Across party lines, Western governors see a partner in Pruitt — @COindependent

Colorado abandoned mines

From The High Country News (Elizabeth Shogren) via The Colorado Independent:

Just a few days in office, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency hosted an early Sunday morning breakfast for 11 Western governors. Scott Pruitt told them face-to-face what he’s said repeatedly since he was nominated: Under his leadership, the EPA will defer to states much more than it has in the recent past.

Pruitt made a similar vow to profoundly transform the agency the day before at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “We’re going to once again pay attention to the states across this country,” Pruitt told a gathering of Republicans. “The future ain’t what it used to be at the EPA.”

This message resonated with the Western governors, regardless of their political affiliations, according to several members of the governors’ staffs. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, a Republican-turned-Independent whose state is 66 percent federal land, was “encouraged by (Pruitt’s) emphasis on state’s rights,” Grace Jang, Walker’s communications director, says.

The Western governors’ unanimity is striking in an era of intense partisanship and reflects the commitment they have to work together through the Western Governors’ Association. The breakfast was an annual event of that group, a rare hub of bipartisanship and consensus building in a polarized nation. The governors are in the midst of a major effort to transform the relationship between the federal and state governments to give them more input into federal regulations.

“The Republican governors were on the same page with their Democratic colleagues in telling Pruitt, we want it to be a partnership,” says John Swartout, senior policy advisor to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. “We haven’t been happy that the EPA hasn’t always treated us as a full partner. We can make progress together.”

As they ate scrambled eggs, bacon, fried potatoes and donuts at a square table in EPA’s Washington, DC, headquarters, the governors one-by-one told Pruitt their priorities. Over the course of two hours, many mentioned their desire to have more sway over federal environmental regulations.

Western governors have collaborated for about 100 years. Their desire to present a unified voice to Washington is driven in part because of the vast amount of federal land in the West, which means decisions made in Washington have acute impacts on their states’ economies. “It’s largely a function of being so distant from Washington and needing to amplify their distant voices,” said Jim Ogsbury, executive director of the group.

In the Western Governors’ Association, the governors focus on shared objectives and pass joint resolutions. In December, for instance, they passed a resolution calling for a greater role in crafting federal regulations and in other decisions by the federal government. Other resolutions present their consensus positions on a wide range of issues, including endangered species, wildfire fire management, invasive species and abandoned mine cleanups.

Western governors from both parties felt the Obama administration’s EPA failed to adequately consult the states as it crafted some important environmental regulations, such as the 2015 Clean Water Rule. (That rule was temporarily blocked in 2015, pending resolution of a court challenge brought by industry groups and 31 states.) “Had the EPA worked with us on the rule upfront it could have been a better rule,” Swartout says. EPA did address some comments the governors made about how the proposed rule impinged on state authority over water management, but not all of them.

Just this week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to launch a rollback of that rule and, until it’s rewritten, limit federal oversight to waterways that are navigable, leaving the rest to the states. Pruitt announced that he would rescind the Obama rule and write a new one that “restores the states’ important role in the regulation of water.”

“We believe (Pruitt’s EPA) will partner with states in a way that’s meaningful; in a way that quite frankly the previous administration did not,” says Nephi Cole, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead’s policy advisor policy.

Many scholars caution that undoing that rule will be particularly detrimental in the arid West, where so many small streams and those that run only intermittently are crucially important for wildlife and water quality and quantity. States tend to be more responsive to local industries, because of the benefits they bring to the economy like jobs and tax revenue.

But Cole argues that it’s a “false narrative” to suggest that giving states more control equates to allowing more pollution and less environmental protection. In another resolution adopted in December, Western governors assert that they want to be the ones to decide how to balance the needs of industry in their states and the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

