Something in the water: Trying to get a handle on E. coli issues in the #SanJuanRiver, #AnimasRiver — The #Durango Telegraph

The Animas River in Durango, in Apri, 2018. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Durango Telegraph (Jonathan Romeo):

“We know who pooped in the river, now we’re trying to figure out where it’s coming from,” Alyssa Richmond said as she took a sample of water recently from the muddy San Juan River, in the blazing high desert outside Farmington.

Richmond is coordinator for the San Juan Watershed Group, a collection of local agencies and volunteers working to improve water quality on the San Juan River as it runs through northern New Mexico. The group’s ultimate goal, Richmond said, is to have the stretch of river meet national water quality standards. But as it stands, it’s not going well.

Among a plethora of water-quality issues that include mine pollution, urban runoff and rising water temperatures amid an increasing drought, is the issue of E. coli contamination. A naturally occurring bacteria that lives in all humans and animal stools, E. coli can contaminate ground and surface water, and lead to health implications.

For at least the past 10 years, researchers have launched a full-scale investigation to better understand E. coli issues up and down the San Juan River watershed, from high up in the San Juan Mountains to its major tributary, the Animas River, to stretches that run into the Navajo Nation.

Early results are not encouraging: the EPA’s standard for acceptable E. coli levels is 126 colony-forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters. In stretches of the San Juan River through Farmington, water samples taken this summer exceeded nearly 1,500 CFUs. “We didn’t expect it to be as high as it was,” Richmond said on a sampling day in late August. “It was shocking.”

But it’s not all doom and poop. The San Juan Watershed Group’s efforts will ultimately help inform where cleanup projects should be focused to achieve the highest improvement in water health. And, all up and down the watershed, even to the highest reaches of the Animas River around Silverton, there is a concerted push to face E. coli issues head on.

“The good news is everyone agrees there should be no human poop in the water,” said San Juan Citizens Alliance’s Animas Riverkeeper Marcel Gaztambide, who probably never thought he’d have to make so obvious a statement to the local paper. “And it’s an issue of concern, so it’s good we’re talking about it now.”

Defecation detectives

E. coli is a difficult contaminant to fully contextualize because not only is it naturally occurring, it is also one of the most common bacteria. It can come from livestock as well as wildlife like elk, deer, birds, beaver – pretty much any animal that poops. And to complicate matters further, only some strains of the bacteria are harmful to human health.

In the early 2010s, however, researchers knew high E. coli levels were an issue in the San Juan River in northern New Mexico, but the question was, who was the main culprit? After conducting two years of microbial source testing, which not only shows the level of E. coli but also pinpoints the exact source, the results were not what researches were expecting. It came back that the largest contributors were … drumroll, please … humans.

In fact, test results showed human feces in 70 to 100 percent of samples taken from the Animas River at the Colorado-New Mexico state line down to the border of the Navajo Nation.

With the guilty party exposed, funding was again secured to take the investigation a step further this summer by understanding where exactly the human waste was coming from, Richmond said. It’s a process that’s rather simple, by testing upstream and downstream of suspected source points, and then seeing where the spikes in E. coli levels occur. And already, there are some potential smoking guns: failing septic tanks from homes and development, outdated wastewater treatment plants and illegal RV dumping.

What the sampling has also shown, Richmond said, is the high E. coli levels aren’t necessarily coming from upstream communities in Durango and elsewhere. Instead, early results indicate the highest spikes happen in and around Farmington…

It’s a watershed moment

But that doesn’t necessarily mean upstream communities are swimming in sparkling clean waters.

The Animas River, for instance, has issues all its own. Remember that EPA standard of 126 cfu/100 mL? Well, one study conducted by Fort Lewis College in October 2018 found E. coli levels in the Animas at Santa Rita Park, near the Whitewater Park (close your eyes kayakers and surfers) at 226 CFUs. Bare in mind, this was before the completion of the City’s new water reclamation facility in December 2019…

Over in the Florida River, which runs into the Animas about 18 miles south of Durango, progress is also being made, said Warren Rider, coordinator for the Animas Watershed Partnership, which focuses on water quality issues on the Colorado side of the border.

The Florida River for years has exceeded safety standards for E. coli and accounts for nearly a quarter of the bacteria and nutrients dumped into the Animas River before the state line. In a bit of a shock, the Florida was delisted last year, but that was mostly due to a lack of data, researchers say.

While natural sources do account for a portion of contamination in the Florida, agriculture and livestock operations also contribute a good amount of harmful bacteria. As a result, Rider said the Animas Watershed Partnership has tried to work with landowners to fence off waterways to livestock and reestablish vegetation along stream banks…

Up in the high country

And no one has forgotten about the highest reaches of the watershed atop the San Juan Mountains, where an unprecedented increase in recreation, and therefore human waste, has been well noted and nosed in the past year or so.

This summer, the U.S. Forest Service and Mountain Studies Institute partnered to test heavily trafficked recreation areas for E. coli. Colleen Magee-Uhlik, a forest ambassador with MSI, said areas with high use of recreation showed much higher concentrations than locations with little human impact.

In the obvious case study, South Mineral Creek – that of Ice Lakes fame – water samples taken above the highest areas of recreation tested at about 22 CFUs. Farther downstream, in a location that would catch all the cumulative impacts of recreation and camping, samples were more than four times as high, at nearly 90 CFUs. (And, it should be noted, South Mineral was closed this year because of fire damage, which likely means levels would be even higher if people were in the area)…

Christie Chatterley, Fort Lewis College assistant professor of physics and engineering, said in the popular backpacking spot Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness, a student-led research program also found high levels of E. coli in streams. FLC has plans to conduct microbial source testing to see exactly where the bacteria is coming from, but Chatterley said it’s probably safe to assume hikers and campers…

So what can be done?

For starters, using best practices in the high country, such as burying waste 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water, and packing out toilet paper can go a long way. This message is even more important as record numbers of people visit the backcountry, many without a working knowledge of how to protect the very landscape they come to enjoy.

Farther downstream, upgrading septic tanks is seen as another obvious target. Brian Devine, with San Juan Basin Public Health, said new septic regulations require people selling their homes to have septic systems inspected. In 2020 alone, more than 500 systems were inspected, which led to many leeching septic tanks being fixed. “It’s resulting in systems getting repaired,” he said. Richmond, with the San Juan Watershed Group, said agencies are working with New Mexico health officials to tackle failing and outdated septic systems as well.

And, the city of Durango’s Biggs said the Clean Water Act continues to push water quality standards. “The Clean Water Act has really improved water quality, and the Animas would be a testament to that,” he said. “And everyone benefits, including our downstream users.”

So yes, there’s no quick and easy fix to E. coli issues in the Animas and San Juan rivers, but all these efforts are folded into the long history of communities along the watershed, and the responsibilities they have to one another, Biggs said. It’s an issue that dates back to the 1800s when Silverton would send down water contaminated by mining operations to Durango, and a few decades later, when Durango’s uranium pile sat along the banks of the Animas River, only to be swept downstream.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

#CastleRock #Water recognized for excellence — The Douglas County News-Press

Plum Creek near Sedalia.

From The Castle Rock News-Press (Thelma Grimes):

With purified, reuse water flowing into Castle Rock homes this summer, the town was already celebrating the ability to supply high-quality drinking water to customers.

Accolades for the success at Castle Rock Water continued last week when the department received recognition for Outstanding Water Treatment Plant by the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association.

The Rocky Mountain Section is the regional division of the American Water Works Association, the principal association for scientific and educational opportunities dedicated to managing and treating water. The Rocky Mountain Section represents water industry organizations in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Castle Rock won in the large department category, which includes programs serving more than 50,000 people. The award was given specifically for the operations at the Plum Creek Water Purification Facility, which has developed the advanced treatment processes to accommodate purified reuse water…

The association also presented Castle Rock Water plant mechanic Casey Devol with the Water Treatment Maintenance Award for his design of new processes to clean pipelines. The annual award is given to a maintenance professional who demonstrates exceptional performance, dedication and teamwork. Devol was also recognized for his contribution to the Water to Wire efficiency study to reduce energy usage and pumping costs.

The local and national recognition for Castle Rock Water comes as efforts to invest in the town’s sustainable water future continues. Dating back to 2006, the town invested $208 million to build the reusable water facility.

Part of that investment included the construction of the $60 million Plum Creek Purification Facility. Reuse water will account for one-third of the community’s water supply and will be a big step in providing a sustainable water supply as the town grows and drought conditions are expected to continue.

In addition to the American Water Works Association awards, Castle Rock Water also received recognition for its efforts in environmental stewardship. This is the third consecutive year the water provider has received a Gold Level in the Environmental Leadership Program by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Reducing energy consumption, increasing water conservation efforts and instituting purified reuse water were among the primary considerations for the award.

#Hayden officials keep careful watch on water level, algae impact this summer — The Steamboat Pilot & Today #YampaRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Jefferson Avenue (U.S. Route 40) in Hayden. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32346845

From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Suzie Romig):

With lower, warmer water levels in the Yampa River during this extreme drought year, town of Hayden employees are carefully watching operations at the water plant this summer to continue to alleviate taste or odor issues for the town’s 1,100 water taps…

[Bryan] Richards said the usual time of heightened summer concern for low water levels and thus increased algae is lasting longer this year, starting about one month earlier than usual in early July rather than the normal early August. Water levels have dropped at the intake on the Yampa River at the water plant north of town, and water temperatures at the intake have increased by 3 to 5 degrees above normal, rising as high as 75 degrees. Lower, slower, warmer water leads to more algae production…

Fortunately, major improvements to the Hayden water treatment plant during the past three years are working to help mitigate the algae increases, said Town Manager Mathew Mendisco. He said the town spent a total of $2.3 million in water system and plant upgrades with half of the funding coming from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and other funding from a citizen-approved bond measure. The plant was first built in 1978…

Town of Hayden water users have been under outdoor water restrictions this summer that mimic city of Steamboat Springs restrictions and resulted in a 3% decrease in overall water use compared to the past three years, even though the watering season started earlier this dry year, Richards said. Hayden water users will need to continue water conservation efforts when the town’s 1 million gallon water tank on hospital hill goes offline for a planned refurbishment starting with the tank drained by the end of August through project completion Oct. 20, Richards said.

Mendisco said the town secured $989,000 in low-interest financing to upgrade the tank through a state revolving loan fund managed by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority. The town qualified for a 1.5% interest rate based on its status as a “disadvantaged community” dealing with the impacts of the transition from coal.

The town has a 500,000-gallon water tank near Yampa Valley Regional Airport, so officials do not anticipate impacts to water customers when the larger water tank is off line.

Snake River #Water District to invest $38.5 million in infrastructure improvements over next 10 years — The Summit Daily

From The Summit Daily (Lindsay Toomer):

The Snake River Water District will undergo a variety of rehabilitation and improvements throughout the next 10 years based on its 2021 master plan.

The district, which provides drinking water to the Keystone valley, underwent a study with an engineering firm to look at its infrastructure’s strengths and weaknesses. The idea to look into infrastructure upgrades started about two years ago when the district was notified it had a slight lead exceedance based on two water samples.

Scott Price, executive director and district administrator, said this occurs not because there is an issue with the actual water, but because pipes in some older homes in the area were built with lead and are still in use. If the water sits in the pipes for too long, it can lead to concentrations of lead in the water samples. Price said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has to use the water that first comes out when the faucet is turned on when it tests water samples, which will likely be affected by lead if the water sat unused in old pipes.

The district has three base plants, each with its own storage and water filtration system. The second base, which is also home to the district’s office, is likely to need an additional storage tank to serve the high-density area of Keystone Resort, as well as a pump station that can transport water uphill from the third to the second base.

An existing infrastructure issue to address is water pipe breakage, something Price said can cost around 10 times more to fix in the winter than it does in the summer. Engineers looked at which pipes were more likely to break, but also the severity of consequences that can occur from a breakage.

The study prioritized which pipes and fire hydrants in the district would need attention immediately, creating a map showing the different priorities based on each area. The district plans to chip away at these pipe and hydrant upgrades little by little during the 10-year plan.

Meanwhile, the third plant underwent $8.5 million in upgrades a couple years ago, including a new filtration system. Price said he expects this filtration system to be in compliance for decades to come as water quality regulations get tighter over time…

Price also said that should the base two plant need upgrades — which he is expecting to get a decision from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment by the end of the year — the whole district will be able to temporarily operate on the new base three plant.

Lastly, the study showed that the district’s Pilot Lode storage tank by the Settlers Creek townhomes will need improvements to its interior lining, as it is around 25 years old and steel constructed.

The study estimates that over 10 years, the district will need about $38.5 million in work, estimated as follows:

  • Pump station from base three to base two: $1.5 million
  • Base two storage tank: $7.6 million
  • Base two groundwater under direct influence compliance: $11.8 million
  • Pilot Lode tank rehabilitation: $550,000
  • Pipeline replacements: $13.5 million
  • Fire hydrant replacements: $1.6 million
  • On top of these costs there are several smaller projects included in the master plan that account for the remaining $2 million of the budget. These estimates cover only the cost of construction, and the district will need to pay more in the coming months for architects and engineers to design the systems…

    The plan calls for a 12% rate increase at the start of 2022, and the Snake River Water District’s board is currently planning to do 12% increases over the next three years. The base quarterly fee will go from $65 in 2022 to $91 in 2024.

    The Snake River Water District hasn’t increased its water rates in about eight years, which was then only a 3% increase. Prior to that, it hadn’t raised its quarterly rates since the 1990s.

    #SnakeRiver #Water District to hold public meeting August 4, 2021 on water plans — The Summit Daily

    Snake River

    From The Summit Daily (Lindsey Toomer):

    The Snake River Water District will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 4, at its office at 0050 Oro Grande Drive in Keystone.

    A presentation will be given on the recently completed water system master plan and upcoming rate changes at the meeting.

    Based on the master plan, the district will need to invest about $38.5 million over the next 10 years to address aging infrastructure, potential trouble areas of the system, capacity and distribution. Its next step is determining how to fund these upgrades through federal and state grants and loans.

    Invitation to propose ideas for natural resource restoration projects related to 2015 #GoldKingMine release — #NewMexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

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

    Here’s the release from the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (Elysia Bunten):

    The New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee (ONRT) is in the preliminary stages of soliciting ideas for projects that will restore natural resources in New Mexico injured by the 2015 Gold King Mine release.

    We welcome stakeholder engagement in our process and invite you, as a stakeholder who was affected by the contamination, to participate in this process. Please see the attached letter containing details about ONRT’s funding, process, upcoming information session, and timetable.

    Project Solictation Letter to GKM Release Stakeholders 7.15.21

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

    #Wellington water issues frustrate residents; town asks for patience — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Pat Ferrier):

    Wellington faces a Catch-22, caught between its desire for growth and the water issues that threaten to slow it to a crawl.

    The town of about 12,000 has plenty of water — the lifeblood of any community — to serve thousands of new homes. But the cost of water is rising rapidly and the town currently lacks the capacity to store it, treat it or flush it. Both its water and wastewater treatment plants are overextended.

    Expansions are underway but still three years away from completion.

    It’s not a new problem for Wellington, which earlier this year raised water rates to pay for an expansion of its water and wastewater treatment plants, imposed water restrictions and limited new residential building permits to about 100 per year until the expansions are complete.

    The very measures it’s taking to create that infrastructure have raised water rates to the highest in Northern Colorado, which could, in turn, adversely affect growth as builders consider their options.

    It’s a fragile balance that’s frustrating residents who are now paying about double what they were two years ago and has the town asking for patience.

    Residential water and sewer taps, the largest slice of new development impact fees collected when a building permit is issued, went from $5,500 to $7,500 for a typical home tap and sewer taps increased from $7,500 to $9,700.

    Those fees, which also pay for things like parks, streets, water and sewer lines, are typically passed on to the homebuyer or business, which is one reason the cost of homes is going up in Wellington…

    Continuing to increase impact fees while at the same time limiting the number of residential permits to stay within treatment capacities “could reach a point where developers or buildings are unwilling to build in Wellington,” the town wrote on its website, “and could result in a slowdown or stop to new development, shifting the cost of paying for improvements onto existing residents…

    When treatment plant expansions are done in 2024, they will be able to support Wellington’s expected growth for about 20 years, when the population is expected to double to about 24,000, Town Administrator Patti Garcia said.

    Plant expansions won’t bring rate relief, however, she said. Base water rates were raised $31 — to $66 a month — in January to pay the debt service on the water treatment plant. To get the loan, the town had to prove it could pay it back, Garcia said…

    For comparison, Fort Collins’ base water rate is $18.30 with a charge of $2.83 per 1,000 gallons of water up to 7,000 gallons. Like Wellington, it has tiered rates that go up the more water used. The charge for water over 13,000 gallons is $3.75 per 1,000 gallons.

    That means a Wellington resident using the average 7,000 gallons per month would pay $97.92 per month compared to $38.11 for the same amount of water through Fort Collins Utilities…

    It won’t help rates, but finishing the treatment plant expansions should ease water restrictions and lift the moratorium on building permits…

    Wellington is served by the North Poudre Irrigation Co., whose share costs have risen 40% since 2018, when the town wrote in its resolution to increase rates. That resolution passed in August 2020. NPIC water currently sells for $200,000 or more per share.

    In response to past increases and hedging its bets against future increases, Wellington increased its raw water rates from $19,285.50 to $67,586 for 0.58 acre feet of water — the amount of water it requires for every developed dwelling unit.

    “Once we have capacity in the water treatment plant we will be fine,” Garcia said. “We have plenty of water, the issue is having the capacity to provide it, store it, use it and flush it. We’re looking forward to what 2024 can bring.”

    ‘Water Is Smelly’: Drinking Water Has #Johnstown Residents Concerned About Safety — CBS 4 #Denver

    Lonetree Reservoir near Loveland, Colorado | Photo credit photokayaker via Flickr.

    From CBS 4 Denver (Conor McCue):

    At Hays Market, gallon jugs of drinking water have been flying off the shelves for the better part of two weeks. According to grocery manager Daniel Gehring, the store has gone from ordering several cases of water to palates of it, and not because of the hot weather.

    “The town’s water is smelly, funny and has a dirt taste to it, so people are buying the heck out of the gallon water,” Gehring said.

    For the grocery store, the business is a plus, but around town, folks like David Salls are concerned. He’s recently turned to filtering all of the water anyone in the family drinks, including his dogs…

    Town manager Matt LeCerf says the odor is harmless, and the result of chemical compounds created by algae blooms in the Lone Tree Reservoir, the city’s main water source.

    Normally, the water travels into town via a pipeline and drainage ditch, but this year the drainage ditch is not being used because of the nearby Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fire burn scars…

    According to LeCerf, the ditch into town naturally aerates and filters the water more than the pipeline.

    “We’re basically in a position where we have to run our water through the reservoirs where we do have that standing water that’s causing some of the taste and odor issues,” LeCerf said.

    After hearing similar concerns in the past, the town approved a new $2 million granular activated carbon system earlier this year, which LeCerf said is 90% effective in removing the taste and odor. Construction has been underway for more than two months, and the system is expected to be online Wednesday…

    The carbon filtration system isn’t the only improvement in the works for Johnstown. According to LeCerf, the town is also upgrading its water treatment plant and putting special buoys in the reservoir that use ultrasonic wavelengths to help mitigate algae growth.

