With five of Greeley’s six high mountain reservoirs in the burn area, erosion is expected to carry sediment into Greeley’s water supply. Left untreated, that could affect the city’s water quality. But officials are already planning to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“When fires burn, if they’re hot enough, they can actually burn underbrush and soil,” said Adam Jokerst, Greeley’s deputy director of Water Resources, adding that vegetation is burned up as well. “With the lack of the vegetation … you can get increased erosion when it rains or when the snow melts.”
That erosion carries sediment into the Poudre River, which pulls water from the reservoirs to supply water for the city. Water with high sediment content can be harder to treat, Jokerst said, but it is possible to treat safely.
For better or for worse, Jokerst said, Greeley water officials have a lot of experience handling erosion into the water supply after dealing with the impacts of the High Park Fire in 2012. That fire burned more than 87,000 acres, making it the sixth-largest in state history.
There are at least a few steps to take to mitigate erosion impacts: aerial mulching, felling trees and adding flocculants during the treatment process. For aerial mulching, crews drop shredded wheat chips or straw from a helicopter. The mulch reduces erosion and helps with revegetation. Cutting down the burned trees and letting them fall into the gullies and rills — the channels created in the soil by water erosion — prevents stormwater and meltwater from carrying added erosion into the water supply.
Jokerst said it’s common to see the water get murkier during the runoff season every year. To provide clean, clear drinking water when that happens, crews use more flocculants, which are chemicals that help to separate the water from the sediment, in the treatment process. If there’s very high sediment content at the Bellvue Treatment Plant, officials can turn off the plant so it stop pulling water from the Poudre, Jokerst said. The city can then use the Boyd Treatment Plant…
If the fire keeps on into snowfall season in the winter, Jokerst said crews will have to wait until the spring to start on erosion control measures. Greeley officials are working with the city of Fort Collins, Northern Water and the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed, a nonprofit Jokerst said will be a key entity in the post-fire recovery.
Since the 2016 revelation that groundwater in Fountain Valley, which provided drinking water for Security-Widefield and Fountain, was contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include a number of individual chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFHpA, government agencies, residents and community activists have been struggling to come to terms with what is arguably one of the largest ecological contaminations in Colorado’s history.
On Aug. 4, Chris Reh, associate director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), led a virtual information session for residents of Security-Widefield and Fountain regarding its ongoing PFAS exposure assessment. The assessment will randomly select participants and test blood, urine and tap water for levels of PFAS chemicals. According to Reh, the assessment will identify how people might be exposed to chemicals, calculate the extent of exposure and determine if there is a threat to health.
ATSDR’s exposure assessment is the first part of a process that will continue in 2021 with the Pease Study, a national multi-site study conducted locally by the Colorado School of Public Health that will look at the human health effects of PFAS exposure through drinking contaminated water. While the sites chosen for this study are near Air Force operations, PFAS exposure extends far beyond Air Force bases. Much of the focus in El Paso County is on Fountain Valley, but the Air Force Academy on the city’s Northside also released PFAS chemicals, and residents of Woodmen Valley report health concerns as well, though they are not included in the ATSDR exposure assessment.
El Paso County is one of eight sites nationwide identified by ATSDR for exposure assessments related to PFAS chemicals. The sites, located in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, are co-located with Air Force bases that used aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a type of chemical used to extinguish fuel fires and that contains PFAS chemicals…
Since 2016, community activists have been working to raise awareness of this environmental threat, and Colorado legislators have recently passed laws to address PFAS contamination. While much of the blame, and legal consequences, for this massive and widespread contamination have been aimed at companies that produce PFAS chemicals, such as DuPont and 3M, the military has known of the potential dangers of these chemicals since at least 1989.
The Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory published a study titled “Biological Analysis of Three Ponds at Peterson AFB [Air Force Base], Colorado Springs CO” in November 1989 that raised concerns about contamination coming from the installation. “A series of three man-made ponds on the golf course at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs CO were analyzed to determine their current ecological status and future potential for recreational fishing,” notes the report, which goes on to identify that “Pond 3 cannot be recommended for stocking with fish in its current condition. Low species diversity suggests that this pond is being stressed by an unknown pollutant.” The report identifies a nearby storm drain as a “chronic source of pollutants for this pond.” While the Air Force analyzed a number of factors, such as pH and the levels of phytoplankton and zooplankton, it was quick to identify AFFF as a possible problem, noting that it “was accidentally spilled into pond 3 shortly before the first fish kill. A subsequent restocking resulted in a second fish kill.”
Stephen Brady of the Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs office commented, “When there is a potential our missions are having, or may have had, an adverse impact on communities, we take appropriate measures to protect it. When PFOS was discovered in the aquifer south of base in 2016, we immediately stopped using the legacy foam during fire response and training. We replaced the legacy foam in our fire response vehicles in November 2016 and in the hangar fire suppression systems in 2018 with a more environmentally responsible foam. Our first responders will only use the new environmentally responsible firefighting foam for emergency life-saving response, and do not discharge it during training. The Air Force takes environmental stewardship seriously, and continuously strives to meet or exceed environmental standards.”
By the early 2000s DuPont and 3M were facing lawsuits from residents near their plants and increased scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the EPA formally issued a health advisory regarding PFAS chemicals and set advisory levels of contamination at 70 parts per trillion (ppt)…
While Rosenbaum was organizing FVCWC, the Colorado School of Public Health began to study exposure and health effects from PFAS chemicals. The study was named “PFAS Aware.” In 2018 the PFAS Aware team began sampling water in Fountain Valley. Initial results published in December 2018 showed that “total PFASs in untreated well water ranged from 18 – 2300 ppt” and that “PFASs detected are typical of fire-fighting foam-impacted groundwater.”
On Sept. 18, 2019, the Air Force Academy sent a notice to Woodmen Valley residents, signed by Col. Brian Hartless, the installation commander, warning them that “firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA was used for firefighter training at the Academy from the 1970s until 1990, when we began to consolidate all of our training at Peterson Air Force Base. After that time, the equipment used to dispense the foam was periodically tested until approximately 2005.” Hartless did note that “this firefighting foam has never been used to extinguish a petroleum-based aircraft fire at the Academy” and that “the foam now in use at the Academy is a more environmentally friendly formula that we began using in approximately 2017.” Hartless went on to inform residents that the Air Force would begin sampling wells within the Woodmen Valley Fire Protection District.
According to Hartless, Air Force Civil Engineer Center representatives “identified 37 private wells used for drinking water at homes closest in proximity to the southern base boundary for sampling. To date, 35 of the 37 wells have been sampled.”
Bill Beaudin, a Woodmen Valley resident since 1978, questions the Air Force’s testing process. “The north border of our property is the south border of the Academy,” he says. “We live on six acres. For many years until 1995 we all used well water. We were offered to go on city water at that time and most of us took that option. About 38 families chose not to go on city water for whatever reason.”
Longtime residents like Beaudin were concerned about the fact that the Air Force only tested the wells still in use. “The rest of us all drank that water and so did our children for all of those years in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s until we went on city water,” says Beaudin, “and yet the Air Force Academy chose to just do this select group.”
On March 24, the Air Force announced in a news release, “recent well water monitoring tests on the southeast perimeter of the U.S. Air Force Academy show Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 ppt.”
While the Air Force reported PFOS and PFOA levels below the EPA advisory limits, Rosenbaum says that doesn’t tell the whole story. ”There’s 4,700 different types [of PFAS],” she says, “PFHxS is toxic firefighting foam, which may or may not have PFOA, which is Teflon, or PFAS, which is Scotchgard water-repellent. So when the Air Force Academy said ‘we’re below levels of PFOA and PFAS,’ all of us activists who have been doing this for four years were like, ‘duh.’ You don’t have a Teflon pan company. You don’t have a Scotchgard water-proofing company. You have toxic firefighting foam, so here, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility [PEER] did a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] to try to get the PFHxS levels, and they are really high.”
On March 12, 12 days before the Air Force’s statement, PEER reported that “The Air Force Academy test data of neighboring drinking water wells found levels of two individual PFAS chemicals, PFHxS and PFHpA, at more than 200 ppt in two locations” and “combined PFAS levels at a single well of 503.9 ppt and 537.8 ppt across two separate tests.”
The consternation over the levels of PFAS chemicals in the water stems from concerns over the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Heightened levels of PFAS chemicals have been linked to health problems such as increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to Rachel Rogers, an environmental health scientist with ATSDR.
“A neighbor that was four houses away, her husband died of testicular cancer,” says Beaudin. “A neighbor who has since passed away died from both kidney and bladder cancer. They were longtime neighbors of ours.”
Rosenbaum notes, “The main health issues here are kidney cancers, prostate cancer and a lot of autoimmune diseases.” Autoimmune disease are often difficult to diagnose because symptoms can come from other common conditions…
Lawmakers in Colorado addressed problems with PFAS contamination during the 2019 legislative session. Tony Exum, D-House District 18; Lois Landgraf, R-House District 21; Pete Lee, D-Senate District 11; and Dennis Hisey, R-Senate District 2, sponsored House Bill 1279, which bans the use of AFFFs that use PFAS chemicals for testing or training purposes. In 2020 the same group of legislators sponsored House Bill 1119, which further regulates the use of PFAS chemicals.
On July 10, The city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities, along with the cities of Aurora, Greeley, Fountain and a number of water districts filed a motion to vacate an administrative action hearing by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) in regards to a proposed new policy to address PFAS contamination, referred to as policy 20-1. The motion states, “The Joint Parties recognize the importance of assuring that drinking water supplies are not contaminated by PFAS, and that water supplies contaminated by PFAS are cleaned up. Vacating the administrative action hearing will not preclude the cleanup of PFAS; it will require that regulatory measures imposed by the Water Quality Control Division are properly authorized through a rulemaking hearing.”
Rosenbaum was confused by the motion. “At first the injunction was pretty difficult to understand,” she says. “Here we are Saturday morning and it came across that they wanted all the PFAS discussions taken out of the meeting. This is our fifth contamination to our water district here. We have to do something completely different and drastic and start writing new policy. The state health department wasn’t making a new law, they were adding language to the policy they already had in place.
According to Jennifer Kemp, a public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities, “The reason for our joining several other Front Range entities on the motion to vacate is because we did not agree with the WQCC’s approach to regulating PFAS. Under Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act, a policy is a general statement of interpretation that is not meant to be a binding rule. Therefore, we joined other stakeholders in asserting that the regulation of PFAS is so important that it should have been accomplished with a thorough rulemaking process to establish a statewide PFAS standard.”
On July 14 the WQCC adopted policy 20-1. “What this policy does,” explains Rosenbaum, “is it forces wastewater to test for PFAS. Your drinking water is fine, it’s not contaminated yet, but do you have an industry that’s dumping everything into the wastewater? We have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, so they’re not dumping in rivers anymore but they’re dumping into wastewater.
Now we’re making that accountable in our state. Now we’re explicitly stating in writing CDPHE [Colorado Department of Health and Environment] will receive extra funding to help that water district do an investigation of the industries that are connected to the wastewater system to see if they have PFAS. If they do, now they have to filter it at their site. If you own a restaurant, you have a grease trap. You can’t just dump in the wastewater. If you have a dental office, it’s explicitly written that they have to filter mercury. We’re not doing anything different, we’re just directly applying it where they’ve gotten away with no rules because they’ve been allowed to self-regulate.”
While ATSDR completes their current study, Rosenbaum is planning her next steps. “We need to set maximum contaminant levels in this state,” she says. “What we can do is stop the industry from adding more [PFAS contamination] in. New Hampshire set it at 18 ppt, where the state health department wanted to set it at 700 ppt for PFHxS, which is stupid. The EPA isn’t monitoring PFHxS, they’re just doing PFOA and PFAS, so we brought in evidence from other states saying PFHxs is actually the more harmful one because it’s more prevalent.”
Water restrictions will be implemented for residents of Fort Collins following extreme drought conditions and wildfires which have the area facing a potential water shortage, the city announced on its website.
The water use restrictions will take effect Oct. 1 and will remain in effect until the order is lifted by the city manager…
Ongoing drought conditions, the Cameron Peak Fire burning near Walden and an infrastructure repair project known as Horsetooth Outlet Project (HOP) have the city facing a projected water shortage unless action is taken, the city said.
Typically, utilities receives about 50% of its water from Colorado-Big Thompson shares via Horsetooth Reservoir and 50% from the Cache la Poudre River. During HOP, utilities will have limited access to water supplies in Horsetooth and will rely more heavily on the Poudre River.
If conditions during HOP – like continued drought or poor water quality due to the Cameron Peak Fire – prevent or limit the ability to deliver water from the Poudre River, a temporary backup pump system will convey water from a different Horsetooth Reservoir outlet to the Utilities Water Treatment Facility.
The capacity of this backup system is expected to supply only average utilities winter water demands, which does not include irrigation or other seasonal outdoor uses.
Lawn watering will not be allowed beginning Oct. 1. Trees, gardens for food production and other landscapes may be watered by hand or drip systems only. There are also restrictions on vehicle washing, power washing and street sweeping, among other things.
The Energy Policy Act of 1992, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush, set the maximum flow rate for showers at 2.5 gallons per minute. President Trump is proposing to increase the rate, which he calls inadequate to wash his “beautiful hair.”
On Aug. 13, the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the existing standard for showerheads. The documentation prints out at 25 pages of mind-numbing rationalization. Its definition of showerheads exemplifies the byzantine logic behind this policy shift.
For example, the proposed rule provides three images of fixtures with between three and eight heads attached to a single pipe coming out of the wall. So long as none of the individual heads has a flow greater than 2.5 gallons per minute, the measure asserts that each fixture satisfies Congress’s quest for water and energy conservation.
How can the Energy Department allow shower fixtures with as many as eight heads, each emitting 2.5 gallons per minute? For context, Webster’s dictionary defines a showerhead as a “fixture for directing the spray of water in a bathroom shower.”
But the proposed rule interprets “showerhead” to mean “an accessory to a supply fitting for spraying water onto a bather.” With this sleight of hand, a congressional rule limiting showerhead flows can be deftly avoided by installing a hydra-headed fixture with multiple “showerheads,” each flowing at 2.5 gallons per minute.
