reclamation completes a thorough assessment of the situation.

High-pressure brine injection has been known to trigger small earthquakes in the past, and today’s event was within the range of previously induced earthquakes. Reclamation’s seismic network in the area monitors the location, magnitude and frequency around the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility. Reclamation will continue using that network to monitor earthquakes in the area.

The Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility substantially benefits downstream water quality in the Colorado River Basin, and helps the United States meet treaty obligations with Mexico for allowable salinity levels in the river. Historically, the Dolores River picked up an estimated 205,000 tons of salt annually as it passed through the Paradox Valley. Since the mid-1990s much of this salt has been collected by the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Unit in shallow wells along the Dolores River and then injected into deep subsurface geologic formations. The deep well injection program removes about 95,000 tons of salt annually from the Dolores and Colorado rivers.

Judge denies @EPA motion to dismiss #GoldKingMine spill lawsuit — The Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

A federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss claims brought by state, federal and local governments and private entities related to damages caused by the Gold King Mine spill.

U.S. District Court Judge William P. Johnson denied the motion on Feb. 28 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, its contractors and mining companies…

New Mexico, Navajo Nation and Utah, along with residents in Aztec and on the Navajo Nation, have filed lawsuits for environmental damages and tort claims against the federal agency and its contractors and mining companies since May 2016.

The defendants requested that the court dismiss claims, arguing sovereign immunity barred the litigation.

The two states and the tribe are seeking to recover the costs of their responses to the spill under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

New Mexico officials commended the latest court decision.

James Kenney, secretary for the environment department, said the state will continue to hold the defendants responsible for the environmental and economic harms caused by the spill.

Among damages the state is seeking on its behalf and for agricultural and recreational operations is more than $130 million in lost income, taxes, fees and revenues…

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the tribe is pleased with the judge’s decision.

White River Algae Technical Advisory Group meeting recap

Picture taken 6/25/18 from the Miller Creek bridge. Unfortunately, the algae is coming on early this year. We are looking forward to finding the cause(s) of this algae in the near future. Photo credit: White River Algae
​Technical Advisory Group

From the White River Algae Technical Advisory Group via The Rio Blanco Herald Times:

Members of the White River Algae Technical Advisory Group (TAG), met Feb. 13 to discuss the 2019 plans to ascertain what is driving the algae growth in the White River to improve the overall health of the watershed. Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts facilitated the meeting.

USGS provided a review of 2018 studies and planned 2019 activities. Ken Leib, Western Colorado Office Chief, stated their goal is to document and understand benthic algal occurrence, characteristics and controls at multiple locations within the White River (WR) study area and described the study design and approach. Cory Williams, Western Colorado Studies Chief, reviewed the historical analysis, water quality trends, algae sampling and isotope sampling. Key takeaways are as follows. Historical streamflow analysis showed a decreasing trend in flow patterns since 1900 while available high-resolution water temperature data indicates increasing daily mean temperatures during May-September between two more recent time periods (1979-84 and 2007-17). Little to no change has been shown in the mean, annual concentration of kjeldahl nitrogen while total phosphorous showed a substantial increase in concentration and flux between 1999 and 2017. Concentrations in phosphorous increased during snowmelt-runoff (high flow) and decrease during fall and winter months. Several types of algae were present at each study site and Cladophora was found at all 19 USGS study sites. Water samples were collected and analyzed for nitrate concentrations at six locations but, concentrations were too low for isotope analysis. Isotopic analysis is an aspect of the study intended to aid in identification of sources of nitrate in the watershed. Sampling and nitrate analysis are ongoing and USGS is exploring alternative sampling approaches to meet target concentration ranges. Historical analysis and literature review, physical and chemical characterization/data collection, algae sampling and isotope sampling will all be continued in 2019.

Tyler Adams, project manager, and Susan Nall, section supervisor, with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) reviewed permitted activity in the recent past. They described their regulatory authorities and explained how to know when a project is regulated and when it may qualify for exemptions. Available permits vary from Nation Wide Permits (NWP) to Regional General Permits (RGP) to Individual Permits (IP). Permitting history in the Upper White River total 53 permits (NWPs=38, RGPs=14, IP=1), about 866,939 acres, from 2008-2018.

Matt Weaver, 5 Rivers Inc. gave a presentation on a local project proposal that is currently in the application process with the ACE. The proposal is to enhance fish habitat in the White River. The plan is to create 18 pools in which Weaver will remove material from the pool area and add it to the bank to leave everything functioning as a pool-bar sequence. Weaver and the landowners are communicating with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife to avoid disrupting crucial times such as spawning season, etc. One USGS study site is encompassed in the project area. The landowners/managers are willing to work with the TAG and USGS to do their best not to affect the ongoing study.