    Wildfires Are A Threat To #SteamboatSprings’ Water Supply. Here’s How The City Is Getting Ready — #Colorado Public Radio #YampaRiver

    Steamboat Spring’s Fish Creek Falls, photographed the week of June 10, 2019 cascades 280 feet. Colorado’s rivers are running high after an epic winter and wet spring. Photo credit: Amanda Miller via Metropolitan State University at Denver

    From Colorado Public Radio (Sam Brasch):

    At the moment, Frank Alfone, manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, thinks he supplies Steamboat Springs with some of the best water in Colorado.

    The popular ski town relies on Fish Creek for about 93 percent of its normal supply. The postcard Rocky Mountain stream starts as snowmelt before collecting into a narrow canyon, where hikers flock to watch it roar over a 280-foot waterfall.

    The water is placid and clear by the time it arrives at the district’s main treatment plant above the city, but Alfone expects that will change sometime soon. After months of drought, Colorado’s two largest active wildfires are burning near Steamboat Springs.

    If a future blaze hits the Fish Creek watershed, the charred landscape could erode anytime it rains, possibly turning the city’s primary water source into a turbid soup of ash and debris. The sediment could fill reservoirs, trigger algal blooms or poison water quality with heavy metals…

    The Mount Werner Water District and the City of Steamboat Springs are trying to get ahead of similar challenges. Their joint wildfire protection plan, published in 2019, details projects to guard against wildfire in Fish Creek and protect water resources if necessary. It’s the sort of effort experts say other communities should undertake, especially since forests supply 80 percent of U.S. water resources…

    Preventing a fire until you can’t

    A map helped kickstart Steamboat Springs’ planning effort.

    The Colorado State Forest Service updates a detailed look at fire risk across the state every five years. Kelly Romero-Heaney, who managed water resources for Steamboat Springs until earlier this year before leaving for the state, said it was impossible to miss Fish Creek as an area of concern.

    “It lit up bright red on the map,” Romero-Heaney said.

    The 26-square-mile drainage basin looks like a misshapen funnel from above. Two high-elevation reservoirs collect snowmelt and channel water into tributaries that feed Fish Creek. A narrow canyon carries the water until it reaches Steamboat Springs and meets the Yampa River.

    The protection plan, funded with a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, modeled the most likely ignition sources for a fire within the watershed. It quickly zeroed in on the Sanctuary Neighborhood, a high-end development north of downtown Steamboat. If a fire started there, it could quickly rocket up the canyon and affect larger parts of the watershed.

    The finding helped spur residents to take action…

    Carolina Manriquez, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service in Steamboat Springs who advised the fire protection plan, said those preventative efforts only go so far in areas strained by drought and growing numbers of residents.

    “The bottom line is there’s not a lot we can do to minimize the fire risk,” Manriquez said…

    Always have a backup

    Alfone said fire risk is one reason the Mount Werner Water District developed a backup supply.

    In 2018, Mount Werner expanded a second water treatment plant fed by wells along the Yampa River. If the district ever lost access to Fish Creek, he said it would likely have to restrict outdoor water use but could continue to supply indoor water from the auxiliary plant.

    The City of Steamboat Springs also owns additional water rights along the Elk River. In the long-term, he said the city could develop the resource into an additional backup…

    Over the next two decades, Alfone said the water district also hopes to upgrade its primary treatment plant along Fish Creek to handle water tainted by wildfire runoff. A new intake could help filter out ash and debris and a redesigned filtration system might also improve taste and toxin issues after the smoke clears from the water basin. Each project is outlined in the fire protection plan.

    Alfone said the district would likely pay for the improvements through loans, water customer rate hikes or trying to win federal grants.

    He is optimistic about the last option. President Biden recently doubled the size of a Federal Emergency Management Agency program to help communities prepare for extreme weather events. The water district likely qualifies after Routt County included the project in its overall disaster-planning efforts.

    Snake River Water District planning for increased needs in Keystone — The Summit Daily

    Snake River

    From The Summit Daily (Lindsey Toomer):

    The Snake River Water District is planning ahead for increasing water needs in the Keystone area due to population growth over the past decade.

    District Executive Director Scott Price said in a statement that the district recently created a water system master plan looking into emerging challenges in the next 10 years. The plan includes a prioritized list of short- and long-term projects.

    According to the plan, the district needs to invest $38.5 million over the next decade to address trouble areas, update the old water treatment plant and add a new pump station and storage tank. The district is currently seeking grants and loans to help fund the improvements. It is also evaluating user rates that have remained unchanged for the past eight years.

    The district will hold public meetings with key stakeholders to discuss the financial plans. There will be two public meetings July 22, including a 1 p.m. livestream on the district’s Facebook page and an in-person meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the district’s office in Keystone, 0050 Oro Grande Drive.

    Unclear waters: How pollution, diversions and #drought are squeezing the life out of the lower #ArkansasRiver Valley — The #Denver Post

    This view is from the top of John Martin Dam facing west over the body of the reservoir. The content of the reservoir in this picture was approximately 45,000 acre-feet (March 2014). By Jaywm – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37682336

    From The Denver Post (RJ Sangosti):

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit promises to bring clean drinking water to more residents of southeast Colorado

    n the 1940s, the Arkansas River was dammed south of town to build [John Martin Reservoir], a place locals call the Sapphire on the Plains. The reservoir was tied up in a 40-year battle until Colorado and Kansas came to an agreement, in 2019, to provide an additional water source to help keep the levels high enough for recreation and to support fish.

    Forty years may seem like a long time to develop a plan to save fish and improve water levels for a reservoir, but southeastern Colorado is used to long fights when it comes to water…

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

    For nearly a century, leaders in southeastern Colorado have worked on plans to bring clean drinking water to the area through the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit, but progress on the pipeline project stalled after a major push in the 1960s. Pollution, water transfers and years of worsening drought amid a warming climate continue to build stress for water systems in the area. Adding to that, the area continues to see population decline combined with a struggling economy.

    The water needed for the conduit will be sourced from melting snowpack in the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain ranges [ed. and Colorado River Basin]. Under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, passed in the early 1960s, the water has been allocated for usage in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The water will be stored at Pueblo Reservoir and travel through existing infrastructure to east Pueblo near the airport. From there, the conduit will tie into nearly 230 miles of pipeline to feed water to 40 communities in need.

    Renewed plans to build a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley are bringing hope for many people in southeastern Colorado. But in an area that is inextricably linked to its water, the future can seem unclear…

    “Deliver on that promise”

    “It was nearly 100 years ago, in the 1930s, that the residents of southeast Colorado recognized that the water quality in the lower valley of the Arkansas River was quite poor,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a former Bent County commissioner.

    Water systems in the district, which includes Pueblo, Crowley, Bent, Prowers, Kiowa and Otero counties, have two main issues affecting drinking water.

    The first is that a majority of those systems rely on alluvial groundwater, which can have a high level of dissolved solids. This can include selenium, sulfate, manganese and uranium, which are linked to human health concerns.

    Second, the remaining systems in the water district rely on the Dakota-Cheyenne bedrock aquifer that can be affected by naturally occurring radionuclides. Radium and other radionuclides in the underlying geologic rock formation can dissolve into the water table and then be present in drinking water wells, also carrying health risks.

    John F. Kennedy at Commemoration of Fryingpan Arkansas Project in Pueblo, circa 1962.

    In 1962, residents in southeastern Colorado thought President John F. Kennedy was delivering a solution to their drinking water problem during a ceremony in Pueblo. Congress had passed the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and Kennedy came to Pueblo to authorize the construction of a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water…

    Residents of the 1930s began working on ideas to deliver clean drinking water to southeastern Colorado. By the 1950s, they were selling gold frying pans to raise money to send backers to Washington, D.C., to encourage Congress to pass the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act. But it wasn’t until 1962 that the pipeline authorization became a reality.

    Fast forward 58 years, and two more politicians came to Pueblo to address a crowd about the same pipeline project. This time, on Oct. 3, 2020, it was at the base of Pueblo Dam. Because of funding shortfalls, the Arkansas Valley Conduit was never built after it was authorized in 1962.

    The Colorado communities could not afford to cover 100% of the costs, as initially required, so in 2009, the act was amended to include a 65% federal share and a 35% local cost share. Additionally, in 2020, Congress appropriated $28 million more toward the project, according to the water conservancy district.

    That October day, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner took turns talking about the importance of the project. They told a small crowd that when the pipeline is built, it will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 residents in southeastern Colorado…

    The water conservancy district estimates the pipeline project’s cost will range from $546 million to $610 million…

    Physical construction of the pipeline won’t start until 2022, according to the water district…

    “The solution to pollution Is dilution”

    A hand-painted sign with stenciled letters welcomes travelers on Highway 96 into Olney Springs. The highway cuts across four blocks that make up the width of the small town with around 340 residents.

    Olney Springs is one of six water systems in Crowley County that plans to have a delivery point, known as a spur, on the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The plans for the pipeline call for two spurs in Pueblo County, three in both Bent and Prowers counties, and one in Kiowa County. Out of the 40 total participants, the remaining 25 are in Otero County…

    Located along the Arkansas River about 70 miles east of Pueblo, La Junta is the largest municipality in Otero County. With its population around 7,000 and a Walmart Supercenter, a Holiday Inn Express and Sonic Drive-In, La Junta can feel like a metropolis when compared to Olney Springs.

    La Junta is one of two Arkansas Valley Conduit participants, along with Las Animas, that uses reverse osmosis to remove potentially harmful and naturally occurring toxins from the water. Reverse osmosis is a process that uses pressure to push water through a membrane to remove contaminants. According to the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Arkansas Valley Conduit Environmental Impact Statement, reverse osmosis can treat source water to meet standards, but the brine from the process “is an environmental concern, and operation costs are high.”

    The other participants use conventional methods to treat water. The environmental impact statement said those methods can be as simple as adding chlorine for disinfection and filtration or adding chemicals to remove suspended solids, but that those treatments “…cannot remove salt or radionuclides from water.”

    Tom Seaba, director of water and wastewater for La Junta, said out of a total of 24 water districts in Otero County, 19 were in violation with the state due to elevated levels of radionuclide.

    Four of the 19 came into compliance with the state’s drinking water standards after La Junta brought them onto its water system. The remaining 15 are still in violation with the state, according to Seaba.

    La Junta spent $18.5 million to build a wastewater treatment plant that came online in 2019 to help meet water standards for its community. But the city’s water treatment came with its own issue: selenium.

    After La Junta treats its water using reverse osmosis, the water system is left with a concentrate, which is safe drinking water. However, it’s also left with a waste stream high in selenium. “That wastewater has to go somewhere,” Seaba said. It goes to the city’s new wastewater treatment plant…

    According to the environmental impact statement, “La Junta’s wastewater discharge makes up about 1.5% of average annual flow in the Arkansas River.” The study goes on to say that during drought or low-flow events, the wastewater discharge can contribute up to half of the streamflow downstream from the gage.

    Seaba is looking to the Arkansas Valley Conduit as a possible answer. “The solution to pollution is dilution,” he said. The water from the pipeline will not have a selenium problem, Seaba explained. By blending water from the conduit with the selenium waste from reverse osmosis, La Junta hopes to reduce costs and stay compliant with Environmental Protection Agency standards to discharge into the river.

    The environmental review studied a section of the Arkansas River from where Fountain Creek runs into the river east to the Kansas border. The study found that a section of the river was impaired by selenium…

    “I sure don’t drink it”

    The EPA sets a maximum contaminant level in drinking water at 5 picocuries per liter of air for combined radium and 30 micrograms per liter for combined uranium. If contaminant levels are above those numbers, the water system is in violation of drinking water regulations, which the state enforces.

    According to data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Patterson Valley Water Company in Otero County, one of the 40 pipeline participants, had the highest result of 31 picocuries per liter for combined radium in 2020. In that same county, Rocky Ford, another pipeline participant, had a high result of 0.2 picocuries per liter for combined radium. According to the state health department, Rocky Ford’s combined radium sample numbers were last recorded in 2013.

    Manzanola, also in Otero County and a pipeline participant, topped the list with the highest result of 42 micrograms per liter for combined uranium in 2020. In contrast, 19 other pipeline participants, from across the valley, had results of 0 micrograms per liter for combined uranium, according to the most recent numbers from the state health department.

    Levels of the two carcinogens are sporadic throughout the valley. The average of the highest results of all 40 participants in the pipeline for combined radium is roughly 8 picocuries per liter and combined uranium is roughly 5 micrograms per liter. According to Seaba, averaging the members’ highest results might seem unfair to some individual water systems because it brings their numbers up, but what those averages do show is that water in Pueblo Reservoir, which will feed the future conduit, is approximately three times less affected by combined radium and combined uranium than the average of current water used by pipeline participants. In 2020, the highest result of combined radium in the Pueblo Reservoir was 2.52 picocuries per liter, and the highest result of combined uranium was 1.7 micrograms per liter…

    “I sure don’t drink it,” said Manny Rodriquez. “I don’t think anybody in town drinks the water.”

    Rodriquez, who grew up in and still lives in Rocky Ford, was not sure if the water at his apartment was in violation of the state’s clean drinking water act or not. State data showed at that time his water was not in violation. Colorado is required to notify residents if their water system is in violation of the clean drinking water act…

    MaryAnn Nason, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, used an example to show how violations can add up: “If a public water system has two entry points that fail for both combined radium and gross alpha (measures of radionuclides), and they have those same violations for 10 years each quarter, that is going to appear as 160 violations on the website. But really, it is one naturally occurring situation that exists for a relatively long time,” Nason said.

    For some residents like Ruby Lucero, 83, it makes little difference to her if her water is in violation with the state or not. She plans to buy her drinking water no matter what the results say about her tap water…

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    “The struggling farmer”

    In the past decade, Otero County has seen a 2.9% drop in population. Residents have a ballpark difference of $38,000 in the median household income compared to the rest of the state, and the county is not alone. All six counties that are part of current plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit are seeing economic hard times.

    Adding to those factors is drought. Years of drought keep hitting the area’s No. 1 industry: agriculture.

    The Rocky Ford Ditch’s water rights date back to 1874, making them some of the most senior water rights in the Arkansas River system. In the early 1980s, Aurora was able to buy a majority of those water rights. Over time, Aurora acquired more shares and has converted them to municipal use…

    “We still have a heavy lift before us”

    Planned off the main trunk of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pump station near Wiley will push water along a spur to support Eads in Kiowa County. Water that ends up in Eads will have traveled the longest distance of the pipeline project. The majority of the pipeline will be gravity-fed, but this section will need to be pumped uphill.

    The journey is a good representation of Eads’ battle with water. Not only is clean drinking water needed, but the area is also desperate for relief from years of drought exacerbated by climate change…

    Long said that Eads is different from a majority of the other participants in the project because it is not located along the Arkansas River…

    The domestic water that will be delivered via the conduit is even more important for a town like Eads, said Long. “It’s very difficult to attract new industry when you have a limited supply of very poor water.”

    Long believes the conduit will make a huge difference to support communities in the Lower Arkansas River Valley…

    Long has been working on the Arkansas Valley Conduit project for nearly 18 years.

    “After such a long fight, to finally be where we are feels good, but honestly I can say it doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would. Only because I know we have so much work still to do, and I know how difficult the past 18 years have been,” Long said. “We still have a heavy lift before us.”

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    Ute Water celebrates 65 years of clean water — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

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

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Penny Stine):

    Ute Water is celebrating 65 years of serving the Grand Valley community with clean and safe drinking water, and owes its existence to a bunch of visionary farmers who wouldn’t take no for an answer. The towns of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as the community of Clifton, all had municipal water sources by the mid-twentieth century, and were able to deliver convenient, safe water directly to their faucets.

    There were, however, plenty of Grand Valley residents who didn’t live in Clifton, or the municipalities of Palisade, Fruita or Grand Junction. Most of them were farmers or involved in agriculture, and most of them didn’t just use irrigation water to water their fields, but they had to also use it to fill their cisterns for household use, as well, and then hope that the chlorine they added to it protected their health. If they didn’t pull water from irrigation canals, they got it from the Colorado River, or had to contract with a water service delivery company to come and fill their cisterns.

    When the Bureau of Reclamation announced that there would be water available from the reservoirs on Grand Mesa as a result of the Collbran project’s two hydroelectric plants in Molina, and that water would be enough to supply the needs of the entire Grand Valley, those farmers decided they were ready to abandon their cisterns…

    Undeterred, the farmers formed a water conservancy district, elected a board of directors and raised money to build the necessary infrastructure to bring water from Grand Mesa into the rural homes in the valley.

    When Ute Water started, it had just 1,800 water taps to serve. Today, the upstart water district serves more than 85,000 people with 35,000 water taps, serving an area that’s larger than 250 square miles, with more than 900 miles of distribution pipe.

    “We serve about 70% of the valley,” said Larry Clever, general manager for Ute Water.

    Ute Water began servicing the city of Fruita several decades ago when Fruita’s original system that brought water from the Uncompahgre Plateau through Colorado National Monument couldn’t be upgraded and brought to modern standards.

    Although the Western Slope is in a severe drought, and many of Grand Mesa’s reservoirs won’t fill to capacity this year, Ute Water has been steadily diversifying its portfolio of water sources, and isn’t solely reliant on water from the Collbran project. In addition to its stake in 31 Grand Mesa reservoirs, Ute Water bought water rights from Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt almost a decade ago, and also has rights to pull from the Colorado River, although that’s not its first choice.

    Ute Water to hike rates, draw water from #ColoradoRiver — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification

    Graphic credit: Ute Water

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Because of the ongoing drought and no expectation that it will end anytime soon, the Ute Water Conservancy District is having to pump water directly out of the Colorado River.

    That’s something it hasn’t had to do in its 65-year existence, district officials said Friday.

    As a result, the district that supplies drinking water to more than 85,000 Grand Valley customers is imposing a special 2% “drought pumping rate” on all bills to cover the increased electrical cost of pumping that water…

    Currently, the district rates the current drought at its highest “D-4 level,” which means extreme drought…

    RESERVOIRS NOT ENOUGH

    Normally, the district draws its water from snowmelt off of Grand Mesa, primarily through a Plateau Creek pipeline in a gravity-flow system, meaning it doesn’t need to be pumped. That water flows into two of the district’s terminal reservoirs, Jerry Creek No. 1 and No. 2, and then into the district’s water treatment plant.

    A call on that water from water users with more senior water rights, however, is forcing the district to stop drawing from it, something that’s happened in the past, but never this early in the year, Clever said.

    And because the water from the Colorado River is below the elevation of the treatment plant, by about 420 feet, it needs to be pumped uphill, which is done through two pump stations the district already has and recently upgraded…

    USERS MAY SEE A DIFFERENCE

    Despite the extra water treatment, consumers may notice the difference in how it tastes and the residue it leaves behind, such as mineral salts. They’ll see it with increased spottiness on their dishes and more residue in their swamp coolers.

    Clever said the increase cost to consumers will be nominal, about 47 to 48 cents a month, or about $6 a year.

    Graphic credit: Ute Water

    Johnstown to install three new systems to reduce water odor, taste issues — The Greeley Tribune

    MPC-Buoy controls algal blooms in large lakes and reservoirs. It uses LG Sonic’s interactive ultrasound technology with integrated water quality monitoring.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Morgan McKenzie):

    Responding to concerns from residents about the taste and smell of the town’s water, Johnstown officials have announced the planned installation of three new systems to help mitigate the issues.