The agency also released a fourth image of a wall fixture with seven nozzles, which the rule would not subject to the 2.5 gallons per minute maximum. The Energy Department deems these fixtures a “body spray” rather than a showerhead because they are “usually located” below the bather’s head. (Of course, the person showering may be short, or the plumber may install the fixture high on the shower wall.) Body sprays may have six or eight nozzles with no flow limits.
The sad part of this foolishness is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, which identifies water-efficient projects and promotes water conservation, has been spectacularly successful, at virtually no cost to consumers or the regulated community. Showers constitute 17% of residential water use. That’s 40 gallons per day for the average family, or 1.2 trillion gallons annually in the United States.
COVID-19 has helped to make the affordability of water a national issue. Some rural areas, such as the Navajo Nation, where many people need to haul water to their homes and villages, have higher rates of coronavirus infection. People who have lost their jobs find themselves unable to pay their water bills, which in turn compromises the financial stability of water providers.
Allowing showers to use more water would have several unfortunate consequences for cities across the country. It would increase the amount of water cities must treat; raise the chances of raw sewage overflows at water treatment plants – especially in cities such as Washington, D.C. that combine storm and sewer water; and increase the amount of energy used to pump and treat water.
Disrupting low-flow fixture rules would create special hardships for western cities, such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, that have struggled with water shortages for decades. Both cities remarkably reduced their total water use between the 1980s and 2020, despite rapid population growth, partly by converting residences to low water-use fixtures.
Water is not just another natural resource. Without it our bodies cease to function, our crops dry up, and our economy grinds to a halt. We can’t make any more water, so it makes sense to use the water we have wisely.
The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will take charge of remediating abandoned mine lands, including the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado
The Environmental Protection Agency is creating a new office in Lakewood that will focus on cleaning up abandoned hardrock mining sites west of the Mississippi River, including the Bonita Peak Mining District where the Gold King Mine disaster originated in 2015.
The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will be located in the EPA’s regional office at the Denver Federal Center, the agency announced during a news conference at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry in Colorado Springs on Wednesday. EPA’s National Mining Team Leader Shahid Mahmud will be the acting director, and the team will have nine full-time staff positions.
The office, which will use existing agency funds, will primarily focus on remediation work at Superfund sites and other abandoned mining locations, which release millions of gallons of pollution into streams each year. Remediation efforts will include cleaning up sites and the surrounding environment, and in some cases rebuilding the mine for operations.
There are more than 63 Superfund Mining and Mineral Processing Sites west of the Mississippi River, including nine in Colorado. In Colorado alone, there are roughly 23,000 abandoned mines.
Many historic mining sites don’t have an owner or operator to facilitate cleanup operations themselves, placing it in the EPA’s hands…
The new office will also help speed up project timelines, including to clean up hundreds of abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.
An agreement finalized in February designated funding and resources to clean up 24 of the highest priority mines, five years after the federal government and tribe first reached a settlement on the mines…
Another goal of the office is to make it easier for so-called “good Samaritan” cleanup operations, such as those facilitated by Trout Unlimited or The Nature Conservancy. Current law says that if a group wants to contribute to cleanup efforts, they could be responsible for finishing the job, whether they’re capable of doing so or not. While the law is what it is, Benevento said, the new office will do what it can to make collaborative cleanup efforts “as unbureaucratic as possible.”
Click here to score a copy of the paper (William J. Raseman, Joseph R. Kasprzyk, R. Scott Summers, Amanda K. Hohner, and Fernando L. Rosario-Ortiz). Here’s the abstract:
This paper introduces a novel decision-making framework for the optimization of water treatment plant operations. Managers at water utilities face increasing tensions between cost, public health risk, public perception, and regulatory compliance. Multi-objective optimization techniques have been developed to generate innovative solutions to environmental problems with competing objectives. By integrating these optimization techniques with water quality scenarios, water treatment modeling, and interactive visualization, our framework enables water managers to choose among an ensemble of optimal treatment operations. By automating the generation of treatment options, this paradigm represents a shift toward exploration and insight discovery in drinking water decision making. To illustrate this framework, we create a disinfection byproduct (DBP) management problem that incorporates the influence of competing risks and cost objectives on decision making. Using data from the Cache la Poudre River—a source water in Colorado with seasonally-varying water quality—and a hypothetical conventional treatment plant, we evaluate the impact of organic carbon increases on the performance of optimal treatment operations. These results suggest that the hypothetical utility should consider infrastructural improvements if organic carbon concentrations increase more than approximately 25% of maximum historical levels. An interactive exploration of the optimization results reveal to what extent there are tradeoffs between solids handling costs, chemical costs, and DBP exposure. A k-means clustering of these data illustrates that the utility can achieve compliance through a variety of treatment strategies depending on decision maker preferences for cost and risk.
Project needs approval from Sunnyside Gold, a company potentially on hook for costs
It appears the Environmental Protection Agency has found a place for long-term storage of mine waste near Silverton.
The EPA announced this week it is proposing a waste repository for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site on top of the existing tailings impoundment near the Mayflower Mill, about 2 miles northeast of Silverton off County Road 2.
The site, EPA officials say, would serve as a long-term option to store waste that is generated from Superfund cleanup actions, as well as sludge from the water treatment plant that takes in discharges from the Gold King Mine.
“It’s going to be there for the long haul to accommodate any waste we’ll need to remove,” said Christina Progess, the EPA’s lead for the Superfund site.
The proposal comes with one caveat, however: The property is owned by Sunnyside Gold Corp. The EPA has asked for approval from Silverton’s last operating mining company and has yet to hear back.
Gina Myers, a spokeswoman for Sunnyside Gold, said in an email to The Durango Herald that “SGC … had previously offered EPA the use of Mayflower ground for storage of sludge from the underutilized treatment plant.”
Myers did not clarify whether Sunnyside Gold will allow EPA access or not.
The need for a centrally located, permanent dump site for mine waste has been an ongoing issue for EPA ever since the Superfund was declared in fall 2016, about a year after the agency triggered a blowout at the Gold King Mine.
The water treatment plant constructed after the blowout generates up to 6,000 cubic yards of sludge a year – or about a football field buried in 3 feet of muck – and there’s little room on-site for storage. And in the future, the EPA will need a place to take waste removed from other projects…
In August 2019, Sunnyside Gold offered the EPA access to its property at the Mayflower tailings repository, a large series of four impoundments of historic mine waste rock that operated until the early 2000s.
“(The site) is an ideal and proven site for a repository for the water-treatment plant, and, in the interest of good faith and improving water quality, SGC has granted EPA access for this evaluative work,” the company said at the time.
Progess said the EPA sent Sunnyside Gold a consent for access request and hopes to hear of a final decision by mid-August…
If access were granted, the EPA would start a phased approach at the Mayflower tailings, Progess said. A liner would be placed on top of the existing piles for the new waste, which would then be capped.
All told, the EPA’s plan would have the capacity to store up to 609,000 cubic yards of mine waste and sludge. Use of the site, however, would vary year to year, depending on current projects and need…
The Mayflower tailings are suspected of leaching heavy metals into the Animas River, which has prompted Sunnyside Gold to conduct its own multi-year investigation into the matter.
Progess said the investigation remains ongoing, and the EPA would use a different, more stable location at Impoundment 1 on the site to store its waste to begin with. She said leaching is suspected at Impoundment 4.
“We feel comfortable starting the work at Impoundment 1,” she said. “That will allow us years of use while the investigation on Impoundment 4 can continue.”
The public can comment on the proposed plan until Aug. 27. A virtual public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Aug 11.
Progess said the EPA hopes to have the site constructed and ready for use by fall 2021, about the time storage at the water-treatment plant for the Gold King Mine is expected to reach capacity.
Here’s the release from Rice University (Jade Boyd):
Rice’s trap-and-zap strategy for antibiotic resistant bugs becomes wrap, trap and zap
A shield of graphene helps particles destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria and free-floating antibiotic resistance genes in wastewater treatment plants.
Think of the new strategy developed at Rice University as “wrap, trap and zap.”
The labs of Rice environmental scientist Pedro Alvarez and Yalei Zhang, a professor of environmental engineering at Tongji University, Shanghai, introduced microspheres wrapped in graphene oxide in the Elsevier journal Water Research.
Alvarez and his partners in the Rice-based Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) have worked toward quenching antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” since first finding them in wastewater treatment plants in 2013.
“Superbugs are known to breed in wastewater treatment plants and release extracellular antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) when they are killed as the effluent is disinfected,” Alvarez said. “These ARGs are then discharged and may transform indigenous bacteria in the receiving environment, which become resistome reservoirs.
“Our innovation would minimize the discharge of extracellular ARGs, and thus mitigate dissemination of antibiotic resistance from wastewater treatment plants,” he said.
The Rice lab showed its spheres — cores of bismuth, oxygen and carbon wrapped with nitrogen-doped graphene oxide — inactivated multidrug-resistant Escherichia coli bacteria and degraded plasmid-encoded antibiotic-resistant genes in secondary wastewater effluent.
The graphene-wrapped spheres kill nasties in effluent by producing three times the amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) as compared to the spheres alone.
The spheres themselves are photocatalysts that produce ROS when exposed to light. Lab tests showed that wrapping the spheres minimized the ability of ROS scavengers to curtail their ability to disinfect the solution.
The researchers said nitrogen-doping the shells increases their ability to capture bacteria, giving the catalytic spheres more time to kill them. The enhanced particles then immediately capture and degrade the resistant genes released by the dead bacteria before they contaminate the effluent.
“Wrapping improved bacterial affinity for the microspheres through enhanced hydrophobic interaction between the bacterial surface and the shell,” said co-lead author Pingfeng Yu, a postdoctoral research associate at Rice’s Brown School of Engineering. “This mitigated ROS dilution and scavenging by background constituents and facilitated immediate capture and degradation of the released ARGs.”
Because the wrapped spheres are large enough to be filtered out of the disinfected effluent, they can be reused, Yu said. Tests showed the photocatalytic activity of the spheres was relatively stable, with no significant decrease in activity after 10 cycles. That was significantly better than the cycle lifetime of the same spheres minus the wrap.
Deyi Li of Tongji University, Shanghai, is co-lead author of the paper. Co-authors are Xuefei Zhou and Zhang of Tongji and Jae-Hong Kim, the Henry P. Becton Sr. Professor and Chair of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at Yale University. Alvarez is the George R. Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, a professor of chemistry, of materials science and nanoengineering, and of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of NEWT.
The National Science Foundation, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the National Key R&D Program of China supported the research.
Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University’s Office of Public Affairs.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District applauded state approval of a $100 million financing package for the Arkansas Valley Conduit that will allow construction to begin in the near future.
The Colorado General Assembly passed the annual Colorado Water Conservation project bill which contains the funding earlier this month, and Governor Jared Polis signed the bill into law on Monday.
“The Arkansas Valley Conduit will be a lifeline for the Lower Arkansas Valley for generations to come,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District. “Governor Polis, the General Assembly and the CWCB have all shown vision and foresight with this support of the AVC. This goes beyond just financing a pipeline, because really it’s an investment to assure clean drinking water for the future.”
Long also noted the strong bipartisan support the AVC enjoys from the entire Colorado congressional delegation, and noted in particular the leadership of Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and Congressmen Scott Tipton and Ken Buck.
“I want to thank the CWCB board and staff for including this funding in their annual bill, and express our sincere gratitude to the legislators from the Arkansas Basin for their leadership and support,” said Kevin Karney, chairman of the District’s AVC committee. “The recognition by the State of Colorado of the benefit of partnering with the Bureau of Reclamation on this project is an enormous boost.”
The AVC is estimated to cost between $564 million and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period. The $100 million in state funding would include $90 million in loans and $10 million in grants over the life of the project. When complete, the AVC will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities.
The AVC had received funding since 2010 to prepare for construction of the 130-mile pipeline which will deliver a safe drinking water supply to the Lower Arkansas Valley. In February of this year, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that $28 million of FY ’20 funding was being directed to the conduit, in an effort to move from planning and design into construction. An additional $8 million has been requested for FY ’21 and is under consideration by Congress.
“The unanimous approval of this funding package by the CWCB board last November was the absolute catalyst for an improved federal funding picture,” said Southeastern District Executive Director Jim Broderick. “Colorado, like other Western states, recognizes developing a strong partnership with Reclamation allows us to overcome water quality and water supply challenges in rural areas.”
Following a number of delays, the monochloramine conversion process within the city’s water department is scheduled to officially start on Monday, May 11 at 10 a.m.
According to a press release from the City of Craig Water & Wastewater Department Director Mark Sollenberger, the city’s water department has resolved a number of issues and is ready to get the project, previously scheduled to start on March 31, underway.
“After numerous weeks of working on the primary disinfection portion of the treatment plant upgrade, our engineers, staff, and contractors have finally resolved many of the issues preventing the original March 3 start date for the chloramine conversion process,” Sollenberger said in the press release. “Be assured that we are now ready to proceed and that the entire conversion process of the water plant, and roughly 80 miles of water distribution system, will still take approximately 3 weeks to be fully completed.”
Sollenberger added that the city will continue to flush fire hydrants in the distribution system throughout the entire conversion process to help move chloraminated water around the entire water system and support normal system maintenance.
“The public should please note that fire hydrant flushing can cause discolored water or pressure fluctuations at your home. If you encounter these problems, they should clear up quickly if you run your water faucets throughout the house for a short period of time. We apologize for this inconvenience,” Sollenberger said.
The controversial monochloramine project to add monochloramines to the current use of chlorine for water disinfection has the city’s water department monitoring water quality now, and moving forward, Sollenberger added.
“Please be assured that throughout the chloramine conversion process, and long afterwards, the City Water Department staff will be monitoring the water quality in the water distribution system to make sure it always remains safe and is of the highest quality we can deliver to our customers,” Sollenberger said.
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From Water Education Colorado (Laura Paskus and Caitlin Coleman):
When Water Justice is Absent, Communities Speak Up
Two years ago, a company that analyzes property data crunched the numbers on more than 8,600 zip codes in the United States and found that America’s most polluted neighborhood was in northeast Denver. The study, from ATTOM Data Solutions, shows that Denver’s 80216 zip code, which includes Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and River North, topped its “environmental hazard index.” As of 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory reported that 22 facilities were still releasing toxic chemicals in 80216, chemicals such as nickel, lead, methanol, creosote and more.