Several discussion items were identified at the last TAG meeting as potential changes to the USGS 2019 Scope of Work (SOW). Items such as monitoring growth of the algae using pictures, isotopic analysis, water temperature monitoring, taxonomy, capturing the impacts of stream structure changes, water clarity (turbidity) and quantitative mapping were reviewed to make decisions on how the TAG would like to move forward.

After this discussion, the TAG reached a consensus that the White River Conservation District should move forward with the original agreement with USGS to continue the 2019 SOW for the White River Algae project. That SOW includes the workplan elements: Scouring flows and analysis and Pre, peak-, post-algae and water quality sampling events.

See http://www.whiterivercd.com/white-river-algae-working-group.html for Power Point Presentations and meeting notes.

Water Quality Workshop: Impacting Your Farm’s Bottom Line March 5, 2019 — #Colorado Ag Water Alliance

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Water Quality Workshop:
Impacting Your Farm’s Bottom Line
March 5th

American Legion in Keenesburg, CO
595 Railroad Ave.
Keenesburg, CO 80643
4:00 – 8:00 pm

Unprotected farm fields yield topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants when heavy rains occur.

@SenatorBennet, @SenCoryGardner & Colleagues Introduce #PFAS Action Plan of 2019

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

Bipartisan bill would designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under our environmental protection laws

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), with a bipartisan group of colleagues, today introduced legislation that would mandate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), within one year of enactment, declare per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, and also enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation.

“It is inexcusable that the Trump administration continues to delay action to address PFAS contamination across the country,” Bennet said. “This bipartisan bill will ensure contaminated sites are cleaned up and resources are available to communities in Colorado so they have access to safe drinking water. Passing this measure is one of many steps we must take to address this public health threat with the urgency it requires.”

“This bipartisan legislation will allow EPA to pursue polluters responsible for PFAS contamination and provide the communities remediation options through Superfund,” Gardner said. “PFAS contamination is a serious issue facing our communities and we need to act quickly to address this challenge. I will continue working to make sure Coloradans have access to clean and safe drinking water.”

In May 2018, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that EPA would propose designating PFOA and PFOS, two specific PFAS chemicals, as “hazardous substances” through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including CERCLA Section 102. Nearly a year later, on February 14, 2019, EPA released its long-anticipated PFAS Action Plan. The plan included another commitment by EPA to make that designation for PFOA and PFOS, but did not identify the available statutory mechanism it would use, nor how long the designation process would take to complete.

Clear and swift action from Congress to list PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA would advance the action already proposed by EPA, enabling the agency to protect human health and the environment in an expeditious manner.

Bennet’s reaction to the EPA’s plan, and his record of two years of work to address PFAS in Colorado and across the country, is available HERE.

In addition to Bennet and Gardner, original cosponsors include U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Joe Manchin (D-WV). U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) led the introduction of companion legislation in the House of Representatives earlier this Congress.

The bill text is available HERE.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The senators’ PFAS Action Plan for 2019 comes after the Environmental Protection Agency was criticized by environmental groups and affected residents for not going further in its plan for addressing the chemicals.

The bipartisan legislation — Bennet is a Democrat, Gardner a Republican — mandates the EPA declare all perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, man-made compounds also known as PFAS, as “hazardous substances” within one year of the bill’s passage. The designation would clear the way for the EPA to use Superfund money to clean up contaminated sites, while opening the door for the government to sue polluters for cleanup costs.

“It seems like a positive step,” said Meghan Hughes, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “It really could be a driver for PFAS groundwater investigations and contaminations (cleanups) across the state.”

[…]

The legislation does not address any other aspect of the EPA’s oversight of those chemicals, such as whether the agency should regulate the chemicals in a similar fashion as lead, cyanide and mercury.

Should it pass, it’s impact on southern El Paso County — where the drinking water of tens of thousands of Security, Widefield and Fountain residents was tainted — remained unclear Friday.

The Air Force is in the midst of a yearslong process to address the chemicals that is similar to the federal Superfund program, due to the decadeslong use of a firefighting foam containing the toxic chemicals at Peterson Air Force Base that was detected in groundwater.

The Air Force is still investigating the contamination — a process that was expected to take years. And any cleanup steps — such as removing the chemicals from the Widefield aquifer — have not been announced, nor has money been allocated for such cleanup efforts.

In the meantime, water districts serving Security, Widefield and Fountain have spent millions of dollars installing treatment systems and piping in water from elsewhere to remove the chemicals from residents’ tap water to nondetectable levels.

Two other communities in Colorado — in Boulder and Adams counties — also have discovered the chemicals in their drinking water. Both contamination sites were near fire departments that used the same toxic firefighting foam that was a mainstay at Peterson Air Force Base, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Colorado health officials, utilities hit pause, again, on high-stakes lead lawsuit — @WaterEdCO

Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

State health officials and Colorado’s largest water utilities have agreed for a second time to hit pause on a major lawsuit over how to keep lead out of Denver’s drinking water, citing progress in talks that began last fall.

