Local groups call for plugging of discharging mines
Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, is not happy about the proposed Superfund cleanup around Silverton, saying the suggestion to plug more mines only redistributes potentially toxic water and doesn’t solve the problem…
In December, two community groups formed to help guide the Superfund process – the Citizens Advisory Group and the Silverton-San Juan County Planning Group – submitted letters to the EPA with a similar recommendation.
The main message: focus on the sites – namely the Gold King, American Tunnel, Mogul and Red & Bonita – which are contributing the most amount of contaminated metals into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.
According to data from the now-defunct Animas River Stakeholders Group, almost half of all metal loading from the 120 draining mines sampled around Silverton comes from these four sources.
And the suggested solution? Place more bulkheads.
“While currently the (Bonita Peak) enjoys high-priority status as a Superfund site, the (community group) is quite concerned its priority could change in the future,” the CAG wrote. “… Bulkheads can be funded with manageable, annual budgeting, unlike a large water treatment facility, which may need a big financial infusion all at once.”
Hennis, for his part, has long maintained that the original bulkheads placed on the American Tunnel caused his mines to start to discharge mine wastewater. Sunnyside Gold has adamantly denied the Sunnyside Mine is connected geologically to Hennis’ mines.
Regardless, Hennis said he was “shocked and appalled” to learn the community groups were in favor of more bulkheads as a main treatment option.
“Bulkheading doesn’t work,” Hennis wrote. “It appears all they accomplished in the long term was to re-distribute acid mine water flows elsewhere, and in the same volume as the original problem.”
Hennis says that if the Gold King and Red & Bonita are plugged, it could shift water back into the American Tunnel, where bulkheads there could be overwhelmed.
“Rolling the dice on a potential catastrophic failure of the American Tunnel bulkheads makes no sense whatsoever,” he said. “If a release of 3 million gallons of mine water from the Gold King raised absolute havoc downstream, a potential release of billions of gallons from the Sunnyside Mine Pool would have unthinkable consequences.”
Hennis instead said the only long-term solution would be to drain the Sunnyside Mine pool, treat the water and shut off spots where water gets into the Sunnyside Mine network.
But this could be costly.
Richard Mylott, spokesman for EPA, said the agency is working to understand the impacts that bulkheading would have on water quality and water levels within the Cement Creek area…
Mylott said EPA has installed several wells to monitor the groundwater system when it tests the closure of the Red & Bonita.
Colorado officials will continue to reach out to drinking water districts to encourage testing for synthetic chemicals known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances — otherwise known to the public under the PFAS acronym umbrella.
The sign-up rate, however, has been minimal.
About one week into the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s campaign, officials said about 8 percent of Colorado’s roughly 790 drinking water districts have signed up for tests…
That’s not to say that officials aren’t pleased with the sign-up rate so far. They plan to send email notifications to drinking water districts to remind them of the available funds over the coming weeks…
While the [EPA’s] current advisory limits are voluntary, they are determining whether to formally regulate two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. A decision is expected later in 2020.
Here’s a report from Andrew Davey writing for Nevada Today. Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:
Around this time last year, Commissioner Brenda Burman delivered this ultimatum to CRWUA attendees: “Close isn’t done, and we are not done. Only done will protect this basin.” This year, as in just yesterday, Burman said, “It was truly remarkable to have the divergent interests of the basin forge a compromise and make the difficult agreements to complete the DCP.”
And unlike last year, when Burman urged officials from across the Colorado River Basin to finish the DCP already, this year she urged patience on matters like renegotiating the 2007 agreement that turned Lake Mead into a sort of regional water bank. On that, Burman declared, “It’s not yet time to take up that task.”
Yet despite Burman’s more relaxed approach, some at CRWUA want to see more “fierce urgency of now”. While the DCP successfully fended off the threat of federal water rations, and while Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack is currently running 15% above average, ongoing legal concerns and the ever escalating threat of climate change may yet upend the delicate peace that the DCP has ushered in for now…
While Burman voiced confidence in the states’, municipal water agencies’, and Native American tribal authorities’ ability to cooperate, some of these very local officials were voicing notes of warning and caution. Shortly after Burman’s presentation on the main stage, Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) Director of Water Resources Colby Pellegrino noted their use of data from the U.S. Geological Survey and UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) showing less Colorado River water for everyone to work with in the next 50 years.