    The town is installing the three systems at the end of June with the goal to improve the water service, according to a June 14 news release. Residents can look forward to a new Granular Activated Carbon feeder system, a Powdered Activated Carbon filtration system and an ultrasonic buoy.

    Residents of Johnstown should see difference in their water with the new installations, according to the release.

    The GAC system, installed at the town’s water treatment plant, removes contaminant and controls taste and odor. The PAC system, located at Lone Tree Reservoir, will filter out organic components, which can contribute to taste and odor problems.

    The last portion of the new systems is the ultrasonic buoy that will reside in the Johnstown reservoir. This system prevents algae’s growth in the surface of the reservoir, and reduces algae from impacting the water’s odor and taste.

    This isn’t the first strive towards better-tasting water in Johnstown. At the beginning of this year, new water and sewer rates and fee schedule were created to provide better water service to residents.

    Northwater Treatment Plant construction hits major milestone — News on Tap

    From Denver Water:

    Storage tanks at Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant taking shape.

    The work started in the dark, at 2:30 a.m., continued through the dawn and lasted until noon on Friday, May 14.

    Loaded concrete trucks trundled onto the site of the Northwater Treatment Plant, along Highway 93 north of Golden. A truck arrived every four minutes, delivering concrete that was pumped, then smoothed into place by an army of about 100 workers.

    They shaped the round, concrete floor of what will be the first of the new treatment plant’s two water storage tanks. The tanks will hold clean, treated water to be delivered into Denver Water’s distribution system that sends safe drinking water 1.5 million people every day.

    Placing the concrete floor for the first of two 10-million-gallon water storage tanks at the new Northwater Treatment Plant started at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, May 14, and continued through noon that day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “It’s a big milestone day. Each tank can hold 10 million gallons of water — and to put that in perspective, that’s 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” said Bob Mahoney, Denver Water’s chief engineering officer.

    “The project is going very well. It’s ahead of schedule and — in addition to pouring the floor of the new treated water reservoir — the overall project is about 38% complete.”

    More than 100 concrete trucks were needed to deliver 1,400 cubic yards of concrete for the base of the storage tank. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    A look at the numbers behind the work:

  • 23 feet, the height of the storage tank when finished, although most of it will be buried underground.
  • 300-plus feet, the diameter of the tank, longer than a football field.
  • 1,400 cubic yards of concrete were needed for the floor of the tank.
  • 145 concrete trucks delivered the concrete.
  • 100 workers were involved with the concrete placement.
  • The first of two 10-million-gallon water storage tanks begins to take shape. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, being built next to the utility’s Ralston Reservoir, is expected to be complete in 2024 and will be capable of cleaning up to 75 million gallons of water per day. Concrete for the floor of the second water storage tank is expected to be put in place July 2, weather permitting.

    The Northwater Treatment Plant is part of Denver Water’s $600 million North System Renewal effort, which includes a new pipeline to carry water from the new plant and upgrades at the old Moffat Treatment Plant built in Lakewood in the 1930s.

    About 100 workers were involved in the project, getting the concrete into the forms and smoothing it out to dry. Photo credit: Denver Water

    The concrete work in mid-May drew a steady stream of curious onlookers, including workers building the new plant — and those who will run it when it’s finished.

    “I had to come out. I really wanted to see how they do this,” said Nicole Babyak, a water treatment plant supervisor at Denver Water.

    “The team and I, we’ve been involved in this project for years. We’re going to be running the plant and have seen parts of the facility being built from the ground up, but I haven’t seen a large concrete pour like this yet. It’s so neat to be here while they’re pouring the first tank.

    “It’s just so cool.”

    Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art Northwater Treatment Plant is being built between Ralston Reservoir, seen in the distance on the left, and Highway 93, seen on the right. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Town Board approves updating water plant — The #EstesPark Trail-Gazette

    Aerial view of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam looking west. Photo credit Northern Water.

    From The Estes Park Trail-Gazette (Tim Mosier):

    Safe Drinking Water

    The unanimous passing of Resolution 43-21 approved a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Loan Resolution for a project that will update the Glacier Creek Water Pre-Treatment Plant which was built in 1970. Presently, Estes Park, acting by and through its Water Activity Enterprise, provides drinking water service to most of the Estes Valley through the Glacier Creek and Mary’s Lake water treatment plants.

    In 2018, The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) Disinfection Outreach and Verification Evaluation (DOVE) inspection resulted in the Glacier Creek Water Treatment Plant which was built in 1970 being de-rated from a ‘conventional’ plant to a ‘direct filtration’. Meaning the plant can no longer meet drinking water regulatory requirements.

    According to Utilities Director Rueben Bergsten and Town Attorney Dan Kramer, the resolution will allow for the rebuilding of the existing pretreatment process to restore the conventional plant rating and bring the plant back into compliance under all operating conditions.

    The improvements consist of a new pretreatment building with a rapid mix basin, flocculation, sedimentation with plate settlers, and supporting ancillary systems. The USDA will finance the total cost of the completed project with a guaranteed $7,675,000 loan at 1.375 percent interest rate over 40 years in addition to a $2,369,000 grant.

    Water treatment plants that will remove ‘forever chemicals’ from El Paso County water nearing completion — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #PFAS

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    Three new water treatment plants in Fountain, Security and Widefield needed to remove toxic “forever chemicals” from the groundwater, carrying a heavy price tag of $41 million, are nearing completion.

    The plant in Widefield was finished in February, the Security plant is expected to be operational this week and the Fountain plant is expected to be complete in June, following a pause in construction that lasted more than a month, officials with each district said.

    Construction of the Fountain plant was halted because the supplier of critical piping for the plant could not provide it, said Dan Blankenship, utilities director for Fountain, adding that the supplier’s work was delayed by the coronavirus. In a written statement the Air Force Civil Engineer Center said work on the $7 million plant in Fountain is expected to resume May 3. The other two plants are expected to cost a combined $34 million, the statement said.

    The Air Force is paying for the water treatment plants that will remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from groundwater because investigations showed the contamination came from Peterson Air Force Base, where firefighters used a foam rich in one of those compounds for decades to put out aircraft fires…

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    Water providers stopped using the groundwater after the contamination was discovered in 2015 and 2016, and studies are still ongoing to learn about the long-term health consequences of the contamination. The compounds’ ability to stay in the body led to their nickname “forever chemicals.”

    Encouraging results from one of the studies conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines showed that the amount of chemicals in blood samples taken from 53 exposed residents dropped from 2018 to 2019, according to a presentation of results. The median level of the chemical most closely associated with firefighting foam dropped 50% in the participants, results showed…

    The new treatment plants are meant to protect the public from additional exposure to the chemicals and allow the districts in some cases to return to using a key water source.

    In Security, the new plant was tested in December, and water samples showed it was removing problematic chemicals down to undetectable levels, said Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts.

    Cleaner water through corn — University of #California, Riverside

    The North Fork Valley, part of the service territory of Delta-Montrose Electric, has been known for its organic fruits and vegetables — including corn. Photo/Allen Best

    Here’s the release from the University of California, Riverside (Holly Ober):

    Activated carbon made from corn stover filters 98% of a pollutant from water

    Corn is America’s top agricultural crop, and also one of its most wasteful. About half the harvest—stalks, leaves, husks, and cobs— remains as waste after the kernels have been stripped from the cobs. These leftovers, known as corn stover, have few commercial or industrial uses aside from burning. A new paper by engineers at UC Riverside describes an energy-efficient way to put corn stover back into the economy by transforming it into activated carbon for use in water treatment.

    An illustration depicting how corn stover is turned to biochar, then to activated carbon for water filtration. (Abdul-Aziz et. al., 2021)

    Activated carbon, also called activated charcoal, is charred biological material that has been treated to create millions of microscopic pores that increase how much the material can absorb. It has many industrial uses, the most common of which is for filtering pollutants out of drinking water.

    Kandis Leslie Abdul-Aziz, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at UC Riverside’s Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering, runs a lab devoted to putting pernicious waste products such as plastic and plant waste known as biomass back into the economy by upcycling them into valuable commodities.

    “I believe that as engineers we should take the lead in creating approaches that convert waste into high-value materials, fuels and chemicals, which will create new value streams and eliminate the environmental harm that comes from today’s take-make-dispose model,” Abdul-Aziz said.

    Abdul-Aziz, along with doctoral students Mark Gale and Tu Nguyen, and former UC Riverside student Marissa Moreno at Riverside City College, compared methods for producing activated carbon from charred corn stover and found that processing the biomass with hot compressed water, a process known as hydrothermal carbonization, produced activated carbon that absorbed 98% of the water pollutant vanillin.

    Hydrothermal carbonization created a biochar with higher surface area and larger pores when compared to slow pyrolysis- a process where corn stover is charred at increasing temperatures over a long period of time. When the researchers filtered water into which vanillin had been added through the activated carbon, its combination of larger surface area and bigger pores enabled the carbon to absorb more vanillin.

    “Finding applications for idle resources such as corn stover is imperative to combat climate change. This research adds value to the biomass industry which can further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Gale said.

    The paper, “Physiochemical properties of biochar and activated carbon from biomass residue: influence of process conditions to adsorbent properties,” is published in ACS Omega.

    ‘Forever Chemicals’ Levels In #Frisco Drinking Water Would Be Illegal In Three Other States, Residents ‘Shocked’ — CBS #Denver #PFAS

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

    From CBS Denver (Kati Weis):

    A CBS4 Investigates analysis of public testing data has found levels of perfluoroalkyl substances – commonly known as forever chemicals – in Frisco’s drinking water would be considered too high in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York. The levels would also trigger further testing requirements in Michigan.

    Jessica Johnson, who lives and works in Frisco, said she was unaware of the elevated levels.

    “I was pretty shocked, honestly, to learn that the forever chemicals were in our water,” Johnson said. “It’s concerning for me; thyroid issues run in my family, so I don’t really want to do anything that would exacerbate that, because I’m sure it’s probably looming on the horizon for me anyway.”

    The Findings

    While there is no federal legal limit, the EPA recommends drinking water not have more than 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS combined, but some states say that’s not good enough, setting more stringent legal limits…

    State health department testing conducted last summer found Frisco’s drinking water had a level of 58.5 for the chemicals regulated in Massachusetts and Vermont, more than twice the legal limits in those states. The testing also found Frisco had a level of 11 parts per trillion of PFOS, which would be above the safe limit set in New York. Frisco’s PFOA level was only 6.2 part per trillion, but would require quarterly testing in Michigan…

    The Town of Frisco says right now, there’s no health concern, because the PFAS levels are below the EPA’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion…

    Frisco spokesperson Vanessa Agee wrote in an email, “an interview with Frisco’s Water Division would do nothing to further your viewer’s understanding of PFAS or alert them to a health danger, which are in fact really admirable and helpful goals that we hope you have much success with, as it is vital that we have the facts and current understanding around this evolving research into PFAS and PFAS’ potential impacts on our health.”

    Asked why residents were not notified about the PFAS testing results, Agee wrote, “if there were a health concern, then the EPA and CDPHE would require individual notification of residents, and the Town would of course provide that notification swiftly because we authentically care about the health of our neighbors and friends, which is what Frisco’s residents are in this very close-knit community and county. The public would be very well served by understanding that the science around PFAS is evolving, understanding where that science is right now, and having knowledge about what is being done across Colorado and the country to better understand PFAS and their impact on health.”

    The state health department has also told CBS4 in a past interview that residents should not be concerned about the elevated levels, because they are below the health advisory, but that if residents are still concerned, they can look at purchasing a reverse osmosis filtration system for their home or bottled water…

    The Laws

    Currently, the state of Colorado has taken its own steps to begin regulating PFAS, for example, new state legislation has created a PFAS registry, so state officials know where industrial PFAS sources are located.

    But Josh Kuhn with Conservation Colorado says the centennial state should study the issue further and look at setting its own more stringent legal limits…

    What’s Next

    In the meantime, Agee says Frisco is in the process of conducting further testing in other areas of its water distribution system, including at the tap “to get a more comprehensive picture.”

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also says it’s in the process of developing a grant program to assist Frisco and other communities with additional testing.

    “The CDPHE grant program has not been launched yet so the Town Water Division is doing what it does best, providing safe and delicious water, while always striving to have a full understanding of the facts,” Agee said in an email to CBS4.

    The CDPHE says the testing will help officials determine what areas and private wells may be at risk for PFAS.

    One question remains: what is the source of the PFAS pollution in Frisco? PFAS can be found in a variety of household products, and even your clothes. The Environmental Working Group also found PFAS in cosmetics.

    The state health department is working to find an answer in Frisco, writing to CBS4, “we expect these (test) results to provide insight into where the chemicals may be coming from.”

    Opinion: Recycling #water has to become the norm because it is too scarce and too valuable to waste — The #Colorado Sun

    Morrow Point Dam, on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Colorado Sun (Ari Goldfarb):

    Like millions of teens around the world, my daughter enjoys long showers. Unlike many fathers of teens, however, I see a bright side to the family water bill.

    We’re not just taking showers. We’re growing grapes.

    Our family lives in Israel, the international capital of water recycling, where nearly 90% of our supply is used more than once. In our area of southern Israel, that means the water flowing down our home drain is used on nearby farms to grow some of the tastiest table grapes on Earth. Turns out my daughter is a friend of agriculture.

    Ari Goldfarb via Kando.com

    All over the globe, climate change is turning fresh water into an increasingly precious commodity. Many countries and regions suffer from extended drought. Rising temperatures increase evaporation from reservoirs. Snow falls less and melts sooner on mountains. And rising sea levels increase saltwater intrusion contamination in fresh water wells along coastal communities.

    The worldwide fresh water supply crunch comes as the Earth’s population grows by more than 80 million people per year.

    With increasing demand for water and a jeopardized supply, communities increasingly are turning to recycling technologies to stretch and make the most efficient use of existing water supplies. Critical to this is having a clear understanding of the quality of the water coming into any treatment plant before it is recycled.

    The greatest reuse per capita is happening in arid Middle Eastern countries such as Israel, Qatar, and Kuwait, though the No. 1 recycler of water by volume is the United States. The leading states for water recycling are Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.

    In Orange County, California, engineers found it’s 15% cheaper to recycle water than to buy new supplies from rivers and reservoirs.

    But what about the yuck factor?

    The most important thing to remember is: No matter the water source — untrammeled mountain spring, or the river mouth of a major industrial city — it all must pass stringent health and safety tests before reaching your tap. In fact, recycled water often faces tougher quality control tests than river or lake water. Water reuse is safe.

    Another key point is that we’ve been relying on recycled water for years without realizing it. In the Southwestern United States, stream water in places like the Rio Grande and Colorado River is typically used several times before it ever reaches the ocean. (The demands on the Colorado River are so great from Colorado to Mexico that it sometimes does not contain enough water to reach the sea.) The same water used by cities near the headwaters is used again and again downstream by farmers for irrigation.

    Few people have second thoughts about using the same air as someone else. Why think about water differently?

    It’s important to remember that the vast majority of water, whether recycled or first-use, does not go to the tap for drinking. It’s for growing crops, irrigating parks and golf courses, and watering lawns. In many places where water is scarce, it’s possible, and often economical, to set up two separate water systems, one for outdoor and one for indoor potable use.

    Almost every city using recycled water in the U.S. sends the treated supply outside. Some cities pump recycled water underground to replenish aquifers. Most, however, reuse the water as an irrigation supply for farming or landscaping. One advantage of using recycled water outdoors: natural cleansing processes via vegetation, bacteria, and UV radiation do for free what would be more costly industrial processes in water treatment plants.

    The reality is that water on this planet exists in a closed loop on a closed cycle. There is a limited amount of this precious resource, and the double-whammy of climate change and population growth are putting extra pressure on the supplies we have.

    Water is too valuable to waste. In fact, it’s so valuable that we should use it again and again.

    Ari Goldfarb is CEO of Kando, an Israel-based company, providing data-driven wastewater management solutions to help cities worldwide keep rivers and oceans cleaner while stimulating the reuse of water. Kando is affiliated with the Israel-Colorado Innovation Fund which invests in and connects Israeli entrepreneurs with U.S. markets through Innosphere Ventures, a Colorado technology incubator.

    After the fire: A wintery check on #waterquality — @DenverWater News on Tap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Water Quality Operations crew member Nick Riney delivers water into a sample bottle secured by colleague Tyler Torelli. The pair will fill several bottles, including some that they’ll drive back to Denver Water’s laboratory in southwest Denver for testing. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    They snowshoed through a campground hidden under soft drifts, stepped carefully to the banks of the Middle Fork of the Williams Fork River, then broke the ice to find free-flowing water.

    Nick Riney and Tyler Torelli worked efficiently, dipping a long-poled scoop into the waterway and filling several pint-sized plastic bottles with samples of the cold, clear stream.

    Sturdy even in finger-pinching cold, the two set up a make-shift lab on the back end of the Sno-Cat, pulled equipment out of chubby metal suitcases and ran field tests right on the spot. Twenty degrees and snowfall aren’t the ideal working conditions for most, but these guys consider it a “pretty good office” all the same.

    And their work on a mid-February day in Grand County gave Denver Water’s Water Quality Operations team an early look at how last summer’s Williams Fork Fire, which burned nearly 15,000 acres northeast of Silverthorne, might have affected the water flowing through the area.

    See and hear what’s required to do this work:

    By sampling water as it pours through the mountains, long before it reaches any reservoirs or treatment plants, Denver Water can understand what’s happening on the landscape. Samples that veer from typical readings could indicate unexpected pollution, echoes of old mining activity or, increasingly, the impacts of forest fires.

    Understanding those impacts helps prepare water quality experts for potential impacts to reservoirs or treatment processes.

    The field test results came back in a healthy range, with no indication yet that a significant amount of sediment left by the summer of record fires in Colorado had ended up in the water.

    Riney and Torelli prepare to run field tests on water samples using portable equipment set up on the back edge of their Sno-Cat. The field tests can analyze the turbidity of the samples, offering clues as to the impacts of wildfire. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “That’ll change,” Riney said, as the winter turns to spring and melting snow and monsoons more readily pull soil and ash from the scorched hillsides to the east of the tributary.

    “But right now, this water is clean. Turbidity is low. We like to see that,” he said. “We’ll keep tracking these spots every month and try to understand just how much damage this fire did to the landscape.”

    To be sure, the burned lands around the Williams Fork River don’t present a risk to Denver’s drinking water, primarily because this water travels to an “exchange” reservoir, where it will be sent down the Colorado River to make up for other West Slope water that is diverted to the Front Range.

    Even so, understanding the impacts of the fire on water quality is important, allowing Denver Water and its partners, including the U.S. Forest Service, to take steps to prepare for, and reduce, those effects.

    Denver Water recently began making monthly treks to this high-country stream to monitor a wetland protection project nearby. The utility has long made quarterly trips to the area as part of its broader field-testing program to track water quality across its mountain watershed.

    A topographic map showing the area targeted by water sampling crews in mid-March. This area in the Arapaho National Forest is north of Silverthorne and east of Highway 9. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    As part of that work, Water Quality Operations crews visit eight counties and collect samples from 77 locations. It’s work that’s distinct from the testing that goes on at reservoirs, water treatment plants and within the distribution system that bring water to household taps.

    To collect samples from the Middle Fork stream, Riney and Torelli towed a Sno-Cat up and over Ute Pass Road off Highway 9, turned south in County Road 30 and went to work near Sugarloaf Campground.