“The neighborhood is parked between gas refineries, the former airport, and then, also, what was at one time an Army base making mustard gas,” says University of Denver law professor Tom Romero, II, who has spent his career dissecting the factors behind environmental injustices in Colorado. There are two Superfund sites and six brownfield sites in 80216, plus the knot of Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 severs the neighborhood from the rest of Denver and increases pollution from highway traffic. The area is also home to a predominantly low-income, Hispanic and Latinx community, says Candi CdeBaca, Denver City Councilwoman for northeast Denver’s District 9.
Last year, CdeBaca became the first person from the neighborhoods to represent on the Denver City Council, ever. She points to an opposition campaign to the Central 70 Project as the beginning of the neighborhood rallying to achieve representation against environmental inequities.
The Central 70 Project broke ground in 2018 to widen the highway through Denver. It will demolish the viaduct that carries I-70 over Elyria-Swansea, replacing it with a below-grade highway. Residents had a list of worries: losing their homes to eminent domain, living even closer to the highway, and unearthing a Superfund site, which they feared would re-expose harmful heavy metals and increase health risks, CdeBaca says.
Their opposition campaign didn’t stop the highway work, but the community came together and won in one sense—the Colorado Department of Transportation will pay for a long-term health study, collecting data to determine whether toxins in the air, soil and water are making residents sick. They also gained a louder voice. “Those losses were the first start of me galvanizing some community power around environmental racism,” says CdeBaca. “Now we have this amplification of groups who never had representation in our government from the neighborhoods that were polluted.” She points to the importance of local voice and representation in all issues, particularly for communities that want to bring about environmental justice. “There is nothing that I support more than activating people power,” CdeBaca says.
With water affordability, access and quality challenges—all of which can translate into health impacts—the role of water in Colorado isn’t always one of fostering healthy communities, yet it could and should be. What contributes to these less-than-whole communities? And what does it take to recognize the issues and how they evolved, address power imbalances, engage the community, and restore equity where it’s been missing?
What is Environmental Justice?
Environmental injustices in Colorado, or anywhere, can span cities and suburbs, sovereign tribal lands, and rural communities. They have their roots in narratives of immigration, development and industry, and political power dynamics, further influenced by evolving legal and regulatory frameworks.
In 1990, EPA Administrator William Reilly created an Environmental Equity Workgroup to assess evidence that “racial minority and low-income communities bear a higher environmental risk burden than the general population.” The agency, which went on to establish an Environmental Equity office in 1992, later changing its name to the Office of Environmental Justice in 1994, defines environmental justice as 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.” It has since expanded to offer a range of programs that provide services from grant funding to technical assistance and training. It also runs a National Environmental Justice Hotline.
Another early definition of environmental justice came from University of Michigan professor Bunyan Bryant, who said it refers to places “where people can interact with confidence that the environment is safe, nurturing and productive. Environmental justice is served when people can realize their highest potential.”
Scholars add additional layers to the term—it’s not just about identifying who is or isn’t harmed but includes some form of restitution, says Kelsea MacIlroy, an adjunct professor and PhD candidate in the sociology department at Colorado State University.
“There are a lot of different ways to talk about justice that aren’t just about who and how but also about a long-term social justice component,” MacIlroy says. “Does the community actually have an authentic seat at the table in addressing the ills?”
80216 may feel it all. “Denver was segregated, and that segregation manifested itself in a variety of ways in terms of water,” Romero says. “It meant that Denver’s communities of color, particularly African Americans and Mexican Americans, were living in close proximity to the areas with heavy industry, where the affordable housing is.” That’s a pattern and practice, he says, that was established in the 20th century and continues today. Many environmental justice cases have similar roots, as repeated practices that ultimately create winners and losers.
When Government Fails
Americans watched one of the most high-profile environmental justice cases unfold in Flint, Michigan, in 2015 and 2016 when corroded lead pipes poisoned the population.
To save money, in April 2014, the city switched its drinking water source and began supplying residents with Flint River water that wasn’t treated under federal anti-corrosion rules. The population was predominantly black, and more than 40 percent of residents were below the poverty threshold. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, no level of lead exposure is safe but higher lead exposure leads to more health challenges including anemia, kidney and brain damage, heart disease, decreased IQ and more. In children, the impacts are especially toxic.
Residents began noticing a rusty tint to their tap water in the summer of 2015, but it wasn’t until October 2015 that the governor ordered Flint’s water source switched. By then, though the new water was safe, the plumbing wasn’t—corroded pipes continued to leach lead into drinking water. Bottled water and free faucet filters to remove lead at the point of use were distributed.
More than five years after the crisis in Flint began, the city and its residents are still recovering. The city’s FAST Start program is removing and replacing lead and galvanized steel service lines across the city, but it’s a big, expensive job. FAST Start has been funded with $25 million from the State of Michigan and $100 million allocated by Congress through the Federal Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation Act of 2016. As of December 2019, less than 40 percent of the city’s pipes had been replaced, with many residents still relying on faucet filters or bottled water.
Fifteen state and local officials were charged with various crimes, including involuntary manslaughter—some took plea deals and most cases were dropped. Residents now mistrust their water and water providers. That mistrust has flooded the nation, with many more communities now coping with elevated lead levels and lead pipe replacement.
According to the independent Flint Water Advisory Task Force’s final report, released in 2016, breakdowns in protocol, dismissal of problems, and failure to protect people occurred at nearly every level of government. Not only were customers supplied with unsafe drinking water, government officials were slow to acknowledge the problems and rectify the issue by providing safe water. According to the 2016 report, the Flint water crisis is a “story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental justice.” Had there been local control of resources and decisions, they write, the problems wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.
Coping with Forever Chemicals
Flint’s toxic water is not unlike the water quality issues discovered in 2016 in the Colorado towns of Fountain and Security-Widefield. That’s when water providers and residents learned that PFAS chemicals, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were detected at levels above EPA’s new 2016 health advisory levels. The source of the chemicals: firefighting foam used for decades to extinguish training fuel fires at the U.S. Air Force’s Peterson Air Force Base. The Air Force now uses a replacement foam at the base, and in 2019, the Colorado Legislature enacted restrictions and bans on PFAS foam, but the damage has been done. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they bioaccumulate and remain in the environment for a long time, with half lives (the amount of time it takes the chemical to decrease to half its original value) in humans of two to eight years, depending on the chemical. They have been linked to cancers, liver and kidney damage, high cholesterol, low infant birth weight, and other ailments.
“We ended up having 16 family members that lived within that area that had cancer, and five of them died of kidney cancer,” said Mark Favors, during a public event on PFAS at Colorado School of Mines in January 2020. Favors is a former resident of Security, a U.S. Army veteran, a PFAS activist, and member of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition. “A lot of [my family] are military veterans. One of my cousins, while he was doing two combat tours in Iraq, the Air Force was contaminating their drinking water. That’s the crazy part. How they’ve admitted it and it’s just hard to get any type of justice on the issue,” Favors says.
These southern El Paso County towns aren’t home to what are often considered disadvantaged populations—the poverty rate is between 8 and 9 percent, slightly less than the statewide average; about 60 percent of residents are white, and about 20 percent are Hispanic or Latinx, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. However, census numbers don’t represent military personnel who temporarily reside in the area. According to El Paso County’s Health Indicators report, published in 2012, four military bases in the county employ 40,500 military personnel and about 21,000 contract personnel.
When EPA tightened its health advisory levels in 2016, they were 10 times more restrictive than what the agency had previously advised, and water providers realized they had a problem. They acted quickly to provide residents with free bottled water and water filling stations while they suspended use of the aquifer, then worked to broker deals to purchase clean water from other municipalities. Some of those deals were only temporary. Since June 2018, the City of Fountain has worked to get back on its groundwater supply, treating the groundwater with granular activated carbon units provided by the Air Force. Now it is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a full, permanent groundwater treatment plant. The story in Security is similar—the Security Water and Sanitation District has been importing water, primarily from Pueblo Reservoir, to meet the needs of its residents since 2016, which involved building new pipelines and purchasing extra water from Colorado Springs Utilities—an added cost. Security avoided raising water rates for a time, paying those costs out of its cash reserves. By 2018, residents had to absorb a 15 percent rate increase, with another 9.5 percent increase in 2019.
The Army Corps of Engineers is constructing a treatment facility in Security, too, which should be complete by the end of 2020. Once the plant is finished, Security will switch back to a combination of groundwater and surface water, and rates should stabilize once the costs of those pipelines are recovered, says Roy Heald, general manager at Security Water and Sanitation Districts.
Who pays to protect the health of those who rely on this water? “What responsibility did [the Air Force] have in rectifying this? What about the local sanitation districts? They have to deal with this. It’s not their fault but they’re tasked with giving clean water,” says MacIlroy at Colorado State University.
“The Air Force really has stepped up,” Heald says. But they may have to step up further—in 2019, the Security Water and Sanitation Districts and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, another affected entity, sued the Air Force to recoup the costs of purchasing and piping in clean water. Their lawsuit cites negligence for disposal of chemicals, remediation of contamination, and breaching a responsibility to prevent dangerous conditions on the defendant’s property. Heald wouldn’t comment on the pending lawsuit, but says, “As long as [cash] reserves are at an adequate level, if we received a windfall there would be no place else for it to go besides back to our customers.” Those recouped costs would likely take the form of lower or stabilized rates.
Residents are also pushing for justice through a class-action lawsuit brought by the Colorado Springs-based McDivitt Lawfirm, which has teamed up with a personal injury law firm in New York to file against 3M, Tyco Fire Products, and other manufacturers of the firefighting foam.
“There’s going to have to be some sort of accountability and justice for these people who unknowingly, for years, drank colorless, odorless high amounts of PFAS,” says Favors. He calls for better oversight and demands that polluters are held accountable.
As for coping with PFAS-related health challenges, there are still a lot of unknowns, but El Paso County was selected to participate in two national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies to better assess the dangers of human exposure to PFAS, and to evaluate exposure pathways.
Locally, the study and lawsuits might help recoup some financial damages—but PFAS-related water contamination isn’t isolated to these Colorado communities. In July 2019, the Environmental Working Group mapped at least 712 documented cases of PFAS contamination across 49 states. Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, hoping to implement a national PFAS drinking water standard, estimate the number is even higher: 1,400 communities suffer from PFAS contamination. A U.S. Senate version of a PFAS-regulating bill has yet to be introduced. But in February, EPA released a draft proposal to consider regulating PFOS and PFOA, just two of the thousands of PFAS.
Justice through Water Rights
Environmental justice isn’t exclusively an urban issue. Injustices involving pollution, public health, access, affordability and water can be wrought anyplace—including rural and suburban areas. For rural communities, the issue comes to a head when people, organizations or entities in power seek more water for their needs at the cost of others.
In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, acequia communities fought for years to protect their water rights and way of life. Acequias are an equity-based irrigation system introduced by the original Spanish and Mexican settlers of southern Colorado. “What it means is that the entire community is only benefitted when all resources are shared,” says Judy Lopez, conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands. There, Lopez works with landowners to preserve wildlife habitat, forests, culturally significant lands, and ag lands—including those served by acequias.
The Town of San Luis, the heart of Colorado’s acequia community, is one of the most economically disadvantaged in the state. It’s in Costilla County, where more than 60 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latinx—more than any other county in Colorado—and 25 percent of the population live in poverty, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. But the people there are long-time landowners, never separated from the land their ancestors settled, four to seven generations back, Lopez says. They have the state’s original water rights to match, including Colorado’s oldest continuously operated water right, the San Luis People’s Ditch, an acequia established in 1852.
Prior to statehood, the territorial government recognized acequia water rights. But when the Colorado Constitution established the right of prior appropriation, the priority scheme of “first in time, first in right” became the law, challenging communal rights.
“It was very difficult for [acequias] to go to water court and say, ‘This guy is taking my water,’” Lopez says. “It was very difficult to quantify the use and who was using it.”
It wasn’t until 2009 that the Colorado Legislature passed the Acequia Recognition Law. The law was developed by Rep. Ed Vigil with the help of the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, an entity that represents more than 73 acequias and 300 families who depend on them. Amended in 2013, the law solidifies the rights of acequia users. According to the Colorado Acequia Handbook, it allows “acequias to continue to exercise their traditional roles in governing community access to water, and also strengthens their ability to protect their water.”
In order to be recognized under the Acequia Recognition Act, acequias needed bylaws. Over the past six years, Colorado Open Lands, the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, and the University of Colorado Boulder have partnered to help 42 acequias write bylaws, thereby protecting their water. “The bylaws were still based, in large part, on those oral traditions,” Lopez says, “and included protective language that said, ‘If a water right is sold, or a piece of land is sold, that acequia gets the first right to purchase those rights.’”
Even having water rights doesn’t guarantee water access: Over the past few decades, the federal government has settled longstanding water rights cases with sovereign tribes, in many cases backdating tribal water rights to the dates of their reservations’ establishment. Although the tribes now have the nation’s oldest established water rights, they haven’t always, and they still come up against structural and financial barriers that prevent them from developing water and getting the real benefit of those rights.
Of the more than 570 federally recognized tribes in the United States, as of 2019 only 36 tribal water rights settlements had been federally approved. The Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes in Colorado are among that small number, but despite their long journey, the tribes still don’t have access to all the water they own.
Tribal water rights have their roots in the Winters Doctrine, a 1908 case which established tribal water rights based on the date the federal government created their reservations—thereby moving tribal water rights to “first in line” among users.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the U.S. government filed and worked through claims on behalf of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes to surface waters in southwestern Colorado. In the 1980s, Congress approved a settlement between the tribes, the federal government and other parties; in 2000, the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act was amended, entitling tribes to water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed Animas-La Plata Project (A-LP), as well as from the Dolores Project’s McPhee Reservoir. Construction on A-LP began in 2001, and the project’s key feature, Lake Nighthorse—named for Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell—began filling in 2009.
Prior to the Dolores Project, many people living in Towaoc, on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, did not have running water and instead trucked it in to fill water tanks at their homes, says Ernest House, Jr., senior policy director with the Keystone Policy Center and former director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. His late father, Ernest House, Sr., was pivotal in that fight for water. “I was fortunate, my father was able to see A-LP completed. I think he probably, in his own right, couldn’t believe that it would have been done and could be done,” he says. But even today, some Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute communities still lack access to water, and aging infrastructure from the 1980s needs updating and repairs.
“Our tribes as sovereign nations cannot maintain or move forward without access to water,” House says. “We have to remind people that we have tribal nations in Colorado, and that we have other tribes that continue to call Colorado home, that were removed from the state, either by treaty or forced removal,” he says, adding that acknowledging the difficult past must be a part of conversations about the future.