During the two-hour breakfast, Pruitt spent most of the time listening to governors. (Most years, the secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, Energy and other cabinet members important to Western states attend the breakfast, but as of Sunday, Pruitt was the only one of those who had been confirmed by the Senate.) Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper urged Pruitt to personally engage in the Gold King Mine controversy. A 2015 blowout at the mine unleashed a surge of acid mine drainage down the Animas River. Pruitt committed to visiting Colorado and meeting with local and state officials, Swartout says.
A big priority for some governors is that the EPA continues to negotiate settlements with companies responsible for creating toxic waste sites covered under Superfund.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, urged Pruitt to move forward with the plan to clean up the Portland Harbor, a Superfund site, so the city can revitalize the waterfront and create jobs. She also stressed her state’s continued commitment to fighting climate change, according to her press secretary, Bryan Hockaday.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who heads the Western Governors’ Association, wants Pruitt to keep the pressure on to finally reach a settlement on the Superfund sites in and around Butte, Montana, where historic copper mining and smelting left behind the nation’s largest toxic waste site, according to his press secretary, Marissa Perry. After many years, negotiations between the EPA and Atlantic Richfield Corporation, owned by BP, have picked up steam. Bullock wants to make sure the momentum isn’t lost.

While the Western governors break out of the hyper-partisanship that’s plagued other branches of government and see some opportunity to work with Pruitt, potential major budget cuts to the EPA may give Pruitt a lot less leeway to respond to state needs.

This week, the White House sent agencies an outline of the president’s draft budget that reportedly would gut the EPA’s $8 billion budget, cutting by 30 percent the grants it sends to the states to implement air, water and toxic waste regulations. Pruitt told E&E News that he’s asking the White House to retain more funding for the states to improve air quality, clean up Superfund sites and improve aging water and wastewater infrastructure. Programs slated for zero funding include grants to clean up abandoned industrial sites and funding to bring safe drinking water and sewer systems to Native villages in Alaska, according to the Washington Post. More details on the budget are expected later this month. It’s not clear if the White House can win approval for its vision of a much smaller EPA.

The proof of whether the governors and Pruitt will be able to work together will emerge in coming months, as the Trump administration pursues its agenda and rolls back existing rules. “We’re trying to work with him. We need to work with the federal government,” Swartout says. “It’s too early to know. We have to see how it all plays out. It’s just speculation at this point.”

Correspondent Elizabeth Shogren writes HCN’s DC Dispatches from Washington. This story originally appeared in High Country News on March 3, 2017.

#AnimasRiver: @EPA — Cement Creek, #GoldKingMine, summer project plan

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

At the Animas River Stakeholders Group meeting in Silverton on Thursday, Superfund site project manager Rebecca Thomas told the 20 or so attendees the EPA has laid out a work plan for the summer.

Thomas said much of the work will be a continuation of last year’s activities, including collecting data and water samples, as well as looking at flow control structures at the Gold King Mine, the site of the EPA-triggered mine spill in August 2015.

The EPA also will install a pressure gauge system to monitor the bulkhead at the Mogul Mine, adjacent to the Gold King, which are both significant contributors of heavy metals into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

The EPA wants to install a ground monitoring well between the inner and outermost bulkheads at the American Tunnel, the drain for the Sunnyside Mine workings. It’s suspected the American Tunnel’s water level has reached capacity and could be responsible for increased discharges out of adjacent mines, such as the Gold King.

Thomas said crews will compile more data for the possible closure of the bulkhead at the Red & Bonita Mine, another contributor into Cement Creek. Specifically, EPA wants to better understand the water hydrology of the mine workings.

As for the EPA’s interim water-treatment plant at Gladstone that treats discharges out of the Gold King Mine, Thomas said the agency is looking at about six sites to store the mine waste.

“This is increasingly more important for us as we start to run out of room for sludge management (at Gladstone),” Thomas said.

She said there may be more than one location for the mine waste, and that the agency hopes to have that finalized by May.

Thomas added that the EPA is planning a few quick-action remediation projects at sites within the Superfund listing where there is an immediate benefit to the environment, water quality and managing adit discharges.

She said 27 of the 48 sites qualify for early-action remediation, which could include fixing mine waste ponds, remediating waste rock dumps or redirecting clean surface water away from known polluted areas.

“There’s no way we’re going to get all the work done, but the hope is to get some of the work done,” Thomas said.

The Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Forest Service – all working on the Superfund site – also listed a few projects they have planned for this year.

Most notably, the BLM has permission to undergo a pilot project with Texas-based Green Age Technologies to test a new treatment on mine wastewater that many in the stakeholders group have said holds promise for low-cost water treatment.

The BLM and Green Age will spend 21 days treating discharges out of the American Tunnel and Gold King Mine with a technology known as cavitation, which separates metal ions from water.

