Environment: Bulkhead a big step in Peru Creek cleanup

October 20, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

All-out remediation effort targets acid mine drainage near Keystone Ski Area

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For decades, the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine high has been oozing heavy metals — zinc, manganese, cadmium, lead and and arsenic — into the waters of Peru Creek, a small tributary of the Snake River near Keystone, Colorado. The site has been the focus of intensive study during the past 15 years with the goal of improving water quality downstream.

Last week, engineers and environmental experts took a big step toward trying to staunch that flow by blocking one of the mine tunnels. If all goes well, the new bulkhead could reduce the direct discharge from the mine by about two-thirds, said Jeff Graves, a remediation expert with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining…

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Summit County: The Pennsylvania Mine gets plugged

October 20, 2014
Acid mine drainage Pennsylvania Mine via the Summit County Citizens Voice

Acid mine drainage Pennsylvania Mine via the Summit County Citizens Voice

From the Summit Daily News (Ben Trollinger):

On Friday, Oct. 17, Stiegelmeier was one of several federal, state and local officials marking a milestone for the centerpiece of the county’s current mining cleanup efforts — plugging the Pennsylvania Mine.

About 8 miles east of Keystone, the abandoned mine is Summit County’s biggest mess. The mine, considered the worst in the state, spews toxic heavy metal concentrates and acidifies water flowing into the Peru Creek, a tributary of the Snake River, which feeds Dillon Reservoir. Peru Creek is without fish, insects or other aquatic life. The Snake River has life, but it’s sparse and found only in the lower reaches. In 2007, a burp of acidic water from the abandoned mine killed fish all the way to Keystone, county officials said.

This past week, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety finished installing one of two bulkheads, massive plugs of concrete and steel built about 500 feet inside the mine.

According to project manager Jeff Graves, once both bulkheads are installed, toxic burps and blowouts will be a thing of the past.

“That won’t happen again — it can’t,” he said.

The bulkheads prevent water from flowing through the mine. Water will back up inside, reducing the amount of oxygen the metals and sulfides are exposed to, which should improve water quality.

POSITIVE IMPACTS

Though the more than $3 million project still has far to go, reclamation efforts seem to have had positive impacts already. Last year, the Peru Creek turned reddish-orange seven or eight times. That hasn’t happened once this year.

In addition to the bulkheads, new drainage ditches channel water away from waste-rock piles. Those piles have been capped. Eventually, they’ll be revegetated. Limestone has also been strategically added to raise the pH of the water, which could help filter out metals into settlement ponds.

Organizations involved in the project include: the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Safety, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, Summit County Open Space and Trails, Northwest Council of Governments, the Snake River Watershed Task Force, the Blue River Watershed Group and the Keystone Center.

More Peru Creek Basin coverage here and here.


So how are we going to build these western water markets? — John Fleck

October 20, 2014

squeezingmoney
From InkStain (John Fleck):

Peter Culp, Robert Glennon and Gary Libecap have published an excellent new analysis of the potential for water markets to help us dig out of the western United States’ water mess:

Water trading can facilitate the reallocation of water to meet the demands of changing economies and growing populations. It can play a vital role in encouraging conservation and stewardship of water supplies in a way that can address cultural, social, and environmental priorities. It can facilitate building a structure for managing the ever-increasing risks of greater variability in water, including through methods such as insurance contracts, hedging tools, water banking, and other mechanisms. Deploying market tools in the allocation of water can help us to overcome the growing fragility and vulnerability of the water management institutions and infrastructure in the American West.

I agree, and their new work offers a great menu of policy options to move down this path. In brief (again quoting Culp et. al):

  • Reform legal rules that discourage water trading to enable short-term water transfers.
  • Create basic market institutions to facilitate trading of water.
  • Use market-driven risk mitigation strategies to enhance system reliability.
  • [B]etter regulate the use of groundwater by monitoring and limiting use to ensure sustainability, and by bringing groundwater under the umbrella of water trading opportunities.
  • To make water markets work at scale, strong federal leadership will be necessary to promote interstate and interagency cooperation in water management
  • This is great stuff. But how do we actually do any of them?