As Pellegrino described this challenge, “It’s a pretty severe stress test for our water resource portfolio.” Pellegrino then noted how SNWA and the larger community have already been rising to this challenge with conservation programs like outdoor watering schedules and turf removal. As Pellegrino put it, “There’s significant water savings to be achieved by changing the mindset of how we use it.”
Later in the day, I caught up with Pellegrino to talk some more about her presentation and the challenges that lie ahead for her agency and the entire region. When asked how SNWA plans to handle those future challenges, she replied, “Conservation is still right here, under our noses, the quickest and most cost effective way.”
[Friday], it was Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s turn to make news here in Nevada. And make news he did, as Bernhardt announced the federal government will launch an early start of its review of the 2007 Interim Guidelines (as in, the 2007 agreement that launched the ICS program to manage the Lower Basin’s water supply).
Soon after his main floor presentation, Bernhardt spoke with reporters about this and other pressing water issues. On his announcement to jump-start review of the Interim Guidelines, Bernhardt said, “We have an opportunity right now. We have the people in place. We might as well build on the success we have here.”
So what can we expect in this review? And for that matter, what kinds of future changes might we expect in federal oversight of the Colorado River? When I asked Bernhardt whether he’d take into account climate science and the changing needs and consumption patterns of the increasingly urban American Southwest, he replied, “I’ve never taken a position of what we need to tell a city or county what they need to do.”
Yet as Bernhardt’s discussion with reporters continued, the conversation occasionally veered into other environmental matters. And when a couple reporters asked about the proposed oil and gas leases on public lands that have run into local opposition, including right here in Nevada, in the Ruby Mountains outside Elko and in parts of Lincoln County that supply drinking water for Mesquite, Bernhardt declared, “The president was clear when he ran for office what his policy is on energy. He supports an ‘all of the above’ approach.” Bernhardt also suggested these leases are required by federal statute, even though the Obama administration took a more cautious and targeted approach toward such fossil fuel extraction on public lands…
Funny enough, one of my takeaways from my conversation with SNWA’s Colby Pellegrino on Thursday was that regardless of what becomes of the long-fought pipeline plan, SNWA has enough water available to keep the Las Vegas region going for the next 50 years. Also, I noticed that regardless of the Trump administration’s curious comments on climate change and “all of the above” approaches to water infrastructure and fossil fuels, SNWA officials recognize the clear and present danger of climate change, and they’re already acting on it.
And it may not just be SNWA doing this. Even as Trump appointees are skirting around acknowledgement of climate science, fossil fuel pollution, ongoing regional tensions, or the reality of urban and suburban growth in the Colorado River Basin, federal civil servants continue to collect data, analyze trends, and manage the water we all share. We’ll talk more about that next week.
Still, there’s a rather large gap between the rhetoric and overarching policies of the Trump administration and the promises of strong climate action that U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), former Vice President Joe Biden, and the other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are providing. And yet, we don’t hear as much about the Colorado River and our fragile water supply as you’d expect considering their environmental and geopolitical importance. Yet no matter how much we ignore it, all we have to do is glimpse at Lake Mead to remember how important it truly is to our very livelihood.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told federal, state and local water managers that abiding by the promises they made will be crucial to ensuring that more painful cuts aren’t required…
“We need to be proud of what we’ve done,” Burman told hundreds at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference at a Las Vegas Strip resort, while also warning of “tougher challenges in the future.”
Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will start taking less water from the river Jan. 1 under a drought contingency agreement signed in May. It followed lengthy negotiations and multiple warnings from Burman that if the seven states didn’t reach a deal, the federal government, which controls the levers on the river, could impose severe water restrictions.
California would voluntarily cut water deliveries if reservoir levels keep falling at the river’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead…
Cuts will most affect farmers in Arizona. The Central Arizona Project will stop storage and replenishment operations and cut water for agricultural use by about 15%. The agency gets more than half of Arizona’s entitlement of water from the Colorado River…
The drought contingency plan is a voluntary agreement to use less water than users are allowed, and its success is measured at the surface level of Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam east of Las Vegas.