Those conversations include state, regional, and federal-level water planning. The Colorado tribes are engaged in Colorado’s basin roundtable process, with both tribes occupying seats on the Southwest Basin Roundtable, says Greg Johnson, who heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Planning Section (and serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees). Through the roundtables, local stakeholders conduct basin-wide water planning that is eventually integrated into the statewide Colorado Water Plan. However, until recently, tribal involvement in regional Colorado River negotiations between the seven U.S. basin states and federal government has been nonexistent. Change is brewing—a 2018 federal Tribal Water Study highlighted how tribal water resources could impact Colorado River operations, while a new Water and Tribes Initiative is working to build tribal capacity and participation in water negotiations throughout the basin.
“The Utes have been in what we call Colorado for the last 10,000 to 12,000 years,” House says. “It would be a shame if we were left out of the conversations [about water].”
The External Costs of Industry
Government is vital to addressing the legacy of environmental injustice, and preventing future problems, but finding solutions also demands reconsidering how business is done.
Consider Colorado’s relationship with the extraction industry, visible in the 19th-century mines that pock mountain towns, uranium-rich communities like Nulca, and the escalation of oil and gas drilling today. Colorado is an “epicenter” of extraction and environmental justice issues, says Stephanie Malin, associate professor at Colorado State University and a sociologist who studies energy development and extraction.
Lack of local control in the past has been especially frustrating, Malin says, since private corporations earn profits off the resources but then outsource the impacts. In the end, extractive industries have a track record of leaving communities and governments to bear the costs of cleanup.
Take Gold King Mine as one high-profile example. In August 2015, wastewater from an abandoned mine in San Juan County contaminated the Animas River between Silverton and Durango. Contractors hired by EPA accidentally caused 3 million gallons of mine waste, laden with heavy metals, to wash into the Animas. New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation all filed to sue EPA, with farmers reporting that they couldn’t water their crops and others saying they had to truck in alternative water supplies. But those responsible for the contamination were long-gone. Like tens of thousands of other mines in the region, the Gold King Mine was abandoned in the early 20th century.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)—more commonly called Superfund—which Congress passed in 1980, was originally set up as a “polluter tax” on oil, gas and chemical companies at risk of contaminating communities or the environment. But Congress never reauthorized the tax, which expired in 1995. By the early 21st century, the fund was bankrupt. Today, these cleanups are funded entirely by taxpayers.
“It’s part of a bigger pattern of privatizing profit and nationalizing, or socializing, risk,” Malin says. “Then, communities and the environment are left holding the ‘external’ costs.” Those external costs, she says, are nearly unquantifiable: “The intergenerational impacts in particular are so hard to gauge, in terms of what the communities are absorbing.”
While these problems can seem intractable, there are solutions, Malin says. For example, the bond amounts companies are required to pay up-front should better reflect the actual cost of cleanup, she says. Last year, Colorado lawmakers made strides to unburden taxpayers in just that way, with an update to Colorado’s old mining law.
The new Colorado law, HB19-1113, makes sure water quality impacts from mining are accounted for and long-term impacts are avoided. The law says that the industry can no longer self bond—a practice that allowed mine operators to demonstrate they had the financial resources to cover clean-up costs rather than providing the resources up front. Without self bonding, taxpayers won’t be left paying for remediation if the company goes bankrupt. It also requires mine operators to factor water quality protection costs into their bond—and requires most to develop a water quality treatment plan. This means that reclamation plans must include a reasonable end date for any needed water quality treatment, hopefully ensuring Colorado will avoid new perpetually polluting mines.
State lawmakers are currently looking at a more encompassing environmental justice bill, HB20-1143, introduced in January 2020. At press time the bill was still under consideration. If it moves forward as introduced, the bill would increase the maximum civil fine for air and water quality violations—from $10,000 per day to $47,357 per day, which would be adjusted annually according to the consumer price index—reallocating some of the financial burden back on polluters. It would also authorize the use of the money in the state’s water quality improvement fund, which is where those water quality violation fines go, to pay for projects addressing impacts to communities. The bill would also bolster the state’s environmental justice efforts, with a new environmental justice advisory board and environmental justice ombudsperson who would run the advisory board and advocate for environmental justice communities.
Speaking up for Tomorrow’s Climate
Environmental justice can’t be about a single issue, says Lizeth Chacón, executive director of the Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial-justice, member-led organization based in Denver and Pueblo. That means looking at water-focused environmental justice alongside related issues such as climate change, racial justice, inequities, poverty, housing, power dynamics, and more.
“When we are talking to our members, we are talking to them about the fact that they are working two jobs and still cannot put dinner on the table in the week, talking that they live in fear of being deported and being separated from their families, talking about the fact that they are sick, or have headaches, or have to spend money on water because they can’t drink the water coming out of their tap like other people can,” she says. “It can’t be seen as one issue … This work has to be holistic.”
Currently, the Colorado People’s Alliance is working on a climate campaign directed by its members in Commerce City. “They said, ‘This is something that’s impacting all of us, regardless of where we’re from, whether we’re undocumented or documented, what our economic status is,’” she says. The Alliance is focused on greenhouse gas emissions, which have immediate health impacts and long-term water effects.
Another approach in northeast Denver is proceeding thanks to an EPA environmental justice grant, in which organizers will convene youth, local leaders, and scientists to create a community science project that leads to a more fishable and swimmable Denver South Platte River. The river flows through Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, but it used to be a dumping ground, with a landfill beside its banks. Clean ups and improved recreational access, much of which has been spearheaded by the nonprofit Greenway Foundation since its founding in 1974, have created opportunities for kayakers downtown, but river access in northeast Denver, beyond the popular Confluence Park, is limited. In addition, E. Coli levels are often high, making swimming inadvisable. Access to a healthy waterway makes communities more vibrant and whole, supporting health, wellbeing, recreation, and cultural and spiritual practices, but also connection. This may be the only recreational water access available to some urbanites.
“Rivers are one of the major pathways to healing the environment and healing ourselves,” said Jorge Figueroa at an initial workshop for this project in December 2019, where they began to establish a youth advisory board. Figueroa runs El Laboratorio, an organization that brings people together from different disciplines and cultures to creatively solve environmental challenges. (He is also on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.) He’s working on this project with Lincoln Hills Cares, a nonprofit that provides outdoor education, recreation and experiences to youth who may not otherwise have these opportunities; and Colorado State University, which is developing a new campus at the National Western Center, called Spur, in the neighborhood. The partners expect to have a plan ready by the end of 2020, and the project should begin in 2021.
Figueroa, who grew up and has family in Puerto Rico, also witnessed, up close, the wave of climate refugees who left his home state after Hurricane Maria devastated it in 2017.
“It’s critical for us to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and in the reliability of our municipal potable water systems,” Figueroa says. “But from an equity perspective, we need to ensure that the more than a trillion dollars that will be invested in the nation’s public water systems provide the most benefit to the most people.” His suggestion to build climate resiliency in an equitable way: water conservation. “Water conservation can be a supreme water equity tool: It provides cheaper water for the community and more resiliency and reliability for the system. It’s not only an ideal climate change adaptation strategy but also is one of the top, by far, equity water strategies.” When you don’t consider equity in water decisions, you can make vulnerable communities more vulnerable, he says.
Whether working to improve environmental justice structurally and physically through conservation and resiliencies, or politically and financially through new regulations, bonding or taxation, there are many opportunities to do better. But there are also social justice elements to work on. Chacón recommends involving community members at the beginning of a process—not at the end. She says it’s important to listen—and to not dismiss people when they disagree.
Looking forward, it’s up to everyone in positions of power to actively create space for disadvantaged communities to lead, says Chacón. “To us, the people who are closest to the pain are the ones closest to the solution because they know what’s happening in their community best of anyone.”
Some of the principles of engaging communities in these situations are “almost universal,” says Colorado’s Michael Wenstrom, an environmental protection specialist in EPA’s Environmental Justice Program. Wenstrom worked in Flint over the course of a year following the water emergency, “assisting them to connect with processes, in understanding what their rights are, and helping them learn how to raise their voices effectively,” he says.
He says that where communities and families are already overburdened—with poverty, crime, racism—they often don’t have time, expertise or resources to recognize the problems, nevermind address them. “In addition, people in low-income communities may be less inclined to raise their voices for various reasons,” Wenstrom says. Reasons could include racism, job discrimination, or, for some, the fear of being identified as an illegal resident.
He says officials like him who come into communities as outsiders must be careful, persistent, and work to build trust. “As trust builds, we can then start pointing people toward tackling issues related to pollution or public health,” he says. But, Wenstrom cautions, if people don’t believe they can make a difference, they won’t raise their voices in the first place.
Laura Paskus is a reporter in Albuquerque N.M., where her show, “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future,” airs on New Mexico PBS. Caitlin Coleman is editor of Headwaters magazine.
Town officials say private property owners are needed to see more improvements in Gore Creek water quality
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday told staff to draft a stream protection ordinance that would apply to private property in town. The creek in 2013 landed on a state list of “impaired waterways,” along with many other mountain towns. The town, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and other organizations have been working since then to improve water quality in the creek.
Much of that work starts with cleaning up what runs into the creek, including runoff from paved areas, pesticides and other pollutants.
In an April 7 presentation, town watershed education coordinator Pete Wadden reminded council members that after a few years of improvement, the creek’s scores regarding macroinvertebrate populations — the bottom of the creek’s food chain — dipped in 2018. Most of that was due to a change in the way those populations are counted, but those are the figures used by state officials.
Wadden noted that the town has made “huge progress” on its own property along the stream, but not as much on private property.
Wadden said the ordinance the staff is recommending includes a two-tiered setback, with more stringent rules closer to the stream.
Wadden added that the ordinance could restrict pesticide use in town, but the Colorado Legislature will have to pass a law that allows towns to pass those regulations.
At a regular meeting of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors on March 12, District Manager Justin Ramsey noted that COVID-19 cannot be spread through drinking water.
“It’s very susceptible to chlorine,” Ramsey said. “We do keep chlorine in our water.”
However, COVID-19 can be found in sewage, Ramsey noted, adding that there are other unhealthy things found in sewage as well…
The only way PAWSD could be affected by COVID-19 is if too many staff members were to get sick, Ramsey added later.
According to Ramsey, the state of Colorado has put together a program, called CoWARN [Colorado Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network] that allows PAWSD to “share” equipment and staff.
“So if PAWSD gets hit real hard with this, I can call Durango and say ‘I need two water operators’ and if they have them available, they’ll send them to us,” he said. “It sets out how we’re going to pay for it and pay them back and so on and so forth.”
In a follow-up interview on March 17, Ramsey noted that PAWSD is now a part of CoWARN.
Additionally, Ramsey noted that PAWSD has run into issues with citizens using and flushing items that cause problems with PAWSD’s infrastructure.
“It is causing somewhat of a problem. It’s not a major catastrophe, but it is definitely clogging some pumps and causing a little bit of issues,” he said.
On March 17, PAWSD’s administrative offices closed to the public indefinitely, Ramsey explained in an email.
PAWSD customers will still receive regular water and wastewater service, Ramsey noted.
The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors briefly discussed fluoride in drinking water at its meeting on Feb. 13.
PAWSD stopped putting fluoride in the local water supply in 2005.
“The state has contacted us, and they would like to give us a presentation on the pros and cons of [fluoridation of] the water,” PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey said. “We do not put fluoride in the water. I have no wish to put fluoride in the water. I told the state I’ll be happy to sit through their little spiel.”
Asked for comment on the fluoride issue, San Juan Basin Public Health’s (SJBPH) Brian Devine, Water and Air Quality Program manager, sent the following statement via email: “SJBPH supports the evidence-based practice of public water providers distributing water with the optimal levels of fluoride for public health. For some water providers, that means adding fluoride to drinking water, for others in naturally highly-fluoridated areas, it means removing it. Optimal levels of fluoride strengthen growing teeth in children and protect tooth enamel from plaque in adults, leading to less tooth decay. This means lower lifetime health costs and improves the opportunity for everyone to live a healthier life. These benefits led community water fluoridation to be named one of the top ten public health achievements of the twentieth century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Presenting to City Council Feb. 11, SGM Water Engineer Rick Huggins told councilors that the project has gone as expected locally, after the city’s recent water quality plans were set into motion when the Colorado Department of Public Health increased disinfectant residual requirements for water systems, which Craig couldn’t meet in 2016.
Previously, Craig was using free chlorine to keep its water clean, but due to the failure to meet state requirements, the City of Craig had to act.
According to Huggins, after months of studies and workshops, council members decided a few key upgrades along with treating the city’s water system with monochloramine was the most cost-effective solution to keep the water safe. The project was expected to cost $5.2 million, requiring the city to increase rates to help finance the entire project.
According to Huggins, SGM expects the project to cost $3.128 million in the end, which is below the $3.375 million the company estimated costs would be at the start of the project.
The city announced to residents in their latest water bill that the monochloramine changeover will be implemented sometime in March…
Huggins did add that the project has run into scheduling issues that has pushed the project back 4-6 weeks, but he said that SGM anticipates that they’ll have Craig’s water treatment system compliant with state regulations by April 1.
One Year After EPA Pledged to Act on PFAS Exposure, Key Parts of the Strategy Have Yet to Be Implemented
Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined a group of senators in a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler requesting he provide an updated timeline for when the EPA will implement commitments made in the agency’s plan to combat exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The EPA released its PFAS Action Plan one year ago today and has yet to implement many of the commitments outlined in the strategy. Bennet, who raised concerns about flaws in the EPA’s initial plan, is an author of the PFAS Action Plan of 2019 and has long worked to address contamination issues across Colorado.
“As you are aware, communities across the country are struggling to respond to the widespread issue of PFAS contamination. The human health risks from this class of chemicals, which include birth defects, various forms of cancer, and immune system dysfunction, are still being examined, and the uncertainty has caused great concern among our constituents,” wrote Bennet and the senators in the letter.
The lawmakers went on to underscore that the PFAS Action Plan alone is insufficient to address the full scope and urgency of the problems associated with PFAS exposure, which is why failure to take an initial step to implement this plan is particularly concerning. They also highlighted that the EPA committed to establish federal drinking water standards last year for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two of the most prevalent PFAS chemicals, but have also failed to follow through on that pledge.