    Each of their first four bullet points is a staggeringly difficult task that will require enormous institutional capacity within the states to carry out. Consider California’s efforts to move on number four, for example. In the midst of the drought of record, with overwhelming problems caused by groundwater pumping, all California could manage was some feeble legislation aimed at just the first part – monitoring and limiting use to ensure sustainability at some future point in time sorta maybe. This is not for lack of smart scientists and policy people pointing out that the problem is deeper and requires stronger action. This rather reflects a shortcoming of the political system that has left us at with a sub-optimal equilibrium because of the ability of individual players, acting in their own short term interest, to block progress toward a more socially optimal solution…

    Having spent years watching the New Mexico legislature’s lack of institutional capacity to make even simple water rule changes, and watching California thrash about this year in the midst of genuine crisis, I think Culp and his colleagues are a tad optimistic to suggest this could be done “immediately”, but whatever. I’m all for optimism. And I’d file this under the critical category of “baby steps,” smaller and relatively easier things that can be done that provide shorter term benefits and the learning experience to help amass the necessary social capital to take on the harder challenges to come…

    Minute 319, the U.S.-Mexico agreement that, among other things, allowed last spring’s Colorado River Delta environmental pulse flow (and which Culp helped design) is a great “baby steps” example. It includes some of the elements Culp, Glennon and Libecap are asking for (albeit dressed up quite differently), but it was as much about learning how to do stuff as it was about actually doing stuff. It also demonstrates the importance of the role of the U.S. federal government.

    The important thing we need recognize here, I think, is that the investment in the social capital needed to do these things, an investment in what I’ve sometimes called the “institutional plumbing”, is every bit as real and important as the investment in pumps and canals and dams that make up the physical plumbing of water in the West.

    More water law coverage here.


    Colorado River flows about average for 2014 water year

    October 19, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    Storage still near all-time lows

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    A 2014 water year map shows the continuing drought conditions in California, as well as dry patches from Texas, extending north into Oklahoma.

    Staff Report

    FRISCO — Near-average inflow to Lake Powell the past 12 months helped maintain storage at a similar level to last year in the key Colorado River reservoir. According to the Bureau of Reclamation.

    View original 284 more words


    “We’re still crunching the numbers…There’s been a spike” in comments since Aug. 20 — James Eklund #COWaterPlan

    October 19, 2014

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    A poll aimed at influencing the drafting of the Colorado statewide water plan says residents oppose a new transmountain diversion and the plan should emphasize conservation. The poll was commissioned by WaterforColorado.org, which said the results were mirrored in more than 18,000 comments submitted for the drafting of a statewide water plan, the first draft of which is to be presented on Dec. 10.

    The comment period on the plan ended a week ago and the Colorado Water Conservation Board is now factoring comments into its report.

    “Our position is that any engagement is good engagement,” said James Eklund, director of the CWCB, who noted that the agency received 10,475 letters between Sept. 20, 2013, and Aug. 20, 2014.

    “We’re still crunching the numbers,” Eklund said. “There’s been a spike” in comments since Aug. 20.

    That total included 6,213 form letters marked “protect Colorado’s rivers,” as suggested by Water for Colorado, Eklund noted. Comments also included 730 unique emails and 92 unique submissions on web forms.

    The poll, conducted by a bipartisan team, Keating Research and Public Opinion Strategies, found that 90 percent of respondents said the water plan should be to keep the state’s rivers healthy and flowing and that 78 percent of voters prefer using water conservation and recycling instead of diverting water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. It also found that 88 percent of respondents support a statewide goal of reducing water use in cities and towns by 10 percent by 2020.

    WaterForColorado.org doesn’t identify its source of funding or staff members and notes on the website that it “shares insights and expertise from a variety of organizations that research and study water conservation and natural resource issues. WaterForColorado.org offers a solutions-based approach to Colorado’s water future, and opportunities for the general public to have a voice and take action.”

    Other organizations have made similar findings.

    “The interesting thing is that in this survey, the West Slope is at least being echoed in emphasizing conservation,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    The poll was conducted Sept. 5 to 8 of 500 voters across Colorado, including an oversample of 162 voters on the West Slope. Statewide, the margin of error is plus or minus 4.6 percent and plus or minus 7.7 percent on the West Slope.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    #Drought = “[The] great white sharks of climate” — Toby Ault #ColoradoRiver

    October 17, 2014
    Graphic via USA Today

    Graphic via USA Today

    From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

    The dryness in California is only part of a longer-term, 15-year drought across most of the Western USA, one that bioclimatologist Park Williams said is notable because “more area in the West has persistently been in drought during the past 15 years than in any other 15-year period since the 1150s and 1160s” — that’s more than 850 years ago.

    “When considering the West as a whole, we are currently in the midst of a historically relevant megadrought,” said Williams, a professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York.

    Megadroughts are what Cornell University scientist Toby Ault calls the “great white sharks of climate: powerful, dangerous and hard to detect before it’s too late. They have happened in the past, and they are still out there, lurking in what is possible for the future, even without climate change.” Ault goes so far as to call megadroughts “a threat to civilization.”


    #ColoradoRiver District Quarterly Board Meetings, Tues., Oct. 21

    October 17, 2014

    generalmeetingnotice102014coloradoriverdistrict

    Click here to go to the Colorado River District website for the inside skinny.

    More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.


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