The agreements are designed to prevent a more drastic drought-shortage declaration under a 2007 pact that would cut 11.4 percent of Arizona’s usual river water allocation and reduce Nevada’s share by 4.3 percent. That amount of water, combined, would serve more than 625,000 homes.
California would reduce its Colorado River use by about 6 percent.
Due to a relatively wet winter, Lake Mead is now 40% full and Lake Powell, an upstream reservoir, is at 53% capacity, Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patricia Aaron said. A year ago, Lake Powell was 43% full, and Lake Mead was at 38%…
Water managers have called the last 20 dry years a drought, but climate researchers warn the river will continue to carry less water in coming years.
“Respected climate scientists have conservatively estimated declines in river flows of 20% by the middle of the 21st century and 35% by the end of the century,” researchers Anne Castle of the University of Colorado Law School and John Fleck of the University of New Mexico wrote in a study released in November.
The report refers to a “structural deficit” under which states and Mexico are promised more water than the river usually carries and encourages the seven states to clarify rules for handling future shortages.
No matter where you are in the world, Professor Karl Linden wants you to be able to turn on a tap and receive clean drinking water. It’s a basic, but vital, necessity that’s still missing from large swathes of the U.S. and low- and middle-income countries.
“People deserve reliable, trusted technology when it comes to something as essential as water,” said Linden, the Mortenson Endowed Professor in Sustainable Development at CU Boulder. “Water resources are getting scarcer and we need to be thinking about the next generation of efficient, affordable treatment options.”
The World Health Organization estimates that some 785 million people lack access to even basic drinking water filtration, leaving them vulnerable to pathogens such as cholera and dysentery. The problem is expected to grow in coming decades due to population growth and increased stress on water availability.
Treatment technology, meanwhile, hasn’t changed much in over a century. Sand- or carbon-based filtration and disinfectant chemicals are commonly employed in both municipal facilities and everyday life, from household Brita filters to chlorine tablets. Both methods have their limitations, however: Filtration is expensive to deliver to rural communities at scale and chemicals can add an unpleasant taste.
Linden, a member of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering who has been researching water treatment for decades, is focused on a different solution: ultraviolet disinfection. UV rays can eliminate harmful pathogens like E. coli and Giardia on a scale of seconds compared to minutes, without harmful side effects. And while it’s not a new idea—large cities like New York already use UV in their utilities—it is one that has been historically difficult to bring down to the individual consumer level.
“UV has been around for decades, and is used in municipal and industrial water treatment around the world, but its potential for further innovation and application has been slowed due to the use of hazardous, bulky mercury vapor lamps,” Linden said. “But we’re interested in new UV sources with unique architectures that will allow us to advance this promising technology.”
In recent years, Linden and his colleagues have focused research on UV light emitting diodes, which are smaller (millimeters wide), nimbler and more durable. UV LEDs can be rigged in parallel, with multiple-emitting wavelength diodes to allow for a range of streamlined applications.
Another benefit: The UV LEDs are “instant-on” and don’t require any warm-up time before they start zapping contaminants, allowing users to save money by only running the devices when they need to. Water pulled from a well, for example, would be drinkable immediately after a quick UV treatment without the off-putting taste of chlorine.
Linden and his students recently completed a first-of-its-kind year-long study in Jamestown, Colorado, comparing UV LED disinfection to the town’s established chlorine treatment. They found that for a town of around 500 people without a large water plant, the UV technology provided equally effective disinfection capabilities without the added chemicals. The new technology only cost a few dollars a month in electricity and can run directly off solar power.
“Small-scale, rural systems are a natural place to start with this,” Linden said. “They have the majority of health violations because they typically don’t have engineers and dedicated water treatment staff. They might be relying on a system that’s not always operating correctly. So we feel this tech is a great solution because it can be operated remotely, autonomously and powered by solar to reduce energy draw.”
Earlier this year, Linden earned the Water Research Foundation’s Dr. Pankaj Parekh Research Innovation Award for his achievements in the advancement of water science.
Treatment that lasts
In the coming years, next steps could involve integrating UV LEDs directly into infrastructure. Linden envisions faucets with the diodes built right in to the taps, activating instantly when you turn on the water. His lab group has started looking at ways to build diodes into pipes to create a system-wide network of disinfectant points, mitigating biofilm growth in high-risk settings like hospitals.