In their letter, the senators also addressed other parts of the plan that have not been prioritized, including important remediation efforts to help expedite cleanup of PFAS contamination under the EPA Superfund law.
“Yet, despite then-Administrator Scott Pruitt committing the EPA to designating these materials [PFOA and PFOS] as hazardous substances in May 2018, the EPA has not even sent a proposal to the Office of Management & Budget for interagency review, let alone published it for public comment,” wrote Bennet and his colleagues.
The senators closed their letter with a request that the EPA provide an update on the status of every commitment made in the PFAS Action Plan, as well as an update on the timeline for executing the priorities included in the strategy.
Bennet has long worked to address the health effects, cleanup, and reimbursement issues associated with PFAS, chemicals used in firefighting foams that have contaminated drinking water sources near military bases across the country, including at Peterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Colorado Springs.
Bennet pushed for a nationwide study on the health effects of PFAS and for additional funding for remediation and clean up.
Bennet secured $10 million for the nationwide Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in the 2018 omnibus package.
Bennet secured an additional $44 million in funding for Air Force environmental restoration and remediation in the 2018 omnibus package. A significant amount of that funding was used for remediation around Peterson AFB in Colorado.
Bennet supported a provision in the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that required a plan on how the Department of Defense might reimburse state or municipal agencies that expended funds to provide alternative water supplies.
Bennet wrote to the CDC to ask that the nationwide study include communities in Colorado near Peterson AFB.
Bennet visited communities around Peterson AFB to receive an update on remediation efforts. There, Bennet also received an update on the challenges water districts are having receiving reimbursement for steps they took to clean up drinking water.
Bennet demanded the Trump Administration (CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)) release the results of a study regarding what levels of certain chemicals are safe in drinking water. According to news reports at the time, the EPA had been working to block the release of results from a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) study on the toxicity of certain PFAS.
Bennet passed an amendment to provide funding for the Department of Defense to reimburse state and municipal water authorities for actions they took to clean up and mitigate PFAS in drinking water. The amendment was included in the Department of Defense-Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations bill, which passed the Senate in 2018. The provision was not included in the final version of the bill that was signed into law.
Bennet wrote to the CDC/ATSDR to voice disappointment that the CDC will not include military and civilian firefighters in its investigations of the human health effects of PFAS contamination pursuant to Section 316 of the FY19 NDAA.
Bennet and his colleagues introduced the PFAS Action Plan of 2019, legislation that would mandate the EPA, within one year of enactment, declare PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, and enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation.
Bennet introduced an amendment to the NDAA to authorize the U.S. Air Force to reimburse local water districts, like those around Peterson AFB, for actions they took to treat and mitigate PFAS contamination.
Following Bennet’s 2018 letter calling on the CDC to include Colorado communities near Peterson AFB in the nationwide study on the health effects of PFAS, Bennet praised the agency’s decision to include these communities.
More than 12,000 El Paso County water users have been impacted by the chemical, which tainted the Widefield aquifer.
In 2016 the EPA lowered its health advisory levels for the compounds, vastly expanding the number of southern El Paso County residents considered at risk for exposure. A subsequent study tied the contamination to the decades-long use of a firefighting foam at Peterson Air Force Base.
Water districts in the towns of Security, Widefield and Fountain have either tied into uncontaminated water from Colorado Springs Utilities, or installed filtering systems to eliminate the chemicals.
In the letter, the senators say they believe the agency has not acted quickly enough to make water safe…
The lawmakers are asking for the EPA to prioritize the establishment of a maximum contamination level for drinking water and to allow cost-recovery for cleanup by labeling PFAS as hazardous substances.
FromThe La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):
Director of Water and Waste Water Tom Seaba reported this week that Colorado Department of Health and Environment has conducted its permit inspection of the new waste water treatment plant, and the results are good.
Speaking at the Tuesday meeting of the Utilities Commissioners, Seaba said the total cost of the project was about $18.86 million. Three loans were obtained for the construction of the plant from the Colorado Water Resource and Power Development Authority. The first was for nearly $13.6 million, the second for $3 million, and the third for $3 million…
Seaba also said he was pleased with the performance of his reverse csmosis plant crew. Through observation and careful maintenance, they were able to extend the life of the A and C Train membrane replacements — to 131 months from 58 months on the A Train, and to 137 months from 52 months on the C Train. They have saved one complete replacement of all three trains, at a savings of $386,442.
In other news, the back-flow prevention survey is continuing. For businesses that do not have any back-flow prevention or cross connection control, the survey will consist of a visual inspection of the plumbing and building information. Reminder letters have been mailed to those consumers that have a known back-flow prevention device registered with the city.
The Town of Palisade is moving forward with a study exploring solutions to either replace its aging sewer plant with a new facility or pump the waste to the Clifton Sanitation District, Town Administrator Janet Hawkinson said.
The town’s current plant uses lagoons and is situated on the east side of Riverbend Park. Those lagoons must be decommissioned, Hawkinson said.
The town, utilizing grant money awarded by the Department of Local Affairs, tasked an engineering firm to study the amount of waste the town produces, the cost to install a new plant and the cost to send the waste to Clifton…
The cost of a new Palisade sewer plant would likely be much more expensive than sending the waste to Clifton, Hawkinson said.
The study will be completed in approximately six weeks, Hawkinson said, at which point the Board of Trustees will need to weigh in on the next steps in the process.
Water treatment upgrades
Not to be confused with its sewer plant, Palisade’s water treatment plant is getting an upgrade after the Board of Trustees voted to spend nearly $40,000 to upgrade its computer systems.
Hawkinson said the water treatment plant is a newer facility, which uses advanced safety features as well as solar power in its design. Since the facility is newer much of it is computerized, Hawkinson said, and needed updates to its software.
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.
FromThe Longmont Times-Call (John Spina) via The Colorado Daily:
“We haven’t fluoridated for about a month,” said Bob Allen, the city’s director of operations public works and natural resources. “The water supply does have fluoride in it from natural sources, but it’s not fluoridated to the recommended 0.7mg/L level since we ran out.”
Without any added fluoride, Longmont naturally has a 0.2mg/L of fluoride in its water supply.
The effectiveness of adding a chemical like flouride to water systems has recently come under some scrutiny due to a higher use of fluoride by way of oral health products like toothpaste and mouth wash. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention even reduced the recommended level of fluoridation from 1.2 to 0.7mg/L in 2013, but that hasn’t swayed the Longmont City Council to change its policy.
“The benefits outweigh the negatives,” Mayor Brian Bagley said. “So there have been no discussions to stop fluoridation.”
Currently, the city pays roughly $40,000 a year for the chemicals as well as the labor to apply it to the water system.
Jim Kaufman, the city’s water treatment operations manager, said there is a steady supply of fluoride coming out of China, but in the past he has questioned its quality and is awaiting test results from Denver Water before he uses it in Longmont’s system.
FromColorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):
Colorado was the last Western state to legalize greywater usage in 2013. Officials say that by 2050, our water supply could fall short for over one million people. Climate change makes the future of Colorado water even more uncertain.
Colorado’s Water Plan wants to close the gap and recognizes greywater as one tool to help make that happen. However, not a single state-approved greywater system has been built since it was legalized. Only Denver, Castle Rock and Pitkin County have adopted the code, known as Regulation 86, that regulates how greywater gets done in the state.
Avery Ellis isn’t happy about that. He was closely involved when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment set the rules.
“It takes a little civil disobedience and a little public support to push these laws into local adoption,” the greywater installer said.
In his yard in Longmont, there are young trees and shrubs that are watered through one of his greywater systems.
Longmont isn’t Denver or Castle Rock and it’s nowhere near Pitkin County. In addition to his water saving rebellion, Ellis teaches and helps others how to go greywater without a permit. Because so far, even in the places where it’s been adopted, no one has even applied for a greywater permit.
Not a single one.
In Colorado, only two types of greywater systems are legal. This first one is called “laundry to landscape.” The second is more complicated and costly. Wastewater from a shower or sink is collected in a storage tank and is used for the landscape or to flush toilets. There’s internal plumbing and the water needs to be filtered and treated and can’t be stored for more than 48 hours…
There’s been some interest in these water saving systems in Pitkin County, which adopted greywater in 2018, but environmental health manager Kurt Dahl thinks that “due to the complication of the regulation they didn’t see the benefit.”
The city of Castle Rock is the newest to adopt the state’s greywater rules, but only for new construction. Retrofitting an old home or building isn’t allowed. Mark Marlowe, the director of Castle Rock Water, cites cost as the contributing factor behind that decision…
That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, Marlowe said, but they don’t have the resources to allow just anyone to put in a greywater system.
And that’s why some cities and counties have chosen not to take on greywater at all. Douglas County said it would be too complicated and costly for the county to oversee. They also point to the potential for public health risks.
Boulder won’t either, at least right now. Joe Taddeucci, the city water resources manager, said they first need to study if adopting greywater is worth it. One major concern are water rights. Does the city have the OK to use greywater on lawns, instead of sending it back to the river for the next user downstream? How much water would actually be conserved? And what would it take to regulate this?
…One of the only examples of a large-scale greywater system in the state is a dorm at the University of Colorado Boulder. Williams Village North was built with plumbing that collects wastewater from showers and sinks to flush toilets. Since the city of Boulder hasn’t adopted greywater, the system operates under a research exemption.
“Testing for chlorine levels, alkaline levels. And greywater systems of this size and magnitude are still fairly new technology, and we do want to make sure that we understand it better before we implement in a new building.”
At peak use, when students are in school and the dorm is full, the system uses about 2,000 gallons of greywater a day to flush toilets. It’s an example of where some of the biggest year-round savings can happen.
Sybil Sharvelle, an associate engineering professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, has been involved in greywater research for nearly 20 years. She also advised the state on the rules and is disappointed to see all the growth and construction over the past 10 years has failed to include greywater.
Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.
He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”
“Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”
Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.
But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.
And then there’s the cost.
“Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.
It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”
It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.
The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.
“[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.
Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.
But it’s still a $500 million project.
“The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”
Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…
[Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.
“We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe Utilities Division will raise water and wastewater rates by more than 90% and 50%, respectively, starting Oct. 1.
The Southern Ute Utilities Division, administered by the Southern Ute Growth Fund, provides both treated drinking water and wastewater treatment for the tribal campus, local tribal members living near Ignacio and the town of Ignacio. Discussions of rates have caused a rift between the town and the tribe, said Mark Garcia, interim town manager. While the town and the tribe analyze their agreement, ratepayers are stuck paying ever-increasing water and wastewater utility rates.
“Wastewater and water rates are based on usage, and they’re going up,” Garcia said. Utility customers will be hit with the increase at different times, based on their level of use for water and/or wastewater. But for overall water and wastewater rates, “all levels of users will see probably an increase in their rates starting in 2020,” he said.
Starting Oct. 1, ratepayers will pay higher base rates for fewer correlating gallons of water. Water rates will increase from $32.80 per 8,000 gallons to $47.80 per 6,000 gallons, a 94% increase. The rates will jump again Oct. 1, 2020, to $62.80 per 6,000 gallons, a 156% increase over current rates, according to a July letter to Garcia from the tribe.
The town charges customers additional fees for billing, repairs and collections. Garcia said the town’s water fees will increase from $24.60 to $26.48 a month starting Jan. 1, 2020, a 6.4% increase.
Wastewater rates will also increase. Service users currently pay $72.09 per ERT, or Equivalent Residential Tap, per month. One ERT allows for 7,500 gallons of usage.
That billing system will change. The tribal utility will charge the town based on winter usage, not ERT. This shift will also make ratepayers pay more for fewer gallons. On Oct. 1, the rate will increase to $87.09 per 6,000 gallons, a 51% increase over current rates. Wastewater rates will jump again in 2020. Users will be charged $102.09 per 6,000 gallons, a 77% increase over current rates.
The town charges an additional $9.88 base rate to users for billing, repairs and collections.
According to Garcia, the average town customer uses 4,000 gallons of wastewater per month, so ratepayers are paying for more wastewater than they are using.
“With the new rates and winter flow basis, the rates that the tribe charges the town as a bulk customer will actually go down from the current bulk rate charged,” the tribe wrote in a June news release.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Anne Manning):
With water scarcity a critical challenge across the globe, scientists and engineers are pursuing new ways to harvest purified water from unconventional sources, like seawater or even wastewater.
One of those researchers is Tiezheng Tong, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, whose lab is studying an emerging technology called membrane distillation.
Membrane distillation involves a thin, water-repellant membrane that exploits vapor pressure differences between hotter impure liquid, called “feedwater,” and colder purified water, called “permeate.” During the process, water vapor passes through the membrane and is separated from the salty or dirty feedwater. According to Tong, membrane distillation works better than other technologies like reverse osmosis, which can’t treat extremely salty water such as desalination brines or produced water from hydraulic fracturing.
While it holds promise, membrane distillation doesn’t work perfectly. A key challenge is designing membranes to purify water efficiently while ensuring zero contamination of the clean water.
Tong and materials scientist Arun Kota in the Department of Mechanical Engineering joined forces to get at the fundamental science behind designing that perfect membrane. In new experiments they describe in Nature Communications, the CSU engineers offer new information into why certain membrane designs used in membrane distillation work better than others.
“The fundamental knowledge from our paper improves mechanistic understanding on the water-vapor transport within microporous substrates and has the potential to guide the future design of membranes used in membrane distillation,” Tong said.
How it works
In membrane distillation, the feedwater is heated, separating the pure and impure components by differences in volatility. The micro-porous membrane is a key component to the setup because it allows water vapor through, but not the entire impure liquid. Typically, the membrane is made of a “hydrophobic,” or water-repellant, material in order to let only the water vapor pass through but maintain a barrier for the feedwater.
However, these hydrophobic membranes can fail, because the feedwater, such as shale oil-produced water, can have low surface tension. This low surface tension allows the feedwater to leak through the membrane pores, contaminating the pure water on the other side – a phenomenon called membrane wetting.
Previous research had unveiled that using “omniphobic” membranes – membranes that repel all liquids, including water and low surface tension liquids – keep the vapor/water separation intact. But, omniphobic membranes typically slow down the rate and amount of water vapor passing through the membrane, dramatically reducing the efficiency of the entire process.