The EPA had promised the town of Silverton before the community supported Superfund designation that the agency would embrace new technologies for mine-waste treatment.

Otero Junior College: Water quality workshop recap

The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation's irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

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

On Tuesday, farmers and ranchers from all over the area attended the Water Quality Workshop at Otero Junior College: Impacting Your Farm’s Bottom Line. They were informed by a series of three panels of speakers, plus introductory remarks by John Stulp, Director for the Interbasin Compact Committee and Water Adviser to Governor Hickenlooper.

Stulp was happy to see organizations and communities working together to solve our common problems. “Water quality is everyone’s issue,” said Stulp. He is also pleased with technological advances in agriculture. “The center pivot sprinklers are a great invention, also the low pressure nozzles operated by computers that water according to humidity.” The new equipment enables the farmer to reduce the amount of fertilizer by 50 percent and get the same yield, contributing to better water quality. “Conferences like these bring out practical ideas,” said Stulp, a farmer and rancher from Prowers County who served as Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture from 2007 to 2011 and Prowers County Commissioner for 13 years.

Moderator Carol Ekarius, CEO of Coalitions & Collaboratives Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to fostering on-the-ground efforts to address environmental challenges, introduced the first panel, “Lessons from the Field.” The presenters were Phillip H. Chavez, managing partner for Diamond ‘A’ Farms in Rocky Ford; Ryan Hemphill, progressive family farmer from near Hasty; Jerry Allen, Irrigation Water Management Specialist for Shavano Conservation District on the western slope; Joel Moffett, Resource Conservationist, Ecological Division Colorado National Resource Conservation Service…

Hemphill manages the family farm. His main concern is the bottom line, and he has found good conservation practices not only save his back but produce a good return on investment. The family started improvements back in the seventies with concrete ditches, and their latest innovation is central pivot sprinklers operated by electrical motors. These sprinklers also have nozzles which descend to just above plant level and deliver water in a fine spray.

Former ag teacher Jerry Allen, originally from Cheraw, described all the good things ground cover planted after the harvest of the main crop or concurrently with it can do: increase organic matter in the soil, increase plant diversity, provide winter food for livestock, keep the soil cool and workable, to name just a few. Planting turnips and radishes along with or after other crops has multiple benefits. These root vegetables bring protein up through the soil again, besides providing great fodder for cattle in the winter. Cattle love the leaves and leave the roots in the ground to do the rest of their job.

NRCS’s Joel Moffett couldn’t agree with him more. “We’ve been farming the same way for 5,000 years, and all we’ve improved is our tools,” said Moffett. He thinks it’s high time we quit plowing up the fields, keep them as undisturbed as possible and planted with various types of plants, improving biodiversity and discouraging plant diseases and insect infestations, making fewer chemicals necessary in the production of food. Thereby we not only improve the soil but also the quality of the water percolating through it.

Fluoride dosing is on the April ballot in Durango

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

The Durango City Council unanimously voted to place the question on the ballot following more than a year of heated meetings and debate. The council’s other option was to adopt an ordinance prohibiting fluoride, and none of the councilors seemed to support it.

The question will ask voters whether they wish to prohibit the addition of fluoride or any chemical containing fluoride to city water…

The city has released a series of documents on its website on the fluoride it adds to the water, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

The city does not add pharmaceutical-grade fluoride to the water, he said…

Residents can also review the results of tests done on the water before it’s treated and afterward, he said. The documents can be found at http://bit.ly/2loX6oj or by searching the “fluoride” on the city’s website.

Breckenridge: “…without infrastructure, this community stops” — Tim Casey

This beautiful pattern emerges in clouds when two different layers of air in the atmosphere are moving at different speeds.  Where the two layers meet, another 'sheer' layer is created that becomes unstable due to the changes in speed. Pictured are Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds recently seen over Colorado Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3301225/What-caused-strange-clouds-form-Colorado-Scientists-explain-weather-pattern-creates-ocean-sky.html#ixzz3qSbT51xB  Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
This beautiful pattern emerges in clouds when two different layers of air in the atmosphere are moving at different speeds. Where the two layers meet, another ‘sheer’ layer is created that becomes unstable due to the changes in speed. Pictured are Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds recently seen over Colorado
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3301225/What-caused-strange-clouds-form-Colorado-Scientists-explain-weather-pattern-creates-ocean-sky.html#ixzz3qSbT51xB
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

From the Summit Daily News (Kailyn Lamb):

Brown & Caldwell, a construction consulting firm, reviewed the estimate the town received from Moltz Construction in 2016. The estimated cost of $53 million for the new water plant was a surprise to the council during their October budget retreat, causing them to table a final decision. Staff from Brown & Caldwell stated at the January council meeting that the Moltz estimate was thorough and only had slight variances from their own.