“We really feel like this technology is sustainable and poised to revolutionize this field,” Linden said. “We want to work directly with more water managers to think about these improvements, try new things and ultimate bridge the research to the practical applications.”
Nationwide, momentum around the issue is building. This fall, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the creation of the $100 million Energy-Water Desalination Hub, an interdisciplinary partnership that will focus on early-stage research and development for energy-efficient and cost-competitive water treatment. The effort will be led by the National Alliance for Water Innovation, of which CU Boulder is a founding academic partner.
Linden, who will lead the CU Boulder efforts under the Hub, says that the prestigious award underscores a renewed interest in addressing water security, which has always been his calling.
“I feel like I’m on a mission to push society into the next generation of treatment approaches,” he said. “Some innovations have already taken hold and gotten traction. But we’ve had so many advances in society and technology like remote sensing, data analytics and real-time monitoring that we haven’t taken full advantage of yet for water security.”
“In many low resourced countries we see a handpump or water system get put in and the treatment gets set up and it works for a while, but then eventually it breaks and the progress is lost,” Linden said. “So why is that, and what can be done about that? That’s when we need to think more holistically about the system that is available to support long term sustainable water services, and improved, integrated and innovative technology, like what we are working on in the Mortenson Center, is one aspect of the solution.”
The end goal? Bringing water solutions into everyday life seamlessly all around the globe.
“You turn on the tap and the water comes out and it’s already been treated and you don’t even have to think about it,” he said. “That’s the holy grail.”
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):
Goals are to reduce costs, energy requirements, environmental impact for treating unusable water
The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded nearly $1 million for projects under an innovative pilot-scale water treatment technologies and desalination program. The selected projects will receive funding through cooperative agreements and will include a period of pilot testing at the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and other sites across the country.
On April 30, 2019, Reclamation announced that it was seeking applicants looking for innovative technologies for reducing the cost, energy requirements and environmental impacts for water purification and desalination technologies. Innovative and promising technologies would be supported to move from the theoretical stage towards a practical application.
“In June, we received 29 eligible applications for review that included $4 million in requests for federal funding. Top applicants were invited to pitch their pilot studies in August,” said Yuliana Porras-Mendoza, advanced water treatment research coordinator. “We awarded grants to seven projects focused on innovative and disruptive water treatment technologies ready for pilot testing to accelerate knowledge transfer and provide new products that serve the water treatment community and attract commercial interest.”
Funded Pilot Studies
Garver, LLC: Innovative electro-coagulation membrane pretreatment with vacuum-assisted electro-distillation concentrate management for cooling tower blowdown recovery
Project goal: improve water quality, reduce chemical consumption, reduce the potable water demand of a water treatment system and eliminate dissolved solids loading to the local sewershed.
AdEdge Water Technologies: Innovative high recovery flow-reversal RO desalination process for potable reuse providing essential physical barrier with higher recovery rate & reduction in concentrate flow
Project goal: test a flow-reversal reverse osmosis technology with the purpose to introduce this technology to the US market.
WIST, Inc: The first affordable, easy-to-use silica pretreatment solution: Pilot scale validation of SiSorb-Nano
Project goal: scale up and test a new resin for silica removal from water that is less expensive, more efficient, and environmentally friendly.
State: New York
Eastern Shore Microbes: H.E.A.T A biologically, sustainable solar powered system to eliminate RO concentrate in order to improve the water supply for inland communities
Project goal: test the ability for a selected group of microbes to enhance evaporation of reverse osmosis concentrate, potentially reducing the size of current evaporation ponds and increasing the rate of evaporation.
University of Arizona: Electrochemically enhanced high efficiency reverse osmosis (EE-HERO) for brackish water treatment
Project goal: test an electrochemically enhanced high efficiency reverse osmosis process for treating brackish groundwater for potable use.
University of Utah: Disruptive transport/sand filtration pretreatment system for uninterrupted desalination water supply during harmful algal blooms
Project goal: test an innovative system as a last defense during a harmful algal bloom (HAB) before it reaches water treatment systems that are severely impacted and, in some cases, not able to operate during a HAB event.