    “This sampling work keeps us well attuned to what’s happening in our watershed and can at times serve as an early warning for issues we may need to be watching out for further downstream,” said James Berrier, water quality monitoring supervisor at Denver Water. “We want to understand, is this just a temporary issue or something that could have a longer-term impact?”

    Sampling teams measure for an array on indicators. In the field, they look at temperature, pH (which measures acidity), conductivity (which helps determine salt levels), turbidity and dissolved oxygen, which is an important factor for aquatic life.

    Other water samples are transported back to Denver Water’s laboratory at the Marston Treatment Plant in southwest Denver (which will be moving in the future to its new home at Denver’s emerging National Western Center). Tests there include measuring for fluoride, chloride, nitrates, E. coli, nutrients and dissolved metal.

    A Sno-Cat helps Water Quality Operations crews access stream sections that are far from roadways, moving quickly over deep snow to eliminate longer walks on snowshoes. On this day, Denver Water crews were northeast of Silverthorne and just west of the Byers Peak Wilderness Area. They were about to head toward Sugarloaf Campground, a destination indicated on the nearby signage. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Samples collected a few months from now may shed light on how much damage the Williams Fork fire did to the land.

    Burned Area Emergency Response teams with the U.S. Forest Service have initially concluded that the fire did varying levels of damage. Their assessments found 23% of the area suffered high-intensity burn, while 40% was unburned or experienced low-intensity fire.

    Burn levels also can show up in water quality, through indicators such as ash, sediment, metals and other signatures.

    “Soil erosion modelling predicts that post-fire erosion rates are generally very low (close to pre-fire conditions) in areas with minimal fire impacts on ground cover and soils. However, rates of erosion increase dramatically … in moderate and high soil burn severity areas, especially on steeper slopes,” according to the response team’s December 2020 assessment.

    Denver Water has already accumulated significant expertise and partnerships related to wildfire impacts. Collaborative efforts include From Forests to Faucets, a team approach from Denver Water, the Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Colorado State Forest Service.

    he Williams Fork River, lined by snow-covered banks. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    These agencies, together with local groups, address overgrown forests on the front end with tree-thinning projects and repairing landscapes damaged by the kind of intense fires that dramatically slow the recovery of soils and vegetation.

    “We have experience, unfortunately, with the havoc that wildfires and their aftermath can wreak on our water quality,” Berrier said, referencing major fires in the late 1990s and early 2000s that put enormous strain on reservoirs and treatment on the south end of Denver Water’s collection system, challenges that the utility is still working to overcome today.

    “Tracking impacts to the water once the fires are out is a key step in getting our arms around what might be in store in the years to come.”

    > Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    Panelists duel over fluoridation of Loveland water; commission votes to continue program — The #Loveland Repoter-Herald

    Colorado and Southern depot back in the day via LovelandHistorical.org

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

    Skeptics and public health officials dueled over the issue of water fluoridation during Wednesday’s meeting of the Loveland Utility Commission, which last heard similar concerns in 2014.

    The skeptics failed to sway the commission, however, which voted at the suggestion of Loveland Water and Power director Joe Bernosky to recommend the city continue its practice of water fluoridation.

    An anti-fluoridation panel spoke first, led by Traudl Renner, whose comments before the City Council in October prompted the meeting. She argued that emerging science has called into question the safety of fluoridation, which Loveland has undertaken since 1954.

    She cited a study that indicated fluoride could damage the immune system (a panelist supporting fluoridation qualified this by saying the quoted section considered very high doses of the element)…

    She also questioned the effectiveness of ingested fluoride in preventing tooth decay, which is the reason why communities such as Loveland introduce fluoride compounds into their water.

    Renner and fellow anti-fluoride panelist Kathryn Jordan also brought up how accidents at water treatment facilities occasionally cause dangerous amounts of fluoride to be introduced into drinking water.

    Joe Bernosky, director of Loveland Water and Power, later said he and water utilities manager Roger Berg were not aware of any such accidents having ever occurred in the city.

    Jordan questioned the expense of programs such as Loveland’s, and asked why the city wouldn’t receive the chemical, which she said is the byproduct of certain industrial processes, for free…

    Chris Neurath, research director for the American Environmental Health Studies Project, said studies also suggest the element is neurotoxic and notably dangerous for pregnant women and young children…

    Neurath’s characterization of multiple studies was challenged by fluoridation advocates, particularly pediatrician Patricia Braun and dentist William Bailey of the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus. The latter called water fluoridation an “ideal public health measure.”

    “There’s nothing that you have to remember to do,” he said. “You don’t have to make an appointment. You don’t have to stand in line. You don’t have to go to the doctor. All you have to do is drink and use the water. It’s inexpensive. It helps tremendously with dental disease.”

    “Community fluoridation is the most cost-effective and far-reaching strategy we have to prevent cavities,” Braun said, adding that tooth decay was the number one reason she saw children going into surgery.

    Braun and Katya Mauritson, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s dental director, also spoke about the savings in medical expenses seen by communities that fluoridate their water, with Mauritson estimating that Loveland’s program saves residents more than $2 million in medical bills every year.

    Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend the city keep up its water fluoridation program.

    Fluoride dosing will be the subject of a discussion Loveland Utilities Commission, Wednesday March 24, 2021

    Calcium fluoride

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

    The city’s water utility introduces a fluoride compound into its drinking water to raise the concentration of the element to 0.7 milligrams per liter. About 0.2 milligrams of fluoride are naturally present in the water before it passes through the Loveland Water Treatment Plant.

    Cities commonly add fluoride to their drinking water because of its effects on dental health. Loveland began fluoridating its water in 1954. Since then, the consensus among public health experts has been that fluoride is not harmful at the levels achieved by fluoridation.

    The efficacy of water fluoridation is supported by the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Dental Association, American Water Works Association, U.S. Public Health Service and other agencies.

    In October, Loveland resident Traudl Renner told the council that she and others believe water fluoridation causes various health problems and suppresses the immune system.

    Council members ultimately agreed with a suggestion by City Manager Steve Adams that the topic be brought before the Loveland Utilities Commission, which advises the council on matters related to the city’s water and electric utilities.

    The commission last addressed the fluoridation question in 2014 — after weighing presentations from health care professionals as well as citizens who voiced concerns similar to Renner’s, it voted to recommend the city continue adding fluoride to its water.

    Wednesday’s meeting will be structured in a similar way, starting with presentations from a fluoride-skeptic panel, followed by a panel of doctors and representatives of agencies that support the practice.

    Loveland Water and Power director Joe Bernosky said he expects the commission will vote to recommend whether the city should continue fluoridating its water, and he will write a memo summarizing the meeting to be reviewed by the council…

    The Zoom webinar will be accessible at http://zoom.us/s/98404604379. To make a video comment, Zoom attendees should use the “raise your hand” feature and wait to be unmuted.

    Tuesday’s agenda packet can be viewed and printed at http://cilovelandco.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=339.

    Senate Confirms @POTUS’s Pick to Lead @EPA — The New York Times

    Portrait of Michael S. Regan 16th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. By White House – https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Michael_Regan.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99054948

    From The New York Times (Lisa Friedman):

    The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Michael S. Regan, the former top environmental regulator for North Carolina, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and drive some of the Biden administration’s biggest climate and regulatory policies.

    As administrator, Mr. Regan, who began his career at the E.P.A. and worked in environmental and renewable energy advocacy before becoming secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, will be tasked to rebuild an agency that lost thousands of employees under the Trump administration. Political appointees under Donald J. Trump spent the past four years unwinding dozens of clean air and water protections, while rolling back all of the Obama administration’s major climate rules.

    Central to Mr. Regan’s mission will be putting forward aggressive new regulations to meet President Biden’s pledge of eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the electric power sector by 2035, significantly reducing emissions from automobiles and preparing the United States to emit no net carbon pollution by the middle of the century. Several proposed regulations are already being prepared, administration officials have said.

    His nomination was approved by a vote of 66-34, with all Democrats and 16 Republicans voting in favor..

    Mr. Regan will be the first Black man to serve as E.P.A. administrator. At 44, he will also be one of Mr. Biden’s youngest cabinet secretaries and will have to navigate a crowded field of older, more seasoned Washington veterans already installed in key environmental positions — particularly Gina McCarthy, who formerly held Mr. Regan’s job and is the head of a new White House climate policy office…

    But most of the opposition centered on Democratic policy. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, called Mr. Biden’s agenda a “left-wing war on American energy.”

    “Mr. Regan has plenty of experience,” Senator McConnell said. “The problem is what he’s poised to do with it.”

    In his testimony before the Senate last month Mr. Regan assured lawmakers that when it comes to E.P.A. policies, “I will be leading and making those decisions, and I will be accepting accountability for those decisions.”

    Mr. Regan has a reputation as a consensus-builder who works well with lawmakers from both parties. North Carolina’s two Republican senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr voted to support his nomination. Even Senate Republicans who voted against him had kind words.

    Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

    Fecal matter elevated in #SouthPlatteRiver as #Denver fights state health agency over water pollution — The Denver Post #stormwater

    Harvard Gulch. Photo credit: DenverGov.org

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Denver drainage carries contaminants into waterways at levels up to 137 times higher than federal safety limit

    Colorado health officials this week declared water quality in the South Platte River as it flows through Denver highly deficient, pointing to E.coli contamination at levels up to 137 times higher than a federal safety limit.

    This intestinal bacteria indicates fecal matter and other pollution from runoff after melting snow and rain sweeps Denver pollution through drainage pipes into the river. To deal with the problem, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment has imposed, in a permit taking effect next month, stricter requirements for managing runoff water pollution.

    But Denver officials are fighting those requirements and twice petitioned the state health department to relax the new permit.

    “What the new requirements do is drastically increase the amount of expensive system maintenance beyond what could make a meaningful impact on E.coli concentrations,” city spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said.

    Colorado public health officials last month rejected Denver’s latest appeal. They issued a statement standing by their demands for the city to reduce its water pollution, saying the agency hopes to avoid litigation.

    A more aggressive approach is required, state health officials said in the statement, “because the South Platte remains in bad shape for pathogens.”

    Denver officials told The Denver Post on Wednesday “no lawsuit has been filed” challenging the permit in state court and that they are “having conversations with the state on five or so new requirements with the hope of reaching compromise.”

    […]

    “Denver’s storm sewer system is a clear part of the problem,” CDPHE permitting officials said in an email. When inspectors in 2019 sampled water flowing out of city drainage “outfall” pipes into the South Platte, they detected E.coli at levels as high as 1,970 cfu from one pipe and 8,400 cfu from another, state data shows…

    “Denver has never opposed the numeric limit of 126 cfu per 100 milliliters,” [Nancy Kuhn] said, but opposes “the specific measures that CDPHE is mandating to achieve that limit.”

    A consultant analyzing Denver stormwater runoff in 2018 proposed, in a document included in a 419-page state fact sheet accompanying the new permit, a comprehensive effort to slow down drainage flows, treating runoff water as a useful resource for re-greening in a semi-arid area. He recommended wide use of low-cost measures such as flattening crowned streets, installing small dams in alleys to re-direct culvert-bound gushing runoff, and converting sidewalks to “semi-pervious” surfaces that let water sink between stones into the soil.

    Denver’s population growth and development boom have worked against greening to improve water quality. Developers have paved over more surfaces, leaving Denver as one of the nation’s most paved-over cities — especially in newly developed areas — sluicing away runoff water at high velocity without removing contaminants.

    Denver officials directed contractors at the city’s new Globeville Landing outfall drainage pipe, in a park built over a former toxic dump site, to install an ultraviolet light. This light, city officials say, zaps away more than 90% of E.coli before runoff water reaches the river.

    Wild animals such as raccoons in storm sewers add to the fecal pollution contaminating runoff, Kuhn said, and “dog waste that people don’t pick up is a huge problem and a significant source of E.coli.”

    #GlenwoodSprings council reviewing #water, sewer rate increases to meet infrastructure needs — The Glenwood Springs Post Independent

    New plating at the Glenwood Springs water intake on Grizzly Creek was installed by the city to protect the system’s valve controls and screen before next spring’s snowmelt scours the Grizzly Creek burn zone and potentially clogs the creek with debris. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

    Some of the work related to Grizzly Creek Fire impacts

    Infrastructure improvements associated with Glenwood Springs waterworks system brought on in part by last summer’s Grizzly Creek Fire will likely mean multiple years of increasing water and sewer rates for customers.

    In 2020, the city conducted a water and wastewater rate study, which identified several “critical infrastructure needs” over the next 10 years totaling about $36 million.

    City council has been reviewing and will decide on a recommended tiered water and wastewater rate increase over those 10 years. It expects to make a decision this spring.

    Glenwood Springs Public Works Director Matthew Langhorst presented two rate increase options at a Jan. 21 City Council work session.

    Option 1 would increase rates 26.2% this year, followed by 8% for three years, then 7% in 2025 and 5% from 2026 to 2030.

    The second option has a higher initial rate increase for this year at 36.8%, followed by 5% for years 2022 through 2030…

    Both options also include standard Consumer Price Index (CPI) adjustments annually after 2030. Historically, the CPI has ranged between 1% and 4%.

    Langhorst also presented a comparison of what an average user’s monthly bill would look like under both options in year one, assuming different gallon usage.

    The average user consuming 5,000 gallons of water currently has an estimated bill of $92. Under Option 1, that would increase to $113. Option 2 would be slightly higher at $122.

    Langhorst said that 5,000 gallons of water is equivalent to what a medium-sized home with some landscaping would consume. “Compared regionally, the increased rates are in line with other jurisdictions,” he said.

    Some of the identified capital projects are related to the Grizzly Creek Fire, which severely impacted the city’s main No Name and Grizzly Creek water supplies. Others are due to routine replacement of aging infrastructure…

    Other capital needs include replacement or rehabilitation of equipment and additional storage capacity for firefighting capabilities, city officials said.

    Glenwood Springs operates a municipal water supply system that supplies drinking water to more than 10,000 residents. The city obtains its drinking water from three surface water intakes in the Colorado River watershed…

    The work session provided a preliminary overview of funding options. Council is tentatively set to review and make a decision about rates sometime this spring, and will also discuss a possible low-income assistance program, according to the city’s release.

    #ColoradoRiver Getting Saltier Sparks Calls for Federal Help — Bloomberg Law #COriver #aridification

    From Bloomberg Law (Emily C. Dooley):

    Various efforts along the river or tributaries annually remove about 1.2 million tons of salt. But the largest brine-removal system in the basin has been shuttered for two years over earthquake concerns. In December, President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration released a final environmental review on what to do about it.

    The chosen course: No action, leaving the fate of the project and of salt removal murky. Now local suppliers say they will be pressing the Biden administration to do the opposite.

    “For the last two years the salt has been flowing back into the river,” said Bill Hasencamp, chair of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum, which represents all of the states that draw from the river. “We were very disappointed. There’s no plan to capture [it] going forward.”

    Water suppliers have filed comment letters about the “no action” decision and sent letters to former Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. The average annual economic loss from salinity levels in the Colorado River is estimated to be $495 million, Reclamation said in its environmental review.

    Seismic Threat

    At issue is the Paradox Valley Unit near the Colorado-Utah border. The project, in operation since 1996, took saline groundwater before it could hit the Colorado and the Dolores River, a tributary, and injected it more than three miles beneath the surface into a well disconnected from the river system. About 95,000 tons of salt were removed each year.

    But injecting, like hydraulic fracturing, can cause seismic shifts.

    Reclamation shut down Paradox Valley in March 2019 after a magnitude 4.1 earthquake, which the U.S. Geological Survey considers moderate in size. Operations resumed for a six-week test at reduced use in spring 2020, but the well currently isn’t operating.

    Technical experts are evaluating next steps and it’s too soon for the agency to propose a new salinity control plan, Reclamation spokeswoman Linda Friar said in an email.

    Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65868008

    The agency currently doesn’t plan to issue a record of decision, which would finalize the “no action” plan Reclamation selected, she said.

    Hasencamp, also manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and others had pushed for that delay in comments filed with Reclamation earlier this month…

    Rejected Options

    In its environmental review, Reclamation considered and rejected building a new injection well, using evaporation ponds for brine to be treated at the surface, and building a discharge facility to evaporate and condense water before sending salt to a landfill.

    The “no action” alternative was “in the best interest of public health and safety,” Ed Warner, Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area office manager, said in a news release.

    James Eklund, former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said when he served as the state’s representative on salinity control programs, he was “pretty adamant” that the bureau should switch from earthquake-causing deep injection wells to evaporating ponds in order to deal with the saltwater. Eklund is now at Denver-based Eklund Hanlon LLC…

    Economic Losses

    But more than 600 miles south, the loss of Paradox Valley could increase salinity levels at Imperial Dam by 9 to 10 parts per million, which could lead to $23 million in estimated economic losses each year, Harris, from the Colorado River Board of California, said in a December letter to Burman, a Trump appointee no longer in office.

    The EPA doesn’t have a drinking water standard for sodium chloride, but it has a voluntary standard of 250 parts per million for chloride, a component of salt. Voluntary standards are generally related more to aesthetic concerns like taste and appearance.

    “It’s not huge, but we get essentially a ton of salt in every acre-foot of water,” said Tina Shields, water manager for Imperial Irrigation District, which borders Mexico. “If you don’t continue to implement these upstream salinity control measures by default, it can only go up.”

    Nearly all farmers in the Imperial Irrigation District have drains installed beneath the surface to leach salt away from crops, which requires even more water. But that’s not a permanent solution.

    Imperial is the last stop for water before it gets into Mexico, where the Colorado River delivers water to 2.3 million people and 500,000 acres of agriculture…

    Expensive Treatment

    Urban areas will be able to weather the salt problem better than agricultural ones because they have mass treatment to comply with drinking water standards, said Patricia Mulroy, former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and owner of the consulting firm Sustainable Strategies.

    Will #California finally fulfill its promise to fix the #SaltonSea? — @HighCountryNews #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Map of the Salton Sea drainage area. By Shannon – Background and river course data from http://www2.demis.nl/mapserver/mapper.asp and some topography from http://seamless.usgs.gov/website/seamless/viewer.htm, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9707481

    From The High Country News [December 21, 2020] (Mark Olalde):

    Decades have passed and millions of dollars spent, yet little has been done to restore the lake. California officials say it’s all been leading up to this moment.

    This story is a collaboration between High Country News and The Desert Sun, part of the USA Today Network.

    Red flags flutter outside the schools in Salton City, California, when the air quality is dangerous. Dust billows across the desert, blanketing playgrounds and baseball diamonds, the swirling grit canceling recess and forcing students indoors. Visibility is so poor you can’t see down the block. Those days worry Miriam Juarez the most.

    Juarez, a mother of three and active volunteer at the schools, often received calls to pick up her 7-year-old son, Lihan, when sudden nosebleeds soiled his outfits. But she couldn’t leave her job, harvesting vegetables in the fields that form square oases in the Coachella Valley. So she began packing fresh clothes for him every day, before COVID-19 halted in-person learning. “It’s OK. Just go to the office,” she’d say. “The ladies will help you change.”

    The doctor’s diagnosis was unclear: Perhaps Lihan had allergies. Then, Juarez’s 17-year-old daughter began suffering headaches and respiratory issues. Finally, Juarez got a runny nose and sore throat that lasted for days when the dust blew.