“Without water, without sewer, without fire, police, etc., without infrastructure, this community stops. This is, I think, the fundamental purpose of government, is to provide this type of infrastructure,” said Tim Casey, a member of the town’s water task force.

In order to pay for the plant, Breckenridge is working with the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority. The organization is giving the town a 20-year loan with an estimated interest rate of less than 2 percent, said Brian Waldes, the director of finance for the town. Water rent for the town will continue to rise at the previously scheduled rate of 5 percent per year. Waldes said that the town is not anticipating any additional increases. The money from water rent funds will be used to pay the water plant loan.

The plant, which will be located north of the town off of Highway 9, will have a restroom that is accessible from the recreation path located in the area. There will also be a station to fill water bottles.

James Phelps, the interim director of public works, said that the delay in final approval from the council set back the construction timeline for the new plant. Right now the town is working on getting the required permits, a process that could take six months. Phelps said that preparation for the water plant should start around June. The plant will likely be finished in 2020…

Planning for the new plant was largely about getting ahead of water demand for the town. Breckenridge’s current facility, the Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant, was built in 1971. With only one source of water, the town is vulnerable to drought or other natural disasters. If the plant breaks down, the town would be without an alternative water source.

“We’re discreet. In other words, we’re not hooked into any other town’s … water system,” Waldes said. “If our water system goes down for whatever reason, be it a natural disaster or mechanical failure, there’s no other water plant that can help us.”

Phelps said that once the new water plant is complete, it will enable the town to shut down the Gary Roberts plant temporarily for repairs and general maintenance.

As the demand for water grows with the population, Kim Dykstra, the director of communications for Breckenridge, said that water conservation is still one of the town’s main goals. Phelps added that the new plant could allow the town to expand its service areas to homes that have been getting water from wells, potentially taking dependency away from a water source that may eventually run dry.

Casey also mentioned that because the plant takes water from a diversion of the Blue River, it leaves water in the river, which is another environmental benefit.

The plant comes from years of planning from both the task force as well as the from the feasibility study. But the town was able to build the plant due to past council members obtaining water rights as far back as 1883, Phelps said. It helped to keep the town steps ahead.

A Plan for Our Drinking Water

Your Water Colorado Blog

29912249693_77c8144aa7_zPhoto Credit: USDA

In 2012, city officials in Flint, Michigan, began to investigate the possibility of saving money by switching water providers. Projecting a savings of $200 million over the course of 25 years, they decided to build their own pipeline to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) instead of continuing to receive water from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). Officials then searched for an additional water source to bridge the gap between the loss of water being provided by DWSD and the completion of their connection to KWA.

800px-flint_river_in_flint_michiganFlint River

They settled on using the Flint River.

On April 25, 2014, Flint—a city where 40 percent of its people live in poverty—began drawing water from the Flint River for public use. Officials did not implement corrosion control treatment at the Flint Water Treatment Plant—a standard practice that prevents supply pipes from leaching lead. Shortly after switching the water…

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What’s in the Water?

Your Water Colorado Blog

toothbrushpastePhoto Credit: Jonas Bergsten

There is a high likelihood that at some point in your life, you have used a product containing fluoride. Many of us have memories of fluoride treatments at the dentist’s office—either in the form of a goopy gel oozing out of ill-fitting trays or as a liquid rinse. Even as adults, most people brush their teeth twice a day with toothpaste containing fluoride; all in the interest of keeping their teeth in tip-top shape.

But, did you know that there is a good chance that fluoride is also present in your tap water?

Almost all water has naturally-occurring fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral—like Vitamin D or calcium—that is released from rocks into our air, soil and water; however, depending on the source of the water, fluoride is not always present in concentrations that would be optimal for preventing tooth decay. It is also possible for levels…

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