EcoVAP: Enhanced evaporation using biomimicry for brine concentrate disposal
Project goal: minimize the cost and environmental impact of inland desalination.
The funding provided supports the Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West, including the goal of improving use of technology to increase water reliability and enabling broader scale deployment of desalination and recycled water technologies.
Faced with an inadequate filtration system and a $1.2 million estimate to fix it, the community of 55 people got creative. And it paid off.
For a while, it looked like tiny Branson, home to 55 souls in the southernmost part of the state, might almost literally dry up and blow away, becoming a footnote to history.
Not surprisingly in the arid West, water loomed as the culprit. Not that the town ever lacked abundance. Springs in the nearby hills quenched the locals’ thirst for generations. But when the state health department tightened groundwater safety regulations, then found Branson’s purification system out of compliance, the news threatened its very existence.
One engineering report put the cost of fixing the problem, which stemmed from E. coli detection and the determination that the spring water was subject to contamination by surface water, at $1.2 million. Even with loans to cover a new water system that would serve the existing 29 customers, the debt burden promised to crush Branson into the dust, even though locals note that no one has ever reported a water-borne illness.
So, just about a year later, how can the town be planning a celebration?
Last week, Branson learned that that it will receive a state grant that pushes its own unconventional efforts — including a crowdsourcing campaign to raise funds — over the finish line. Only a few bureaucratic hurdles remain before the town begins construction of a new filtration system it discovered through a company just a couple hours away in Rocky Ford. The new system will both satisfy health department standards for purity and cost a tiny fraction of the original estimate.
By embracing the narrative of the rural underdog and adopting an unrelenting bootstrap mentality, Branson found a way, starting last April when it created a web site and began its appeal for contributions from current and former area residents, as well as anyone sympathetic to the plight of diminishing rural towns.
And, as Mayor Rachel Snyder readily admits, a strong element of serendipity also figured into the equation.
The Colorado Department of Public Affairs grant used a point system to determine who would receive money, and Branson’s individual efforts and circumstances aligned to check off a lot of the boxes. Then there was the discovery of Jack Barker’s Innovative Water Technologies, the small company right up the highway that specializes in inexpensive but effective water purification systems, primarily for third-world countries.
Timing also played a significant role: If Branson had applied for the round of grant funding prior to Gov. Jared Polis taking office, it would have missed out on some significant additional savings.
It all added up to a stunning victory for the once-bustling railroad stop that has receded to a quiet outpost whose only bustling activity occurs in the four-day school that serves families in the wide-open rangeland tucked between picturesque mesas and the distant Spanish Peaks.
Warmer temperatures and higher nutrient levels in the water have led to more blue-green algae blooms, which are harmful to humans and potentially deadly to pets, said Erik Rodriguez a Health, Safety and Environmental specialist with the city. The daily temperature record in Colorado Springs has already been broken five times this year.
While the city struggles to find a fix, other Colorado towns have used environmentally-friendly machinery that helps aerate the water. Better circulation gives algae less chance to accumulate.
In the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir in Loveland, sit five SolarBee units — solar powered machines that float in the middle of the lake. They keep the water in the reservoir moving, disrupting the stagnant environment that blue-green algae likes, said SolarBee regional manager Dave Summerfield. Each unit costs about $40,000.
Since the units were installed two years ago, the 150-acre drinking water reservoir has been free of algae.
In the past, the popular method among water treatment agencies was to dump algicides such as copper sulfate into the water. But the solution wasn’t sustainable, said Summerfield.
The bacteria would slowly adapt to the sulfate, forcing maintenance to use more and more of it, racking up costs and dangerous toxin levels…
Rodriguez pointed out that several Colorado Springs lakes already have aeration features in them. Monument Valley Park ponds have a few aerators — devices that create small air bubbles to push the water around. Mary Kyer Park has a fountain in the middle that helps with circulation, he said.
Cyanobacteria, which causes the blue-green algae, thrives off nutrients in the water, specifically nitrogen and phosphorous. Nitrogen and phosphorous get into water in runoff from agriculture, fossil fuels, fertilizers, yard and pet waste, even soaps and detergents. The city’s recent warm weather and heavy thunderstorms haven’t helped, Rodriguez said.