    Juarez blames California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea. Only a few miles east of the family’s neatly kept house, it’s a cobalt-blue patch on Southern California’s Colorado Desert, a roughly 325-square-mile oblong oddity that’s twice as salty as the ocean.

    It’s also toxic — a looming environmental and public health disaster. The Salton Sea’s shoreline is receding, exposing a dusty lakebed known as the “playa.” This sandy substance holds a century’s worth of agricultural runoff, including DDT, ammonia, possibly carcinogenic herbicides like trifluralin and other chemicals. Its windborne dust travels across Southern California and into Arizona, but nearby communities — many of them populated by Latino farmworkers — bear the heaviest burden.

    The problem isn’t new. Yet California, though largely responsible for fixing it, has barely touched the more than 25 square miles of exposed playa. It’s been almost two decades since an agreement was signed in 2003, committing the Imperial Irrigation District, the Colorado River’s largest user, to conserve water that once flowed from farms into the lake and send it to other districts. Knowing the lake would recede, the state committed to mitigating the health and environmental impacts. The state and federal governments have spent about $70 million so far, largely on salaries and studies. Meanwhile, the high-water mark has fallen nearly 10 feet, and salinity continues to rise.

    The politicians admit they’re years behind schedule, but they’re adamant that the course has been corrected, the money is being put to good use and the future is bright. Currently, 16 state employees are planning projects to tamp down dust or rebuild wetlands, and that will grow to 26 once new positions approved in the latest budget are filled. They’ve also nearly finished permitting projects that will cover 30,000 acres, a little more than a third of the area that could eventually be exposed.

    Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, who represents the region surrounding the lake, is optimistic. “I believe 2021 will be a new story of the state of California living up to its responsibility and liability in terms of investing in what it signed up for at the Salton Sea,” he said.

    Still, the state must overcome funding issues, disagreements with the feds, permitting bottlenecks and decades of inertia.

    FOR YEARS, the government stood still.

    Over tens of thousands of years, as it meandered across the West, the Colorado River occasionally filled the Salton Sea. The lake’s most recent iteration formed between 1905 and 1907, when an engineering disaster diverted the river into the basin. It has since been fed largely by agricultural runoff from the Imperial and Coachella valleys. It soon became clear that salinity levels would continue increasing. Since then, millions more people have begun relying on the Colorado River, even as climate change threatens the waterway. In response to competing demands, the 2003 agreement diverted water from the Imperial Valley. That meant that the lake’s level was guaranteed to drop. So, in 2007, the state released a sweeping proposal with an $8.9 billion price tag — unfortunately, just as the Great Recession took hold. “Folks got sticker-shocked and did not really pursue a full rehabilitation-restoration approach,” Garcia said.

    Still, the agreement included 15 years of inflows to temporarily control salinity while the state decided on a plan. By late 2020, the California Natural Resources Agency had completed one dust-suppression project covering a mere 112 acres; the goal for the end of that year was 3,800 acres. “For a very long time, the enormity of the challenge at the sea was frankly overwhelming, and there was very little action at the state level until 2014 or 2015,” said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, the lead department tasked with restoring the sea.

    That one completed site, the Bruchard Road Dust Suppression Project, looks like someone tried to farm the surface of the moon. Tractors dug long, straight furrows through the white, sandy playa to catch the windblown dust. But more expensive wetland habitat restoration is needed; the lake has long been an important feeding ground along the Pacific Flyway, a migratory bird route on the Western Seaboard.

    In order to “fix” the sea, government agencies, led by the state, will need to flood, plough or plant tens of thousands of acres to control dust and rebuild habitat. They’re racing against the clock. An estimated 131 square miles of playa will be dry and exposed to the air by the time the lake reaches a degree of equilibrium — meaning the inflow from three small waterways and agricultural runoff will maintain a smaller lake — in 2047.

    For a shallow body of water, the Salton Sea holds a large amount of sunk costs. Years of studies, salaries and office supplies have been purchased, but few shovels have been put to work.

    But Arturo Delgado, an assistant secretary with the Natural Resources Agency and the state’s Salton Sea czar, pointed out that a portion of the more than $355 million set aside for the lake — 99% of it from bonds — needed to be spent sorting out permits and access to a complex checkerboard of state, tribal, federal and private land. “The bulk of the funding that has been appropriated to date for the Salton Sea program has not been spent,” he said.

    As of late November, state agencies had used about $53 million, most of it going to ledger entries, including “studies and planning activities,” “staffing and other design costs” and “annual surveys to monitor bird and fish populations.” Glaring zeros marked the “expended” column next to several construction budgets.

    Years of indecisiveness mixed with land-access and permitting issues have bogged down the process; the state’s own efforts to clean up the ecological disaster got stuck in the compliance process. “Frankly, the permitting is probably more expensive right now than the actual projects,” said Tina Shields, water department manager at the Imperial Irrigation District, which, separate from the state, completed about 2,000 acres of dust suppression on its own land around the lake.

    The state is appropriating some funds, but the federal government has been slow to pitch in. The U.S. Department of Agriculture kicked in about $8 million for dust-suppression projects, and over the past five years, the Bureau of Reclamation spent about $11 million on water-quality monitoring, wetlands projects along polluted rivers that empty into the lake, and studies on the feasibility of using salty water for dust mitigation.

    When the Natural Resources Agency is finally ready for large-scale builds, the budget could get in the way. Individual construction sites are expensive, with one roughly 4,000-acre project set to break ground in 2021 costing an estimated $200 million. Another 160-acre design will cost $20 million. Cleanup along the New River, one of three small waterways flowing into the lake, comes with a $28 million bill.

    And while California regularly calls on bonds to fund large projects, that money can’t be used for operations and maintenance. Crowfoot acknowledged that the state lacks a mechanism to fund long-term monitoring and upkeep. At the beginning of 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom promised an additional $220 million, but that was predicated on a bond. When the pandemic hit, that idea and a parallel measure Garcia introduced in the Legislature both died, although Garcia said he’ll reintroduce his bill in 2021.

    For now, the state lacks a better funding plan. “We don’t have the reserves that we had prior to COVID-19,” Garcia said. “That money has been invested in our emergency response.”

    IF THE SALTON SEA RESTORATION were to reinvigorate the Pacific Flyway, it would likely begin at the wetlands around Red Hill Bay on the lake’s southeastern corner, where various agencies are constructing new habitat. An October visit found it far from inspiring. A flat patch of dirt covered several hundred dry acres, dotted with a few dead trees. A sign, complete with typos, showed a hopeful rendering of a functioning wetland and promised: “Estimated construction in 2016.”

    Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., introduced the federal Salton Sea Public Health and Environmental Protection Act in November to streamline permitting and unlock additional federal dollars. He acknowledged the delays, but called the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project “proof of concept that we can get a shovel-to-ground project started,” adding, “My number-one goal was to break ground on a project to rip that inertia to pieces and to start building momentum.”

    The son of farmworkers, Ruiz grew up just miles from the lake. He returned home to practice medicine after studying at Harvard, and he still wears gym shoes with his suits, as if he’s about to run into the emergency room. Ruiz, who was struck by the high rates of respiratory illnesses in the area, compares the lake to a patient “in need of triage.”

    A 2019 study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California’s medical school and a local nonprofit called Comite Civico del Valle estimated that nearly one in four elementary school children in northern Imperial County, the area nearest to the Salton Sea’s exposed and emissive playa, suffered from asthma, about three times the national average. “Exposing this population to more and more poor air quality — in particular, particulate matter small enough to penetrate the lung-blood barrier that also carries toxins like arsenic, selenium and pesticides — would be devastating to the public’s health,” Ruiz said.

    Ruiz said that divergent visions had stalled progress, while egos got in the way. Since entering Congress in 2013, he has tried to rally local lawmakers and called on the federal government to take a more active role. Juarez, in Salton City, welcomes the efforts but believes that if this problem affected a wealthier, whiter area like Palm Springs, it would’ve been addressed already. It’s a sentiment her elected representatives share. So, she asked, “Why is nothing getting done?”

    In 2020, the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District slapped the state and feds with notices of violation for failing to complete dust-control projects. The Imperial Irrigation District wants the state to act, too, citing the 2003 water transfer agreement. California politicians argue the federal government needs to step up because the Bureau of Reclamation owns much of the land underneath the lake. The feds insist they occupy a supporting role, and agency heads from Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused to attend a September congressional hearing to discuss the government’s role in cleaning up the lake.

    The people in Salton City and other towns around the retreating lake are still waiting. For Juarez, who began working in the fields when she was just 15, the clock is ticking on the American dream her family built in the California desert. It’s difficult to find hope in stepwise permit approvals while dust fights through cracks in her home. She takes her children to the doctor every six months and worries about Lihan. “I’m nervous, and I’m scared to see my son like that,” Juarez said.

    She doesn’t want to move away but is finally considering it. “I don’t want to stay here and see my kids sick,” she said.

    Mark Olalde is an environment reporter for The Desert Sun. He is based in Palm Springs, California.

    Mette Lampcov is a freelance documentary photographer from Denmark, and is currently based in the greater Los Angeles area.

    Forever Chemicals Are Widespread in U.S. Drinking Water — Scientific America #PFAS

    From Scientific American (Annie Sneed):

    Experts hope that with the incoming Biden administration, the federal government will finally regulate a class of chemicals known as PFASs

    Many Americans fill up a glass of water from their faucet without worrying whether it might be dangerous. But the crisis of lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich., showed that safe, potable tap water is not a given in this country. Now a study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy organization, reveals a widespread problem: the drinking water of a majority of Americans likely contains “forever chemicals.” These compounds may take hundreds, or even thousands, of years to break down in the environment. They can also persist in the human body, potentially causing health problems

    A handful of states have set about trying to address these contaminants, which are scientifically known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). But no federal limits have been set on the concentration of the chemicals in water, as they have for other pollutants such as benzene, uranium and arsenic. With a new presidential administration coming into office this week, experts say the federal government finally needs to remedy that oversight. “The PFAS pollution crisis is a public health emergency,” wrote Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, in a recent public statement.

    Of the more than 9,000 known PFAS compounds, 600 are currently used in the U.S. in countless products, including firefighting foam, cookware, cosmetics, carpet treatments and even dental floss. Scientists call PFASs “forever chemicals” because their chemistry keeps them from breaking down under typical environmental conditions. “One of the unique features of PFAS compounds is the carbon-fluorine bond,” explains David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG. “That bond is incredibly strong.” Ultimately this means that if PFASs enter the environment, they build up. These chemicals can linger on geologic time scales, explains Chris Higgins, a civil and environmental engineer at the Colorado School of Mines…

    Because of their widespread use, release and disposal over the decades, PFASs show up virtually everywhere: in soil, surface water, the atmosphere, the deep ocean—and even the human body. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site says that the agency has found PFASs in the blood of nearly everyone it has tested for them, “indicating widespread exposure to these PFAS in the U.S. population.” Scientists have found links between a number of the chemicals and many health concerns—including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, developmental toxicity, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced preeclampsia and hypertension, and immune dysfunction.

    Concerned about PFASs’ persistence and potential harm, Andrews and his EWG colleague Olga Naidenko set out to assess Americans’ exposure to the chemicals via their drinking water. PFASs can get into this water in a variety of ways. For example, industrial sites might release the compounds into the water or air. Or they can leach from disposal sites. They can also percolate into groundwater from the firefighting foams used at airports and military bases. Andrews and Naidenko say there is a need for research into drinking-water levels because the federal government does not require testing water for PFASs. This leaves a gap in scientists’ understanding of overall exposure. Andrews and Naidenko focused their analysis on two types of these chemicals—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—because those compounds had the most available data. The two researchers pulled that information together from various sources, including state agencies, the federal government and the EWG’s own measurements.

    The scientists estimated that more than 200 million people—the majority of Americans—have tap water contaminated with a mixture of PFOA and PFOS at concentrations of one part per trillion (ppt) or higher. Andrews and Naidenko say previous research shows that levels higher than one ppt can increase the risk of conditions such as testicular cancer, delayed mammary gland development, liver tumors, high cholesterol and effects on children’s immune response to vaccinations. “It’s a calculation of what would be a safe exposure level,” Andrews says. Even when the researchers shifted their analysis to a higher level of 10 ppt, they still found some 18 million to 80 million Americans to be exposed. Representatives of the chemical industry have disagreed with such concerns. “We believe there is no scientific basis for maximum contaminant levels lower than 70 ppt,” the American Chemistry Council said in statement to Scientific American…

    Technologies to remove PFASs from drinking water exist on both household and municipal levels. Granular activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis are two options, but they are costly and high-maintenance—and the burden falls on taxpayers. “PFASs are produced by companies, for which they receive a profit,” DeWitt says. “And then residents end up paying to clean up the pollution.” On top of that, PFAS that is removed from drinking water may simply end up elsewhere, such as in a landfill or river.

    Some states have instituted or proposed limits on PFASs in drinking water, but experts say federal action is needed to tackle such a widespread problem. President Joe Biden’s administration may finally address that need. His campaign’s environmental justice plan specifically called out forever chemicals. And the plan said that the president will “tackle PFAS pollution by designating PFAS as a hazardous substance, setting enforceable limits for PFAS in the Safe Drinking Water Act, prioritizing substitutes through procurement, and accelerating toxicity studies and research on PFAS.” The new administration could carry out all of these goals unilaterally through executive action, without Congress’s cooperation. Some experts appear optimistic about this prospect. “I’m hopeful that the incoming administration will reempower the EPA so that it can actually create regulations to protect public health,” DeWitt says. “That is the agency’s charge—that is its mission.”

    More Coyote Gulch posts about PFASs here.

    #EastTroublesomeFire could cause water-quality impacts for years — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Drivers between Granby and Walden will encounter many scenes of hillsides where only snags remain from the 193,000-acre East Troublesome Fire in October. Water managers say the worst impacts of the fire may be felt with summer rains. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best):

    For some ranchers in Troublesome Valley, the worst impacts of the wildfire that began near there in October might not arrive until summer — or even summers beyond.

    Experts say the greatest danger of sedimentation from the East Troublesome Fire will occur during and after a hard rain, especially of an inch or more. That is when the severe soil damage from the fire will cause sediment to wash into the east fork of Troublesome Creek and into a diversion ditch used to irrigate 10,000 acres of hay.

    “It’s a real concern for us,” said Kent Whitmer, one of seven ranch owners who get water from the ditch owned by the East Troublesome Mutual Irrigation Co.

    Whitmer said he most fears sediment filling the ditch so badly that it overflows.

    “That would be disastrous,” he said.

    Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the 193,812-acre fire.

    The East Troublesome Fire, which had been burning east of Colorado Highway 125, exploded on the afternoon of Oct. 21, driven by 70 mph winds. In all, the fire grew 100,000 acres in 24 hours, eventually becoming the second-largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history. The fire was formally designated as contained Nov. 30, although small plumes of smoke could be seen in the golf course area as recently as Christmas Day. All but about 5,000 acres of the fire burned in Grand County.

    Denver Water may offer lessons useful to water managers, who will be dealing with impacts from the East Troublesome Fire for years, perhaps decades. Denver Water has struggled with sediment and debris clogging its two major reservoirs in the foothills southwest of Denver. The fires that caused problems for those reservoirs — Buffalo Creek in 1996 and Hayman in 2002 — fried soils, removing their ability to absorb moisture. Sediment has been washed up to 11 miles into Strontia Springs and Cheesman reservoirs, pushed by water during summer cloudbursts.

    Denver Water has spent $28 million in reservoir dredging, facilities repair and landscape-restoration projects. It discovered that debris and sediment can travel downstream to cause problems in critical water infrastructure. At Strontia Springs, Denver Water dredged for sediment as recently as five years ago but may need to do so again this year.

    “Dredging is very costly,” Denver Water watershed scientist Christina Burri said during the recent post-fire water impacts webinar. Retrieving sediment and debris can be challenging, and then there’s the issue of what to do with the debris. “Do you pile it? Do you burn it? Where can you take it?” Burri said.

    The East Troublesome Fire might produce fewer problems. A fire assessment called burned-area emergency response was conducted by U.S. Forest Service land managers and shows mostly low to moderate soil burn severity, suggesting lesser impacts to water quality.

    But water managers still expect significant challenges come spring, when melting snow produces debris and sediment that can clog bridges, culverts and reservoirs.

    This house north of Windy Gap Reservoir was among the 589 private structures burned in the East Troublesome Creek Fire. Water managers worry soil damage by the fire will cause sediment to clog irrigation ditches and municipal water infrastructure alike. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Assessing the damage

    The fire came through in October “so quickly that it didn’t have a chance to do long-term scarring of the soil,” said Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “However, this is still a sobering assessment because it really lays out the challenge we have going forward.”

    Northern Water operates the Colorado-Big Thompson diversion project, which employs Willow Creek, Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs as well as Grand Lake to deliver water to more than a million people and 615,000 irrigated acres along the northern Front Range and in northeastern Colorado.

    The district estimates the fire burned as much as 94% of the Willow Creek watershed, 90% of the area drained by Stillwater Creek, 29% of the Colorado River drainage above Shadow Mountain Reservoir and 42% of the North Inlet watershed. A more detailed assessment will be needed in the spring after snow has melted, Strahla said.

    “It’s not as bad as Hayman, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad,” Stahla said, referring to the 138,000-acre fire in 2002 that was the largest forest fire in Colorado’s recorded history until last year. In size, Hayman was eclipsed by the three Colorado fires in 2020: East Troublesome, Cameron Peak and Pine Gulch.

    In assessing the damages caused by the East Troublesome Fire, resource specialists estimated 5% of the soil suffered high severity, 48% of it moderate severity and 37% of it low severity burns. Within the fire perimeter, 10% of the land was unburned.

    The mapping for the 22,668 acres of the East Troublesome Fire within Rocky Mountain National Park has not yet been released.

    Soil in severely burned areas has lost its structure, as the fire burned the forest litter and duff, weakening the roots of trees and other material that hold soil together.

    Areas of severe damage include the basin drained by the east fork of Troublesome Creek, where the fire was first reported Oct. 14. There, the fire hunkered down, moving slowly but burning most everything. Other notable severe burn areas are near Willow Creek Pass, between Granby and Walden, and a gulch immediately north of Windy Gap Reservoir. Some areas near Grand Lake burned with surprising severity.

    Erosion in high or moderate soil burn areas depends on the specific characteristics, such as the slope and soil texture, of each area, according to the burn report.

    Little that was live remained standing in this area along Colorado Highway 25, north of Windy Gap Reservoir, after the East Troublesome Fire. Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the fire. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Watching the water

    Impacts to drinking water in Grand County will vary. Well owners generally should have no problems with the debris.

    “These folks will want to make sure that wellheads and components are not damaged, to test for coliform bacteria before drinking the water post-fire and to treat it if necessary,” said Katherine Morris, water-quality specialist for Grand County. “If a well is located in an area known to be down-gradient from an area where homes burned, it may be prudent to ensure that your water treatment is adequate.”

    At Grand Lake, the town draws water from 80-foot wells.

    “We have not seen anything yet,” said Dave Johnson, the water superintendent for Grand Lake. He said he doesn’t expect problems but that the water will continue to be monitored, as it has been.

    But Grand Lake’s microhydro plant could have problems. Located on Tonohutu Creek, the small plant constantly generates 5 kilowatts of electricity used in treating the town’s domestic water.

    “We can only filter out so much debris before we have to close the intake,” Johnson said.