The CSU researchers set out to discover why this tradeoff between hydrophobic vs. omniphobic membranes exists. Through systematic experiments in the lab led by postdoctoral researchers Wei Wang in Kota’s lab, and Tong’s graduate student Xuewei Du, they found that conventional hydrophobic membranes create a larger liquid-vapor interfacial area. This increases the amount of evaporation taking place. With the omniphobic membranes, they saw a much smaller liquid-vapor interface. This explains the difference between the membranes’ performances.
The omniphobic membranes used in the experiments were made without depositing extra particles. Thus the researchers were able to determine that their observations weren’t the result of structural changes to the membranes.
Solving the tradeoff problem
While they didn’t offer a solution to the tradeoff, their insights reveal the core challenge around making membrane distillation a successful technology. “If you understand the problem thoroughly, then there is scope for solving it,” Kota said. “We have identified the mechanism; now we have to solve the tradeoff problem.”
For example, smart membranes with exceptional omniphobicity and simultaneously large liquid-vapor interfacial area can render membrane distillation a robust and cost-effective process for water purification. More collaborative research has been initiated by the team to design such smart membranes, with the goal of increasing efficiency of membrane distillation.
Tong added that the research happened at the interface of two disciplines: surface science and membrane technology.
“Arun and I utilized our complementary expertise to systematically conduct this work,” Tong said. “It is an example of good interdisciplinary collaboration across campus.”
Graduate students Hamed Vahabi in mechanical engineering and Yiming Yin in civil and environmental engineering also contributed to this work.
The City of Greeley said algae is to blame for bad-tasting drinking water in the city.
Recent hot weather caused algae blooms in two lakes where Greeley gets its water.
Lake Loveland and Boyd Lake provide more than 20 million gallons of drinking water to the City of Greeley every day. The algae bloom left that water tasting like dirt and metal.
“People don’t like water that tastes dirty,” said Ed Hall, Assistant Professor Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at Colorado State University.
The blooms happen when there are nutrients in the water, hot days and not much wind…
Algae releases byproducts that cause the water to taste and smell strange. Right now, Greeley’s water department said the byproducts released from the algae are 250 times stronger than usual.
“This is an example of climate change in our own backyard. The reasons there are more algal blooms is because the temperatures are slightly warmer every year,” said Hall. “This isn’t going to go away. We really need to start thinking about how to protect ourselves and live with these as the earth becomes warmer every year.”
The city said they are now treating the water to try and get all the taste and smell from the algae out of the water. They said it should be almost back to normal by the time it gets to your sink.
When the roughly 40 million gallons per day of potable — or drinkable — water consumed by Greeley residents started tasting and smelling noticeably different last week, the Water Department didn’t wait long to react. The department believes its swift response last weekend has effectively solved the problem, and Greeley water should now taste better.
The problem: Concurrent algae blooms in both Boyd Lake and Lake Loveland, the major peak-months water sources from which the department draws and treats the water delivered to Greeley…
That meant, Chambers said, that the option of turning off sourcing from one of Boyd Lake or Lake Loveland — from which much of the area’s water is drawn during the “peak” summer months — was not sufficient. While the department did end up turning off its delivery from Lake Loveland, where Chambers said it was determined the algae situation was “about four times” as bad as it was in Boyd Lake, the water coming from Boyd Lake was still affected with an unappealing taste and smell…
The solution, then: Increase the activated carbon used to treat the water at the Boyd Lake treatment plant.
“Activated carbon is a good way to remove (the poor taste and smell),” Chambers said. “It’s also very expensive, and it’s hard to get the dosage exactly right for the amount that we’re measuring, which is in parts per billion. Tiny, tiny molecules that have a fair amount of influence on taste and odor…
Normally, activated carbon is used to treat the water in the 25 to 27 milligrams per liter range, Chambers said. But this dual algae bloom required more.
“Last Friday, we turned off our Lake Loveland supply, which allowed our activated carbon dosage to do a better job pulling those odor-causing molecules out,” Chambers said. “Then we upped the dosage, as well.”
Chambers said they began treating the water with about 35 milligrams per liter, up about 40% from the normal dosage. The department is continuing to use that increased dosage for the time being.
“Our internal sampling has led us to believe that’s perfectly adequate for removing what’s needed,” Chambers said.
The more southerly lakes become critical sources of water in the high-usage summer months, but the “workhorse” treatment plant is actually at the Poudre River Basin in Bellvue.
“We treat our water at those two locations near the foothills where you can grab higher-quality source water than you can find in Greeley and deliver the water to Greeley,” Chambers said. “Visionary system that was developed in the early 1900s up at Bellvue.”
Chambers emphasized the fact that even before treatment, while the water may have tasted differently, it was at no time unsafe to drink.
It’s one example of the financial burden this region still bears from the pollution, despite the $50 million the Air Force has spent on cleanup around Peterson.
“There are 60,000 stories just like this and they’re happening at the kitchen sink in every Fountain, Widefield and Security home,” Clark said of the communities whose water was tainted by the foam.
The foundation, as well as the nearby Security Water District, have sued the Air Force over the chemicals. District general manager Roy Heald said they had to find a new source of water for their customers, a complicated process which involved the construction of a mile-long pipeline to buy water from Colorado Springs. The cost of the pipeline and the first two years of water set the district back $6 million…
In 2018, the Air Force stepped in to cover the district’s water costs until the construction of a new treatment facility was completed. The Air Force will also pay for the facility. Still, Heald said it’s unclear what the ongoing long-term costs will be for the district when it comes to the new facility. It will be needed as long as the contamination remains in the groundwater, which could essentially be forever…
As of this June, $357 million has been spent on PFAS cleanup around 22 Air Force installations nationwide. It’s a lot of money that many who live near the sites say barely touches on the full problem…
There’s disagreement even between government agencies about what concentration of PFAS is safe for humans. A division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that levels should be set seven to 10 times lower than the EPA’s health advisory.
Genna Reed, the lead PFAS researcher for the Union of Concerned Scientists, has said the Department of Defense “misrepresented the scope of this issue in order to avoid having to pay.”
The Air Force would not grant an interview for this story, but states on the PFAS website it established that “protecting human health is our priority.”
Reed said the Department of Defense has limited which PFAS chemicals it tests for in groundwater and only releases data when the results are above the higher EPA threshold.
“Community members who have been exposed to this chemical and were not told of its release are being the ones left with the burden of paying for this contamination and paying to find out how much is in their water and also to find out how much is in their blood,” Reed said.
Rosenbaum said the full blood panel to test for PFAS chemicals costs about $700 — out of reach for many living near Peterson AFB.
Rosenbaum has organized a local clean water coalition to go after grants to test residents’ blood and water. She’s frustrated they have to do that work themselves.
“There’s absolutely no reason for our communities to go into debt over another water contamination that we didn’t cause,” she said.
FromThe La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Christian Burney):
Twenty-four water systems across the Arkansas Valley are in violation of the Clean Water Act due to the levels of radioactive contaminants – some of them naturally occurring – in the water, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The systems deemed to be in open health-based violation are located in or near La Junta, Cheraw, Rocky Ford, Manzanola, Swink and Wiley, and the water produced by those facilities is high in radioactive elements, radium and uranium and, in fewer instances, gross alpha radiation.
Colorado Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Dist.35) told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat that other municipalities – such as Fowler, Ordway, Sugar City, Las Animas, Eads and Hasty – could also be affected.
While those towns were not identified by the CDPHE to be in open violation of clean water standards, various contaminants such as selenium were measured by some of their water systems, he said.
The fact that radioactive contaminants exist in some water systems is not itself a new development. As Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District Manager Jay Winner put it, communities in the region have been dealing with them for years…
But the CDPHE’s findings reveal that radium levels in some Arkansas Valley water systems is up to 63 times higher than levels at the Pueblo Reservoir, and the amount of uranium is up to 12 times higher, Crowder said.
What does that mean if you’re born and raised here and have been drinking the contaminated water your entire life?
Maybe nothing, but the potential does exist for health problems if the impurities in drinking water regularly exceed the maximum contaminant level (MCL) recommended by the EPA and if there is long-term exposure.
For instance, the EPA says prolonged exposure to levels of nitrate (measured as nitrogen) – which is in fertilizer and which makes its way into groundwater and aquifers via runoff – exceeding the MCL could result in serious illness and, potentially, death in infants below 6 months of age.
Long-term exposure to selenium that exceeds the MCL could result in hair or fingernail loss, numbness in fingers or toes and other circulatory problems.
Several water systems tested positive for radium 226 and 228 (combined), which the EPA says could result in an increased risk of cancer, if the exposure is prolonged and above the recommended MCL. Radium appears in groundwater through the erosion of natural deposits…
Crowder requested the water quality tests in preparation for another push to get federal funding for the long overdue Arkansas Valley Conduit, which would deliver water from the Pueblo Reservoir up to about 130 miles downstream, bypassing the sources of contamination and providing cleaner water to communities in the Arkansas Valley.
Soldier Canyon Water Treatment Authority recently broke ground on a $38.9 million expansion to the water treatment plant in Fort Collins, Colorado. Fort Collins-Loveland Water District (FCLWD) receives the majority of the water it provides to 45,000 people in parts of Fort Collins, Loveland, Timnath, Windsor and Larimer County from the Soldier Canyon Filter Plant. Slated for a 2021 completion, the project will allow Soldier Canyon to meet peak summer capacity demands without relying on any other plants. It will also improve water quality with the construction of additional taste and odor facilities.
FCLWD currently receives raw water from the North Poudre Irrigation Company, Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) project, Josh Ames, Divide Canal and Reservoir Company, and Windsor Reservoir Company. Raw Water sources must be treated before being delivered to customers. Most of the water delivered to customers for household usage comes from the Soldier Canyon Filter Plant, which pulls from the Poudre River and Horsetooth Reservoir. The plant has some of the highest quality water in the area, which is measured and reported on quarterly for the plant, and years for FCLWD. The remainder of the water comes from the City of Fort Collins Water Treatment Facility and the City of Loveland Water Treatment Plant.
After the Soldier Canyon plant expansion is complete staff will be able to treat 60 million gallons of water per day. They will also have more treatment tools available for taste and odor removal, additional flocculation and sedimentation facilities, and additional contact time for chlorine to inactivate viruses and other pathogens. The expansion will be constructed offline, meaning minimal impact to FCLWD customers. At the end of the project, it will be connected to the existing facility.
“Our mission has always been to provide high quality, secure, reliable and affordable water to our customers,” says Chris Matkins, FCLWD general manager. “As the district continues to expand, we need to ensure we can continue to provide the highest quality water in the area water to customers. We are always planning for the future and this expansion is part of a multi-prong plan to meet demand and maintain infrastructure.”
Soldier Canyon Filter Plant, located at the base of Horsetooth Reservoir, treats and distributes water for three local entities: Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, North Weld County Water District and East Larimer County Water District.
FCLWD has provided water services to businesses and citizens since 1961. The District serves approximately 45,000 people in an area that encompasses approximately 60 square miles in parts of Fort Collins, Loveland, Timnath, Windsor and Larimer County. Governed by separately elected Boards of Directors, the Districts provide the full spectrum of high-quality and dependable water treatment and delivery as well as water reclamation services. For additional information about Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, its services and project visit http://www.fclwd.com or follow us on Facebook.
For additional information and updated on the expansion as well as tips for water conservation and efficiency visit FCLWD’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/fclwd.
A [new] groundwater treatment facility is going to be built just north of the existing one.
The facility will be paid for by the Air Force and will be built by the Army Corps of Engineers. The project is part of the agreement reached to protect Fountain’s water from contamination from Peterson Air Force Base in 2016.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
The Bureau of Reclamation announced that 30 projects will receive $5.1 million from the Desalination and Water Purification Research Program to develop improved and inexpensive ways to desalinate and treat impaired water.
“We are awarding grants to a diverse group of projects to reduce the cost, energy consumption and environmental impacts of treating impaired or otherwise unusable water for local communities across the country,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “This funding is a direct result of the Trump Administration’s commitment to increase water supply and delivery through improved technology.” Twenty-five awards are for laboratory-scale projects, which are typically bench scale studies involving small flow rates. They are used to determine the viability of a novel process, new materials or process modifications. Awards are limited to $150,000.
Five projects are selected as pilot-scale proposals, which test a novel process at a sufficiently large-scale to determine the technical, practical and economic viability of the process. Awards are limited to $400,000 and no more than $200,000 per year.
Types of projects funded include modeling, testing new materials such as nanomaterials, and improvements on known technologies such as distillation and electrodialysis. Projects are funded in the following states:
Here’s a report from KUNC (Luke Runyon). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
One morning in mid-February, David Herz went to turn on the faucet in his farmhouse outside the small western Colorado town of Paonia, and nothing came out…
Herz is president of a small water company that purchases treated drinking water from the town for him and a few of his rural neighbors. Small outages are common enough not to raise alarm. Herz started calling around to see what was happening…
“We usually we average about one (outage) a year on the line,” he said. “Something breaks, and you have to turn the water off. So it’s not uncommon.”
He quickly found he wasn’t the only person reliant on Paonia’s water with a dry tap. What he didn’t know at that point was how long the shortage would last. From mid-February to early March most of the town’s about 1,600 water customers were issued boil notices, and eventually saw their water turned off for a combined 13 days…
“What do we want growth to look like? Do we at some point in time put up the barricades and say not here?”
Those questions led to even tougher ones like whose water use is more important? And with projections for a hotter, drier Southwest, is a town like Paonia ready for climate change?
[Ken] Knight said they don’t yet have all the answers, but he’s committed to taking steps to prepare for future shortages.
“Water is the oil of the 21st century. People don’t quite understand how difficult it is to run a water system so you have clean drinking water,” he said.
If other small towns in the West aren’t prepared to handle a combination of drought and leaky infrastructure, he said Paonia’s story is a warning of things to come.
Water and wheat — foundations of life for millennia. In the American Southwest’s arid Sonoran Desert, water flows across Arizona from more than 300 miles away to quench the thirsts of more than four million people and sustain the food, economy, and livelihoods they rely on every day. Join us as we explore the thoughts of three visionaries in Tucson who are creating and growing a circular economy of water, forging a sustainable future for a city that could have gone in another direction. And nearly did.
We hear from third-generation farmer Brian Wong, who grows a variety of low-water and heat tolerant organic heritage wheat in the arid plains northwest of Tucson, and Don Guerra of Barrio Bread, who bakes 1,000 loaves of artisanal bread per day using local and indigenous wheat varieties. Brian and Don are bound together by water and the City of Tucson’s ability to provide it to them, and their community. Lastly, we hear from Tim Thomure, director of Tucson Water — a visionary working to build and sustain a thriving city in the Sonoran Desert.