“The main point is that everyone has rolled up their sleeves and is working hard to come up with the best solution that we can that minimizes the lead that folks will be ingesting in their tap water,” said Ron Falco, safe drinking water program manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Last April, the City of Aurora, the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, and the Denver Greenway Foundation sued the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to block an order it issued directing Denver Water to install a phosphate-based treatment system to reduce corrosion in old lead pipes. That corrosion can put lead into drinking water in homes and businesses served by lead supply lines and in-house fixtures. Denver Water joined the suit weeks later.

Avoiding lead contamination in drinking water is of paramount importance for water providers and state health officials, as no level is considered safe to ingest. But heightened levels of phosphates in wastewater and irrigation runoff create issues for reservoirs, lakes and streams. This prompted Metro Wastewater and other entities who must treat the phosphate-heavy water to sue, citing damage to the environment and dramatically higher treatment costs.

Denver Water had proposed an alternative, after several years of pilot studies, to use chemicals that would adjust the PH levels of its drinking water, something which the CDPHE determined did not reduce lead corrosion enough to meet the federal standards it is required to uphold.

Among the plaintiffs’ concerns is that phosphate levels in water that is discharged to the South Platte River have to be tightly controlled under provisions of the Clean Water Act. If phosphate levels in treated drinking water rise, wastewater treatment protocols would have to be changed to correct the problem, potentially costing millions of dollars, if not more, according to a report by the Denver-based, nonpartisan Water Research Foundation.

From an environmental perspective, any increased phosphate in the South Platte River makes fighting such things as algae blooms, which are fueled by nutrients including phosphorous, much more difficult and could make the river less habitable for fish.

Denver Water, and other plaintiffs, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. But in a statement, Denver Water Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead said, “We are committed to taking the right steps to reduce the risk of lead leaching into water through customers’ plumbing…As we are fully committed to protecting public health, we are also looking for opportunities to minimize downstream impacts from the use of orthophosphate.”

After filing the suit, last summer the parties agreed to engage in talks, placing the lawsuit on hold, giving themselves until last November to agree on a set of treatment protocols.

When that deadline passed, the utilities and the CDPHE requested more time to work, citing progress in the talks. In January, a Denver District Court judge agreed to give everyone until September 20, 2019 to find an acceptable solution.

Under the CDPHE’s original order, Denver must begin using the new treatment protocol by March 20, 2020. To ensure it can meet that deadline, Denver Water is spending $1.2 million to upgrade its water treatment plants so they can implement the new treatment protocols.

Denver is not in violation of the federal law that governs lead in drinking water, but it has been required to monitor and test its system regularly since 2012 after lead was discovered in a small sample of water at some of its customers’ taps.

Lead has continued to appear at taps in some customers’ homes, according to court filings.

Treating lead and copper in water systems is a complex undertaking governed by the federal Lead and Copper Rule. There is no lead in the water supply when it leaves Denver Water’s treatment plants. But it can leach into the supply via corrosion as water passes through lead delivery lines and pipes in older homes. Denver has 58,000 lead service lines in its system and is gradually replacing them. It also advises customers whose homes are serviced by lead lines to use filters to remove any potential contamination.

It is the ongoing concerns about lead that have prompted the state to push for the phosphate treatment, because it reduces lead that reaches customers by 74 percent, compared to less than 50 percent using a PH-based process, according to court filings.

Despite the environmental concerns, the CDPHE maintains that its first job is to protect the health of the thousands of children served by Denver Water in the metro area. Children are most vulnerable to lead contamination.

Falco said he is optimistic that a solution can be found. New pilot studies underway indicate that Denver Water may be able to use roughly one-third the amount of phosphates originally thought were needed and still achieve the same level of lead reduction, CDPHE officials said.

“We have a very engaged group of stakeholders working hard to develop the best solution. This this is going to come to a resolution, certainly by March of 2020. We are going to get there,” Falco 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.

#AnimasRiver: Sunnyside Gold wants @EPA out of the #GoldKingMine cleanup

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

Good luck with that.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Is it a conflict of interest for the Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for the Gold King Mine spill, to lead the Superfund cleanup of mine pollution around Silverton? The last company to operate a mine in Silverton, which is also possibly on the hook for cleanup costs, seems to think so.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. on Monday sent a letter to the acting inspector general for the EPA, Charles Sheehan, asking the EPA be investigated for its part in the Superfund site and ultimately be recused as the lead agency in the cleanup.

“The conflict of interest is clear,” Kevin Roach, director of reclamation for Sunnyside Gold, wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. “EPA caused the Gold King spill, which led to the Superfund listing, and resulted in the EPA being a defendant in multiple lawsuits.”

[…]

Roach said the “conflict” has made the EPA incapable of cleaning up the site in an “even-handed” manner.