    In that case, the water treatment plant will be operated solely by electricity from Mountain Parks Electric.

    Hot Sulphur Springs, which draws water from wells that tap the river aquifer, will be the only town in Grand County with municipal water supplies directly impacted by the fire. Kremmling also can tap the Colorado River, but it does so only in emergencies.

    Hot Sulphur Springs Mayor Bob McVay said his town expects challenges when the snow melts this spring, producing ash-laden water and debris. The town already has set out to take precautions, but it’s not yet clear what will be required.

    Upgrading of the filters in the town’s water treatment plant, a project that began a year ago, probably will be completed in January, providing duplicate filtering systems. But that might not be enough. Secondary wells in the groundwater along the river remain an option.

    In Troublesome Valley, Whitmer hopes to consult the expertise of the Natural Resources Conservation Service about how to mitigate effects of the fire on the irrigation ditch. He also wonders whether beaver dams in the East Fork will trap at least some sediment.

    For Northern Water, this was just one of several fires affecting its operations in 2020. It was impacted by fires on both sides of the Continental Divide, including the Cameron Peak Fire, the state’s largest wildfire, which affected the Poudre River and other creeks and drainages.

    Stahla said managers attempt to prepare for wildfire and other contingencies, but they did not prepare for such a severe wildfire season.

    “If you had come to us with a scenario that there is wildfire burning above Grand Lake, above Estes Park and throughout the Poudre River Basin, we probably would have pushed back, thinking that’s a little too over the top,” he said.

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Our water desk is funded in part by the Catena Foundation. This story ran in the Jan. 16 edition of the Summit Daily News and the Jan. 15 edition of Sky-Hi News.

    #CameronPeakFire’s threat to #PoudreRiver a concern for #FortCollins water supply — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

    Mesmerized by miles of mountainsides of blackened trees and seared soil that hugs the banks of the upper Poudre River, it’s difficult not to reflect on the 2012 High Park Fire and 2013 flood.

    You can’t help but wonder, given the steepness of the slopes and the severity of the riverside scar left by the Cameron Peak Fire, if Northern Colorado is poised for a repeat of history regarding the Poudre River.

    Come spring, snowmelt, rainfall and potential flash floods are almost certain to wash large amounts of ash from Colorado’s largest wildfire, soil and even entire trees into the river that serves as a source of drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people in Fort Collins and the surrounding area…

    A recent Burned Area Emergency Response assessment for the Cameron Peak Fire indicated a 90% to 100% chance that water quality would be impacted by ash- and sediment-laden runoff, nutrient loading and potential debris flows within the first few years following the fire.

    And that’s only the half of it.

    Fort Collins receives half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from Horsetooth Reservoir, whose water quality could be impacted by the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County.

    An assessment for the East Troublesome Fire estimated 53% of the burn area suffered moderate (48%) or high (5%) soil burn severity compared to 36% — 30% moderate and 6% high — for the Cameron Peak Fire. The Cameron Peak Fire assessment also showed more than half the soil tested to be repellent to water absorption…

    By the time the 112-day Cameron Peak Fire’s flames were finally extinguished on Dec. 2, a watershed recovery collaboration of area municipalities, Larimer County, federal and state agencies, water providers and organizations such as the coalition, was already meeting to start planning efforts to address the fire’s impact.

    This isn’t the first fire for many of those stakeholders, and lessons learned from the High Park Fire are helping the group quickly prepare for this spring’s impacts.

    That being said, the Cameron Peak Fire was more than twice the size of the High Park Fire and paired with the 193,812-acre East Troublesome Fire — the second-largest wildfire in state history — delivered a massive one-two punch to several watersheds, making recovery even more daunting…

    Mark Kempton, the city of Fort Collins’ interim deputy director of Water Resources and Treatment, said the city has implemented steps since the High Park Fire to better equip it to handle the after-effects of a major fire.

    He said the city has installed warning systems along the Poudre River that alert it several hours ahead of water turbidity issues so workers can turn off the water supply. When the city turns off the Poudre River supply, it can draw on Horsetooth Reservoir water. That was the case for 100 days during the High Park Fire.

    The High Park Fire taught recovery leaders to include the use of shredded tree mulch instead of straw mulch to better prevent the mulch from blowing away for soil and slope stabilization. Strategically increasing culvert size also reduced damage to roads.

    Kempton said another key component will be workers removing sediment by flushing the water treatment system more often and removing sediment from the river intake system and catch basins.

    Nine Former #Michigan Officials, Including Ex-Gov. Rick Snyder, Charged in #Flint Water Crisis — Frontline

    Flint River in Flint Michigan.

    From Frontline (Sarah Childress and Abby Ellis):

    The sweeping criminal cases announced Thursday include Rick Snyder, the former Republican governor; Snyder’s top aide and his chief of staff; as well as both the state’s top doctor and health official during the crisis, who face the most severe charges: nine counts of involuntary manslaughter each, as well as official misconduct and neglect of duty for “grossly negligent performance.”

    “The impact of the Flint water crisis cases and what happened in Flint will span generations and probably well beyond,” said Kym Worthy, one of the special prosecutors appointed to investigate the crisis. “This case has nothing whatsoever to do with partisanship. It has to do with human decency … and finally, finally holding people accountable for their alleged, unspeakable atrocities that occurred in Flint all these years ago. Pure and simple, this case is about justice, truth, accountability, poisoned children, lost lives, shattered families that are still not whole and simply giving a damn about all of humanity.”

    Snyder, whose term as governor ended in 2018, had apologized to residents for letting them down. He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty and entered a not guilty plea…

    The former governor’s closest aide, Rich Baird, was charged with four felonies: misconduct in office, perjury, obstruction of justice for attempting to influence the legal proceedings around the crisis, and extortion for “threatening” a state-appointed research team investigating the Flint water crisis — an incident that was first documented by FRONTLINE in Flint’s Deadly Water.

    Baird also pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Randall Levine, told the Detroit Free Press that Baird is “innocent of any wrongdoing and is being unfairly prosecuted by the state’s Democratic attorney general.”

    Overall, the indictments paint a grim portrait of a cast of officials not only failing to act to protect people’s health but concealing information, lying about the extent of the problems and threatening those trying to get the word out.

    Among the others indicted on Thursday were Snyder’s chief of staff, Jarrod Agen, for perjury; Nancy Peeler, a state children’s health official accused of concealing, and later misrepresenting, data on blood-lead levels in Flint’s children; Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley, both state-appointed emergency managers in Flint charged with misconduct in office; and Howard Croft, Flint’s director of public works at the time, who faces misdemeanors for failing to protect the safety and quality of the water supply. He was the lone city official indicted in the case.

    All nine officials indicted on Thursday entered not guilty pleas.

    The two officials at the center of the prosecution, Nick Lyon, the former head of the state health department, and Dr. Eden Wells, the former state chief medical executive, could face 15-year prison sentences for each of nine counts of involuntary manslaughter. Both were also charged with willful neglect of duty. Wells faces an additional felony count of misconduct in office for attempting to prevent the distribution of information about Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County…

    While much of the focus on Flint centered around lead contamination, many of the charges stemmed from a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ that occurred during the crisis. Officially, 90 people were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, and 12 died, according to state data. But a FRONTLINE investigation strongly suggests the actual death toll was much higher, as doctors unaware of the threat failed to properly diagnose and treat sickened patients. FRONTLINE also found many victims who succumbed to Legionnaires’ in the months and years following the outbreak, long after the state stopped counting the dead…

    As Legionnaires’ cases began ticking upward in 2014, state officials, including Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose, exchanged emails speculating that Flint’s new water supply might be to blame. Some worried that word might get out. By the end of 2014, there were 40 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’, and three people had died.

    By March 2015, emails show that at least three of Snyder’s aides and two cabinet members had been told about the outbreak, including Lyon.

    At a press conference in January 2016, Snyder finally announced the Legionnaires’ outbreak — 18 months after it began. He was joined by Wells and by Lyon, who made a point of noting the outbreak couldn’t be linked to the water switch.

    The governor also hastily convened a task force of prominent scientists to investigate the source of the outbreak. The scientists got to work but quickly began clashing with the administration over their findings, when they identified the presence of Legionella, the bacteria that causes the deadly disease, in the water filters of people’s homes.

    Report: Ex-#Michigan governor Rick Snyder to face criminal charges in #Flint water crisis — The Washington Post

    From The Washington Post (Kim Bellware and Brady Dennis):

    Former Michigan governor Rick Snyder (R) and several former officials are expected to be indicted in connection with the 2014 Flint water crisis that led to at least 12 deaths and dozens of illnesses in the predominantly Black city, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

    Snyder, his former health department director Nick Lyon and former adviser Rich Baird were among those notified by the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) of the pending indictments and advised to expect imminent court dates, the AP reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the prosecution.

    The nature of the criminal charges were not immediately clear.

    Randall L. Levine, an attorney representing Baird, confirmed in a statement to the Post Tuesday that authorities notified him this week about indictments. He said Baird “will be facing charges stemming from his work helping to restore safe drinking water for all residents and faith in the community where he grew up.” But he added that Baird had not yet “been made aware of what the charges are, or how they are related to his position with former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s administration.”

    […]

    Nessel’s office dropped all criminal charges in the case in 2019, shortly after she took office, effectively restarting the probe.

    Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician whose research in 2015 first documented dangerously high lead levels in children’s blood, welcomed news of the reported charges.

    “As a pediatrician privileged to care for our Flint children, I have increasingly come to understand that accountability and justice are critical to health and recovery,” Hanna-Attisha told The Post in a text message Tuesday. “Without justice, it’s impossible to heal the scars of the crisis.”

    Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at the Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint, warned that while the news was a salve for the many families whose lives had been affected by the poisoned water, criminal charges are only part of the story…

    “Residents of Flint were repeatedly told they were crazy. They were belittled. They were harmed by the water physically, emotionally,” Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said in an interview Tuesday. “I’ve always said that I think criminal charges are important, because I think it’s criminal what happened to my town.”

    Ananich emphasized that he doesn’t know the extent of the charges expected later this week, but he does hope they send a clear message: “No person, no politician, no one is above the law.”
    For Flint families who continue to live with the irreversible effects of the tainted water, Tuesday’s news symbolized a level of vindication.

    “I can’t believe it,” Gina Luster, a Flint community activist, told The Post in a message. “Finally, after 7 years of fighting for justice.”

    CDPHE will not lower mercury limits — The #Leadville Herald-Democrat

    Leadville

    From The Leadville Herald-Democrat (Sean Summers):

    Following more than a year of back-and-forth with state regulators, the Leadville Sanitation District has been issued a new wastewater discharge permit that will allow for the same amount of mercury to be present in treated water released into California Gulch.

    The new permit, issued by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE), came after outside evaluations and public comments to the state agency called attention to Leadville Sanitation District’s (LSD) inability to meet proposed lower mercury limits without substantial upgrades.

    The previous permit limited acceptable mercury levels in treated water to 0.077 micrograms per liter. Though CDPHE was going to require a lower limit of 0.044 micrograms per liter in the new permit, the limit will remain the same under the recently implemented five-year discharge permit.

    While the new permit maintains the same limits for mercury levels, it requires the sanitation district to monitor for a number of contaminants not previously recorded, including uranium and radium, among others.

    The permit, citing a 1989 report regarding the release of gasoline from underground storage tanks, also calls for new monitoring of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene given the potential for groundwater contamination from the Tabor Grand Hotel service site.

    The permit went into effect on Jan. 1, and requires regular reporting of contaminant levels to CDPHE.

    LSD has had issues meeting the 0.077 microgram-per-liter mercury limit in the past. The district was found to be out of compliance with state-determined mercury limits in 2017, prompting evaluations of the district’s collection system.

    As the organization responsible for receiving, treating and releasing all of Lake County’s wastewater, LSD has since been evaluating the sources of entry for contaminants into the county’s wastewater system.

    While the district has not been able to pinpoint the exact entry point for mercury and other contaminants, evaluations of the district’s aging collection system, made up of pipes and drains throughout Leadville, suggest that the intake system has leaks which may allow for contaminant infiltration and leakage.

    After recording a lower-than-expected amount of incoming sewage based on the number of residences and businesses served in the sanitation district, CDPHE is requiring LSD address the issue under the new permit. In its explanation of the new requirement, CDPHE says the low input may be a result of sewage leaking from the collection system before reaching the treatment facility.

    The new permit requires LSD to meet acceptable mercury limits stipulated in the 2021 permit by September 2023. The district is required to submit a report that identifies sources of cadmium, zinc, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene by Sept. 30 of this year.

    @AuroraWaterCO wins Outstanding Water Laboratory award: Seventh time Aurora Water has received this prestigious award

    Aurora looking west at Mount Blue Sky

    Here’s the release from Aurora Water (Greg Baker):

    Aurora Water has won the 2020 Outstanding Water Laboratory Award from the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association (RMSAWWA). RMSAWWA is a nonprofit, scientific and educational association serving members in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming that is dedicated to effectively managing and treating water. The annual award recognizes a drinking water analysis lab for its exceptional performance, dedication and teamwork. Aurora Water’s Quality Control Lab is a repeat winner of this prestigious award, having won the honor a total of seven times since 2008.

    Aurora Water’s quality control staff of 10 laboratory specialists conduct dozens of tests daily at the Quality Control Laboratory. Hundreds of water samples are collected each month from source to tap, ensuring that the water provided to Aurora residents is consistently and reliably safe.

    “This award recognizes the hardworking professionals at Aurora Water’s Quality Control Laboratory, who are dedicated to providing excellent service to our citizens,” said Aurora Water’s Environmental Compliance Principal Sherry Scaggiari. “Through their rigorous sampling, testing and reporting on every aspect of our water and waste water system, they maintained the highest level of service, even during a pandemic.

    Historic #Colorado Wildfire Season Could Impact Drinking #Water — CBS #Denver

    From CBS Denver (Dillon Thomas):

    The historic wildfire season of 2020 could impact drinking water for more than a million Colorado residents. Environmental researchers and natural resource specialists have conducted a BAER Survey, which stands for Burned Area Emergency Response.

    The survey evaluated how the record-breaking Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires could impact Colorado’s snowpack and watershed.

    The Colorado Big Thompson Project, which Northern Water operates for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, lies between the Cameron Peak fire, shown at the top of the map, and the East Troublesome Fire, shown at the bottom left. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

    The Poudre and Upper Colorado River Basins provide drinking water for more than a million people in northern Colorado, and soon those in Thornton. The Colorado River also flows from Willow Creek Reservoir near Granby to Las Vegas and farther southwest.

    The months-long battle with both blazes charred the natural filters along rivers and creeks, which eventually provide drinking water for most of the northern front range.

    “Our concerns really are actually about the entire watershed,” said Jeff Stahla, spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    In an interview with CBS4’s Logan Smith, Stahla said the approach to preserving and protecting the watershed in the years to come was directly altered by the High Park Fire of 2012, where researchers learned what to do and what not to do.

    A helicopter drops water on the Cameron Peak Fire near CSU’s Mountain Campus. Photo credit: Colorado State University

    For example, pulling undersized culverts and digging water bars is more effective than reseeding or spreading hay bales.

    “This is something you won’t be able to resolve by dropping seeds from a helicopter, the scale is so large,” Stahla said. “The concern is that if there is a large weather event that occurs over that area, that you will have uncontrolled removal of debris and sediment that will go in to our reservoirs.”

    Ecologist Heidi Steltzer evaluates the site of a 2018 wildfire within 10 miles of her Colorado home. Changes in snow affect the disturbance regime of U.S. mountain regions. (Credit: Joel Dyar)

    During the fires of 2020, water conservation experts monitored how the burn scar could impact drinking water.

    “We recognized that it was no longer just a small localized event, but it was something that would effect the entire Upper Colorado River shed,” Stahla said.

    Due to the extended period the fires burned, especially the Cameron Peak Fire, not every area of the burn scars impact nearby rivers and streams equally. While some portions of the terrain were significantly burned with hot fire that “resided” in the same spot for an extended period, others were more fortunate.

    The East Troublesome fire as seen from Cottonwood Pass looking north on the evening of Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020. (Andrew Lussie via InciWeb via The Colorado Sun)

    Stahla said many local water districts are now teaming up to help protect the health of the watershed in the years to come. By unifying and prioritizing the health of the water system as a whole, Stahla said the strength of the landscape and watershed can bounce back quicker…

    Researchers hope to return to the burn scars in the spring once snow has melted to evaluate next steps. Local municipalities are working with the Bureau of Reclamation to expedite the process.

    #Dolores #water and sewer rates to increase — The Cortez Journal

    Dolores

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    Funds will upgrade plants, replace aging pipelines

    An increase in monthly water and sewer service rates in Dolores will go into effect in January.

    The base water rate will increase by $5 to $30.84 per month, up from $25.84.

    The base sewer rate will increase by $2.50 to $31.16 per month, up from $28.66.

    Rate increases were approved by the town board in March, but implementation was delayed until 2021 because of economic challenges due to the pandemic.

    The last time water and sewer rates were raised was in 2015. The town is reviewing a senior, income-based exemption from the latest rate increase.

    Inflation and the need for infrastructure upgrades are the reasons for the rate increase, said Mayor Chad Wheelus.

    While both the sewer plant and water plant are in good condition, outdated pipelines are deteriorating and need replacement.

    Many water service pipelines are more than 50 years old, and their 4-inch diameter size is insufficient. The undersized pipes puts limitations on fire protection needs.

    Wheelus said the town has replaced aging leaking water and sewer collection lines, more needs to be done…

    Priority needs for the water and wastewater pipeline system in Dolores are estimated to cost $2.7 million, according to a recent assessment from SGM Engineering.

    Rate increases will help cover current and future repairs and upgrades at the water and sewer plants over several years, town officials said during recent budget discussions.

    In the fall, 10 deteriorated water lines passing under Colorado Highway 145 were replaced. The job was a priority because the highway through town is scheduled to be repaved by Colorado Department of Transportation in 2021. An upgrade to the water treatment plant also was completed this year.

    To cover the approximate $800,000 cost, the town secured a $292,363 grant from the Department of Local Affairs, and a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Remaining costs were covered from town reserves and a loan from Dolores State Bank.

    The water rate increase will go toward paying off the loan…

    According to town documents, there are numerous other infrastructure needs pending within the next 5 to 10 years in Dolores. The rate increase will help build up the reserve to pay for future water and sewer upgrade and maintenance projects.

    The increase will also help offset ordinary inflation of costs to operate and maintain water and sewer utilities, officials said.

    Dolores has significant remaining capacity in both treatment plants, they said, and both plants are also meeting state standards for water quality. Regarding water quantity, SGM said water supply, and the water and sewer treatment systems are sufficient, and the plants have capacity to meet growth in town without major repairs or expansion.

    @USBR chooses “no action” alternative for the Paradox Valley brine injection well

    From the Paradox Valley Unit website (USBR):

    Environmental Impact Statement

    Because the existing brine injection well is nearing the end of its useful life, the Bureau of Reclamation investigated alternatives for disposing of the brine. Reclamation has prepared and released a Final Environmental Impact Statement. The FEIS review period is from December 11, 2020 to January 11, 2021. Alternatives analyzed in the FEIS include a new injection well, evaporation ponds, zero liquid discharge technology, and no action.

    After weighing the benefits and impacts of the alternatives analyzed in the FEIS, the Bureau of Reclamation has identified the no action alternative as the preferred alternative.