American Rivers is deeply involved with a number of efforts across Arizona to help sustain the lives of millions of people across the state, ensure the viability of a thriving economy in the desert, as well as protect the vital lifeline for the entire region, the Colorado River.
Join us as we explore these ideas, and others, across the Southwest. For more information about this work, please see our Lower Colorado River page, and follow us to keep in touch with what is going on across this important region of the country.
Here’s a report from Tom Dart that’s running in The Guardian. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
In Colorado Springs, businesses are suing the military for perfluorinated compounds, which some are calling ‘Agent Orange 2.0’
Over the last 80 years, much of the land surrounding Venetucci Farm was sold to the US army to establish the base now known as Fort Carson, and today it is hemmed in by highways. Still, with its 200 acres of fields, farmhouse and big red barn, it is a beloved institution in Colorado Springs. As the only community urban farm left in the sprawling city, it is a valuable resource, educating thousands of children about agriculture, sustainability and healthy eating and known above all for its annual pumpkin giveaways.
The autumn pumpkin event has taken place for decades, and a local brewer still makes Venetucci Pumpkin Ale, but now the pumpkins are bought elsewhere. The produce is no longer available for public consumption because farming activities have stopped. In 2016, irrigation water was found to be contaminated with elevated levels of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).
The foundation that runs the farm has joined forces with a local water district to sue the US air force, alleging that toxic chemicals used in firefighting foam at a nearby base have tainted the water, perhaps for decades, prompting health worries and causing economic losses.
Similar concerns have been raised about dozens of other bases across the country. But the problem is not limited to areas close to military installations.
PFCs and related human-made chemicals, more generally known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), have been virtually unregulated since at least the 1950s. As well as at industrial sites, airports and bases, PFAS have long been used in household products thanks to their grease- and stain-resistant properties. They are everywhere: from fast-food packaging to carpets and furniture, water-repellent clothing and non-stick cookware such as Teflon.
The extraordinary resilience that led to them being dubbed “forever chemicals” no longer seems such a boon. As more becomes known about their widespread presence in the environment and the potential health risks, activists are urging state and federal regulators take action to increase oversight and even ban PFAS outright.
During recent testing mandated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at 20 different sites earlier this year, the town discovered that seven had lead levels in excess of the state’s maximum allowable limit of 15 parts per billion. The finding comes just months after Frisco discovered a similar issue in their sampling pool.
Dillon officials stress that the town has good, clean surface water.
“We don’t have lead in our source water,” said Scott O’Brien, Dillon’s public works director. “We’ve monitored for that, and it’s not the issue. … The issue is the materials that were used prior to 1987 for constructing homes, copper pipe with leaded solder. In addition to that, a lot of fixtures like faucets were constructed with either brass or bronze — metal alloys that contain lead.”
O’Brien said that because the source water is so “aggressive,” it’s leeching the lead out of older pipes and fixtures at testing sites, resulting in the elevated rates. In determining aggressiveness, the town looks at four main factors: pH levels, alkalinity, temperature and hardness.
The pH level in the water measures how acidic or basic the water is on a scale of 0 to 14 — anything below 7 is considered acidic, and anything higher is considered basic. In general, high acidity means the water is more corrosive, and more likely to leech metal ions like lead and copper. Dillon’s source water is naturally about 7.3, or slightly leaning towards the basic side.
Alkalinity is a measure of the buffering ability of the water, essentially the ratio of hydrogen ions versus hydroxide ions that determines the water’s ability to neutralize acid. O’Brien noted that Dillon’s water has low alkalinity. Temperature is self-explanatory, literally describing how hot or cold the water is — wherein hotter water is more reactive and aggressive than cold water. Hardness measures the mineral concentration in the water, or what it’s naturally picking up as it flows along. Because Dillon uses its source water so quickly, it is relatively soft.
“We’re the first in line to pick it up, and it doesn’t have the chance to pick up these other minerals and other things that help reduce the aggressiveness of the water,” said O’Brien.
This is a problem that Dillon has dealt with in the past. The town’s testing also returned high lead levels in both 2012 and 2014, and officials have been working with the state since to address the issue. In 2014, the town attempted to adjust the pH levels up to about 8.5 on the scale, which appeared to have worked over the last five years. Though, due to recent changes in regulations from the state level — which essentially requires towns to zero in on high-risk testing sites to determine the worst-case scenarios for water quality issues — new issues are being discovered.
“To get a representative sample pool they don’t want us to go over the distribution system geographically, and sample it spread out,” said Mark Helman, chief water plant operator. “They want us to sample these particular sites built from 1983 to 1987 (before the Lead Contamination Control Act in 1988) they know are going to give us the worst results. … This is a process of us learning where the worst sites are that we have, testing those sites, seeing how our water is doing at those sites, and if we have a problem we want to address the worst case scenario.”
Both O’Brien and Helman noted that they already have a plan to try and address the issue of overly aggressive water. The plan is to add soda ash — sodium carbonate or baking soda — during the water treatment process to increase pH levels, alkalinity and hardness to the water to reduce aggressiveness. However, because it includes changes to the plant, the new process must first be signed off on by the state.
O’Brien said that once the state approves the town’s new water treatment methods they’ll be able to implement the new process quickly, though the review process could take between 30 and 60 days.
Click here to read the release from the USGS (Jennifer LaVista):
A new study shows that mysterious cycles in salinity in the lower Colorado River are a result of precipitation patterns in the headwaters of the upper basin more than a thousand river miles away. The salinity levels generally repeat about every 10 years.
Beginning in the late 1970s, these decadal-scale salinity cycles were observed at monitoring locations on the lower Colorado River in the U.S., hampering the Bureau of Reclamation’s efforts to manage salinity in the river for delivery of water to Mexico to meet obligations under an international treaty.
The Colorado River provides water for more than 35 million people in the U.S. and 3 million in Mexico. The river also sustains agricultural production of food for millions in both countries. Mexico uses nearly all of its Colorado River allotment for irrigation. High salinity in irrigation water can reduce agricultural productivity and may preclude growing crops such as tomatoes and lettuce.
“It’s important for Reclamation to be able to understand and forecast changes in salinity in the lower Colorado River as management actions may be required,” said Fred Tillman, lead author of the study. “Understanding the causes of the salinity cycles will provide Reclamation with about 4 years of advance notice on future changing salinity cycles in the lower river.”
USGS scientists tracked salinity cycles from the northern international boundary with Mexico, upstream through Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon, to Lees Ferry using extensive streamflow and water- chemistry datasets. Scientists first hypothesized that evaporation in Lake Powell may cause the cycles. However, evaluation of lake water levels, evaporation data and salinity results from Lake Powell eliminated the reservoir as the cause. Scientists continued their search even farther up the basin, finding that monitoring data from the Green, Colorado and San Juan Rivers in the upper basin all showed salinity cycles that were similar to those seen on the lower river. Cyclical patterns in precipitation in the upper basin were discovered to be causing the cyclical salinity patterns in the river that then travel downstream relatively unchanged.
Colorado School of Mines celebrated today the grand opening of a new 10,000-square-foot research facility in Denver that will pave the way for greater collaboration with industry, government and academia to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing society today – access to clean water.
The WE2ST (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology) Water Technology Hub will accommodate large-scale research focused on developing innovative treatment technologies for produced water from oil, gas and mineral production, groundwater contaminated with emerging contaminants (including toxic poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances), saline and hypersaline streams, municipal water, wastewater and more — leading to sustainable water reuse.
“Colorado School of Mines was founded almost 150 years ago to help industry grow and thrive and since those early years, solving water and wastewater treatment challenges have been a key part of its research mission,” said Stefanie Tompkins, vice president of research and technology transfer. “As we approach our next 150 years, we want to continue to be a go-to place for the use-inspired research and innovation needed for society’s big challenges. This new facility is an important step in that direction, allowing our amazing researchers – in partnership with other research institutions, industry and government – to bridge the gap between lab-scale and commercial-scale water treatment technologies.”
Located off Interstate 70 and Quebec Street in Denver, the WE2ST Hub includes full analytical and wet labs for water analysis, a fabrication facility and a flexible research bay, with capacity for 30,000 gallons of water and rail line access for bringing in those water samples from anywhere in the U.S.
The industrial facility was previously operated by NGL Energy Partners, a midstream oil and gas company, which donated the entirety of the facility’s equipment to Mines, a gift valued at approximately $800,000.
“For over a decade, NGL Energy Partners has been treating oilfield waste water, creating clean water for use in irrigation, municipal and industrial applications, and, in addition, returning substantial amounts of clean water to the surface for beneficial use,” CEO H. Michael Krimbill said. “We are proud to be a part of this project and look forward to an ongoing collaboration with Colorado School of Mines through serving as a partner to assist in efforts to pilot and commercialize innovations that flow from the WE2ST Water Technology Hub.”
A gift of $1.5 million from the Colorado-based ZOMA Foundation will seed the facility’s operations and support several undergraduate and graduate research fellowships.
“ZOMA is excited to support the WE2ST Water Technology Hub and hopes the facility can help accelerate innovations that improve access to clean water and further sustainable water reuse,” said Luis Duarte, chief philanthropic officer of ZOMALAB.
The hub’s inaugural projects include a U.S. Department of Energy-funded collaboration with UCLA on solar desalination and a smaller project in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on hydrokinetic – or ocean wave – energy desalination. The hub is also one of the core research facilities of NAWI, the National Alliance for Water Innovation. Dr. James Rosenblum, a former postdoctoral fellow at CU Boulder and staff scientist at Jacobs Engineering, will oversee daily operations of the facility.
“We want to thank NGL Energy Partners and the ZOMA Foundation for their help in making possible a facility of this size dedicated to developing innovative technologies for the treatment and reuse of municipal and industrial wastewater,” said Tzahi Cath, director of the WE2ST Water Technology Hub and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines.
“To better partner with industry and municipalities and help them solve the real-world water treatment challenges they face, we needed more space than is typically available on a college campus,” Rosenblum said. “We’re excited to get to work at a much larger scale than ever before.”
Click here to go to the Colorado Legislature website to read the bill:
Concerning the point of compliance related to the treatment process involved in treating reclaimed domestic wastewater for indoor nonpotable uses within a building where the general public can access plumbing fixtures that are used to deliver the reclaimed domestic wastewater.
SESSION: 2019 Regular Session
SUBJECTS: Natural Resources & Environment Water
In 2018, the general assembly authorized the use of reclaimed domestic wastewater for irrigation of food crops and industrial hemp and for toilet flushing if, at the point of compliance in the water treatment process, the reclaimed domestic wastewater met certain water quality standards.
The bill authorizes the water quality control commission (commission) to adopt rules requiring a point of compliance for disinfection residual related to the treatment process for reclaimed domestic wastewater used for toilet flushing within a building where the general public can access the plumbing fixtures used to deliver the reclaimed domestic wastewater. If the commission adopts the rules, the rules must establish a point of compliance for disinfection residual at a single location between where reclaimed domestic wastewater is delivered to the occupied premises and before the water is distributed for use in the occupied premises.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Paonia began restoring water service Monday to residents affected by an outage resulting from leaks and poor production from the springs that provide the town’s raw water supply…
The town began restoring service Monday morning but was doing so slowly to avoid pressure spikes. Knight expected that by the end of Monday most people who weren’t getting water would be seeing some water pressure, although that might not be the case for homes at higher elevations or at the end of water lines.
The town is expecting full pressure systemwide to be reached by this afternoon.
A notice to boil the water before drinking it remains in place as the service is being restored to allow time for lines to be flushed and chlorine to make its way through the system. Knight said if things go well, water samples may be able to be taken today. Still, it will take about 24 hours to get test results to the state to determine whether the notice can be lifted.
The town last week cut service first to about a third of the 1,800 people it serves, and then to about 200 more taps. That happened after it found and fixed some leaks, but its spring water supplies weren’t able to replenish the lost water in its main tank. Knight believes those springs were affected by last year’s drought.
The town continued service to what it considered essential areas, such as those serving school, urgent care center and nursing home facilities, and downtown businesses.
The town is now restoring cut-off service thanks to a number of factors. Mount Lamborn Ranch agreed to make water available from Roeber Reservoir, and state officials helped the town find additional water in the town’s springs, Knight said. Also, a few more large leaks were found.
Knight said a leak-detection crew from the city of Westminster found one of them, and the city of Montrose sent a construction crew to fix it. It’s one of numerous examples of support Paonia has gotten from state, county and local governments. Others who have helped include plumbers who have offered to check residents’ pressure relief valves on their hot water tanks in preparation for water service to be restored.
Knight said the town had been processing as little as 135 gallons a minute, but now is up to 550 gallons a minute, which far exceeds even normal usage of the system and is letting the town refill tanks. Still, its springs are producing about half of normal for this time of year, so it is continuing to encourage conservation.
The town is planning another community meeting today at 6 p.m. at the Paradise Theatre to update residents on the situation.
The problem started on Feb. 17, when Paonia’s water operators noted a loss of water in a 2 million gallon storage tank. A team went out looking for a leak, but could not locate it. As the leak continued, the town’s water system lost enough pressure that the state of Colorado imposed a boil order. In response, town officials declared a state of emergency.
A potable water tank arrived soon after, on loan from the National Park Service, which affected residents could use to fill up vessels to take water back to their homes. A team, aided by the city of Westminster, was sent out to locate the leaks. They found one in a supply pipe that was spilling into the North Fork River. After locating the leak, the town’s water delivery system came back online on Feb. 22.
Four days later, town officials discovered that its water customers were consuming more than what was being produced at its water treatment plant. A series of 22 springs at the base Mount Lamborn serves as the town’s raw water supply. Because of record-breaking dry conditions during much of 2018, the springs are running at half their normal volumes for this time of year.
To avoid seeing the town’s entire supply dip to a dangerous level, town administrator Ken Knight chose to shut down some water users to allow the system to recharge. First he denied water to 27 mostly rural providers who purchase water from the town to deliver to customers within Delta County. Then Knight turned off the majority of the town’s residential users, choosing to maintain service at Paonia’s schools, town buildings, downtown business district and other facilities deemed critical to the town’s operations.