    The no action alternative achieves the best balance among the various goals and objectives outlined in the FEIS, including: optimizing costs; minimizing adverse effects on the affected environment; minimizing the use of nonrenewable resources; consistency with Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plans; and being in the best interest of the public, including considerations of health and safety.

    The Paradox Valley Unit injection well will continue to operate until it becomes infeasible. New technically, environmentally and economically viable alternatives may be investigated in the future to continue salinity control at Paradox Valley.

    #GunnisonRiver, with elevated selenium levels, faces review for reclassification — @AspenJournalism

    This portion of the 58-mile mainstem of the Gunnison River just south of Whitewater has been designated as critical habitat for the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker, which are two species of endangered fish. Programs aimed at reducing salt and selenium in the waterway are showing signs of success. Photo credit: Natalie Keltner-McNeil via Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Natalie Keltner-McNeil):

    State water-quality officials will soon evaluate whether two water-improvement programs in the Gunnison River basin have successfully reduced a chemical that is toxic to endangered fish.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Division is analyzing five years of data on selenium levels in the Gunnison, where heightened selenium and salinity have harmed Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker populations.

    If selenium levels stay at or below the state standard of 4.6 micrograms per liter in any of the segments of river that are analyzed by division staff, those segments will be reclassified from a water body that threatens aquatic life to one that meets state water-quality standards, said Skip Feeney, assessment workgroup leader for the Water Quality Control Division.

    After analyzing selenium data, the division will submit a proposal after the first of the year to the CDPHE Water Quality Control Commission recommending a status change if necessary, Feeney said.

    “Our goal is to provide an accurate, defensible proposal to the commission and let the commission make an informed decision,” Feeney said. In an October interview, he said he didn’t yet know “what the water-quality status is looking like.” He added: “That’s just part of the process — we’re just getting started.”

    Reclassifying the river has been a goal since the establishment nearly a dozen years ago of the Selenium Management Program, a collaboration among government agencies, nonprofits and stakeholders.

    Observers have found elevated selenium levels throughout the basin, but a key river segment of focus is the main stretch of the lower Gunnison that winds for 58 miles from Delta to the confluence with the Colorado River in Grand Junction. This section, which begins at the confluence with the Uncompahgre River, was designated in 1994 as essential to pikeminnow and razorback survival by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    A map showing the main segment of the Gunnison River, between Delta and its confluence with the Colorado River, which has been designated as essential habitat for two endangered fish species. Map via Aspen Journalism

    Historically, this segment, which runs through the basin’s most populated and developed corridor, has contained selenium levels toxic to the two species of fish, according to Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer for the Colorado River Water Conservation District and a member of the Selenium Management Program.

    During the last regulation cycle, which used data gathered from multiple different entities from 2010 to 2015, the calculated level for selenium in the mainstem of the Gunnison was 6.7 micrograms per liter, a level that is 2.1 micrograms above the state standard, according to MaryAnn Nason, the communications and special-projects unit manager at CDPHE.

    Yet, the past five years of U.S. Geological Survey data show that selenium levels have stayed below 4.6 micrograms. Each yearly average was below 4.6, with the average for all five years sitting at 3.2, according to an analysis by Aspen Journalism.

    Kanzer cautioned that the calculation using only USGS data was “not directly applicable to the CDPHE listing methodology” — because it doesn’t take into account all available data — but he said “it does tell a good story.”

    To calculate the final selenium load for each segment in the Gunnison River, CDPHE is analyzing data from the past five years from the USGS; Colorado River Watch, an environmental advocacy organization; the state; and United Companies, a Grand Junction-based construction company that is required by the state to monitor selenium levels near the gravel pits that the company operates.

    These are hills of exposed Mancos shale in Delta County. Selenium is a natural element found in the soil type that is common in the Uncompahgre and Grand valleys. Photo credit: Natalie Keltner-McNeil/Aspen Journalism

    Selenium’s origins and pathway to the rivers

    Selenium is a natural element found in Mancos shale, a soil common throughout the Uncompahgre and Grand valleys in the Gunnison River basin. When irrigators transport water to and through their farms in open canals, selenium dissolves in the water and either percolates into groundwater or gets carried into drainage ditches that discharge into the Gunnison.

    “Where we have good flows of water, (selenium) concentrations are not an issue because of dilution,” Kanzer said. “But smaller tributaries, smaller water areas or backwater areas where you don’t have good circulation, you get selenium that can accumulate in the ecosystem, really in the sediment and in the food web.”

    Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker exist only in the Colorado River basin, said Travis Schmidt, a research ecologist for the Wyoming-Montana Water Science Center. The species are able to swim between the Colorado and Gunnison rivers with the aid of a fish passage at the Redlands Diversion Dam on the lower Gunnison, accumulating selenium and transferring the element to their offspring.

    Selenium gathers in fish tissues when females ingest algae or smaller fish. It then is transferred to offspring during the egg-laying process, Schmidt said.

    “Selenium replaces sulfur in protein bonds, so anything that lays an egg can transfer a lot of selenium to its progeny,” he said.

    Once transferred to fish eggs, the element causes neurological, reproductive and other physiological deformities in a significant proportion of both species of fish, Schmidt said. A study that analyzed fish-tissue samples collected by federal and state agencies from 1962 to 2011 found that 63% of Colorado pikeminnows and 35% of razorback suckers exceeded healthy selenium tissue concentrations in the upper Colorado River basin.

    Delta County farmer Paul Kehmeier kneels by gated pipes in his family’s alfalfa field. He received funding to replace an unlined canal with the pipes in 2014 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Piping unlined canals, which is one of the primary methods used to prevent salt and selenium from leaching into the water supply, is critical to the protection of endangered fish in the Gunnison and Colorado river basins. Photo credit: Natalie Keltner-McNeil/Aspen Journalism
    Aspinall Unit

    ’A happy, fringe benefit of salinity control’

    Selenium was first addressed by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009 in a document written for the Bureau of Reclamation. The document analyzed the effects of the Aspinall Unit — a series of three dams on the upper Gunnison River — on Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker recovery. In the document, the service concluded that in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Bureau of Reclamation had to increase spring flows downstream of the Aspinall Unit and initiate a management program to reduce selenium in the Gunnison. As a result, the Selenium Management Program was founded in 2009.

    “It’s a two-prong type of plan,” Kanzer said of the program’s goals.

    The first objective is to meet the state standard for dissolved selenium throughout the Gunnison River basin, particularly for the 58-mile main segment, Kanzer said. The second goal is to help transition the pikeminnow and razorback sucker from endangered populations to self-sustaining populations, Kanzer said.

    Program members help irrigators obtain funding from the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Agriculture, said Lesley McWhirter, the environmental and planning group chief for the bureau’s Western Colorado Area Office. Individual farmers can apply for funding for on-farm irrigation projects through the Department of Agriculture, and ditch companies can apply for funding projects that deliver water to farms through the Bureau of Reclamation’s Salinity Control Program.

    The goal of the salinity program, which was started in 1974, is to reduce salt loading into the Colorado River basin. The program awards grants to ditch companies every two to three years. In the last grant cycle, in 2019, the Bureau of Reclamation awarded 11 ditch companies a combined $37 million to line irrigation systems. Of the 11 companies, eight are located in Mesa, Montrose and Delta counties, where the Gunnison River runs, according to McWhirter.

    Mancos shale is rich in salt and selenium. So, when farmers receive funding to reduce salt loads, selenium often decreases as well. This is exemplified by a USGS analysis that found selenium loads had decreased by 43% from 1986 to 2017 and by 6,600 pounds annually from 1995 to 2017.

    “The selenium control is a happy, fringe benefit of salinity control,” said Delta County farmer Paul Kehmeier.

    Delta County farmer Paul Kehmeier stands atop a diversion structure that was built as part of a project to improve irrigation infrastructure completed between 2014 and 2019. Kehmeier served as manager for the ditch-improvement project, which was 90% funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and serves 10 Delta County farms with water diverted from Surface Creek, a tributary of the Gunnison River. Lining and piping ditches, the primary methods used to prevent salt and selenium from leaching into the water supply, are critical to the protection of endangered fish in the Gunnison and Colorado river basins. Photo credit: Natalie Keltner-McNeil/Aspen Journalism

    CDPHE plans to submit proposal in January

    CDPHE plans to submit its proposal to the Water Quality Control Commission in early January, Nason said.

    If the main segment of the Gunnison River is found to have selenium levels below the state standard, it would mean the Selenium Management Program is closer to obtaining the dual goals of fish protection and selenium reduction, Kanzer said.

    Even if the main segment of the Gunnison is reclassified, the Selenium Management Program will continue efforts to reduce selenium in the Gunnison basin, Kanzer said. These efforts include data gathering and analysis and facilitating meetings among government agencies, nonprofits and stakeholders.

    The Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker depend on the entire Gunnison basin, so other segments containing toxic selenium levels require reduction efforts. If any new research shows that fish are harmed by selenium at levels lower than 4.6 micrograms per liter, the state could lower the selenium standard, reclassifying segments of the Gunnison as a danger to aquatic life, Kanzer said.

    “The jury’s still out — we’re still trying to understand what levels are acceptable and not acceptable,” he said. “There’s always room for refinement of that standard, and that dialogue is ongoing.”

    After the division submits its proposal to the commission, the proposal will be released to stakeholders and anyone who has applied to receive hearing notices or track Colorado’s regulations. The public can submit their own proposals or comments by emailing the commission. In May, the commission will review all proposals and comments to make a decision on the river segment’s 2020 status, Feeney said.

    This story ran in the Dec. 3 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Scouring soil, sowing seeds and spending millions for wildfire recovery in Glenwood Canyon — The #Colorado Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Grizzly Creek Fire August 11, 2020. Photo credit: Wildfire Today

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    Glenwood Springs is spending more than $10 million on repairs and upgrades to water supply infrastructure following Grizzly Creek Fire.

    The Grizzly Creek Fire was not even 10% contained. Jumbo jets still were dousing flames as firefighting teams from across the country scrambled to protect Glenwood Springs and a critical watershed above the Colorado River. And teams of scientists were in Glenwood Canyon, too, battling alongside firefighters.

    Those hydrologists, biologists, geologists, archaeologists and recreation specialists are still there, even after the flames are gone, waging a behind-the-scenes battle to protect water and natural resources…

    Burned Area Emergency Response — or BAER — teams typically come in when a fire is 50% contained to assess damage and create a multi-year restoration plan. Roberts and the Grizzly Creek Fire BAER crew were on the ground when less than 10% of the fire was contained as both forest and fire managers recognized threats to water supplies. In less than three weeks, they had a map detailing where the Grizzly Creek Fire burned hottest, which helped the Colorado Department of Transportation identify areas where rockfall hazards increased in the fire.

    In a twist on the BAER assessment — which usually focuses on protecting resources after a fire — the team helped build an emergency communication plan that helped firefighters in the canyon, and identified areas where they could swiftly take cover in the event of rockfall or a sudden rainstorm that could sweep debris and rocks off canyon walls…

    It was this early assessment that sparked an urgent plea for help from Glenwood Springs. As firefighters battled back flames on the western edge of the wildfire, the city’s leaders rallied politicians far and wide to acknowledge damage to the city’s water supply infrastructure. Barely three weeks after the wildfire sparked along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, the city had a list of immediate work needed to protect the city’s watershed.

    Sen. Michael Bennet prodded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to unleash millions from the federal Emergency Watershed Protection program. Glenwood Springs was first in line, with a clear message that spring snowmelt, or even a rainstorm, could cripple the city’s water supply…

    It didn’t take long for Glenwood Springs to identify immediate repairs and upgrades to protect water systems from expected sediment and debris flowing from scorched canyon walls. First on the list were intake systems on Glenwood Canyon’s Grizzly and No Name creeks. The city also needed an upgrade to a backup water intake on the Roaring Fork River, should the systems in the canyon go down. And finally, the city is eager to finish a long-planned bridge that could help residents flee a wildfire on the south end of town.

    By early September, less than a month after the Grizzly Creek Fire started, the city had a list of $86 million in projects. And the money started flowing almost immediately.

    The city secured more than $1 million from the NRCS’s Emergency Watershed Program for projects to protect intake infrastructure on No Name and Grizzly creeks, high above the Colorado River…

    The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    The city asked the NRCS for wiggle room on the requirement that municipalities pay 25% of the total grant. The service agreed to an 80-20 split, which meant the city needed a little less than $200,000 to protect the structures that funnel millions of gallons of water a day into the city’s water treatment plant.

    Work on the Grizzly Creek intake started first, with helicopters ferrying workers 3.8 miles up the drainage. The workers put in steel plates to protect the diversion and valve systems from debris that could clog the intake during the next big rain or spring melt. They stabilized the banks upstream and downstream of the intake, which required flying 11 cubic yards of cement up the drainage.

    New plating at the Glenwood Springs water intake on Grizzly Creek was installed by the city to protect the system’s valve controls and screen before next spring’s snowmelt scours the Grizzly Creek burn zone and potentially clogs the creek with debris. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    The team finished in October and then turned to No Name Creek, where intake diversions and valves are accessible by truck. That work included similar protections as Grizzly Creek, plus a concrete wall to keep debris from hitting a city structure on No Name Creek.

    The No Name work also included upgrades to a 1962 tunnel near the bottom of the creek, with new strainers and filters designed to remove bulky sediment before water reaches the treatment plant. The No Name work is ongoing but will be completed before the spring melt.

    In addition to the intake repairs and upgrades, Glenwood Springs this month secured an $8 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The money was among the first awarded through the board’s 2020 Wildfire Impact Loan program, which streamlines funding for municipalities racing to protect watersheds after a wildfire. The program offers 30-year loans with no payment necessary for the first three years.

    The $8 million will help design and construct new pipelines from the city’s pump station on the Roaring Fork River, which delivers water uphill to the Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant. Glenwood Springs has two water sources: the intake systems on No Name and Grizzly creeks and the pumps on the Roaring Fork River. The Roaring Fork water is a backup in case either of the intakes on the creeks above the Colorado River go down. But the intakes in Glenwood Canyon and the pumps on the Roaring Fork cannot run at the same time, and the city is building a second pipeline into the Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant so the two sources can deliver water simultaneously, if needed.

    “This will give us a lot of resiliency moving into the future. Not just fire resiliency, but it gives us a lot of water resource resiliency,” said Matt Langhorst, the public works director for Glenwood Springs. “Having one water source is not acceptable. We need two or three and this would give us three.”

    Glenwood Springs is applying for a Department of Local Affairs grant for the pipeline running from the Roaring Fork River, which would reduce its loan amount from the CWCB.

    A third project, still part of that $8 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will plan and construct a concrete basin above the Red Mountain Water Treatment plant that will mix water coming from the Grizzly Creek and No Name intakes with the water from the Roaring Fork River. The mixing basin helps remove sediment and creates a consistent type of water so technicians do not need to overhaul various treatment processes to accommodate different sources of water.

    A fourth project — and the biggest — would upgrade the entire Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant, which has not been updated since 1977. An upgraded plant, with new technology, would be able to more quickly and efficiently remove sediment from higher volumes of incoming water…

    Sprinkling special-made seeds

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s emergency loan program was developed in response to the 2013 floods. The idea was to get emergency funds approved by the board ahead of time so communities do not have to wait through a prolonged application and review process. The board’s emergency loan program distributed $23 million in emergency watershed protection funding following the devastating floods in September 2013…

    With the fire climbing out the canyon by the middle of September and the risk to crews reduced through communication plans and safety maps, Roberts’ BAER team of specialists started their work on emergency stabilization and long-term restoration.

    They created a second burn severity map along with a satellite-derived data map of vegetation in the burn zone. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program also created a similar map identifying areas where debris flow could be heaviest during a rainstorm.

    The BAER team started hiking into the canyon, sometimes driving up to the top of the canyon and dropping in from above, and sometimes hiking up. They scoured the soil in burn areas for organic, woody debris and intact roots, which raise the likelihood of natural recovery. Roberts said new plants already are pushing through the charred topsoil.

    “What we have seen to date is there is a lot of that organic material and native seed left in the soil that is allowing a lot to come back,” Roberts said, describing a patchy burn in a “mosaic” pattern. “We see good potential for recovery.”

    […]

    Roberts and her team assisted the natural recovery process, sprinkling seeds as soon as rain and snow dampened the soil. They walked all the fire suppression lines where bulldozers hastily cleared entire swaths of forest and yanked out non-native weeds that took root. And they threw seeds everywhere.

    Roberts collected native grass seed from the nearby Flat Tops to create a seed mix for Glenwood Canyon. The mix will produce resilient grasses that help stabilize soil and combat invasive weeds. The team’s reseeding of suppression lines is nearing completion as the snow piles deeper. The stabilization work will continue into next summer.

    Emergency trail and road stabilization will pick up in the spring, when Roberts will move into the restoration phase, which includes aggressive mitigation to prevent non-native weeds and monitoring vegetation growth.

    Researchers with Utah State University also joined Roberts in the field and launched a year-long study of how the Grizzly Creek Fire impacts runoff and erosion. The researchers expect the data — gathered from USGS gauges upstream and downstream of the burn zone as well as monitoring equipment inside the canyon — will help better calibrate the models used to predict debris flow in areas burned by wildfire.

    #Flint attorneys to detail proposed $641-million water crisis settlement in virtual briefing Monday afternoon — MLive.com

    From MLive.com (Ron Fonger):

    Flint River in Flint Michigan.

    A proposed $641-million settlement of water crisis lawsuits was filed in U.S. District Court last week, $20 million of which would come from a city insurance policy — if approved by the Flint City Council.

    If approved by Judge Judith Levy, the settlement would establish a claims process for those harmed by Flint water and ultimately payouts depending on which of 30 categories individuals fall into, the extent of damages and how many claims are filed.

    The council is scheduled to address the settlement in a closed session at 5:30 p.m. Monday, but several members have blocked similar private briefings in the past, saying that the overall settlement that’s been proposed doesn’t provide enough money to those harmed by Flint water or doesn’t divide the settlement fairly.

    Flint children who were 6 years old and younger at the time they were first exposed to Flint River water would receive 64.5 percent of the proposed settlement.

    Council President Kate Fields has urged other members to be briefed on the city’s portion of the settlement so that they can be informed on the deal before they vote to accept or reject it.

    Attorneys involved in negotiating the settlement say lawsuits will continue against the city and its employees in state and federal courts if the settlement is not approved by the council.

    More than 100 lawsuits are pending related to the water crisis, alleging parties including the city and the state have responsibility for the distribution of water with elevated levels of lead, bacteria and chlorination byproducts in Flint in 2014 and 2015.

    In addition to having had regulatory responsibility for Flint water, the state appointed emergency financial managers to run the city before and during the water crisis.

    The briefing at 2 p.m. Monday is designed to give residents the chance to hear “directly from the city’s attorneys on what this settlement would mean to residents,” Neeley said in a statement issued by the city. “This is about transparency and about making sure that residents have access to accurate information regarding the proposed water lawsuit settlement.”

    Because the settlement documents were filed in federal court on Tuesday, Nov. 17, city officials said they can now openly discuss them.

    Desalination: Industrial-strength brine, meet your kryptonite

    Here’s the release from Rice University (Jade Boyd):

    Boron nitride coating is key ingredient in hypersaline desalination technology

    A thin coating of the 2D nanomaterial hexagonal boron nitride is the key ingredient in a cost-effective technology developed by Rice University engineers for desalinating industrial-strength brine.