Since then, Knight says the town has been working with a local rancher association to tap into a privately-held reservoir to fill the town’s system. That’s allowed most of Paonia’s downtown core to keep receiving water while the rest of the community has been out of water or on a boil notice.
Even when water service returns, which could come as early as Monday, the town will remain on a boil order until the town can flush its system, pull samples of the treated water, and send them to a lab for testing. If those samples show the water is safe to drink, Knight says Paonia residents could get service back without a boil order in place by Wednesday afternoon.
If samples come back positive for contaminants, that process would be delayed until the water is deemed safe.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The town of Paonia was forced Tuesday to cut off water to about a third of its users in the second phase of a water emergency that began when it issued a boil order last week due to leaks and resulting low pressure.
Although the town believes it has fixed the leak problem, it’s now struggling to build back up storage in its main, 2 million gallon tank because its spring-fed water supply was diminished by last year’s drought.
Town Administrator Ken Knight said the town’s springs are producing about a quarter of what they currently do this time of year, and the water tank had only about a foot or foot-and-a-half of water left as of Tuesday morning.
“We realized we simply were using more water than we were able to produce based on the raw water supply,” he said.
The town decided to cut off service to 27 water companies it serves, and continue to supply areas that include downtown businesses, school facilities, and an urgent care center and nursing home. The town is providing bottled water, and the National Park Service also has loaned a potable water truck from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to give people drinking water. Delta County also is providing a truck that supplies raw water for uses such as flushing toilets and other nonconsumptive uses, Knight said.
The town’s water problems began early last week due to two major water leaks Knight said weren’t immediately noticeable because the leaked water ran underground to the nearby North Fork of the Gunnison River, rather than surfacing on streets as leaks typically do. Knight suspects at least one leak, which occurred in the area of a fire hydrant, was caused by the freeze-thaw cycles this time of year, but he said the cause isn’t yet known.
Due to low pressure and the potential for backwash in the system, the town had a state-mandated boil-water order in place from Monday through Friday of last week.
Service was back to normal over the weekend, but then the issue with the low spring water supply surfaced.
Knight said the problem is that last year’s low snowpack was compounded by a lack of rain later in the year, so heading into winter the springs never had the chance to recharge…
The water system serves about 1,800 people. Knight said it could be 24 to 48 hours before water service is restored to those who have been cut off, but that’s an educated guess and the town should know more this morning.
Once service is restored, a boil order will be in place for a while for those currently not getting water until tests of the restored water supply are completed. Knight said Mesa County health officials provide that testing and have been doing so in a timely manner amidst the current crisis. He credited Mesa County’s health and emergency management officials along with the Park Service, Delta County, state officials and others for their assistance to the town, and also praised town residents for their patience and understanding.
When Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Fortune returned from Iraq, his body battered by war, he assumed he’d be safe.
Then the people around him began to get sick. His neighbors, all living near five military bases, complained of tumors, thyroid problems and debilitating fatigue. Soon, the Colorado health department announced an unusually high number of kidney cancers in the region. Then Mr. Fortune’s wife fell ill.
The military, it turned out, had been leaching toxic chemicals into the water for decades.
Mr. Fortune felt “stabbed in the back,” he said. “We give our lives and our bodies for our country, and our government does not live up to their end of the deal.”
That was 2016. Since then, the Defense Department has admitted that it allowed a firefighting foam to slip into at least 55 drinking water systems at military bases around the globe, sometimes for generations. This exposed tens of thousands of Americans, possibly many more, to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of man-made chemicals known as PFAS that have been linked to cancers, immune suppression and other serious health problems.
Though the presence of the chemicals has been known for years, an announcement last week from the Environmental Protection Agency for the first time promised regulatory action, a significant acknowledgment of the startling scope of the problem that drew outrage from veterans and others living in contaminated communities.
Acting administrator Andrew Wheeler said that the agency would begin the process of potentially limiting the presence of two of the compounds in drinking water, calling this a “pivotal moment in the history of the agency.”
The admission drew some praise, but many said that it was not enough and that millions of people would keep ingesting the substances while a regulatory process plods along. “It should have been called an inaction plan,” said Judith Enck, a former E.P.A. regional administrator appointed by President Barack Obama.
While the military has used the chemicals extensively, it is far from the only entity to do so, and in recent years, companies like DuPont have come under fire for leaching PFAS into water systems.
All told, 10 million people could be drinking water laced with high levels of PFAS, according to Patrick Breysse, a top official at the federal Centers for Disease Control. Mr. Breysse has called the presence of the chemicals “one of the most seminal public health challenges” of the coming decades.
The residents of Fountain, a mountain-flanked suburb of Colorado Springs, were told of the contamination by local officials who had been required by the E.P.A. to test the water for the substances, a step toward possible regulation. Soon dozens of communities from New York to Washington State discovered their drinking water was also polluted with PFAS.
Many people began demanding that state and military officials test their blood for the chemicals, hoping to learn the extent of their presence in their bodies.
The military has started an expensive cleanup effort that has involved shifting entire municipalities to new water sources and assessing toxic plumes that continue to spread for miles.
Maureen Sullivan, the military’s deputy assistant secretary for environment, said the government had moved “aggressively” to tackle the problem, assessing cleanup duties and looking for alternatives to the firefighting foam, a version of which the military still uses.
“I’m proud of what the Department of Defense has done in the past two-plus years,” she said.
But frustration persists. The military never alerted all of the people who drank polluted water, meaning some are still in the dark. When asked how many people were affected by contamination, Ms. Sullivan said she “couldn’t hazard a guess.”
FromThe Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
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 lakes and streams 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.
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 (189 million liters) 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 (76-million-liter) 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…
At many mines, the pollution has continued decades after their enlistment in the federal Superfund cleanup program for the nation’s most hazardous sites, which faces sharp cuts under President Donald Trump…
In mountains outside the Montana capital of Helena, about 30 households can’t drink their tap water because groundwater was polluted by about 150 abandoned gold, lead and copper mines that operated from the 1870s until 1953.
The community of Rimini was added to the Superfund list in 1999. Contaminated soil in residents’ yards was replaced, and the EPA has provided bottled water for a decade. But polluted water still pours from the mines and into Upper Tenmile Creek…
Estimates of the number of such abandoned mine sites range from 161,000 in 12 western states to as many as 500,000 nationwide. At least 33,000 have degraded the environment, according to the Government Accountability Office, and thousands more are discovered every year.
Officials have yet to complete work including basic risk analyses on about 80 percent of abandoned mining sites on federal lands. Most are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which under Trump is seeking to consolidate mine cleanups with another program and cut their combined 2019 spending from $35 million to $13 million.
Problems at some sites are intractable.
— 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.
State and federal laws in recent decades have held companies more accountable than in the past, but critics say huge loopholes all but ensure that some of today’s mines will foul waterways or require perpetual cleanups…
QUESTIONS OVER WHO SHOULD PAY
To date, the EPA has spent an estimated $4 billion on mining cleanups. Under Trump, the agency has identified a small number of Superfund sites for heightened attention after cleanup efforts stalled or dragged on for years. They include five mining sites examined by AP.
Former EPA assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus said more money is needed to address mining pollution on a systematic basis, rather than jumping from one emergency response to another…
Democrats have sought unsuccessfully to create a special cleanup fund for old hardrock mine sites, with fees paid by the mining industry. Such a fund has been in place for coal mines since 1977, with more than $11 billion in fees collected and hundreds of sites reclaimed.
The mining industry has resisted doing the same for hardrock mines, and Republicans in Congress have blocked the Democratic proposals.
Montana Mining Association director Tammy Johnson acknowledged abandoned mines have left a legacy of pollution, but added that companies still in operation should not be forced to pay for those problems…
In 2017, the EPA proposed requiring companies still operating mines to post cleanup bonds or offer other financial assurances so taxpayers don’t end up footing cleanup bills. The Trump administration halted the rule, but environmental groups are scheduled to appear in federal court next month in a lawsuit that seeks to revive it.
“When something gets on a Superfund site, that doesn’t mean it instantly and magically gets cleaned up,” said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin. “Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer.”
The U.S. is the second-largest producer of coal in the world, thanks in part to massive surface mines like this one in Wyoming. Photo courtesy BLM.
Junior environmental engineering students measure water quality parameters for their field session client, Clear Creek Watershed Foundation. (Credit: Deirdre O. Keating)
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]
Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015
Mountain top removal for coal mining
Acid mine drainage Pennsylvania Mine via the Summit County Citizens Voice
Colorado abandoned mines
Acid mind drainage Cement Creek watershed
Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)
The Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary water-treatment facility at Gold King Mine, October 2015, via Steve Lewis/The Durango Herald.
Argo Mine Boulder County
Central City back in the day
Summitville Mine superfund site
California Gulch back in the day
San Juan Smelter Durango via
One of the many smelters that once operated in the Pueblo area. Photo credit: Environmental Protection Agency
Commodore waste rock superfund site Creede
Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com
Workers pose in front of the Boston and Colorado Smelter at Argo Photo Colorado Historical Society
The Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which includes 48 mining-related sites around Silverton, is one of six Superfunds nationwide to be part of the study, referred to as an “adaptive management” strategy.
“We are really excited about this for Bonita Peak,” said Christina Progess, Superfund remedial project manager.
In May 2017, then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt formed a task force to think about ways to speed up Superfund cleanups, which in some cases can take decades to complete.
A month later, the task force recommended an “adaptive management” strategy that would improve and accelerate the process. Government agencies have used adaptive management since at least the 1970s, but the task force’s move made it formal for EPA.
Kate Garufi, an environmental engineer for EPA who is also chairwoman of the adaptive management task work force, said that some Superfund sites are large and complex, and it can take years to formulate a long-term cleanup plan.
“When you look at Superfund, it’s historically been very linear with a site investigation, evaluating alternatives, selecting a decision and implementing it, which can take a very long time,” she said.
Adaptive management, however, allows the EPA to target quicker projects year to year while a comprehensive solution is investigated, Garufi said.
“We’ll be able to take early actions and see those benefits while we continue to evaluate the entire basin,” she said.
The strategy made perfect sense for Bonita Peak, Progess said, which at 48 individual mining sites across the entire headwaters of the Animas River Basin is one of the larger and more complicated Superfund sites in the country.
As part of the adaptive management, Bonita Peak will be part of the 12-month study, which will set various goals and engage the local community.
“Because we are so early in the investigative process at Bonita Peak, adaptive management will help us set those goals and how to achieve them,” Progess said…
In June 2018, the EPA released a “quick action” plan for cleanup work at 26 mining sites over the next five years to be conducted while the agency comes up with a more long-term, comprehensive strategy to address mine pollution around Silverton.
The plan met resistance from local groups and individuals who say the plan fails to first quantify the benefits and goals that would result from the action plan, which would cost millions of dollars to clean up sites considered smaller contributors of pollution.
Thomas said the adaptive management will help refine that plan. She said a final decision, called an interim Record of Decision, could be issued within the next month or so.
On Wednesday, Thomas also addressed the concern that the partial government shutdown, which lasted 35 days, would cause the EPA to lose a summer season’s worth of work at Bonita Peak.
“Of course everyone here at EPA was dismayed about government shutdown, and it’s good to get back to work,” Thomas said. “Clearly there have been some impacts to the work we were all doing, but we’re doing our best to make sure we can take advantage of a full summer season.”
Here’s the release from Denver Water (Travis Thompson):
At its meeting today, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted rate changes to fund essential upgrades and new projects to keep Denver Water’s system running smoothly. The new rates take effect Feb. 1, 2019, and monthly bills for most Denver residents will increase by 55 cents if they use water the same as they did in 2018.
“While the cost to maintain and upgrade the water system continues to increase, rapid development inside the city of Denver has brought in more fees from new taps sold, helping to minimize the 2019 rate increase for Denver customers,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager. “The surrounding suburbs, however, had less development than in the past, reducing the amount collected from new tap fees, which means we’ll need to collect more revenue from suburban water rates in 2019.”
Suburban customers who receive water from one of Denver Water’s 65 distributors will see an additional monthly increase added to their volumetric charges. The Denver City Charter requires that suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount. Learn more about how this works: “Why Denver water costs more in the ‘burbs.”
If you live outside Denver and receive water from a distributor under contract with Denver Water, you can expect to see an annual increase between $23 and $41, which is between $1.90 and 3.40 a month (based on an annual use of 102,000 gallons of water).
Pat Fitzgerald, general manager of four Denver Water distributors including the Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District and chairman of the suburban districts’ Technical Advisory Committee, which reviews Denver Water’s rates annually, provided this statement:
“The advisory committee supports the rate increase. The cost-of-service study used to determine the difference between inside city and outside city customers is fair and reasonable, and the committee had no objections to the results. The expenses are going up, but they’re all projects that are necessary to provide a reliable and safe source of water.”
The major multiyear projects that water rates fund include building a new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, installing a new 8.5-mile water pipeline to replace a pipeline that was built in the 1930s, expanding Gross Reservoir to provide a more reliable future water supply, constructing a new water quality lab to ensure the highest water quality standards, investing more than $100 million to repair and replace water pipes, and more. There are 158 major projects identified in Denver Water’s five-year, $1.3 billion capital plan.
A customer’s bill is comprised of a fixed charge, which helps ensure Denver Water has more stable revenue to continue the necessary water system upgrades to ensure reliable water service, and a volume rate. The fixed monthly charge — which is tied to meter size — in 2019 is increasing by 55 cents for most residential customers both inside the city and out.
Denver Water’s rate structure includes a three-tiered charge for water use (called the volume rate). To keep water affordable, indoor water use — like for bathing, cooking and flushing toilets — is charged at the lowest rate. Essential indoor water use is determined by averaging the customer’s monthly water use on bills dated from January through March each year. This is called average winter consumption. Water use above the average winter consumption — typically for outdoor watering — is charged at a higher price.
Volume rates for Denver residents will remain the same, but will increase on suburban bills.
Denver Water operates and maintains more than 3,000 miles of pipe — enough to stretch from Los Angeles to New York — as well as 20 dams, 22 pump stations, 30 underground storage tanks, four treatment plants and more. The water provider’s collection system covers more than 4,000 square miles, and it operates facilities in 12 counties in Colorado.
Denver Water does not make a profit or receive tax dollars, and reinvests ratepayers’ money to maintain and upgrade the water system. The utility is funded by water rates, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and fees for new service (called System Development Charges).
Customers will see more information about 2019 rates in their bills and on Denver Water’s website over the next few months.