    Rice University’s Kuichang Zuo (left) and Qilin Li helped develop a highly efficient technology for desalinating industrial-strength brine with a salt content as much as 10 times greater than seawater. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

    More than 1.8 billion people live in countries where fresh water is scarce. In many arid regions, seawater or salty groundwater is plentiful but costly to desalinate. In addition, many industries pay high disposal costs for wastewater with high salt concentrations that cannot be treated using conventional technologies. Reverse osmosis, the most common desalination technology, requires greater and greater pressure as the salt content of water increases and cannot be used to treat water that is extremely salty, or hypersaline.

    Hypersaline water, which can contain 10 times more salt than seawater, is an increasingly important challenge for many industries. Some oil and gas wells produce it in large volumes, for example, and it is a byproduct of many desalination technologies that produce both freshwater and concentrated brine. Increasing water consciousness across all industries is also a driver, said Rice’s Qilin Li, co-corresponding author of a study about Rice’s desalination technology published in Nature Nanotechnology.

    “It’s not just the oil industry,” said Li, co-director of the Rice-based Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Center (NEWT). “Industrial processes, in general, produce salty wastewater because the trend is to reuse water. Many industries are trying to have ‘closed loop’ water systems. Each time you recover freshwater, the salt in it becomes more concentrated. Eventually the wastewater becomes hypersaline and you either have to desalinate it or pay to dispose of it.”

    Rice University’s desalination technology for hypersaline brine features a central passage for heated brine that is sandwiched between two membranes. A stainless steel heating element produces fresh, salt-free water by driving water vapor through each membrane. A coating of the 2D nanomaterial hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) protects the heating element from the highly corrosive brine. (Image courtesy of Kuichang Zuo/Rice University)

    Conventional technology to desalinate hypersaline water has high capital costs and requires extensive infrastructure. NEWT, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at Rice’s Brown School of Engineering, is using the latest advances in nanotechnology and materials science to create decentralized, fit-for-purpose technologies for treating drinking water and industrial wastewater more efficiently.

    One of NEWT’s technologies is an off-grid desalination system that uses solar energy and a process called membrane distillation. When the brine is flowed across one side of a porous membrane, it is heated up at the membrane surface by a photothermal coating that absorbs sunlight and generates heat. When cold freshwater is flowed across the other side of the membrane, the difference in temperature creates a pressure gradient that drives water vapor through the membrane from the hot to the cold side, leaving salts and other nonvolatile contaminants behind.

    A large difference in temperature on each side of the membrane is the key to membrane desalination efficiency. In NEWT’s solar-powered version of the technology, light-activated nanoparticles attached to the membrane capture all the necessary energy from the sun, resulting in high energy efficiency. Li is working with a NEWT industrial partner to develop a version of the technology that can be deployed for humanitarian purposes. But unconcentrated solar power alone isn’t sufficient for high-rate desalination of hypersaline brine, she said.

    “The energy intensity is limited with ambient solar energy,” said Li, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “The energy input is only one kilowatt per meter square, and the production rate of water is slow for large-scale systems.”

    Adding heat to the membrane surface can produce exponential improvements in the volume of freshwater that each square foot of membrane can produce each minute, a measure known as flux. But saltwater is highly corrosive, and it becomes more corrosive when heated. Traditional metallic heating elements get destroyed quickly, and many nonmetallic alternatives fare little better or have insufficient conductivity.

    “We were really looking for a material that would be highly electrically conductive and also support large current density without being corroded in this highly salty water,” Li said.

    The solution came from study co-authors Jun Lou and Pulickel Ajayan in Rice’s Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering (MSNE). Lou, Ajayan and NEWT postdoctoral researchers and study co-lead authors Kuichang Zuo and Weipeng Wang, and study co-author and graduate student Shuai Jia developed a process for coating a fine stainless steel mesh with a thin film of hexagonal boron nitride (hBN).

    Rice University engineers created a robust heating element for desalinating highly corrosive industrial-strength brine by adding a protective coating of the 2D nanomaterial hexagonal boron nitride to a commercially available stainless steel mesh. (Photo by Kuichang Zuo/Rice University)

    Boron nitride’s combination of chemical resistance and thermal conductivity has made its ceramic form a prized asset in high-temperature equipment, but hBN, the atom-thick 2D form of the material, is typically grown on flat surfaces.

    “This is the first time this beautiful hBN coating has been grown on an irregular, porous surface,” Li said. “It’s a challenge, because anywhere you have a defect in the hBN coating, you will start to have corrosion.”

    Jia and Wang used a modified chemical vapor deposition (CVD) technique to grow dozens of layers of hBN on a nontreated, commercially available stainless steel mesh. The technique extended previous Rice research into the growth of 2D materials on curved surfaces, which was supported by the Center for Atomically Thin Multifunctional Coatings, or ATOMIC. The ATOMIC Center is also hosted by Rice and supported by the NSF’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Program.

    The researchers showed that the wire mesh coating, which was only about one 10-millionth of a meter thick, was sufficient to encase the interwoven wires and protect them from the corrosive forces of hypersaline water. The coated wire mesh heating element was attached to a commercially available polyvinylidene difluoride membrane that was rolled into a spiral-wound module, a space-saving form used in many commercial filters.

    A coiled distillation membrane system for desalinating hypersaline brine. Rolling the system into a coil demonstrated the possibility of adopting a common space-saving, water-filtration format. (Photo by Kuichang Zuo/Rice University)

    In tests, researchers powered the heating element with voltage at a household frequency of 50 hertz and power densities as high as 50 kilowatts per square meter. At maximum power, the system produced a flux of more than 42 kilograms of water per square meter of membrane per hour — more than 10 times greater than ambient solar membrane distillation technologies — at an energy efficiency much higher than existing membrane distillation technologies.

    Li said the team is looking for an industry partner to scale up the CVD coating process and produce a larger prototype for small-scale field tests.

    “We’re ready to pursue some commercial applications,” she said. “Scaling up from the lab-scale process to a large 2D CVD sheet will require external support.”

    NEWT is a multidisciplinary engineering research center launched in 2015 by Rice, Yale University, Arizona State University and the University of Texas at El Paso that was recently awarded a five-year renewal grant for $16.5 million by the National Science Foundation. NEWT works with industry and government partners to produce transformational technology and train engineers who are ready to lead the global economy.

    Ajayan is Rice’s Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Engineering, MSNE department chair and a professor of chemistry. Lou is a professor and associate department chair in MSNE and a professor of chemistry.

    The research was supported by NSF. Additional co-authors include Hua Guo and Ruikun Xin, both of Rice; and Menachem Elimelech and Akshay Deshmukh, both of Yale.

    Northern Front Range water supply safe in spite of fires — for now — The #Greeley Tribune

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    From The Greeley Tribune (Cuyler Meade):

    …while a significant portion of the water supply that is held and accessed by the project that serves the northern Front Range communities is impacted by the fires, the water supply itself is not in danger.

    According to Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — or simply Northern Water — the near-term supply is fine.

    The decision to close off a tunnel — which transports water pumped from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir before traveling by gravity through the tunnel through Rocky Mountain National Park to Lake Estes and elsewhere, before eventually settling in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake in Fort Collins and Loveland — will not impact the water supply that’s eventually drawn from those two reservoirs to supply much of Northern Water’s million-plus customers in Northern Colorado, including Greeley.

    That’s because, Stahla explained, the system is proactive. While new water will not be replenished quite according to the normal schedule in the Horsetooth and Carter Lake reservoirs, that water is, in essence, paying down a future withdrawal that won’t happen for a year or more…

    “The water coming out of your faucet now, if it’s this project’s water, was probably snow that fell in maybe 2018,” Stahla explained. “It ran off in spring of ’18 and filled up Lake Granby, and then around the end of 2018 into 2019, it would’ve been used to fill up reservoirs on the front range. That would’ve happened over winter of 2018-2019, and then it would’ve been in reservoirs all of 2019 and probably drawn out now in 2020. This project works on a multi-year cycle of gathering runoff, feeding reservoirs and serving the public.”

    The water is still in Lake Granby, but temporarily won’t be pumped up to Shadow Mountain because of concerns that the fire will impact the power supply to the pump at Lake Granby…

    However, that water is only a portion — a very sizable portion, close to half — of the water that is used by Greeley customers, according to city of Greeley water and sewer director Sean Chambers.

    And, truly incredibly, the other major sources of water, four in total, from which the city draws its 20,000 to 25,000 acre feet-per-year supply are also being impacted by these unfathomable wildfires.

    “We have water from four different river basins,” Chambers said. “We get water from the Poudre River Basin, that’s where the year-round treatment plan by Bellevue, northwest of For Collins is. The top of the Poudre is where the fire started. You go north and cross into Laramie River Basin — the Laramie flows north into Wyoming but we have a system of ditches and tunnels that brings water back into the Poudre. The fires burned a bit of the headwaters of the Laramie. We also get water from the Big Thompson Basin, and the Cameron Peak Fire spread southeast over the last ten days, blown over the ridge line and the divide into the Big Thompson Basin. And then the last basin is the Colorado River Basin, which is where the East Troublesome Fire comes from.”

    Chambers, marveling, called this phenomenon the first time “in recorded history” that this has happened, where all four major water sources are affected by fires at the same time…

    Further, while snow melt over burned land could well impact other water sources as well, there are plans in place, Chambers said.

    “When the High Park Fire happened, that fire had these post-precipitation water-quality events in the river, where Fort Collins and Greeley and others, who take water directly off the Poudre River for municipal treatment, we turned off our intakes and let the bad water go by, let the water quality improve. We can do that because of the beautiful supplemental supply in the Colorado Big Thompson project.”

    The flexibility requires planning, though, including, Chambers said, installing source-site filtration systems where snow runoff on its way the river systems are filtered prior to entering the water supply…

    In the immediate moment, though, the water supply even well into next year is in good shape, regardless of the fires Stahla said.

    “Not even just into early next year,” Stahla said. “Reservoirs are there for that kind of demand management that you can have some stocked away close to meet your needs. As of now, there’s no operational changes because of the wildfires to the water supply on the Northern Front Range. Those reservoirs will be refilled by next spring.”

    PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ are widespread and threaten human health – here’s a strategy for protecting the public — The Conversation


    Firefighting foam left after a fire in Pennsylvania. These foams often contain PFAS chemicals that can contaminate water supplies.
    Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    Carol Kwiatkowski, North Carolina State University

    Like many inventions, the discovery of Teflon happened by accident. In 1938, chemists from Dupont (now Chemours) were studying refrigerant gases when, much to their surprise, one concoction solidified. Upon investigation, they found it was not only the slipperiest substance they’d ever seen – it was also noncorrosive and extremely stable and had a high melting point.

    In 1954 the revolutionary “nonstick” Teflon pan was introduced. Since then, an entire class of human-made chemicals has evolved: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. There are upward of 6,000 of these chemicals. Many are used for stain-, grease- and waterproofing. PFAS are found in clothing, plastic, food packaging, electronics, personal care products, firefighting foams, medical devices and numerous other products.

    But over time, evidence has slowly built that some commonly used PFAS are toxic and may cause cancer. It took 50 years to understand that the happy accident of Teflon’s discovery was, in fact, a train wreck.

    As a public health analyst, I have studied the harm caused by these chemicals. I am one of hundreds of scientists who are calling for a comprehensive, effective plan to manage the entire class of PFAS to protect public health while safer alternatives are developed.

    Typically, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assesses chemicals for potential harm, it examines one substance at a time. That approach isn’t working for PFAS, given the sheer number of them and the fact that manufacturers commonly replace toxic substances with “regrettable substitutes” – similar, lesser-known chemicals that also threaten human health and the environment.

    Graphic showing how PFAS moves from many sources into soil and water
    As PFAS are produced and used, they can migrate into soil and water.
    MI DEQ

    Toxic chemicals

    A class-action lawsuit brought this issue to national attention in 2005. Workers at a Parkersburg, West Virginia, DuPont plant joined with local residents to sue the company for releasing millions of pounds of one of these chemicals, known as PFOA, into the air and the Ohio River. Lawyers discovered that the company had known as far back as 1961 that PFOA could harm the liver.

    The suit was ultimately settled in 2017 for US$670 million, after an eight-year study of tens of thousands of people who had been exposed. Based on multiple scientific studies, this review concluded that there was a probable link between exposure to PFOA and six categories of diseases: diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

    Over the past two decades, hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers have shown that many PFAS are not only toxic – they also don’t fully break down in the environment and have accumulated in the bodies of people and animals around the world. Some studies have detected PFAS in 99% of people tested. Others have found PFAS in wildlife, including polar bears, dolphins and seals.

    Attorney Robert Billott describes suing Dupont for knowingly releasing millions of pounds of hazardous PFOA in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

    Widespread and persistent

    PFAS are often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t fully degrade. They move easily through air and water, can quickly travel long distances and accumulate in sediment, soil and plants. They have also been found in dust and food, including eggs, meat, milk, fish, fruits and vegetables.

    In the bodies of humans and animals, PFAS concentrate in various organs, tissues and cells. The U.S. National Toxicology Program and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed a long list of health risks, including immunotoxicity, testicular and kidney cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility and thyroid disease.

    Children are even more vulnerable than adults because they can ingest more PFAS relative to their body weight from food and water and through the air. Children also put their hands in their mouths more often, and their metabolic and immune systems are less developed. Studies show that these chemicals harm children by causing kidney dysfunction, delayed puberty, asthma and altered immune function.

    Researchers have also documented that PFAS exposure reduces the effectiveness of vaccines, which is particularly concerning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Regulation is lagging

    PFAS have become so ubiquitous in the environment that health experts say it is probably impossible to completely prevent exposure. These substances are released throughout their life cycles, from chemical production to product use and disposal. Up to 80% of environmental pollution from common PFAS, such as PFOA, comes from production of fluoropolymers that use toxic PFAS as processing aids to make products like Teflon.

    In 2009 the EPA established a health advisory level for PFOA in drinking water of 400 parts per trillion. Health advisories are not binding regulations – they are technical guidelines for state, local and tribal governments, which are primarily responsible for regulating public water systems.

    In 2016 the agency dramatically lowered this recommendation to 70 parts per trillion. Some states have set far more protective levels – as low as 8 parts per trillion.

    According to a recent estimate by the Environmental Working Group, a public health advocacy organization, up to 110 million Americans could be drinking PFAS-contaminated water. Even with the most advanced treatment processes, it is extremely difficult and costly to remove these chemicals from drinking water. And it’s impossible to clean up lakes, river systems or oceans. Nonetheless, PFAS are largely unregulated by the federal government, although they are gaining increased attention from Congress.

    Water treatment tanks
    Part of a filtration system designed to remove PFAS from drinking water, Horsham Water and Sewer Authority, Horsham, Pennsylvania.
    Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    Reducing PFAS risks at the source

    Given that PFAS pollution is so ubiquitous and hard to remove, many health experts assert that the only way to address it is by reducing PFAS production and use as much as possible.

    Educational campaigns and consumer pressure are making a difference. Many forward-thinking companies, including grocers, clothing manufacturers and furniture stores, have removed PFAS from products they use and sell.

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

    State governments have also stepped in. California recently banned PFAS in firefighting foams. Maine and Washington have banned PFAS in food packaging. Other states are considering similar measures.

    I am part of a group of scientists from universities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies in the U.S. and Europe that has argued for managing the entire class of PFAS chemicals as a group, instead of one by one. We also support an “essential uses” approach that would restrict their production and use only to products that are critical for health and proper functioning of society, such as medical devices and safety equipment. And we have recommended developing safer non-PFAS alternatives.

    As the EPA acknowledges, there is an urgent need for innovative solutions to PFAS pollution. Guided by good science, I believe we can effectively manage PFAS to reduce further harm, while researchers find ways to clean up what has already been released.The Conversation

    Carol Kwiatkowski, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University

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

    Ute Water wins Outstanding Treatment Plant award — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    The Ute Water Conservancy District Treatment Plant team was recently recognized with the 2020 Outstanding Water Treatment Plant Award from the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association. Photo credit: Courtesy of Ute Water via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dan West):

    The Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association recently recognized the Ute Water Conservancy District Treatment Plant with an award for its work.

    The award was the 2020 Outstanding Water Treatment Plant Award for utilities serving over 50,000 customers and is based on a number of factors including water quality, maintenance, professionalism and safety.

    Ute Water Process Control Technician Tony Ibarra nominated the plant for the award and said he was glad to see the work of the staff recognized. He said they have worked to continuously improve plant operations through facility upgrades, as well as staff training and certification…

    The Ute Water Treatment Plant has undergone facility improvements in recent years including pump station rehabilitations, pre-treatment facility upgrades, filter improvements and a motor control center replacement, among others, according to a news release.

    Treatment Plant Superintendent Ben Hoffman said he was happy to receive the recognition and noted that previous winners included larger Front Range districts. He said, typically, water districts make the news for negative reasons, but that he was happy to have something positive to share.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit project launched — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Steve Henson):

    Dignitaries from throughout the nation, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, gathered at Lake Pueblo for the groundbreaking of a pipeline that will deliver clear water to the Lower Arkansas River Valley…

    As the conduit will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where the heavily polluted Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado…

    It may be a decade or more before the conduit will be built, but the project is well on its way now.

    When completed, the conduit will serve an estimated 50,000 people in Southeastern Colorado via some 260 miles of pipeline.

    Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and former Bent County commissioner, said: “It’s kind of an emotional event because generations have actually worked on this project and to finally see this kind of progress where we can deliver safe water to folks, which also provides a great opportunity for economic development is close to unbelievable. It truly is a great day.”

    John Singletary, former chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, agreed:

    “As a young boy in the Arkansas Basin, I sold gold frying pans to support the effort that eventually lead to President Kennedy coming to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into a law,” Singletary said. “This was the first step in seeing the Arkansas Valley Conduit built. In the decades since, people like Senator Michael Bennet have never lost sight that this project is more than politics. The Conduit is a vision turned reality to help reduce dry-up of farm ground and provide clean drinking water for 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.”

    The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Rayan Severance):

    Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who also has spent a lot of time and effort on the project throughout his career, echoed Long’s comments about ground finally being broken for the conduit.

    “It is a testament to the commitment of generations of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley to bring clean drinking water to communities that were promised it in the early ’60s and never had that promise fulfilled,” Bennet said. “One of the first things I heard about when I became a senator was the Arkansas Valley Conduit because of Bill (Long) and because of Ray Kogovsek, who had been the congressman for that area, and made the case about how important it was.”

    Bennet said the progress made on getting the conduit built has been a true bipartisan effort in which Democrats and Republicans have worked hand-in-hand…

    The conduit, part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, would bring water from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, serving about 40 communities along the route. As it will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado.

    Many of those water providers are facing enforcement action for high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides in well water. A new source of clean water through the Arkansas Valley Conduit is the least expensive alternative, according to a 2013 Environmental Impact Statement.

    While the project is breaking ground, there is still a long way to go, Bennet cautioned.

    The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

    “It’s not going to be easy to do but we’re going to fight for it,” Bennet said.

    With 5 reservoirs in #CameronPeakFire burn area, #Greeley Water officials plan for erosion control — The Greeley Tribune

    From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

    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.

    The Cameron Peak fire ignited on August 13 on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest near Cameron Pass and Chambers Lake. Credit: Inciweb

    “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.